I wonder if cruising has become popular because you’re are already on your vacation while you’re on your way to your vacation; the ship is the destination. It seems that cruise ships are becoming beyond the imagination. Royal Caribbean International has introduced a third mega cruise ship to it’s innovative Quantum Class fleet. The ship will pamper 4,180-passenger who will be able to indulge in on-board activities that include; skydiving and surf simulations, riding in a glass pod that is attached to a mechanical arm and rising 300 feet above the ship for 360-degree sea views, rock climbing, bumper cars, roller skating and video gaming, and a circus school complete with flying trapeze classes. Sir James Jeans would agree; the Ovation of the Seas begins to look more like a great illusion than like a great machine.
When I went searching for inspiration and idealism in the early seventies there wasn’t an Ovation of the Seas but there was Lloyd Triestino’s Galileo Galilei. It was still the heyday of ocean-going passenger liners. The ships of Lloyd Triestino and the fleets of Sitmar, and P&O formed the immigration conveys sailing from England and Europe to Melbourne during the fifties, sixties and early seventies. The ships docked at both Station and Princess piers in Port Melbourne; from Peel Street, just a short distance across the bay, they loomed large on the skyline. On the return journey to their home ports the passenger manifest of government-assisted migrants and Ten Pound Poms was replaced with young Australians undergoing their hallowed rite of passage; the two-year working holiday in England and Europe.
On a hot 1971 January afternoon Jeff Ferris, my Australian travel mate, and I boarded the Gallileo and settled into our below the water line, tourist class, eight berth cabin. After spending the rest of the day consuming farewell Australia beers we were primed for beginning our uncharted rite of passage journey. And then came the announcement: until further notice the Galileo would stay docked at the pier. The waterside workers had just gone on strike. Lloyd Triestino provided two options; we would be reimbursed the taxi fare to our homes and a return journey back to the ship when the strike ended or we could remain on the ship with a daily allowance for food. Jeff and I chose to stay on the ship and to buy meals at the local Port Melbourne eateries at the end of the pier. We spent the next three days drinking and appreciating the counters lunches offered by the hotels lining Bay Street: And lurching back to the ship with a stockpile of long necks. I think it was during these first three days that Jeff and I were moved from our eight berth cabin to a two-berth cabin. Our immigrants returning home for a family visit cabin mates had complained about our noisy revelries.
When the Galileo belatedly pushed away from the pier and slowly started to head out into Hobsons Bay I looked up Peel Street from the Strand; I had always looked down Peel Street to the Port Melbourne piers for as long as I could remember.
The wharfies were also on strike in Adelaide so we didn’t dock and new passengers were ferried to the ship from the shore in small open boats: we welcomed them with drinks from the tourist class Lido bar overlooking the stern of the ship. At Fremantle, our last Australian port of call, we practised walking on our sea legs and then settled into two weeks of routine shipboard life as the Gallielo made slow headway across the Southern Ocean en route to South Africa. Jeff and I were soon living the same day over and over again; waking just in time for the late lunch sittings and appreciating the wine that was always served, retreating to the tourist class Lido bar to watch the horizon, enjoying the wine served at the evening meal, withdrawing back to the bar to watch the moon over the horizon, and drinking until two or three in the morning.
I have intense memories of Durban. The Galileo glided into the harbour surrounded by tug boats, oilers, and other service vessels; and I wondered why there were bunched groups of black South Africans on all the vessels. As soon as we had docked Jeff and I deboated onto the firmness of a Durban pier. We passed more bunched groups of black silent South Africans who in turn were passed by small chatty cliques of white South Africans. I was baffled. A few steps later we passed a public toilet block; on top of the doorway was a painted sign.
I remember that we kept walking; I was trying to unravel in my mind what I had just come across. The streets of Durban were teeming with people and traffic; even more cramped and crowded than the wide streets of Melbourne. And it was also different; the bus stops had two sets of seats. One set of seats was labelled whites only. And the buses that stopped at each set of seats were different. The bus for the whites was what I was used to seeing on the streets of Melbourne, and the other bus was a broken-down, wheezing, crowded wreck. I don’t remember how, but Jeff and I walked to a Durban beach. And the signs were also on the promenade above the white sands.
I had only grown up surrounded by white people. At Williamstown Tech there were some students who had Italian and Greek parents; their sandwiches were strange meat between thick slices of strange bread, but they spoke English and played footie and cricket. And there were the Yugoslavs; they were bused from the nearby migrant hostel. The Yugoslavs didn’t speak English and they didn’t play footie or cricket. That was the scope of my cultural diversity. I had grown up innocent and naive. I was schooled by the beliefs of a white Anglo-Saxon population whose government restricted non-white immigration through the White Australia Policy. It was still several years before the reforms of the Australian Whitlam Government. There were two Asian students, on visa’s, at Footscray Tech studying chemistry; but they seemed to prefer being alone and happy with where they were at. Apart from the Williamstown Tech schoolyard at lunchtime and a chemistry class at Footscray, Durban was the only place I had ever been where different race and ethnicities seemed to exist together. In Durban, I walked in apartheid. It didn’t make sense to me how non-whites were considered inferior, subordinate, underclass people. Several years later the decade of change in Australia started. I marched with other Australians to support the reforms of the Whitlam Government: And the Whitlam Government instructed the Australian delegation at the United Nations to vote in favour of anti-apartheid sanctions on South Africa and Rhodesia.
When the Galileo nudged away from the harbour and set course for the Canary Islands Jeff and I inhaled the Durban weed we had bought on the beach. We interrupted our tourist class Lido bar ritual by playing table tennis and deck quoits as we chugged up the coast of Africa toward Las Palmas. The table tennis table was on an outside deck just a few feet from the ship’s railing: you could see the horizon in front and behind from each end of the table. Some days when you served the ball you saw the sky and when Jeff returned the ball you were looking into a wall of the ocean, or you would watch the ball move in the air from one side of the table to the other side without touching the table. The pitching, rolling, and swaying of the Galileo moved the deck and the table several feet.
I remember one day there started the thunderous repeated sounding of the ships horns. I started to anxiously dash around the decks trying to find the life preservers and remember the protocol for boarding the lifeboats; the safety orientation was over three weeks ago and there was a lot of beer under the decks since then. My helter-skelter running was stopped by the captain’s announcement: Your attention please passengers. We are about to pass our sister ship the Marconi. There was a fancy dress dance the night we crossed the equator. I think I went to the dance but I don’t remember tying a sheet around me to resemble King Neptune.
We had smoked all of our Durban weed before arriving at Las Palmas. I don’t really remember Las Palmas. Maybe it was the last twenty-five groundhog days onboard the Galileo that caused the days from Durban to Genoa to be a blur. I only remember Messina because somewhere around the fifth week the young Italian stallion who we knew from the afternoon tourist class Lido bar imbibing took a knife to another passenger.
He was placed in the brig to be handed over to the Italian police when we reached Sicily. I do remember the warnings about the Vespa, motorbike riding Naples pickpockets. Every street in Naples seemed to be a narrow, winding, inclined laneway and whenever I heard the rumble of a Vespa I would quickly fold my arms across my chest and hunch forward; Jeff and I walked the streets of Naples for a couple of hours. It was after close to seven weeks on board when Jeff and I deboated at Genoa. I don’t think we looked back at the ship; it wasn’t our destination. We walked and found the on-ramp of an Italian highway: we were going to hitchhike to London. That night we walked to the railway station and bought a train ticket to London to begin our hallowed rite of passage; the two-year working holiday in England and Europe. The search for inspiration and idealism in the ordinary.
Since the days of Lloyd Triestino, Sitmar, and P&O Station Pier has changed from a gateway to a new life for Victoria’s post-war immigrants to Melbourne’s premier cruise ship terminal: And Galileo Galilei has become the Ovation of the Seas. So maybe I should consider a cruise. A theme cruise fashioned around; onboard table tennis and deck coits, the history of Apartheid in South Africa, or understanding the White Australia Policy might be attractive.