Routes and Stopovers

Routes and Stopovers, 1940s–60s
Source: Museum Victoria

In the 1940s-1960s, the most common route from Britain and Europe was via the Suez Canal. There were stopovers in Port Said in Egypt, Port Aden in what is now Yemen and Colombo in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) From there, the ships travelled across the Indian Ocean to the Western Australian Port of Fremantle.

The other route was via the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa. Ships taking this route travelled via Lisbon to Cape Town and then across the Indian Ocean to Fremantle, Melbourne and Sydney.

Ships initially returned to Europe via the Suez Canal. However, by the 1960s many were taking advantage of the increasing tourist trade and adopted a round-the-world route, returning to Europe though the Panama Canal in Central America.

Stopover Ports

'Stopovers' were a practical necessity for passenger liners, to restock with fuel, fresh food and water, as well as to load and unload passengers. They were also an advertised attraction for migrants, many of whom had never previously travelled outside their home country. The stop-over ports were adventures, offering opportunities to meet the locals, bargain for souvenirs, and sample a heady mix of sights, sounds and smells.

The ports visited depended on the shipping line and the route taken to reach Australia. If the passengers were on lines that used the Suez Canal, they would sail across the Mediterranean Sea to Port Said in Egypt. There they entered the narrow canal and travelled through to Port Aden in Yemen, and out into the Red Sea.

The big ships went single file through the Suez Canal, and often had to 'queue' at Port Said. The passengers could go ashore and book tours to the pyramids or go on camel rides. Buying from pedlars in small boats or at exotic bazaars were entertaining novelties for most migrants travelling to Australia.

We were overwhelmed at the (Colombo) wharf by an all-pervading, enveloping aroma, which we discovered once on shore to be the smell of curries from the motley array of food stalls beyond the terminal. From one of these we tasted real fresh coconut for the first time.
– Joe Vella migrated from Malta in 1955.

The liners' next stopover would be Port Aden in what is now Yemen. They would then call at Bombay (India) or Colombo (Sri Lanka, then called Ceylon) before crossing the equator on the way south to Fremantle in Western Australia. Many passengers would remain with the ship and sail to Station Pier in Melbourne or perhaps on to New Zealand.

Buying souvenirs was a particularly exciting part of the stopover experience. Passengers often purchased the unusual and exotic as a keepsake of visits to places that they had never seen before and might never see again.


Use the Internet to prepare a presentation on the ports that ships called at between England and Australia (Suez and Cape of Good Hope routes).

Image Gallery

Snake charmer in Colombo Shopping at Port Said Leather-bound scrap book A pair of red and white leather shoes