SHIPS BOUND FOR A NEW FUTURE - A NEW LIFE
After the war, Lloyd Triestino, one of many ocean liner builders, began a rebuilding program for liners. Vessels were refitted to provide accommodation for passengers and for travelling vast distances. Liners were built with enlarged superstructures as they were bound for other destinations, and among them, three were for Australia. Most vessels accommodated 3 classes of passengers ranging from, those, who were able to live in cabins with private facilities or these in dormitories with large numbers of bunks and shared facilities. These were on different floors of the ship, depending on the status of the passengers – self-funded or government assisted.
Some of the liners which made the journey to Australian ports in the mid 1950’s included the SS Fairstar, SS Aurelia, SS J.V. Oldenbarnevelt, SS Castel Felice, SS Castel Verde, SS Fairsea, SS Australia, SS Oceania, SS Sydney, SS Neptunis, SS Castel Bianco, SS Surriento, SS Roma, SS Begona, SS Sibajak, SS Toscana, SS Zuiderkruis. These ships made the trip from Europe to Australia two or more times a year, carrying goods and passenger loads in both directions. Germany and Italy were ports of call for huge numbers of passengers embarking on a new life.
Hinko remembers conditions on the ship ‘Oceania’:
‘….On the Lloyd Triestino ship, ‘Oceania’, we went from Trieste to Napoli. We stopped in Sicily then went on to Egypt, and through the Suez Canal. The first time we got off the ship was at Perth. We were in Perth for a couple of hours, then, it was on to Melbourne. The trip from Italy to Perth took 28 to 29 days.
On the ship, there was a lot of pasta served up, but you couldn’t complain because that’s all there was to eat. In the dining room there were tables for eating at – round ones, which were mostly for families. The tables could seat eight. If there was space at any of the tables they put the young ones there. My friend and I were sitting with you and your mum and dad and two Italians- a mother and daughter. Mainly on the ship there were all Slovenians. There were 24 young Slovenian boys at a table, there were Slovenian girls as well but at different tables. They were all happy, singing outside on the ship. They could swim because there was a pool on the ship. I remember when we left Italy, we were all given some lire – I don’t remember how much but mine was pinched.
For sleeping, singles were below deck and families were above. We, single blokes slept on bunks below deck. We had a locker each in our room where we slept on bunks. We slept in that room and we trusted each other. One day my locker was open. I don’t know if they had a special key to get in, but my money was gone.
On the way, on the sea, I was seasick. It was shocking! Everybody was sick! I was sick for ten days. They gave us some tablets but I don’t think they helped at all. When the ship stopped you’d feel better but then you’d get sick again as soon as the ship got going again. After a while you got used to it – you got to know how it went and what to do. For nausea, you have to keep eating, even if you were sick straight after. You had to keep eating because the system has to get food in it.’
‘…. The ship was ‘Oceania’, and it was June and we arrived on Australian shores on July 18, 1957. The food on the ship was plentiful and the travelling was good. None of our family was sick, although a lot of others were. We went through the Suez Canal. As we got closer to Fremantle, conditions got worse. The ship rocked around so much that all the things on our table followed us from one side to the other. It was a different story for others, especially for the Italians. On the ship, we slept in separate parts- ladies with children slept in rooms’.
Vida adds of her memories of the trip:
‘… we went by ship to Australia. Our son was 6 months old. We were on the ship for 40 days on the ocean and four died – a small child, a man and two women died on board. They put the bodies over the side, that’s what they did in those days…’
On the ship, there were English classes which I went to. My husband would look after the girls while I went to the classes. I already knew some words and so did my friend. It came in handy when we played cards with the men. My friend and I were partners and we had some fun when we gave each other clues in English, knowing that the men didn’t understand.
There was good food, lots of pasta and after the priest came, there was biscuits and milk for the kids.
On the sea, we all got sick because it was rough. On one day, our small daughter was so sick that the staff brought our food to the cabin. There were no tablets. It took 34 days, stopping only at Bari and Napoli, then non-stop to Fremantle.
There was always plenty of food and there seemed to be lots of parties on the ship on the way over. There was lots of pasta, you took your plate of food to your room or you could eat in the dining room. There was lots to do on the ship. They showed movies or there were English classes or dancing.
After the post war migration program ended, the vessels were either withdrawn from service or altered and upgraded to cater for tourist class accommodation. The third class was removed with the decline of assisted emigrant passengers. By the 1970’s, assisted migrants were arriving by plane.
(Ref. Peter Plowman: ‘Emigrant Ships to Luxury Liners”, 1992), Australian Migrant Ships -1946-1977.
" . . . In a dilemma what to do next, I finally decided to report to a police station, handing myself in as a refugee. Following an interview I was transferred to San Sabo camp where I spent a whole month in limbo. During this time I attempted to enter France, hoping to proceed to Paris. My brother returned - escorted me to the Italian – French boarder. There we parted, he crossed legally, I attempted to cross illegally again on foot into Mentone. It was not meant to be. I was caught at the boarder. Upon searching my personal possessions, discovering an immunization card from the refugee camp in Italy, I was returned to San Sabo under police escort, without meeting up with my brother at a prearranged meeting point. I remained in San Sabo for two months where I also managed do obtain some illegal work from time to time. From here I was transferred to Napoli; a number of Yugoslav refugees were returned to Yugoslavia for whatever reasons only they knew. In Napoli I was able to work as a bricklayer on a renovation in preparation for return of Italian citizens from Egypt. Some 20 refugees, including myself, were selected to partake in the filming of a war film, playing a minor part of a German soldier. It paid well. Five months on another move followed, this time to Latina where I was again employed as a bricklayer on a construction of new barracks to accommodate families that arrived as refugees. Here I was given a position of a supervisor reporting to an engineer that came from Rome twice per week. Here I also witnessed corruption first hand. Much of the building material meant for this building site never arrived; it was claimed that the refugees stole it for personal gain. Not so, but I was cautioned not to talk or my passport would be confiscated. I stayed here seven months. As my application for France was turned down, I decided to apply for Australia. This was where most of my friends ended up going. Australia was developing fast and needed workforce. At that time, to have our fare paid by Australian government, we had to sign an agreement to stay and work in Australia for two years,
In the middle of September 1960 I sailed for Australia on a ship called Flaminia from Trieste. Our trip took 31 days, arriving to Port Melbourne, Station Pier towards the end of October. I crossed the Equator on my 20th birthday. This was a very memorable day for me, due to ceremonies taking place on this day on the ship. There were some 20 Slovenians on this ship, eight passengers per cabin: four double bunks. The ship was fitted to carry over 1000 passengers. The food was good, entertainment, English language classes and so on. Here I also had the misfortune of being robbed of my earnings in the camps, arriving to Australia with eight shillings to my name."
"I sailed to Australia on a ship Toscana. The journey took 42 days. My accommodation was a top bunk in a primitive dormitory catering for 100 women, another similar dormitory catered for men. There were also cabins available for families. Here too, I was left without any supervision. I remember a crew member paying me extra attention, getting to close into my personal space. As a naïve teenager, I began to feel intimidated, uncomfortable. My instinct told me this was not normal, therefore I began to avoid him. Only years later did I become aware of dangers that I might have been exposed to, had I not followed my gut feelings.
The most memorable events on my trip were seeing for the, first time, black people in Port Said; travelling through Suez Canal, the half starved cows staring at us as we crawled by. To a naïve thirteen years old, this was all very intriguing."
Photos od the ships by Mario Magajna, Trieste 1952 to 1956