Ships are special to me (2)

In an earlier post ( ) I overviewed the many happy memories which made me a lifelong shiplover.  There are several things I didn’t mention then.

The shipping (and in fact many) businesses in the 1950s fired the young boys of that time up to take a strong interest in their business.  We would look up the address of the Wheat Board, BHP, Ansett Airways or the P&O Line in the Sydney phone book, and write a polite letter requesting “samples” and information about their line of business.  Often I could tell this company that I was working on a school project or building a model of one of their ships or aircraft.  And wow!  We would count a week to 10 days of sleeps, and the postman would deliver an exciting, fat, A4 size envelope to our letter box addressed to “Master F Vanderbom”.  Wonderful for school projects and a growing hobby!

Holland Australia Line brochure 1958

I still have almost everything the shipping companies of that era sent me: brochures featuring the Shaw Savill Line’s services and destinations, individual brochures for some of the P&O liners (then the largest and most modern linking Australia with the world) and for the Dutch VNS (United Shipping Company’s) large modern fleet of cargo-passenger –kerk ships, and sometimes glossy photos of Port Line ships or colour postcards of old Cunarders.  Occasionally I was sent a booklet: I have a beautiful colour one featuring the Dutch liner Willem Ruys before she was rebuilt for round-the-world service, and another about the Cunard Line’s history and its most significant ships.

Very much has changed since then.  In the early 1960’s the enormous cost of local and international air travel was starting to fall, so the number of first class passengers choosing a sea voyage was shrinking, affecting advertising budgets and everything else about the passenger shipping business.  A growing number of overseas shipping companies wanted a share of the world tourist and cruising clientele, further driving the market down.  Today, the internet and books offer far more information, illustrations and even drawings suitable for model making than I could have dreamt of in the 1950s and ‘60s.

Something else that kindled my love of the shipping industry was the weekly access I had to the Sydney wharves in the later 1950s.  My late father was a Christian minister, and our Dutch migrant church met at the hall (long since demolished) that belonged to St Phillip’s Anglican Church at the northern end of Clarence and York Streets in Sydney.  People travelled for up to an hour to meet here every Sunday morning, and after the formal worship meeting, some of these hundreds of people would share their past week’s stories over a cuppa while the children were taught at various levels and a choir met to practise.

Circular Quay (early 1950s) - NLA photo

A few of us in early teenage would fill this hour by checking out the finger wharves at Darling Harbour or Circular Quay.  I soon knew the names of many of the regulars, from the big P&O and Orient liners to the Etmor and Uki, humble little coasters which in those days docked in the Quay.  The very solid-looking Dutch Tjiwangi and her sister and the very sleek and stylish French Polynesie were other regulars.

These once weekly walks whetted an interest which continues today, although I’m lucky if I can manage more than a couple of wharf walks each year, as my life is fuller and sadly, ships are far less accessible and almost everyone would agree that they have far less character today.


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