Ships, 1940s–70s

Postcard of the Fairsea
Postcard of the Fairsea.
Source: Barbara Alderton

In the decades after 1948, many passenger liners berthed carrying a large proportion of the immigrants who came to Australia from post war Europe. The month long journey is still remembered by many.

Fairsea, 1949–69

After serving as the aircraft carrier and troop ship HMS Charger during World War II, the Fairsea was rebuilt for migrant service in 1949. However the ship's accommodation initially left much to be desired.

The Fairsea was huge, a converted troop ship with no cabins, just huge big open spaces with triple decked bunks, so cramped you couldn't sit up straight in them. Men were assigned to one section, women to the other. The toilet and shower facilities were one huge long one, and everywhere you went there was an awful reek of 'White King'. People threw up because of the smell not just the swell!
– Frank Kriesl migrated from Hungary in 1951.

Between 1949 and 1969 the ship made 81 voyages to and from Australia—for several years chartered by the Australian Government to transport assisted immigrants from Britain.

For further details, see the Ships of Station Pier: Fairsea, Orcades, Johan Van Oldenbarnevelt and Castel Felice information sheets.

Orcades, 1948–72

The Orcades was the third ship of this name to be built for the Orient Line. It was the first purpose-built passenger vessel to enter the Australian migrant trade after World War II, and set a new standard in style and accommodation—multiple saloons, shops, a hair salon, hospital, swimming pool, and a range of cabin choices.

Johan Van Oldenbarnevelt, 1950–63

Referred to as the JVO, the Johan Van Oldenbarnevelt was originally the largest ship ever constructed in Holland when launched in 1929. After working as a British troop ship in World War II, the JVO was refurbished and returned briefly to its previous route between Holland and Indonesia, before joining the Australian migrant trade from 1950 to 1958.

Castel Felice, 1952–70

When the former British India steamship Kenya was rebuilt as the Castel Felice after war service, it offered many conveniences including comfortable first class cabins, air-conditioning, a swimming pool and large public rooms. But for tourist class, things were still cramped.

As far as we were concerned, the Castel Felice was already in the scrap yard. The crew tried their best, but the ship was unsteady. We were eight men in a double cabin – four tiered bunks! There were no luxuries for us.
– Wolfgang Kahran migrated from Germany in 1960.

Between 1952 and 1970, this ship carried over 100,000 immigrants from Italy, Germany and Britain, to Australia and New Zealand.

Purpose built liners

Nicknamed 'The ship of the future', the Southern Cross made waves when it came onto the migrant circuit in 1955. Big, bold and beautiful, the distinctive light-grey hull and pale-green superstructure held many modern features including fully air-conditioned cabins, stabilisers to reduce rolling, and rear mounted engines and funnel, creating space for the largest open sports deck of its time.

The Southern Cross was the first British ship launched by a reigning monarch, and is especially remembered by fare-paying British migrants coming to Australia and New Zealand.

On the uppermost deck we would play cricket matches. Movies were shown at noon, 4pm and at night. Dinner was usually three courses followed by a disco.
– Kester Thomas migrated from Trinidad aboard the Southern Cross in 1967.

In 1959 the Patris became the first liner in the Greek owned Chandris fleet. The ship was popular with passengers despite having the dishonour of running aground in the Suez Canal during a sandstorm.

The Australis (1965–78) was originally launched as the luxury liner America in 1939. Two years later the ship was converted into an American troop ship and renamed the USS West Point. In 1965 it was sold to the Greek owned Chandris Line and converted to a fully air-conditioned single class ship for the Australian migrant trade. Renamed the Australis, the ship retains a significant place in our migration history as the last ship to carry government assisted migrants to Australian shores (in 1977).

For further details, see the Ships of Station Pier: Patris and Australis information sheets.

Galileo Galilei, 1963–77

Named in honour of the famous Italian astronomer, the Galileo Galilei was an instant hit, reducing travelling time from Italy to Australia from four to three weeks on its maiden voyage in 1963.

The Galilei and sister ship Guglielmo Marconi, were the last passenger ships purpose-built for the Australian immigrant service. Its elegant award-winning Italian design featured a novel telescopic funnel-top designed to be raised at sea to better disperse fumes and lowered to maintain appearances when in port.

It was a beautiful ship, nice, big lounge rooms, comfortable cabins. But because of strikes we had to spend three days at each port and we were given money to spend onshore.
– Maria Teresa Perria migrated from Italy aboard the Galileo Galilei in 1971.


Imagine that you are migrating from Europe to Australia in the 1940s–1960s. Use the internet to research the ships described in this section.

Which ship would like to travel on? Explain your choice.

Image Gallery

The Castel Felice arrives at Fremantle.