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This is the ship which really was the start of my biggest adventure up to that point.

My parents had decided to bring the family to Australia and we were to travel here on the MS Achille Lauro. Since I had never been on a cruise up to that point in time it was a big adventure. Leaving England and coming to Australia was a huge adventure but we had to get there first.

We arrived at Southampton late in the day as everyone was boarding and, I’m sorry to say, I missed seeing the White Cliffs of Dover as we set sail in the middle of the night.  The excitement of the trip down from Yorkshire, traveling around London in a big old black cab, catching the subway for the first time, all these firsts finally caught up with all of us and we were sound asleep when we set sail. One day I will sail past those cliffs so that I can take some photos… it would be criminal in one sense not to.

The next morning we were well out to sea with not a landmark in sight. The air was balmy, sun shining and the sense of adventure was almost enough to stop me eating. Almost, but not quite! I had never seen such a massive array of food offered for breakfast. It wasn’t a three course meal, it felt like a ten course meal. Being too excited I restricted myself to some nice and easy to digest oatmeal… I wasn’t taking any chances of being ill. I was almost beside myself with eagerness at getting up on deck and exploring.

However, my father had decreed that since it was an Italian ship, Italian crew, and everyone knew what Italian men were like, I had to be chaperoned at all times! What a balloon buster!! But, I couldn’t be down for long, there was simply too much to do and see and experience.

On the Achille Lauro, travelling to Australia

On the Achille Lauro, traveling to Australia

The dining room was enormous, of course, and each meal was an adventure. The waiters treated us like royalty, which was really great for the ego! But there was so much more.  From the front (bow) of the ship I could watch the dolphins flying past, seeming to dodge directly under the prow and leap forward once again. I could have spent all day there mesmerised by them.   This became my personal escape if I wanted to spend some quiet time and daydream about ocean travel, mermaids and dolphins and being carried away by gorgeous Italian men. (Sigh).

We, as a family of course, explored the ship from ‘stem to stern’ and as many places in between. We seemed to find ourselves in the lounge often as there was coffee there all day long and morning tea, afternoon tea and supper were served there every day. The waiters took it upon themselves to try to teach me a few words of Italian every time I had to get something, and as the eldest child, that meant quite often. I was in heaven.

Our first port of call was in the Canary Islands where the crew promptly went on strike! They claimed the ship had been loaded incorrectly and if we hit bad weather the ship would turn turtle! The Poseidon Adventure had not long been released and I had visions of drowning at sea since swimming was not my forte.

So each day we had to disembark and head into the town of Tenerife to buy our food with the vouchers the ship gave us. What an experience that was! Walking down the gangplank was the first obstacle. The local Spanish population of males seemed to congregate at first light and line the bottom of the gangway and along the pier. This was in 1972, the era of the mini skirt and ours (Mums and mine) were pretty much par for the era, that is fairly short. As we descended the gangway grubby hands darted up our skirts and pinched the tops of our legs or bottoms depending on how high they managed to reach.

It didn’t take long for us to be covered in black and blue bruises. Dad and my brothers became the rear guard to prevent as much grabbing as possible. It saved us from being crippled before the week was over. At the end of the week half the Italian crew went home and we were given Spanish crew members to make up the quota. This presented quite a problem as the Italians spoke little Spanish, the Spaniards spoke little if any Italian and we spoke neither Italian nor Spanish. I should add that the Italians at least spoke English. We managed but it became interesting in the dining room.

On one memorable day, when the Captain had decided he was going to cut close to the Cape of Good Hope to avoid ‘rough’ weather we were entertained by a few interesting experiences. To start with it was hellishly rough close to the Cape. My youngest brother was terribly seasick and the warder brought copious amounts of lemon for him to settle his stomach. For the rest of us it was fun and games getting up to the lounge. The ship was rolling badly and we had to time our dash up the stairs to the roll of the ship.  In high heels too!

Once there we thought everything would be fine. As we looked out the window on one side of the ship we could see beautiful blue sky and at the exact moment on the other side we could see nothing but blue water…. very interesting and exciting.  The bartender had few customers that day and was polishing his vast quantity of glassware. I’m not sure he thought about it too much since as we rolled through a particularly wide arc the glasses began to slide of the right side of the bar. He spread his hands wide around his glasses as we started to roll back the other way. The glasses he couldn’t hold onto went sliding noisily off the other end of the bar.  Thank heavens the tables were bolted down!

And we were only halfway there. We stopped in Cape Town for a day. There was a tour of the city which was disturbing. As we were walking along an African man fell to the ground with an epileptic seizure. As calmly as you like our tour guide continued talking and shepherding us across the street. When we suggested going to help we were politely but firmly told to not get involved. “His people would look after him”.  Our first exposure to Apartheid. It put a dampener on the excursion, but the sight of Table Mountain, right out of Wilbur Smiths books helped – a little.

From there we sailed to Durban. Just a brief stopover, but it whetted my appetite to return, one day! From there we sailed across to Fremantle.  Once again we unfortunately didn’t get to see very much. Our week delay in Tenerife meant we were behind schedule and arrived there in the middle of the night. Dad and I walked the pier for a time and I got my first little koala. I still have it today.

Next stop was Melbourne where it was raining and freezing. This was supposed to be Australia, we had left the English winter behind! We  made a dash into town to get some jeans since all our warm clothes were in the steamer trunks. We were running back up the pier to the ship as it took longer than expected, with the crew chivvying  us along saying the ship would sail without us. I’m here so we obviously made it.

image from blogs.harcourts.com.au

After this it was smooth sailing to Sydney where we were met with another problem. Originally we had sleeper berths organised for the trip to Brisbane which was our final destination. Being a week late meant that other arrangements had to be made. So, we had a lovely day being taken round Sydney, The Rocks and Botany Bay as our introduction to Australia. We were still confused  because it was still cold!  Onto the overnight train to Queensland and our final leg of the journey was commenced.

image from http://www.dreamstime.com – Botany Bay!

Excitement eventually won out and I fell asleep during the night only to wake and find Dad had left his seat next to me.  Of course that meant I had to go find him. I did track him down in the bar, having a quiet drink and a smoke with a few other stalwarts who couldn’t sleep. This meant he had to return to keep me corralled for the rest of the night. Arriving at midday the next morning was a shock to the system. It was 42 degrees Celsius and we were wearing heavy denim jeans! OMG we all thought we were going to pass out. We wanted to get back on that air-conditioned train and where were the kangaroos? We had been fed a long diet of tales of kangaroos hopping down the street and koalas in every tree and not a one in sight, just a huge golden orb that was frying our brains.

image from news.domain.com.au –

Of course no one thought to tell us that most of the houses were timber either. It was all so new we wondered if we were on a different planet. In some ways we were, aliens in a foreign land. The summer was long and hot and we burned and burned some more. And they (the school) expected us to play sport in the heat!  Cruel, sadistic and totally heartless. Fortunately we survived… I’m still here. I never recovered from the shock of getting off the train into that furnace-like heat and still dislike the summer. Then again, not everything is meant to change.

I hope you enjoyed my trip to Australia and I want to finish with the last sight anyone had of the Achille Lauro.

image fromhttp://www.ssmaritime.com/achillelauro.htm

“You can’t prepare for everything life’s going to throw at you. And you can’t avoid danger. It’s there. The world is a dangerous place, and if you sit around wringing your hands about it, you’ll out on all the adventure.”
Jeannette Walls, Half Broke Horses

To Grand Adventures, wherever we find them.

Ciao, Susan x (c) Susan Jamieson

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