"Package from the past - first overseas trip" Personal Page by sirgaw
I'm a bit of a hoarder, as my long-suffering wife Sandra will readily testify to anyone who cares to listen. While doing a tidy up of my shed I came across a folder from Chandris Lines. Some of the outer sections of the folder had become water damaged and were discarded - "Ah that's another bit of junk you've got rid of," I could almost hear her say. The remainder was a slightly musky smelling pile of almost pristine bits of memorabilia from my first overseas trip aboard Chandris Line's "RHMS Queen Frederica", which left Melbourne's Station Pier at 2230 hours, 31st Jan 1968.
It was a fun filled cruise of 24 days and the ship sailed from Melbourne to Hobart, Auckland, Suva, Apia, Tonga, Wellington, Sydney, before returning to Melbourne at the ungodly hour of 0600.
Most of the trip is an alcohol fuzz of memory as I was single, early 20's and looking for a "good time" - whatever that meant to a young male. The day of sailing from my city was a scorcher of 100 + degrees and most embarking passengers headed straight to the bar for a quenching, cooling ale. Sadly we were all disappointed as the bar was not to open until we'd sailed. However the bar staff were run off their feet pouring glasses of tap water to the thirsty, impatient throng of passengers and their guests. More prudent members of the ships passenger list had well stocked up at some of the lesser lights of Melbourne's notoriously crime infested Port Melbourne pubs, who, today, are a gentrified chrome and faux-mahogany shadow of the colourful past of the area, where even the police dared to tread - that's another story for another day.
After a 24 hour "getting to know" the 22,500 tons of aging ship we arrived in Hobart. Anxious to get going, my friend Jim and I wanted to hire a car and do a quick tour to Port Arthur and then famous Mount Wellington. The rental car company was willing but the ships entertainment officer roared his disapproval that such transactions should be completed before he had finished his breakfast - we hired the car anyway and would have given the officer a one fingered salute but there was another 22 days of the cruise to go and that man wielded power. Port Arthur was an interesting place and after the heat of Melbourne we nearly froze in sleet on the summit of Mount Wellington.
The Tasman Sea awaited our pleasure and we had settled down to ship board life - and many cans of beer. The cost was all of 13 Australian cents per 13 ounce can and from memory and as a result of the over-consumption, the communal segregated toilet and shower room seemed to be almost a perpetual mess of vomit. We drank till the early hours (the nightclub closed around 3am) and then got up late - well I don't seem to remember anything about the breakfasts - and made a bee line for one of the lounges where beef tea and biscuits were served. Lunch was mostly had around the pool as we objected to getting dressed for lunch in the dining room.
Although the ship was a "one class" vessel we were segregated into first and second sittings and our lives revolved around making sure we didn't inadvertently go to the wrong sitting of meals, illuminated talks on next destinations, the nightly entertainment or any other activities. It was the same sort of segregation used by the Chinese when they went one class, but instead opted for hard and soft seats in their trains. Maybe Chairman Mao leant his craft aboard a ship such as the Queen Frederica.
In 1968 New Zealand was an economic "basket case" and there were strict regulations concerning currency exchange. We could convert our Aussie Dollars (currency of the ship) into Kiwi Dollars, but were supplied with a bank certificate and could not convert back more than we'd converted in the first place. Our rental car trip was shared by another 3 Aussies that we'd met on the cruise and we travelled as far as Rotorua. At one road-side shop selling the famous New Zealand Pau Shell jewellery we heard a voice from a behind a curtained doorway loudly saying to the shop assistant, "Put one tray back, they're Australians." We immediately left and used our money elsewhere. At another shop a member of our travel party offered New Zealand currency and someone else offered Australian - the Aussie notes were snapped up showing us how the locals detested their own economic circumstances at the time. The very-quiet-by-Australian-standards roads seemed to be occupied by cars and trucks that would have been consigned to wreckers yards in our own country and it was almost a pleasure to get back to the ship - and continue our beer drinking.
I shared my 4 berth cabin with 3 other males - firstly my friend Jim, second an older gent who seemed to object to everything and wondered why he was still a bachelor and finally the male half of a honeymoon couple who made a big mistake with their choice of separate and segregated rooms. They opted to stay on shore in a hotel room in Suva, Fiji, where we docked for about 36 hours. Fiji was a ramshackle colonial outpost and every local seemed to want to prey on the incoming tides of cruise ship passengers - we were "ripped off" like everyone else, however the costs were tiny and we all had a great laugh at our own losses.
From Fiji the ship sailed to the romantic sounding islands of the South Pacific, more beer, more girls, more all night parties and catch up on sleep during the day - I even managed to sleep through one of the stops. One all night session it was decided by the males that we should have a girl free night and play cards - and drink even more beer. There was an oversupply of girls on the ship and they strongly objected to our male only function, but as both Helen Reddy's "I am Woman" and Germain Greer's "The Female Eunuch" had not made their mark on ship board life we were free to continue with our chauvinistic ways - and besides, we were all single anyway.
During the cruise we struck bad weather compliments of a passing cyclone. As the ship was not stabilised it made for a rough voyage. Many sea-sick passengers stayed in their cabins, while others seemed to revel in the roller-coaster ride of the ship pitching and slewing its way through the rough seas. The night club continued unabated and it was an interesting experience dancing on a floor continually in motion - and no the beer was not to blame - this time. One of the passengers was a toddler who had just graduated to walking. While the adult passengers would walk towards a doorway in a more or less zig-zag fashion in time with the rocking of the boat, not so the toddler, who kept a very straight path.
Wellington was OK and I seem to recall sitting in a taxi piloted by a half crazed US cab driver as a small group of us did a quick sight-see of that city. We returned to the ship for the passage back across the Tasman to Sydney. One night I fell asleep in a passenger lounge - it was more like a beer induced coma - and groggily was woken up by a crew member. I found my wallet had been removed from my pocket and my cash had been stolen. There was still some 5 or 6 nights travel before Melbourne and I was broke. Luckily Jim came to my rescue and lent me some money. My saving grace was the bingo afternoon when I managed to scoop the pool and from memory won around $200. I repaid Jim and bought a round of drinks for the table.
Don't know who started the "tradition" but the night before entry into a port where a large number of passengers were departing was an all night party. Cold cans of beer were drunk and the empties carefully used to construct a pyramid. As we docked the last remnants of the party would hurl more empties at the pyramid and it would tumble to the floor in a tidal wave amid huge drunken cheers. The night before we docked in Sydney was a big night as the grog would be dearer once we entered Australian waters - or so we were told.
We "did" Sydney over about 36 hours that the ship was in port and then we sailed down the Australian east coast - and another all night beer binge before we arrived in Melbourne. My dad met me at the dock and I seem to remember throwing up almost as soon as I'd met him - some home coming!!
In the intervening 40 years I think I've grown up a bit, but some may dispute that. That package from the past will probably gather dust unless there is some kind benefactor willing to take it off my hands - for a price - LOL
I have often wondered what really became of Queen Frederica although I did hear on radio many years ago that she'd been scuttled and today rests on the bottom of some ocean. However as an epitaph I found on the 'net the following:
"The Royal Helennic Mail ship "Queen Frederica" was built for Matson Lines as the "Malola" in 1937, renamed "Matsonia" in 1938, sold to Home Lines and again re-named "Atlantic" in 1948 and "Queen Frederica" in 1955 and finally to Chandris Lines in 1966 as the "QUEEN FREDERICA" . She was withdrawn from service in 1971, after the acquisition of Britanis, and was scrapped in Greece in 1977."
Source by Maritime Historian Michael Ian Byard - and reproduced with his permission.
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