Lines 2 -
My association with S.S. "Australis", the fire
and account of Voyage 37 Northbound.
Postcard of the "Australis"
View of the entrance to Station Pier,
Port Melbourne, very different from when I knew it, the bridge has gone!
by courtesy of Ken Ironside.
(see his website link to S.S. "Australis" on previous page)
My association with Chandris Lines, and in particular the “Australis” came when I was head-hunted (whilst at Ansett Airlines in Adelaide but an ex P&O and Sitmar Lines Berthing Officer) by them in early 1969 by way of an enquiry from the Passenger Manager, Tim Synefias, to two Melbourne Travel Agents, Miss Betty Bibby - Travel Consultant at Burns Philp and Co, and Bourke Travel Centre (proprietor - Capt. Peter De Vries). Betty contacted me in Adelaide, not long after we had spent a weekend together in that city, saying that she had been approached by Chandris and that as a result had suggested and strongly recommended me, and that I was to ring a Mr. Nick Pateras to get an interview. I was later informed, when working at Chandris, that as a result of Betty's conversation the company also contacted Peter De Vries to ask him if he knew me and that I had been recommended by Betty. He readily confirmed what Betty had said and also strongly added his support. Subsequently I had two interviews, one whilst still in Adelaide, and the other after I had transferred back to Melbourne, held at their ‘temporary office’ in Bourke Street in Melbourne.
Peter rang me at Ansett's asking why I was not at Chandris, or "wasn't I interested?' I explained that I seemed to be getting nowhere in my telephone calls and didn't know if I had the job or not! Peter rang the head of Chandris, Capt. John Arlaud, immediately and within a couple of hours I had received verbal, then written, confirmation of the offer of Senior Berthing Officer for the Chandris Lines Flagship S.S. “Australis”. I resigned from Ansett Airlines the same afternoon giving two weeks notice.
When I joined the company, a couple of weeks later, they had moved to their own building at 155 Collins Street, Melbourne, totally refurbished and decorated in blue and white! very nice offices and fully air-conditioned, with ‘muzac’ piped music which played softly in the background. So began a very happy period of my shipping career.
The job entailed the promotion of the ship, accommodation, fares and so forth, now referred to as ‘marketing’ but then it was general and ship specific publicity. It also entailed keeping detailed records of passenger reservations and cabin and berth allocations. Each main office in Australia had an allocation of berths, for each ship - viz Australis, Ellinis, Queen Frederika, latterly Britanis when the QF was taken out of service and Patris. My allocation for Australis totalled 837 berths from which I also supplied a smaller allocation to sub-agents in Hobart, Adelaide and Fremantle.Sydney shared their allocation with Brisbane, Auckland and Wellington.
Some of the ‘publicity events’ included regular hosting of ‘Agents Evenings’ aboard one of the ships when it had an overnight stay, as sometimes happened, with a sit down dinner and entertainment as a way of saying ‘thank you’ to the travel agents for their support during the year. Australis got more than her share of such events, because she was the Flagship. On these occasions members of Melbourne office staff, together with their wives, girl/boy friends, fiances would be on duty being spread out around the agents and‘circulating’ during the evening.
When Australis arrived in Melbourne I was always there to meet her, irrespective of the time of day that she arrived. With me was the head of Chandris Lines Australia, Captain John Arlaud RN (Retd), who was, in his day in WW2, one of, if not THE, youngest Captain in the Royal Navy at the time, he was in charge of a flotilla of Motor Torpedo and Motor Gunboats stationed around the coast of Burma. (He died of a massive heart attack in 1976, after my wife and I had returned to England). Also present was Tim Synefias, Melbourne Passenger Manager. Capt. Arlaud would go on board to see the ship's Captain, who during my time there was Capt. D.J. Challioris. Tim and I would go to the Pursers Office to see the Chief Purser, George Nikolopoulos. George and I would check the berthing book, or in hotel language, the register of all the cabins/berths in my allocation. I would send him a copy at Fremantle and upon arrival in Melbourne my working book and his copy would be compared to make any amendments, deletions, additions etc., so that the embarkation list could be annotated ready for the embarkation later in the day/evening.
At embarkation the ‘Australis team’ would be in action with passengers being ticked off as they went through our passenger control prior to going aboard. The team consisted of Tim Synefias, myself - as Senior Berthing Officer and with whom the buck stopped, Hugh McRae - my Assistant Berthing Officer, and, originally Carol Rae my Secretary then, after she left the office to get married, Leigh Dalrymple who became my new Secretary. In addition there were usually two or three others from the office to help out as necessary. There was the usual bustle as passengers and friends were ushered towards the gangway and into the reception areas. Stewards were on hand to help passengers with their cabin baggage and to direct them to their cabins. For the two hours or so of embarkation, which usually took place at about 5.00pm each time, everything was frenetic but there was order in the seeming chaos. Eventually all were on board, and accounted for. The ship's tannoy would shortly issue the ‘would all visitors now proceed ashore’ announcements, there would then be the initial goodbyes at the gangway head, then - in true Australian fashion - the passengers would throw paper streamers, purchased on the quay before boarding, to their friends on the dockside. There would be a virtual sea of different coloured paper streamers linking the ship with the shore...a tenuous link. The order to cast of for’ard and aft would be given, one or two tugs in attendance would hook a hawser to their towing hooks and start gently pulling the ships bow around. Ships moored at Station Pier were moored bow to the shore so that they had to be turned around before they could steam away. As the ship moved away from the dockside the streamers tightened....then finally broke and the last land links, at that port anyway, were broken and the ship was free to sail off into the night. This was the scene everytime any passenger ship departed from an Australian port and it was a spectacular sight.
In October 1970, on a Thursday... I cannot remember the actual date now.... I was at home and was shortly to set off for the office when I received a telephone call from Tim Synefias to go straight to Capt. Arlaud’s office upon arrival at work. This I did to find that Capt. Arlaud was getting ready to leave for Suva, in Fiji. He explained that he had received information some three hours before that there had been a serious fire aboard Australis, in the Galley and probably in the area of the deep fat fryers. The immediate section of the vessel had been badly damaged by fire, smoke and, of course, water however the crew had managed to contain the fire and were fast getting to the stage when the fire would be out. Capt. Arlaud did not know the extent of damage to the cabins at that time but had been told that it was in excess of twenty. As he was leaving his office on the fourth floor, a phone call from the Ship’s Captain, Captain Challioris, informed him that the fire was now out and that Australis was returning to Suva where a more detailed study could be made of the damage and assessments made. The result of that assessment being that all passengers would be flown to their destinations or proceed by sea on another vessel, if required. The ship would stay in Suva until the company’s technicians could be flown out from Greece and the United Kingdom to join Australis in Suva, after which the ship would depart for England with the technicians on board totally refurbishing the destroyed cabins and part of the galley. When Captain Arlaud returned to Melbourne he brought with him a set of photographs which starkly showed the damage the fire had caused. It is to the great credit of all the crew and technicians that the work was virtually completed by the time the ship arrived in Southampton.
There were a few cabins that still had to be completed during the journey back out to Australia, however the schedule was only a few days late...a remarkable feat. Upon her arrival back in Melbourne George Nikolopoulos showed me photos of the original destruction and damage, then the same places after refurbishment....a before and after scenario. I would have liked copies of them, but unfortunately the photographs were filed away somewhere in Melbourne office and I saw them no more. During this time a young English girl came to work in the Berthing Section as the Secretary of the Queen Frederika, but she was only with that team for one voyage when the QF was taken out of service. Anne then was transferred to the Ellinis as Secretary to Dutchman Jacobus (Jack) Breet, he being the Senior Berthing Officer of Ellinis. Anne and I started seeing each other outside of work hours. She became a staunch follower of the Chandris Lines Table Tennis Team ‘Bergden’ with whom I used to play and in due course we became engaged and were married on 5th August 1972 at Scotts Church, Collins Street, Melbourne....immediately opposite Chandris’s Melbourne Office.
The Table Tennis team had a fair amount of success and consisted of the following: Captain, David Martin....Senior Berthing Officer of Britanis, Ian Byard (myself), Tim Synefias and a friend of mine, soon to be my Best Man, Mirek Stuart.
At the end of December, 1972, I resigned from Chandris Lines to return to England with my Wife, Anne. As an appreciation of my service to the company Anne and I were given free tickets to England, arranging to sail aboard Australis to Fort Lauderdale, then after about five weeks there with American members of my family, to fly to New York and pick up the Ellinis there for the final trip to Southampton.
S.S. "Australis Voyage 37 Northbound
and S.S."Ellinis", Voyage 46 Northbound
view of Station Pier, Port Melbourne, courtesy Ken Ironside)
We sailed at midnight for Acapulco and on the way sailed through the narrow strait between the Samoan Islands of Upola and Tutuila. Anne had started taking Greek Dancing lessons from an excellent dancer Michael Charalambous, and was learning Zorba’s Dance. On the 12th January Anne celebrated her birthday and I and the friends we had made, had a private dinner party for her, followed by another party in one of the suites...Cabin 441, which was the Cabin of Mrs. Edna Edgely, who owned a string of big theatres in Australia. She was very nice, but had done Anne and I out of Cabin 441, because that had been earmarked for us, however Edna came along as a last minute booking, paying full fare for sole use of the suite...so that was that!
Ten days from Suva we should have been approaching Acapulco but this call had been cancelled, according to Seascape, the ship’s newspaper supposedly due to ‘adverse seas’. In fact two boilers had broken down so we had altered course for Balboa arriving there at 2200 on Tuesday 23rd January. We disembarked and went to have a look at the casino in La Panama, the Hilton Hotel. At 0300 we arrived back on board.
At 0630 on Wednesday 24th January we started the transit of the Panama Canal by entering the first three locks. We left the ‘cut’ and entered the lake which is 23 miles in length, passing four ships and a Canadian yawl-rigged yacht. At 1100 we entered the first lock on the Atlantic side proceeding down the staircase of locks and finally out past the breakwater and into the Caribbean at 1320. As we were due to disembark at Fort Lauderdale in two days, we started to pack, also having our passports stamped by USA Immigration Officials, who had boarded at Panama.
At 2300 on Friday 26th January we approached the Port Everglades Pilot Station and at midnight came alongside the wharf at Fort Lauderdale. The following morning Anne and I disembarked and were met by my Aunt and cousins, none of whom I had met before, although my Aunt and my Mother had been corresponding with each other for over 40 years. We stayed there, travelling around and being taken all over the place and generally being made very welcome, until Wednesday 21st February 1973 when we went to the airport for our flight to New York. We took off at 0935 arriving at Kennedy Airport at 1205 and, after collecting our baggage and taking a $13.90 taxi ride to the docks where we were to board Ellinis on the final leg of her Voyage 46 Northbound. Because of the delay in the flight we were given $12.00 towards a taxi fare, so it only cost us an extra $1.90.
We arrived alongside Ellinis at 1345 and immediately went aboard, sailing for Southampton at 1730 on a cold and ice covered Manhattan. Friday 23rd February saw us in mid-Atlantic in a Force 9, with many people staying in their cabins...we were not affected by the wind and sea and ate heartily at all meals. The journey was pretty uneventful and at noon on Tuesday, 27th February, we had 674 miles remaining to Southampton. Cases were to be packed and put outside the cabin door by 1000 the next morning which was accordingly done. We sighted the Needles at about 19.00 and picked up the Needles Pilot at 2030 for the journey into the Solent and down Southampton Water to go alongside adjacent to the Ocean Terminal, arriving alongside at 2300.
We finally disembarked at 12.30, clearing most of our baggage by 1400 on Thursday 1st March, 1973. So ended Anne and my association with Chandris Lines, a happy and memorable 4 years for me and a period upon which I look with very fond memories.
Footnote: The sad end to "Australis" and such a fine ship is a great shame, it would have been better had she gone to the bottom of the Atlantic in the bosom of the sea for which she was built. Vale Australis.
Programme of a Piano Recital aboard S.S."Australis" en-route to England in January 1973. Most of the menus, daily news-sheets etc., were printed on board by the vessel's own printer, so he was kept quite busy.
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