Ships Nostalgia banner

1 - 11 of 11 Posts

4,530 Posts
Discussion Starter #1
This is a continuation of the story of five seamen who skinned out in Port Kembla

Voyage not Completed - Part 2
Five seamen marooned and a long way from the ocean

It had been a rush; getting away from the ship; well planned though. We'd only made up our minds to do it after the ship had left Adelaide for Japan. The ship was a coal burner a wartime built `Fort' boat - and was to call at Port Kembla on the way for bunkers. I couldn't remember who'd first thought of the idea of `skinning out'. The ship had spent a lot of time in Port Adelaide, mainly because of the wharfies' strikes, and some of us had made friends, girl friends; and when the ship had eventually left it was only natural that we should be a bit regretful. It was most likely Dusty Miller who had thought of the idea, because he had only joined the ship in Adelaide. He been `on the beach' in Australia for quite a long time on and off and knew a lot about the country. When you thought about it, it was a bit odd that he should have signed on a ship in Adelaide; only to walk off in Port Kembla with the intention of hitch-hiking back to Adelaide again.
Perhaps he was employed by the Australian Government to help provide immigrants on the cheap. Not likely but you never know.
We hadn't had much time to prepare between Adelaide and Port Kembla: we'd each had to make a kind of rucksack for the trip. Luckily there'd been an old hatch tarpaulin that was about to be discarded. The canvas was pretty old, but it served the purpose.
Most of the deck crew and the catering staff were in on it, and there'd been a `whip-round' the evening before the ship was due to dock, because nearly everyone had a little Australian money left. It hadn't raised very much, but it had nearly doubled our kitty.
The ship had tied up at the bunkering wharf at ten in the morning and at ten thirty, after the mate had gone to the saloon for his morning coffee, the five of us had taken our gear ashore and concealed it behind a shed on the wharf. At twelve o'clock when anyone who might have taken exception to our departure was safely seated in the saloon, awaiting lunch, we had said our farewells, hurried down the gangway and collected our belongings. Port Kembla North railway station was only a short walk from the coal wharf, and after consigning our suitcases and sea bags to Adelaide by goods train, we'd caught a train north. We had told the booking clerk we wanted to get a reasonable distance away from the port, and he'd sold us tickets to Bulli. We were lucky we didn't have long to wait for a train, but even so, the minutes of waiting seemed like eternity. When the train did leave, and we were at last able to relax a bit, and stop the over-the-shoulder-looking, we were frustrated by its slow, puffing progress, through the goods yards, past the steelworks, and eventually into Wollongong.
Roy suggested that if we had been missed, and that if the police had been notified, the booking clerk may have been questioned. If he had been, then the chances were that a reception committee would have been organised for us at Bulli. By this time the train was approaching Balgownie station and we decided it would be sensible to leave the train and take to the road, where we would at least feel less trapped.
I imagine we would have looked very conspicuous; these five young men with roughly made rucksacks, striding westwards. We walked in single file on the edge of the road, right thumb stuck out from each swinging arm whenever we heard a vehicle approaching from behind. Gradually, as the afternoon wore on, we began to feel safer. Eventually a small, empty truck had stopped. The driver said he was going to Keira and we asked him how far that was. He'd said it was about three miles, and we accepted his offer of a lift. At the top of Mount Keira we looked westward and realised that we'd reached a dead-end. Apart from Cordeaux Reservoir there was an unbroken sea of forest stretching to the horizon. We couldn't go back, not today anyway, and we couldn't go on. This is where we would have to spend the night. We eventually discovered a lookout and we had stood and looked at the ship, still lying alongside the coal wharf. We felt a little more secure then.
Next morning I realised that the feeling of security had now been replaced by a new insecurity. I walked back to the camp to wake the others in order to get back on the road down the mountain, buy a map and find ourselves a route westwards.
We made ourselves some breakfast. We’d bought a billy can and some provisions in Balgownie and Eddie had appropriated a frying pan from the galley before we left . We found our way down to the Prince’s Highway and headed South. We bought a map of New South Wales in a newsagent and decide to head for Albion Park and then take the Illawarra Highway inland.
It took us all day tramping down the Prince’s Highway to reach the Illawarra Highway. We seamen weren’t used to hiking and by the time we eventually found a suitable campsite we were extremely weary and footsore. There is, or there was in 1946, a small creek a short way along the Illawarra and this is where we decided to make camp. To get to the camp we had to paddle through a small branch of the creek, it has heavenly. The cold water flowing into our boots to sooth our hot and sore feet. There was plenty of deadwood around and it didn’t take us long to make a fire. It was October and the weather was pretty cool in the evenings.
Dusty and Eddie walked up to Albion Park shops to see what they could buy for our evening meal. Meat was still rationed in Australia in those days but they managed to come back with five steaks from a friendly butcher.
I had a trilby hat which was my going-ashore headgear but a breeze blew up and carried it into the creek where it floated downstream far out of my reach. Goodbye hat..
After our meal we sat around the fire and chatted and eventually rolled into our blankets and slept. We hadn’t been long asleep when we woken by distant thunder and within a very short time there was thunder and lightning all around. Then the rain started, It bucketed down and there was no shelter but our sodden blankets under which we sat until the storm passed. Eventually it stopped and we managed to light a roaring fire to dry out our blankets. I believe I caught a chill that night. We had only intended to camp one night here but we couldn’t move on until we were well dried out so we stayed another day.
When we did move it was early in the morning and we tramped cheerfully along the highway until we came to a farm where we asked if could have some water. They had just finished milking and kindly gave us some warm, fresh milk as well. Then on and up the steep and winding Macquarie Pass. Near the top we came across a field thick with rabbits. Our mouths watered. but they were too fast for us. Although I have forgotten a lot of the details of our journey, I do recollect that Ted had a mandolin and I can remember how we marched along singing to his music through Robertson and on to Mossvale.
Coming into Mossvale we came upon the showground with a fairly old looking pavilion which we decided might make a handy home for a night if we could find a way in.. It looked very neglected and the only way we could get in was through the floor. It was built on piers and at first we decided to camp underneath until we discovered the loose floorboards. We had a warm and comfortable night inside. I took a couple of Aspros before bed and in the morning my chill had evaporated. I supposed we must have replenished our supplies in the town but I can’t remember.
Once through Mossvale we continued the comparatively short distance to the Hume Highway. Now we were really on our way. There was very little traffic on the roads in those days; petrol still being rationed and any cars that were on the road were very unlikely to stop of a group of five young men.
I can’t remember how long it took to reach Goulburn but I suppose it would have been three or four days at least and we began to consider that we ought to split up into two groups as a group of two or three would be more likely to get lifts and work than a mob of five.
It was around Goulburn that we were given a lift on a truck. He was loaded with cow hides and we sat right up on top of them. The smell was abominable but it was worth suffering it for the sake of the long one hundred mile ride to Gundagai, which was where we first encountered the Murrumbidgee River and when we camped on it’s bank we made the decision that Dusty and Eddie would leave in the morning and we would give them twenty four hours start.
The Murrumbidgee River was very low owing to the drought that they told us had been going on for ten years. Sometimes, as we tramped along the almost deserted highway, we could see, in the distance, the line of trees that marked it’s course. My memories of that journey are coloured by the only sounds to be heard in that desolate country; the mournful cry of the crows and the sweet song of the magpies.
We always kept our thumbs wagging whenever we heard a vehicle coming along and one day a farmer in a utility stopped and gave us a lift for a few miles. He asked us where we were going and when we told him he said he had had a good year and gave us a pound. We found all the people in the country to be very friendly and helpful.
Although the years have clouded most of my memories of the journey I clearly remember when we reached the beginning of the Sturt Highway. It was a gravel road then as were many of the outback highways and within a couple of days we came to the town of Wagga which we passed through and camped somewhere on its outskirts..
The next town was Narrandera and I believe we arrived on a Saturday evening; camping outside the town. We had been told by someone along the way that the fruit picking season was soon to start in the Leeton area so, this being only a slight diversion from our route, we decided to head in that direction.
When the ship was travelling from Adelaide to Kembla we were given the job of overhauling the contents of the lifeboats. Among the items to be dumped were packets of ‘energy’ tablets. I decided that they might be useful on our long trek so, instead of ditching them, they went into the rucksack. We had been using them quite a lot because money was short and our intake of grub was minimal. By the time we arrived at Narrandera we had used all of our share of the magic pills and were becoming exhausted.
Of the next stage of the journey my fading memory has managed retain quite a lot. We left fairly early on Sunday morning. Summer was becoming fairly advanced and the day promised to be a fairly hot one. The countryside was flat and bare. It was difficult to find water, Our provisions had reduced to half a tin of cocoa. We filled our waterbags when we could and we stopped frequently to boil the billy and drink an ugly cup of black unsweetened cocoa. We were thoroughly exhausted but we had no choice but to soldier on. Our target was Yanco which we had been informed was a place full of orchards. It was only fourteen miles from Narrandera but it took us all day to reach it.
We arrived on the edge of the village at about five oclock; exhausted, hungry and with only two shillings between us. Because of our lack of money we had been teetotal for the whole of our three week, three hundred mile journey. We camped along the dirt track that led to the power station. The Yanco Hotel was quite close to where we camped but being Sunday it was closed and being broke we couldn’t have patronised it anyway. I don’t think Yanco has changed much since those days. Across the road from the pub was a general store. The owner was Mr. Waring if my memory serves me aright. It was open and we went across to spend our two bob on a bit of grub. You could buy quite a bit for a couple of bob in those days; it was almost an hour’s pay. We managed to get a little tea and sugar; some bread, butter and a couple of saveloys. Enough for a bit of a meal. We asked Mr Waring if he knew if anyone was looking for fruit pickers and to our astonishment he said he did.
He told us that the Moss brothers were starting to pick apricots the very next day and would we like him to ring them? Silly question. So he rang them and they told him that they would pick us up at eight o’clock the next morning. So began the next stage of our adventure.
1 - 11 of 11 Posts