Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Pacific & Australia - part eleven

In 1941, the Australian light cruiser HMAS Sydney (II) sank off Western Australia after a battle with a German raider. 645 men died, Australia’s greatest naval loss of the war, indeed of any of the country’s wars. It was only in 2008 that Sydney was found.

Entering the harbour in Geraldton, Western Australia, two structures stand out on the hill above the little town. They’re part of a Sydney memorial. 

The dome is made up of 645 seagulls representing the Sydney’s crew.

The pillar or stele is both symbolic of Sydney’s prow and a grave marker. All in all, very impressive.

It almost seems sacrilege to transition to the beach and these delightful ‘Rubik’s Cubes’ …

… which turn out to be public washrooms. 

On closer inspection, Thirsty Camel is a Geraldton ‘bottle shop’, one of an Australian chain (‘Join Thirsty Camel's Hump Club for great offers and discounts on your favourite liquor products’). Their original TV ads are a laugh … depending on your sense of humour.


By the way, camels were brought to the continent - along with rabbits - in the 19th Century. Thousands (and millions of rabbits) still call Australia home.

In 2001, for three months, I circled the world, via Australia and New Zealand, on the British container ship Palliser Bay. She was the last merchant vessel regularly circumnavigating, not by the canals, but by the capes. Following the old clipper ships route, it was a memorable voyage, …

… dipping deep into the Great Southern Ocean.

Today, Maasdam brings me back to where we arrived in Australia, the container terminal in Fremantle.

And there - that little green indentation - is where I met my first Australian, a seagull, which disliked me and repeatedly swooped alarmingly close to my head. Fortunately, as it was dark, no-one saw me humiliatingly running for cover. And only his colleagues saw our pie-eyed engineering cadet use the same spot for a midnight dip. Perhaps by then the seagull was asleep.

Palliser Bay was a P&O Nedlloyd ship. She’s long been scrap and the British-Dutch line is history, but, testament to their durability, a few PONL containers live on ...

... as do Fremantle’s 1901 P&O Hotel …

… and 1903 P&O Building, previously owned by the Australian United Steamship Navigation Co., whose initials can be seen. The properties have been restored by a university.  

The 1907 ‘Hotel Cleopatra Hotel’, now student housing, was named after a vessel …

… but the Australia Hotel needs no explanation. The hotel serves Swan beer, named for the black swans on the river running through Fremantle …

…one of which you can see on this ancient advertisement.

A walk along the seafront reveals no swans but a solitary walker. I dip my shoe in the Indian Ocean …

… and then make a sentimental visit to a phone booth from my past. Well, its predecessor, no wifi then. 

Disembarking in Fremantle from Palliser Bay, I phoned my elderly mother in Toronto. In those days, we used prepaid phone cards rather than SIM cards and I found a public phone near the port. I stood here, yelling down the phone to Mum, who, by then, could occasionally be a little confused. ‘Mum,’ I shouted as a passerby grinned, ‘I’m in Australia!’ ‘Oh, that’s nice, dear,’ she said, completely unimpressed. A year later, Mum died. 

I wanted to go back, stand in the quiet square, thousands of kilometres from home, and think of Mum. 

U.S. election today, but results tomorrow Australia time.