Words: Rob Henderson

Cruising from Australia in the 1920s and 1930s was still in its infancy when these photographs were taken. Life on board the ships then followed a more relaxed style than today, with passengers organising their own entertainment. Soon after sailing the Staff Captain, or another Senior Officer, would call a meeting of passengers who would then elect an Entertainments Committee. It was the responsibility of this committee, with help from the ship’s staff, to organise sports and deck activities and evening entertainment.

Passengers entering into competitions would contribute a small amount of money, which would cover the purchase of prizes; all were bought either from the ship’s shop or souvenir shops ashore at ports of call. Any monies left over at the end of the cruise would be donated to the ship’s charities.

1. Rock and roll: three characters find their sea legs.

2. In the days before children’s hostesses and organised entertainment, activities for children were organised by the Entertainments Committee. From fancy dress parties to paddling pools, sand boxes and three-legged races – children were never forgotten.

3. I’ve heard tell that some of today’s big cruise ships still have a ship’s cat – Queen Mary 2 for example! This little fellow belonged to Strathnaver in the 1930s and was a popular member of the crew among passengers – his favourite hangout was on a ledge outside the butcher’s shop!

4. In days gone by it was crew members who, for an extra few shillings a month, would form a ship’s band. They entertained at dinner dances that were held on deck as the ship sailed along in the tropics beneath starry nights.

5. In tropical climes it was traditional to serve ices to all passengers. At precisely 11am, stewards would appear on deck with trays of vanilla ice-cream. A gong would be sounded and passengers would gather to collect their ice-cream or wait for a steward to deliver.

6. The Deck Buffet Lunch. The question is, just which company first invented the deck buffet? We do know that way back in the 1840s passengers onboard P&O Royal Mail Ships sailing through the Red and Arabian seas would be served lunch on deck to avoid the heat below decks. This was in the days long before air-conditioning and the main course was a hot Goan curry!

7. One of the most popular sports, usually reserved for men only, was the greasy pole. Two men, each armed with a pillowcase filled with wet rags, would face each other while straddling a well-greased pole and at a given signal would attempt to unseat the opponent. It was a lot of fun and always attracted huge crowds of cheering onlookers.

8. Of course, for Australians and New Zealanders one of the most popular organised activities was cricket. The two teams would usually be drawn from passengers, but it was common for a team to be drawn from officers and crew who would then challenge passengers for the Oronsay Cup – the name of the ship on which these photographs were taken.

9. What could be more Australian? Bondi or St Kilda on Sea? Shipboard life for many centred around sun bathing and swimming – not too many sales of sun hats or lotions here!

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