Post World War II Migrant Ships: Australis

The Australis retains a significant place in Australian immigration history as the last ship to carry government assisted immigrants to Australian shores in 1977. She had the largest passenger capacity of any post World War II immigrant ship to regularly visit Australia and many passengers fondly remember her grandeur and remnants of Art Deco style.

The Australis after arriving at Port Melbourne on Australia’s last assisted migrant voyage, December 1977

The Australis after arriving at Port Melbourne on Australia’s last assisted migrant voyage, December 1977.
Source: Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs.

Facts at a Glance

Dimensions: 723 x 93 ft (220.4 x 28.4 m)
Registered Tonnage: 34,449 tons gross
Service Speed: 22 knots
Propulsion: Reduction geared steam turbines / twin screws
Shipping Line: Chandris Line

History of the Ship

Originally named America, the immigrant ship Australis was designed by William Francis Gibbs and built for the North Atlantic trade – to travel between Europe and the United States. When launched on 31 August 1939 (by Mrs Eleanor Roosevelt), she was the largest passenger vessel to have ever been constructed in the United States and provided luxury accommodation for 1202 passengers in three classes.

In the midst of World War II, she was taken over by the US Navy and converted to an American troop ship capable of carrying 8175 soldiers. Realising the impact on public sentiment should America be sunk, the American government quickly renamed the ship the USS West Point. During the war, she visited ports in Europe, Africa and South America and was frequently attacked by Japanese forces.

After 12 years on the North Atlantic trade following the war, she was sold to the Chandris Line in 1965 and christened Australis, being converted to a fully air conditioned single class ship for the Australian migrant trade. A large portion of her original interior styling was maintained, and she remained adorned with many murals and Art Deco floor coverings during her immigration years.

Immigrant Ship to Australia

The Australis left Piraeus, Greece, for her first immigrant voyage to Australia on 21 August 1965, reaching Fremantle on 6 September and Melbourne on 13 September. She made a total of 62 voyages to Australia between 1965 and 1977, travelling regularly between Britain and Australia via the Suez Canal, stopping at ports such as Aden, Port Said and Colombo. In 1967, when the Suez was closed, she detoured around South Africa stopping at Cape Town and Durban. In 1970, while travelling between New Zealand and Suva, a fire broke out in the galley causing substantial damage, not only to the galley, but also to the ballroom and 40 cabins.

Passenger Experiences of the Journey

In the later years of the immigration boom, Australia saw many younger, single immigrants arriving with high expectations and a sense of adventure. At this time, the journey by ship was like a holiday for some passengers.

Gisela Pfab migrated from Germany in 1970:

'I was single and it turned out I had a lot of company on the boat. Soon we partied every night and didn't get to bed until in the early morning. As a result we missed our English classes most of the time.'

For others, the journey on the Australis was a pathway to freedom from political upheaval in their home country and the beginning of a new life.

Rosemarie Draper migrated from Britain in 1976, but is originally from Burma:

'Mum retained her dream to live in Australia and kept it alive for 12 years. In November 1976, we farewelled our family and friends and headed to Southampton to get aboard the Australis and begin the new phase of our lives.'

Her Final Voyage

After her final voyage to Australia on 18 November 1977, the Australis was sold to Venture Cruise Lines and again named America. After a number of unsuccessful cruises, she was sold back to the Chandris Line, with plans to cruise the Mediterranean. At this time she was christened Italis, but after only three voyages, she was laid up. After a long period of idleness, she was taken under Panamanian ownership and named Alferdoss, but in 1988 had to be run aground near Piraeus to stop her sinking.

The Australis at Station Pier, Port Melbourne

The Australis at Station Pier, Port Melbourne.
Source: Public Records Office, Victoria.

Further Reading

Baty, S. 1984. Ships That Passed – The Glorious Era of Travel to Australia and New Zealand. Reed Books Pty Ltd. Frenchs Forest.

Plowman, P. 1992. Emigrant Ships to Luxury Liners. New South Wales University Press. Kensington.

Stodden, K. 2003 (October). Appendix A – Tally of Voyages. Prepared for the Ship Reunion Lecture. Immigration Museum, Melbourne.

Comments (142)

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Frances Rothwell Lagnaz 1 September, 2014 08:48
My childhood friend Martha & I went from Sydney to Southampton on this ship in February 1973 - we were off to explore Europe for a year (I stayed 4). The cabin had 4 bunk beds that we shared with 2 other girls, a washbasin with showers down the hall! (& a cabin steward called Angelo who had never heard of deoderant!) It was a six week journey via NZ, Fiji, Acapulco, the Panama Canal, Fort Lauderdale Florida, Brussels & Holland. There was a show in the ballroom every night & being a singer at the time I was sometimes part of the show. It was chilly crossing the Atlantic so we stayed inside & as time went on day & night blurred into each other so sometimes we'd be up all night & sleep all day! There was no porthole in the cabin so it was always dark. Oh, I almost forgot to mention - the trip, including 3 meals a day, cost $350! :)
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Andre 20 July, 2014 18:32
Left Southampton on the Australis in April 1974 arrived in Sydney May 1974,anyone else here on that same trip ? I'm also trying to locate the passengers list of that trip thanks for any help.
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discoverycentre 21 July, 2014 11:09

The National Archives of Australia is the central repository for all migration records including passenger lists.  Please use the link provided to make contact with them.

Russell Hall 13 July, 2014 01:41
Not sure how I landed on this page but we (mum, dad and 4 brothers) traveled on the SS Australis from Auckland to Southampton in August 1972 after flying from Sydney to Auckland as berths were all full in Sydney. Arrived in Auckland late at night and recall it being icy cold. Within a few days we were in sunny Suva and then on to Acapulco, Panama (stayed up all night out on deck watching), Balbao/Curacao (I think) and then onto Southampton which was the choppiest of all the legs. I was 14 at the time and recall the Dolphin bar opposite the cinema well. We we're always late for dinner due to hanging in there and loved listen to "Give Peace a Chance" & "Revolution" by John Lennon. My brother Dennis who was 16 at the time was instrumental in arranging the teen nights there and he got to be known as "Dennis the organiser". I recall seeing the movie "Summer of '42" in the cinema but can't recall any others. Our waiter was a top Greek guy with a great sense of humour named Theo. Strangely I only have a couple of pics from that trip taken on the wharf at Ft Lauderdale where all the crew were playing soccer in the huge car park? area. We arrived in S'ton in Sept 1972 and drove to Manchester where we lived for 18 months before returning to Southampton to live for a few years. My brother Dennis returned to Australia with the BBM in July 1975 but flew that time. I followed him when I turned 18 in 1977 also flying courtesy of the BBM. My brother Dennis had kept in touch with some of the people on the trip and one was a lovely girl named Jackie who I remembered well and I met up with in Sydney in Sept 1978. Later we married in Melbourne in 1981 and had 5 kids but sadly divorced in 1996 which is another story best left in the past I suppose. Great memories of the Australis trip although my parents regretted leaving Australia and returned there 11 years later in 1983 and stayed there since. Mum passed away in 2010 but dads still there in Aus and living in the Hunter Valley area. Thanks for all the memories via your great comments.
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John Dean 17 May, 2014 23:35
Correction-my trip on the Australis back from UK to NZ was March 1976 not 1975 as I said earlier.
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John Dean 17 May, 2014 23:17
I came back to NZ in 1975, arrived back in NZ in March. We were the first through the Suez after the war, heaps of gun emplacements along the canal.Great trip, was broke as usual back then, got locked out cabin twice , nearly thrown off at Djibouti by the staff, mistaken identity. Still have a cabin key and all daily ship papers for the whole trip. Any body know where Barbara Everist & Linda Evans ended up? I know they got off at Sydney but not sure where they are know.
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sonitA 9 May, 2014 06:24
Can anybody tell me what singhs were aboard the ship from fiji to new zealand in 1976 or 77 or 79 and did not board the ship from new zealand when it went to leave? Therefore becomming an illegal immigrant?
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Friederike Kalup 3 May, 2014 19:26
This is a reply to John Walsh! John, the ship arrived in Melbourne in July 1073. Do you think that you travelled on the same ship????
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BRIAN EMERY 21 April, 2014 23:44
I emigrated to Melbourne on the Australis boarding in Southampton in feb 1969. We stopped at Gibralter and Cape Town and then Perth before disembarking at Melbourne in March 13 I believe. I had my 22 birthday on board and the crew came out with a cake and the orchestra played etc. It was a great trip and sorry to see such an undignified end to a lovely ship. I remember we had an Helenic night and it was great and a crossing the line ceremony with king Neptune. Great voyage and good friends.
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Barbara 7 April, 2014 11:19
I came to Australia on the Australis in 1967 with my parents and 3 brothers and 1 sister. While aboard the ship a (Scottish??) lady gave me a pyjama bag that was a little black fluffy Scotty dog. I was 2 at the time. I still have that pyjama bag - a little worse for wear considering it's now 47 years old!!! Who was that lady I wonder????
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Glynn 30 March, 2014 21:58
My family emigrated to Australia on board the Australis in 1967. At the time I was 3 years of age and had two other siblings aged 4.5 years and 16 months. Although I was too young to remember our trip which was extended due to the Suez crisis. My parents still recall fondly the way the ships crew went out of there way to assist and make a fuss of us and the family in general. I will never forget the wonderful opportunities that opened up for my family as we embraced an Australian culture and way of life. I recently travelled back to England to visit family, the first such visit since leaving as a child. England is a wonderful historical place and I respected and connected with my heritage rather quickly. I most definitely will visit England again, however I could never live there because Australia, now Tasmania is my home. What wonderful opportunities I have had since arriving on that big ship as a young 3 year old child all those years ago. My family still remain friends with a family we met on the trip across.
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martin bootten 21 March, 2014 06:47
i sailed from auckland late january 1976 northbound to southampton and did the southbound trip november 1976 to auckland. such an experience now lost, almost, to air travel. great memories and some not so especially when my motorbike came out of the hold in auckland wet because of a cargo hold leak.
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Ann McClure 1 February, 2014 13:20
I boarded this ship in Southampton June 1967 & due to the closure of the Suez we were diverted via Cape Town arriving Sydney July 1967. It was a very rough trip with many children on board. Many families had no access to luggage as it was in the hold & due to bad weather the crew would not venture down, Passengers were tearing up towels to use as nappies, my husband went down into the hold (against Captains order & retrieved suitcases containing nappies for several relieved families. Does anyone remember this. Many had dysentery & we worked out it must have been the soup (as children did not have soup nor were they sick)I used to only eat fresh fruit & bread rolls & wrapped cheese portions & I stopped being sick however I arrived in Sydney weighing 8lb less!
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Glynn Burge 31 March, 2014 15:50
Hi Ann, my comments are below. Maybe we were on the same crossing. I do recall my parents telling us kids how rough the crossing was. Mum was seasick most of the way. Dad was OK though he "kept his spirits high and his liquids up" I think or at least words to that effect. Our family disembarked at Freemantle bound for Melbourne then Brisbane.
RodSwan 27 December, 2013 11:05
I returned to Australia on Australis leaving Southampton on June 12, 1974. I brought my 18yo English bride Valerie and my 6 month old daughter Debra Jane. Great trip via Canary Islands, Capetown, Fremantle, Melbourne and on to Sydney. May have stopped in Adelaide too. Long time ago!
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Chris Winn Cowgill 8 December, 2013 02:29
I sailed from New Zealand 29 July 1973, to Miami Florida. The trip was wonderful! I met some terrific people named Larry and Rose Harveaux, whom I have never forgotten. They had 4 children, and almost everyone had red hair. Larry and Rose, I would like to be in touch again! I also met others, whom I still remember, but not their names. -Chris
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douglas wood 25 November, 2013 12:20
hi my family and i set sail 1972 bound for southampton wonderfull 6 weeks,
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Neville Fenn 22 November, 2013 16:23
I left Sydney late January 1976 sailing via Auckland, Papeete, Acapulco, Panama Canal, curacao, San Juan, Cherbourg and arrived in Southampton late February.
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Keith Williams 27 August, 2013 14:50
I sailed from Southampton with my family on ss Australis on 3rd July 1970 arriving in Melbourne on 1st of August, a Herald newspaper photographer saw my 2 sons and asked to take a photo of them, a large photo of them appeared in the newspaper that same day. I remember one of the entertainers on Australis was called Michael. there was a great kids nursery on board too, we have many happy memories of the voyage.
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Colin Johnstone 2 June, 2013 20:39
Hi My wifes family came out on the Australis in 1974 and disembarked in Sydney. Is there a passenger list availble to search?
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Andre HAUBERT 20 July, 2014 18:25
Hi Collin, I also travelled on the Ss Australis from Southampton to Sydney , April/ may 1974. I'm also trying to locate the passengers list of that trip , please let me know if you found anything. Many thanks Andre
Discovery Centre 3 June, 2013 14:21
Hello Colin! You'll want to start with our Quick Guide to Passenger Lists Online, going to the section about the National Archives of Australia records for post-1923 records. Best of luck with your research!
Sam Thomas 3 May, 2013 10:25
I travelled on this fine ship from Greece to Australia in June/July 1968 as a migrant from Egypt. Loved the ship, loved the voyage, best time of my life, sadden by the ship's fate but I will always remember the good times I had back then.
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Ina van Eijk 28 April, 2013 14:30
Our family traveled on the SS Australis on 17 September 1972 from Southhampton to Australia , disembarking in Sydney . I hold great and fond memories of our trip and as a teenager got up to plenty of mischief . I recall a dining room waiter by the name of George Phillipis ( or spelling could be Fillipis , or similar) he was about 20-23 . I have a couple of items he gave me that I would like to return to his family as they were his personal things not purchased gifts . George went (apparently) missing from the ship in the US possibly in 1973/4. Would love to know what happened and maybe return these precious items to him or his family .
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Sam Thomas 25 April, 2013 16:21
I was on board this grand lady in June/July 1968, from Greece to Australia via Cape town, South Africa, it was the trip of a lifetime, best time of my life. a sad ending for a wonderful ship
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Neil Anderson 25 March, 2013 20:17
I emigrated from UK to NZ on the Australis in March 1977 when aged 9. I loved the trip especially Port Said and Sydney. We were delayed leaving Southampton by fog and so ended up having a later arrival in Egypt. I was gutted because I missed the pyramids trip as a result. Djibouti (FTAI) was an interesting experience. Overall I had a great time, met lots of other kids etc. I even knocked myself out skipping at the children's recreational Programme!
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Robyn Jones 20 March, 2013 23:16
Have just read through the above comment that I have made on my wonderful memories of my 'SS Australia' cruise, and find that I have made a mistake with the date of my next cruise after this one. I sailed on 'Pride of America' around the Hawaiian islands in 2008, not 1988!! Silly me!!
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Robyn Jones 19 March, 2013 11:34
I have wonderful memories of my time on "SS Australis". It was a cruise holiday to Fiji from Sydney in 1968/69. It was a 15-day cruise and we had Christmas and New Year on the ship.In those days, the ships were usually divided into first and second class passengers, but that ship on that cruise was an all-class ship, which meant we could go anywhere on the ship. It was the end of my first year working as a school teacher in Sydney, and I had just turned 20 when I boarded the ship. I remember the streamers as we left the Overseas Terminal in Sydney to set off on this great adventure, waving to Mum and Dad, and my boyfriend (later to become my husband), as they stood on the pier wondering if I would return from the wild sea!! The ship was full of young people out to have fun, and we sure did have fun!! I don't remember making it to breakfast once in the whole cruise, as we would party all night and finally collapse into bed in the early hours of the morning. I remember that my mother, who was a wonderful dressmaker, had made me 15 beautiful after-five dresses to wear to dinner each night, and how we would love getting dressed up each evening, having spent the day lazing around the pool and flirting with all the great young guys on board!! Our cabin was a two birth (bunks) cabin down in the bowels of the ship on the bottom deck. We could also feel the vibrations of the engines and hear the noise from them, but we didn't care as we were young and adventurous, and in fact it was a great place to be as most of the young people were there, as that was all we could afford. Cruising was very expensive in those days! We had to go up the narrow hallways, stepping through bulkhead doorways to the communal bathrooms, but we loved it!! I remember the 'flash' dining room, and the fact that we had lovely 'older' people at our table. I remember receiving wonderful service from the waiters,and also wonderful service from our cabin steward!! I met a super-gorgeous 'older man' (I think he was about 26!) and having a wonderful, romantic on-board romance, which ended when we arrived back to Circular Quay where both of our partners (his girlfriend, my boyfriend) were waiting for us!! We had some wonderful on-shore adventures together, but the most memorable of these was a wonderful, moonlit night at Savu Savu, where we sat on a grassy slope in front of a Service Club of some kind that was on a hill, and we gazed out through the palm trees, beyond the beach, to where our ship was anchored out to sea, all lit up and looking amazing, and I remember thinking that this was the most magical experience of my life, and that I could have gone on doing this forever!! I remember the nights in the 'lounge'...the band and the dancers...and especially the celebrations of New Years Eve!! Yes, I do remember the red eyes from the chlorine in the pool on deck, and how we had to use eye drops to make our eyes look beautiful for the nights!! I also remember a big inside pool on one of the lower decks, and visiting it late one night. Wow, what a wonderful time we had on the Australis!! This was the start of my love affair with cruising, and when 'The Love Boat' started on TV it was my favourite show, and I remember feeling very special as I had experienced this life! It was 40 years before I was lucky enough to go on a cruise again, and this was on "Pride of America" around the Hawaiian Islands in 1988. I have since been on another 9 cruises and am about to embark on my next one in a week's time on "Celebrity Solstice"...at 132,000 tonnes it will be VERY different to that little 'SS Australis', which I thought was huge at the time!! Gone are the days of the little inside cabins next to the engine room....now it is the big balcony cabins for me (at 64, I now enjoy the luxury of space and fresh air!!) However, nothing will ever take away the wonderful memories I have of that first cruise on "SS Australis"!!!!!