Saturday I drove to Mackay to do a bit of shopping and visit daughter Averyl for a couple of hours. As I drove down the highway and also while returning, it was raining and appeared to be raining in the mountains in the direction of Boulder Creek. Perhaps I made the correct decision.
On Wednesday and Thursday all staff at the office attended a training session at the Reef Gateway Hotel. Meals provided. None of the staff eat big meals for lunch so on day one we were all surprised to be served a huge steak on a bed of chips with a little salad. I would have been happy with an assortment of little sandwiches. The second day lunch was almost a repeat of the day before only it was a chicken schnitzel instead of a steak. On both days most of the plates went back to the kitchen with half the food still left on them.
Now comes the musing part.
When I was a kid, you know, from age 11 to 14 or thereabouts, I lived at the Sydney harbour-side suburb of Balmain. It was a poorer working class suburb. I wandered, about as far as a kid that age could wander. Mostly I got around by foot. We were also blessed with buses, trams (trolley cars as they are called in the USA) and ferries. I want to talk about ferries I loved the smell of the harbour, I loved the Sydney Harbour Ferries which could take you all over the harbour-side suburbs. If memory serves me correctly we could travel all day on the ferries for the princely sum of thruppence – Threepence, three pennies, a dina, a trey bit, equivalent to about 2cents in today’s currency. A child day- tripper ticket now costs $9. These lovely old ferries would chug around the harbour picking up and dropping off passengers at appointed wharves, sort of like a bus service. I was restricted by as I could walk on foot to where I could catch a ferry. Mostly I went to Mort Street Wharf. Sometimes I would use Elliott Street Wharf and sometimes I used Darling Street Wharf. I am about to digress from the digression. Dad sometimes took us fishing at these wharves at night. Mainly he used what he called a squid jigg and in those days he used squid for bait. He later discovered from the Italians they are good eating as well.
Back to ferries. I mentioned they would chug around the harbour.
In those days you could see the engine room and see the pistons moving up and down, seemingly in slow motion. In those days a simple piece of rope across an entrance with a handwritten sign on cardboard saying “Keep Out Crew Only” was all that was needed. That and of course your own intelligence which said the engine room was a dangerous place so you watched the engine room from a respectable and safe distance. Not like these days where the sign has to have several warnings, in seven different languages including visual pictographs and the additional scare of a huge penalty. It still does not keep people out. Where did intelligence disappear to in the last 40 or so years?
I could catch a ferry from Mort Street and end up at one of the City wharves and go for a wander in the city. I could go all day. I had no food, no water, no hat. Just whatever clothes and shoes I put on in the morning. It sort of just happened with no plan. Sometimes I might spend another penny and come home on the bus. If I managed to catch a bus at peak hour I was not popular with the other working passengers wanting to get home. They and the conductor would let me know this was a workers bus and not for kids.
At times I could walk all the way from the city wharf to Circular Quay, the busiest port in Australia with all these harbour ferries coming and going. The big Manly Ferries left from the Quay and it was a wonderful hour or so trip to that beachside suburb way on the other side of the Harbour. On Saturday afternoons you could see the 18’ skiffs racing on the harbour.
The Manly Ferry had to cross the Sydney Heads where on one occasion I was carrying a large transistor radio. In those days they were as big as a briefcase and much heavier. On this day a huge swell was rolling in through the heads from a storm out at sea. The ferry starting rolling in the swell and some people were sick. Then waves started to break over our Starboard side. A wave slammed against a window and smashed it, showering glass over passengers sitting there. Now there were screams and more people being sick. The crew came along with brooms and moved people to Port. They then smashed the remaining windows on the Starboard side with their brooms. Better to have some water get in than people getting cut from broken windows. The ferry started to heel to Port and in the process my big, heavy family possession, the transistor radio, slid off the seat and across the deck towards a port door. By now water was sloshing along the port deck and rushing out through the scuppers. My radio was heading towards the deep green sea. I slid after it and managed to grab the handle. As I stood up the ferry heeled even more and I found myself hanging over the gunnels still holding onto the radio even as my feet left the deck. Other passengers grabbed my legs and hauled on-board. Gee was I shaking.
Back to ferries in general. Usually the deckie was a short muscled bronzed guy with his Kahki, short sleeved shirt rolled up almost to his shoulders showing off his muscular tanned arms. The deckies all looked the same. When we arrived at a wharf they would lasso the dock stanchions and gradually pull the ferry into place. He would then leap off the ferry onto the wharf and pull a gangplank into place and while holding it in place with his foot, light up a cigarette and ask passengers to walk up the gangplank in an orderly fashion, to watch their step and no pushing. He also took the arms of elderly people, pregnant women, mothers with children and guided them off. He also gave directions to people to find a bus or cab or in which direction to walk. He was a chivalrous guy. At age 13 I wanted to be a deckie. I memorised all the routes and watched everything the deckie did. I reasoned I could do his job easily. Being in the harbour in all weather and the powerful chug chug of the big diesel engines appealed to me.
From Circular Quay I could catch a ferry to Luna Park that great amusement park or even to Taronga Park Zoo which in my humble opinion was one of the worlds greatest zoos.
A year or two later our family moved to an outer suburb called Riverwood, a long way from the harbour and by the time I left school had no idea what I really wanted to be. Thoughts of the harbour, the ferries and the deckies had faded from my mind.
A few years ago I took a trip in a ferry from Darling Street Wharf to Circular Quay then from the Quay to Darling Harbour. Ah, the nostalgia of being aboard a harbour ferry was shocked out of me. The new ferries are faster, more compact and access to crew area are closed and locked and you cannot see the engine. There are warning signs everywhere including the dangers of alcohol and drugs. The deckies were scruffy with long greasy hair, no manners and definitely did not talk to passengers or offer any assistance.
When I was a kid the ferries were all owned by Port Jackson Steamship Co but now ownership is by the New South Wales State Government and is part of their transport system the same as buses and trains.