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Published: February 22nd 2019
Before we left home, my Grade 5 teacher back in Melbourne had given my parents a large pile of textbooks and several reams of school work exercises for me to complete, and I was supposed to spend a couple of hours every day while we were on the ship ploughing through all of this. I have absolutely no recollections whatsoever of doing any study at all. I'm sure my very diligent parents wouldn't have let me off the hook, so I suspect I've just wiped this unpleasant memory from my mind. I do however remember thinking as we got closer to home that this idyllic five month trip was nearly over, and that I would very soon have to return to the discipline and drudgery of school. I was looking forward to seeing my friends again and telling them all about my adventures, but I certainly wasn't looking forward to the prospect of sitting in a classroom again for six hours a day after five months of freedom. My teacher was a very serious bespectacled young lady named Miss Kershaw, and she was a demon for discipline. If you couldn't recite any of the one to twelve times tables in less
than fifteen seconds, she would haul you out to the front of the class and whack you across the palm of the hand with a ruler. I'm reminded again that these were very different times, and in this particular instance I'm very glad that such inane practices have by and large been consigned to history.
Shortly after we left Colombo, the ship's crew held a ceremony to mark us crossing the equator. I'm sure in hindsight that it was the ship's crew, but I don't think I was all that convinced at the time that a gentleman called King Neptune hadn't just suddenly climbed on board from out of the deep while no one was looking and started terrorising a few random, unsuspecting young men who were unfortunate enough to get in his way. I remember thinking how glad I was that I wasn't one of them. The ceremony was held around the ship's pool. King Neptune had a large and very menacing looking trident. He started the ceremony with a thunderously loud speech to the effect that no one was allowed to cross the equator without his permission, and because we'd done so, some of us now needed
to be punished. I found this terrifying. He then proceeded to dunk various members of the crew unceremoniously into the pool. (I may have used the wrong word there - I'm not sure you can be dumped unceremoniously as part of a ceremony.) I remember being very relieved when the ceremony ended and I seemed to have escaped unharmed.
We stopped in Fremantle, and visited Perth's King's Park. I'd never been to Perth before. We must have also stopped in Adelaide, although I've got no memories of this. I only know we stopped there because the ship's newsletter from the day before we arrived back in Melbourne noted that the "Ladies Keep Fit Classes" had "been discontinued" "in view of the fact that Mrs Phillips disembarked in Adelaide". I assume that Mrs Phillips was the instructor, and that the classes hadn't instead been discontinued because she was the only passenger who bothered to turn up.
Mum was very prone to seasickness, although I don't remember her being laid low during the voyage. That said, I think we'd been quite lucky with the weather. None of this had however stopped her from regaling me with stories of how very treacherous the entrance to Port Phillip Heads was. She told me that we'd need a pilot ship to guide us through, and that even with that we'd be lucky to avoid being tossed by the currents and waves into a very dangerous reef known as Corsair Rock. She had me thinking that we might be quite fortunate to come out of this part of the journey alive, which seemed a bit sad considering how far we'd travelled and that we were now so very close to home. As we approached the Heads I held my breath and waited for the end, but all I felt was a slight shudder as we passed through the narrowest part of the opening, and we then moved on into Port Phillip Bay which was as calm as a millpond. I think even Mum was a bit surprised by the smoothness of it all, not to mention very relieved.
I'm not sure who met us when we docked in Melbourne on 7th October. It wouldn't have been my very forbidding maternal grandmother "Mama", because she'd passed away a few years earlier. I only mention this because of the story I'd been told about her turning up with a bunch of other family members to meet us when Mum and Dad came back from England in 1955, with ten week old me in tow. Mama had no time at all for babies or young children, and some serious coercion was apparently required before she agreed to climb the gangplank to meet her second and latest grandchild for the first time. She apparently looked a bit disdainful as Mum introduced her to the newest member of the family, but then felt that she should probably say something, so muttered the words that have become part of family folklore - "I suppose he might have the makings of something".
I'm sure the welcomes were a bit warmer this time around. Our great adventure was over.
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