During the Second World War migrant ships were redeployed to war service as armed cruisers, floating hospitals and troop ships. The pier, once again, became a departure point for Australian troops.
After the war, many ships that had carried soldiers were hastily converted to meet an urgent demand for migrant transportation. Passenger comforts on such ships were extremely limited.
With the sudden increase of postwar migration, as well as the rise in tourist and business trade, shipping lines realised the potential profits to be made. A more competitive market rapidly developed after 1948 with the introduction of new purpose-built migrant liners.
After hitting a sand-bar we sprang a leak, but kept on going. Then we hit a storm on the Indian Ocean, lost an engine and had to pitch round and tie down everything. Lots of water damage to luggage.John Mackay migrated from Britain in 1971.
Second World War troops departing Station Pier, 1941.
Source: State Library of Victoria
Accommodation on the early postwar migrant ships was extremely basic. Large empty holds were fitted out with double or triple-tiered bunks. The
food was plain and sometimes inadequate, and overcrowding was a common complaint. Everyone, including families, was split into separate men’s and women’s quarters.
The General Langfitt was clean and well maintained, but had no luxuries, as it was designed to carry American troops during the war. The dormitories were crowded with bunks. It had communal toilets and salt-water showers. Our only treat was the refrigerated drinking water tap in the passage, but it broke down after a few days at sea. Ale Liubinas migrated from Lithuania in 1949.
Dad had to bunk with other men on a lower deck. At times it was not pleasant below deck because of heat and motion of the ship… People in below deck cabins often took their blanket and pillow and slept on deck.Veronica Morris migrated from England in 1951.
Sailor doll souvenir from the P&O liner Iberia. One of many dolls commissioned by a number of shipping companies for the child market. They were made by Norah Wellings, a well-known English doll manufacturer and have become highly collectible.
Image: Benjamin Healley
Source: Alison Raaymakers/Museum Victoria
A Fresh Approach
A new approach to attracting the migrant trade began in the 1950s. The large dormitories below deck were replaced with cabins, airconditioning was provided and onboard swimming pools and cinemas were installed. Daily newsletters, port-of-call booklets and decorative menus were supplied; balls, parties and sporting competitions organised; and children better catered for with playrooms and organised deck games.
Onboard souvenir shops were installed to boost revenue, offering souvenirs such as postcards, sailor dolls, ashtrays, and spoons — all sporting the ship’s name or emblem.
The Italian crew were experts at organising people to entertain themselves. They had heaps of theatrical costumes and endless ideas about improvising. As a result we had some memorable evenings, including: Wild West night, 1920s night, Arabian night. Everyone got into the swing of it because the days were so boring.Robert and Maureen Hallam migrated from England in 1969.
Paddling in the children’s playroom on board the Dutch ship Willem Ruys, 1963.
Source: Lida Ploeg-van Horick
Travelling the High Seas
While shipping lines and immigration officers planned and promoted a fun-filled trip, the experience could rapidly become the opposite as even the sturdiest of ships fell prey to high winds and rough seas.
At other times the monotony of sea travel became the greatest enemy.
Passengers vomited anywhere, everywhere ... The corridors stank, and this added to further worsen the queasy and unsettled stomachs. The mess decks were emptied of people unable to face the smell of food. Fresh air, the easiest and best remedy was hard to come by as the waves crashed over the decks in spectacular fashion accompanied by scudding rain.Joe Vella migrated from Malta in 1955.
For two weeks we never saw land and many passengers grew more and more restless and bored resulting in minor fights breaking out. Many deckchairs were thrown overboard.Connie McQuade migrated from Denmark in 1960.
Mary Duane celebrating her 21st birthday on board the Castel Felice, 1964.
Source: Mary & Steve Duane
The souvenir shop on the RMS Orcades, 1948.
Source: Museum Victoria
Autographed cover of Landfall Dinner menu issued to passengers on a voyage from England to Australia on Orient Line ship, SS Ormonde, 1948.
Image: Doreen Dunne
Source: Museum Victoria
Group of people, including Edda Azzola (middle), onboard the SS Castel Felice to Australia, 1955.
Source: Edda Azzola
Biting the Elusive Apple. A row of children playing a game on board RMS Orion, Palmer family migrant voyage, England to Australia, 1947.
Source: Museum Victoria