The Chandris Lines Greek passenger ocean liner the Ellines for the next sixteen days at sea became the playground for Joan, the children and me. My expertise in shipping procedure and that we weren’t 10 English pounds assisted English passengers made it easy for us to use every available and unavailable facility on board ship. Our first morning at breakfast when I trooped in with the family and found that only two seating arrangements had been made for Joan and me, I summoned the chief steward for an explanation. It seemed that all children on board had their meals at a first sitting, which in their brochure that we hadn’t received stated. On patiently explaining to him that I had specifically asked when booking the passage that as a family unit we wanted to have our meals together because it would be irresponsible for us to leave our five children on their own, and without any supervision to wander the ship while we were having a meal, made him hum and haw. My further adamant request was for him to check his passenger list where he would find that I had paid adult fairs for two of my children and in that case they couldn’t be classed as children, and that we weren’t assisted passengers as the rest. My family was the largest one on board and I knew from past experience that all passenger liner companies had a policy to cater to their request. We were then set up at a separate family table and the Chief Steward had to also patiently explain the situation to the English passengers with children, who were bitching, and that received us a bit more respect and pleasantries all round when hearing that we had paid full fares.
The Ellinis because it was under contract to convey 10 pound assisted English passengers from England to Australia for immigration purposes, which had to come via Cape Town due to the ongoing Suez Canal crises, usually catered to paying passengers. The ship was grouped into first, intermediate and economy class, and because we were the last to embark, our cabins were in the bowels of the ship. That didn’t bother us for it was a first come first serve arrangement. Those who were fortunate to be placed in first class though thought they had priority of everything on the first class deck. No such luck where I was concerned, and when trooping with my brood there, the imaginary haughty complained again. Our children were well behaved, disciplined and parent controlled, while theirs were behaving atrociously and hogging all entertainment equipment while their parents were elsewhere flaunting their snooty charms. A quite word to the deck officer saw that change quick smart and parents begin to control their brats. The other place where our children shone was in the swimming pool because of having early childhood lessons and could swim like dolphins. It was surprising to those who had entered in a diving and swimming competition to be well and truly beaten in all the events our children had entered, especially when taking all the major prizes, but they had also made many new friends because of it. More friends were also made in the gym when they donned their Judo costumes and gave demonstrations to open mouthed spectators. It all began when the gym instructors who were putting others through their paces that had done various elements of physical training before, but it was our children’s first time there. It was while they were watching a group of older boys been taught wrestling moves and holds, that those that were wresting on the mat must have thought here are newbies that we can twist into a pretzel and slam down on the mat. Wrong! They all had blue-belts that were in the fifth stage of Judo, and those who had previously seen the Judo video of them in competition in one of my blogs, would know what I’m talking about. It’s also true what they say about the bigger you are the harder you fall because that’s what occurred to those smart arse pommies who found themselves flattened on the mat every time. The instructors who were watching in amazement were convinced that my kids knew all about wrestling until been told that their discipline was Judo, which lead to the demonstration request.
South Africans love to party, and even our children at a young age were encouraged and taught all modern dance steps, which my parents also did for my siblings and me, and that saw them on the dance floor at any function. On board ship the nightlife centered on adults only and older children were bored shitless, so when our two eldest, the one fifteen and the other fourteen, requested to go dancing with Joan and myself, we didn’t have second thoughts. Those at the dance tried stare us down for our audacity in bringing them along because there were no other youngsters attending. When the four of us took to the floor and put the rest of the dancers to shame by dancing every dance number played, which ranged through the whole category from old to modern, they formed a circle at one stage around us as we rock ‘n rolled with the band-musicians going into a real hot lick to keep us going. Metaphorically, the dancing shoe was in the other foot then, for we were receiving smiling stares instead and request to be danced with.
Being in the bowls of the ship, which was aft and in the stern where most of my seafaring years were spent, gave the cabin stewards the impression that because we were in the arse end of the ship they could give us crappy service, again no such luck. I compiled a list of complaints and presented it to the chief steward. I was having a field day because it listed every service pertaining to passenger steward’s compulsory duties, which I was very aware of that I had performed and they were not. They had refused cabin-service meals to two of our children who occasionally got seasick when bad weather eventuated. Their cleaning of the cabin consisted of walking into the cabin while we were elsewhere, look around and then walk out again, which both Joan and I saw them do, and the reason was due to all of us making up our own bunks and packing everything away. That didn’t give them the right not to vacuum, dust, wipe, clear out the wastepaper baskets or change the linen, and the bathrooms received the same treatment. The Chief Steward on seeing me approach his office smilingly waved me in to sit down. It seemed from captain to crewman had heard of our run-ins, sorting outs, and passengers understanding and acceptance, so he too accepted my list and brought everything related to the inconsistencies of the cabin stewards into perspective.
Joan and I also had the time of our lives because we attended every function given, which included fancy-dress, stage shows, theatre, game shows, comedy shows, jazz combo , night clubbing, pub crawling, card games, deck sports or just lazing by the pool and eat and eat and eat. The ships officers and crew must have taken a liking to us because we were the only passengers who were invited onto the bridge of the ship with the captain in attendance, and the children were allowed a hand at steering. The engine room, which is a no go zone for anybody except ship’s crew, was another minor exploration they experienced, and when the older children had exhausted the ships play facilities they hung out with the officers and crew. They were taken up with them because they would assist the scullery boys on deck every afternoon to serve consommé and rusks as a snack to the passengers, and would think nothing of it to tidy up play areas where equipment was left lying around by other passengers. Joan and myself too were invited to many private parties in the officers and crew’s quarters where ouzo; a Greek drink of aniseed-flavored spirits, was the flavour of the night. On the last farewell dinner our family received the privilege of being invited to sit at the captain’s table to a bit of jealousy from the other passengers. We had made our mark on the ship and I was sure we were going to continue doing it in Australia. That friendship association with the crew of the Ellinis continued for many of their return trips to Melbourne with visits to our home and their introducing us to Greek friends and restaurants. Anzac Day that is not only a remembrance day for what it represents to Australians for maintaining their freedom but also it was the freedom that we were going to share in Australia when the Ellinis berthed in Melbourne on the 25th April on Anzac Day, and we stepped ashore on freedom land on a day that has been always memorable to us for both reasons.
Australian New Zealand Army Corps.
ANZAC Day Parade.