My Unfinished Father – A Life Lived to the Full – Part 13



Luckily l have some of the photos of this cruise, they are not brilliant for as you know l had to take photos of the actual photos in their albums. Many of the photographs l have had to throw away and discard as they are too old and or fuzzy, but l have used a few here. I find it fascinating  especially the likes of the Panama Canal which has changed considerably as a structure since 1977 when the photos were taken.

In My Father’s Words Directory


My Unfinished Father – A Life Lived to the Full

A Life Lived to the Full

03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018

Brian Matier

Part 13 – Pages 117 – 125

On 25th we boarded the SS Australis, and on the 26th set off to sail to Sydney, which we reached on 27th January 1977. We visited the Bridge, the Opera House, the city centre and the Rocks, an old part of Sydney.

We had a thoroughly nice time before we got back on board and commenced our voyage to Auckland and our new life.


The first thing to be said was that the Australis was not, by any stretch of the imagination, the Fairstar.  The Fairstar was a migrant ship and pretty nearly everything was geared towards transporting £10 Poms to the Antipodes. The Australis was fully paid up cruise ship.

To start with, we had a cabin, above the waterline with portholes through which we could see the ports we were passing through.  It was very comfortable with a separate room with bunk beds for the children.  We had a double bed and it was en suite.

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Bunk beds – funny story – when we first got on board the ship, Jenny threw down a tantrum – she had to have the top bunk, so to keep the peace she was awarded that top bunk … for all of two nights, because of the second night, who knows how? But she fell out … ha ha ha ha ha!! i was then given the top bunk – yay!!

Rory 1 – Jenny 0

Looking at our photograph albums of the voyage I note that a number of photos have been removed.  The albums were left in Margaret’s hands during our separation period before we got divorced.  She must have removed them although she totally denies doing that.  If not her, who else would?  I had all the negatives but she denies taking the photos.

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Overlooking Auckland Harbour

On 3th February we sailed into Auckland Harbour though the astonishing Bay of Islands.  They were totally beautiful. There was the usual miscellany of ships and boats of all shapes and all sizes. Unfortunately it was Sunday and Auckland was very quiet on Sundays.  We did get to the Museum and the University both of which were open to visitors.

The Museum was interesting and full of displays featuring old Auckland. There were also a number of shops set out as they might have been a century earlier.

I think at some stage we rode on a coach as we apparently ascended Mount Wellington and took some photographs. Even with our superior fitness in those days, I doubt we would have wanted to climb Mount Wellington.

After one short day we said farewell to New Zealand and started en route to Tahiti.  By this time Jenny had turned into some kind of fish, trying to sneak in a bit of time in the piscine when the Maser at Arms was not looking.  I told her he would lock her up but I think she understood that a smile from a pretty girl works wonders.

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Me and that horrible jumper, Santok and Mum

We had become very friendly with our cabin staff, Santok and Harry who would do anything to oblige.  I also caught up with my old boss from Williamtown, Wg Cdr Gordon Hughes; whose nephew, Kim, would one day captain the Australian team in England to contest the 1981 Ashes.

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We had a splendid Cabaret Night on 5th February but arose early the next morning and were on deck to view beautiful Tahiti coming into sight. As the sun was rising we could see, amidst the sea mists, the twin peaks on the mountains coming closer. 

At this point we acquired a little local knowledge.  The capital of French Polynesia is Papeete, which we were approaching.  I had been pronouncing this a ‘Pap eate.’  I was advised by someone that the correct way to say it was ‘Papa yeti.’  This is very much better.

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The island was hugely floral with plants and foliage everywhere. At Venus Point we came across the highlights of the city with buses, palm trees and a lighthouse.  It was, I thought just a tad over commercialised.  We saw a French policeman with khaki uniform, shorts and a kepi.  We had never been to France but imagined that this was how it must be.

We were treated to a display of dancing by native dancers dressed in native dress.  There was some rule about which way you tied up your hair to make out whether a girl was single or looking for a husband.  I was not in the market.

And so we wandered around and visited a couple of churches and the local covered market where a great deal of fruit was on sale giving the whole place a delightful smell. And as evening fell we said a fond farewell to Tahiti, and watched the island slip back beneath the mists.

On 12th February we ‘crossed the line,’ or the Equator.  This is a ceremony observed by all ships, as far as I know, as they cross from the Northern, or Southern Hemisphere.  It was all much fun with Father Neptune joining in and soaking those whose first time this was.  We were all, minus Jenny, seasoned sailors and escaped the worst of the experience.  She, poor dear, was probably in the water all the time.

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Ruins in Panama

On 16th February we spent the early evening and night sightseeing in Balboa in the Republic of Panama.  Very crowded and noisy but it was all very good natured. And then we were in Panama City, where we could never ever work out when we were in the US controlled Canal Zone or the Republic of Panama.  We wandered around a great deal and didn’t get to bed until 3 am.

In retrospect i realised that we had probably run a few unnecessary risks staying in a pretty lawless town until that time.  But we had done it and got away with it.

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Panama Canal 1977

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Panama Canal Mule 1977

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Panama Canal 1977 – as it once was.

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The Ship passing through the slimmest parts of the 1977 Panama Canal

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And then we transited the Panama Canal, which was very much US controlled land.  I found it totally fascinating with the iron ‘mules’ working away at the side of the ship. I do not know why they are called ‘mules’.

At one point we were trapped in the narrow confines of the Canal and then were steaming in a large lake.  The boy was fascinated. There was an evening children’s fancy dress party before we entered the Caribbean and sailed for Curacao.


My costume – nope! I don’t know what l went as either – but l think it may have been the ships internal magazine!!

Sailing into Willemstad is a pretty unique experience.  The town starts just as soon as you pass the mouth of the harbour with lines of Dutch styled building lining each side, with all the houses painted, Dutch style, in pastel colours. Ahead the great harbour bridge spans the port and the ship sails majestically to its birth alongside and just underneath the bridge.

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1977 Postcard Curacao .. very blue and colourful

We enjoyed Willemstad.  It was busy and noisy with many poorer parts of the town. In fact in the photo album, I have written ‘Curacao was filthy.  Something obviously impressed.

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1977 Reality Curacao .. bit of a difference!

There was the usual market place with plenty of fresh fruit imported from Venezuela. The town itself was pleasant enough with one very bossy police woman.  I am sure there were others. And then it was time again to be once more on our way to San Juan in Puerto Rico where we arrived on 18th February.

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San Juan Fortress

San Juan was one of the most interesting places we visited.  While Curacao retained some of the traits and habits of the first colonial settlers, Puerto Rico was pure United States. It reminded me very much of West Side Story, which if my memory serves me correctly, was all about Puerto Ricans in New York. San Juan is dominated by a huge fortress built out over the sea.  We had to pay a visit, of course, and duly did.

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San Juan Fortress

There are some very attractive buildings in Old San Juan which are kept nicely tended for the visitors.  In the newer part of the city there is a bit of decay and lack of care. We climbed all over the Fort San Juan citadel and I took a heap of pictures.  There were churches everywhere and we visited many of them. 

After our time on the fortress we spent time in the New City which was very pleasant.  Puerto Rico’s Spanish heritage had not all been destroyed by the Americans.

And then after one hectic day, it was time to join the ship and resume normal life.  It took a week to sail to Spain and reach Vigo.  In the intervening days there was a Hellenic evening on board ship, when Greek food and wines were served.  And lots of Greek dancing was mixed into the Programme. 

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Invite to the Captain’s Table

On 20th February we were invited to dine at the Captain’s table, which was nice.  The kids did not join us.  Smart man was that captain.

And then, four days later, we were in Vigo on the Atlantic coast of Spain.  We had never been to Spain before but got off the ship to rain and drizzle..  We hired a cab and a very pleasant Spanish driver gave us a look around at his town, which was pleasant and probably even more if not raining.

We walked around the town.  It had stopped raining and we visited a church, where else.  Margaret I seem to remember bought some shoes or boots. And then it was back on the boat and setting sail for England.

We left Vigo on 25th February and arrived back in England on 26th.  Our circumnavigation of the globe was complete.  It had taken almost twelve years but, nonetheless it was complete.  Now the hard work would start.  I needed a job and we needed a home but first we had to catch up with family and friends.  Oh, it was raining when we arrived.  I would have been disappointed if it hadn’t been.

We started with the nearest, which was my sister Siobhan and her family in Kent.  We began with an outing to Pevensey which was where the Normans landed prior to the Battle of Hastings.  That was somehow symbolic.

Part 13 – Pages 117 – 125


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