The following is a fascinating insight into steamer travel, circa 1909.
Cairns Post, Monday 11 December 1911
FROM CAIRNS TO LONDON.
TRAVELS OF A CAIRNS GIRL.
Experiences and Impressions.
(Written for the "Post")
By IDA NORTHAGE
l think, my experience not easilyforgotten, is to find oneself, for thefirst time, on board a liner boundfor England. Amid the noise of theclanging of the ship's bell, the stewards directing passengers to theirrespective cabins, porters hustlingup the gangway with luggage, thetalking and laughing of the people,some looking for friends to bid theirlast good-bye, I found myself luckyto be one of the R.M.S. "Omrah's"passengers, homeward bound.
To me, 20th April, 1911, is a dateI shall always remember, havingstarted on a new life to see freshfaces and countries ; in fact, every-thing would be strange to me.
I left Cairns by the "Levuka' onthe 4th March, for Rockhampton.
We had a very large passenger list,which included a good many Cairnsfolk, on their way to the southerncities. During my stay in Brisbane, I visited Toowoomba for the first time, and saw most of the sights of that city. On 5th- .April, I sailed by the "Orvieto" for Sydney.
Although having travelled on threeother steamers before reaching Sydney, the experience did not interestme as it did on going aboard the"Omrah." This good old ship wasto be my home for nearly sevenweeks, and I wondered, as I settleddown in my deck chair, how mynew world would appear to be,whom would I come in contactwith, what would my voyage belike, and a hundred other thoughts.
I travelled alone, and having bidmy "good-byes" to my friends (amongst whom were four young ladiesof Cairns), I stayed on deck watching others bidding good-bye. Some were laughing through their tears, others were sobbing, enough to break their hearts. At 4 p.m. we moved from Circular Quay, thepeople on the wharf cheering andcooeeing to us. The waving handkerchiefs looked like birds flying amongst the crowd.
An unusual sight to be seen were steamers of coloured ribbons, stretched from the ship to the wharf. The passenger heldone end and his or her friend on thewharf held the other. As the boatsteamed away, the ribbons snapped,and each person kept their piece,as a memento.
The day after leaving Sydney weencountered rough weather, whichdelayed our arrival in Hobart, bothmy lady cabin mates and myselfsuffered from that awful complaintseasickness, as also did our neighbors in the next cabin, which contained four gentlemen. For two days we lay in our bunks, and at intervals, our unknown friends next doorwould knock at the wall inquiring after our health. This rather amused me, for we had not met any of the gents until arriving at Hobart : but I thought it very kind kind of them to think of friends indistress. (oo la la)
We arrived at Hobart on 28th April, the rain coming down in torrents. The weather was awfully cold, and Mount Wellington was coveredon the tops with snow. Hobart isa very pretty little township, andis the only port (among those wesailed to) which is built anythinglike the English towns. The girls have most beautiful complexions, all their own, rosy cheeks, not put on as the Sydneystyle.
I visited most of the public buildings, including the Museum and Art Gallery ; also the CarnegiePublic Library, where I saw the"Queenslander", which " containedsome Cairns views, and also the"Post."
We left Hobart on the 29th at 8p m. There were very few on thewharf, too cold to be out, I expect. We felt it very much on deck.
We arrived at Port Adelaide onMonday morning, after a splendidtrip across Bass Straits. Our stayat this city lasted three days, during which I visited the Public Gardens and Art Gallery and Museum. The Gardens are very fine, but it is hard to say which are the best,Sydney Botanical or these.There were two pictures in the ArtGallery which took my fancy, theywere called "The Crisis" (the expressions on the faces of the lady and gentleman in this picture are splendid), and the other was called"Anguish," a sheep trying to saveits dead lamb from the crows. Thiswas also a very good picture for expression. (morbid lady)
I thought Melbourne a much cleaner city than Sydney, and the streets are ever so wide. The dayafter leaving some of our passengers sent off messages in bottles. I have not heard of anyone answering. (all the fashion - no wonder so many hoax bottle-messages washed up onshore). Soon after sending off the bottles the ship's whistle blew, and all the sailors ran up on deck amongst where we were sitting. They startedto let the lifeboats down into the water, and it gave us such a fright. I thought there was a manoverboard, but we afterwards foundthat the sailors were only going through boat drill. Another day we were having dinner, and all of a sudden the siren blew. The stewards left us and scampered down on deck. After having shut the watertight or fire-proof (I don't know which) doors. We all looked at each other with scared faces, wondering what was wrong. But it was onlythe usual fire drill.
We arrived at Port Adelaide onthe 5th May, and soon after breakfast, a party of us went by train up to Adelaide. We were to sail at 1 p.m., so did not have much time to spare at the city. After goingfor tram rides through the mainparts we visited Covent Garden tearooms where a photo was taken.
CAIRNS TO LONDON. The main streets have have gardens down the middle, and the trains fun along each side. This was the first time I had seen trains running through the city and it seemed so strange,Adelaide looked very dry, hardly any grass to be seen. The outlying places looked more like desert country.
One of my cabin mates very nearly missed the steamer at this port.She made a mistake in the traintime-table, and arrived at the wharfjust as the gangway was beinghauled up. She told us after shehad recovered herself, that when thetrain was found to be gone, shehailed a cab to take her to theboat. The cabby did his best, andjust reached the wharf in time. Butthe lady said it was an agonisingdrive, as, for two or three miles shecould see the ship's funnel and theblack smoke, expecting at any moment to see us move off. I guess she will not forget that journey in a hurry.
By the time we leave AdelaideI am beginning to know a few ofmy fellow passengers. I find thereare two young ladies from ChartersTowers and a gentleman from theIpswich Railway Workshops, whoknew most of our railway men.
For three days we crossed the GreatAustralian Bight and it was roughtoo. Myself and another young ladywere the only two of our sex tomanage to get as far as the deck.Others did not leave the cabins.It was as much as I could do toremain on deck, as the weather wasso cold and the sea very rough. Theship rolled awfully, and the deckswere drenched with water. But myfriend and I had already made goodfriends with the Chief Steward, and I had brought my pencil and paper, on deck (in case I should feelinclined to write.) we both sentdown notes to the dining room, requesting that our meals be broughtup to us, signed, "Two sea-sickmaidens." The only part I did notlike about this, was going down tobed at night. We did not like theidea of leaving our warm rugs andgroping our way down stairs andpassages, and the chance of beingdrenched through with the wavessplashing over the sides. (it was not uncommon for steamer decks to be broached by seas)
We passed many steamers, east-ward bound, and they were tossingabout like corks on the water. Wearrived at Fremantle, six hourslate, on the 9th May. We lost a fewof our passengers at this port, butmade up for it when fresh onescame on. Some of our folks chancedmissing the boat, and went up tosee Perth. But I took the advice ofmy cabin mate (who nearly was leftin Adelaide), and stayed in Fremantle.
There was not much to be seenin Fremantle, but we had a walkthrough the streets and bought inour supply of sweets and fruit, etc.to last us for the next stage of ourjourney, which would be ten daysat sea and no sight of land.
We sailed from Fremantle at 5.30p.m., and the evening was a gloriousone. The sunset was so pretty, thesky just above the horizon being ofa bright red tint, with streaks ofgold and shades of pink. The seawas quite calm as we steamed outof the harbor, with the P. and O.liner Malwa racing along with us(bound for Melbourne)
After tea, most of our passengerscame up on deck, and gathered together in groups, sang "Good-bye,""Home Sweet Home," "Good oldJeff," and other mournful tuneswhich seem to suit the occasionwhen one feels just a weeny bithomesick. The moon peeped up above the water's edge, looking like a large ball of fire rising so large and bright. It was a grand sigh, the moon's reflections dancing on the still sea, the light of the passing ships, the churning and frothing waters at thestern of our steamer, the land in the distance, the last we should see of Australia for a time, no wonder we felt happy and yet sad. But of such nights, this was only one of the many glorious nights spent at sea.