Many Australians would be completely unaware that a fleet of passenger ships operated on our coast until the middle of the last century. Seven Australian-owned companies, established in the later 19th century, provided these regular interstate services.
The ships, built by British shipyards to the order of each company, always offered a standard of comfort comparable with the world’s best. Until the end of the 1950s, Australians often chose the comfort of a sea passage for interstate travel rather than using the railways. With the coming of the airliner, however, the once-busy coastal liner services soon lost their popularity.
Apart from sail, all but a few Australian ships were powered by steam engines before 1929, but that year two new liners powered by diesel engines arrived from the UK. The Manunda (Adelaide Steamship Company) was first in May, followed four months later by the Westralia (Huddart Parker Ltd). At that time the public took a close interest in new passenger vessels and the newspapers carried reports on their progress from the announcement of the contract, through the building of the ship to the voyage out to Australia.
Ninety years ago this month Melburnians were excited at the arrival of the m.v. Westralia. She had set a record of 30 days for the passage from Greenock to Melbourne. An article in the Melbourne Argus on September 20, 1929, under the heading “Luxurious Accommodation” informed readers that she had been “designed to ensure comfort and service for passengers”. The Melbourne Herald, on the previous day, provided details of the lounges and dining room, including the furniture styles, upholstery and curtains. Her cabins provided accommodation for 360 first-class passengers and for 90 in third class. At that time, having 38 bathrooms available for first-class passengers was a feature.
With the coming of World War II she was commissioned into the RAN as HMAS Westralia and served both as an armed merchant cruiser and an infantry landing ship. In 1951 she was returned to her owners but was sold in 1959 with the decline of the coastal passenger trade.
By Maurie Hutchinson
President, Peninsula Ship Society
T: Maurie Hutchinson 9787 5780
The Peninsula Ship Society meets at Hastings Yacht Club on the fourth Tuesday of each month at 10am. Visitors always welcome.