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Futtocks and Buttocks


Nick Messinger continues his story................

The Indian Ocean monsoon made itself felt, with persistent low dark clouds, and no chance of obtaining a decent sextant observation, much to the frustration of the Navigator. The Oriana had a Marconi DF – direction finder, primarily for locating a bearing of any vessel in distress, but like most sets of its time, pretty useless for navigation purposes. We were running on DR- Dead Reckoning - alone, just a basic calculation using the ship’s course and distance steamed. There were no accurate current charts to speak of, which would have given us a better, Estimated Position, or EP. Oriana was thundering towards Western Australia, towards Freemantle and expected to pick up radar bearings at extreme range, in time to adjust speed in order to arrive on schedule. Eight o’clock off the fairway buoy had been promulgated months in advance and the ship’s itinerary was something we took pride in achieving. The junior radio officer ambled onto the bridge before lunch, and powered up the two radars, peering at the cathode ray tubes and adjusting brilliance, focus and gain.

Expecting landfall are we?’ The Second Officer shook his head; ‘We’ve got another eighteen hours before we pick up the coast. It’s probably just another bloody shower, or a squall passing through. What’s the range?’ It’s painting at forty nautical miles,’ replied the RO, ‘hardly likely to be rain. More like the coast of West Australia.’ ‘Looks like Cape Leeuwin,’ confirmed the Fourth Officer, twiddling the focus and gain settings. ‘But that’s nearly two hundred miles south of Fremantle!’

Then it dawned on us; we had been set so far to the south and so far ahead of our dead reckoning, that we were in danger of missing Australia completely, and heading off into the Great Southern Ocean, towards Antarctica!. To have Oriana ‘miss’ Australia was out of the question. Australia was symbolically incorporated into Oriana’s DNA, and brand. Princess Alexandra of Kent, fresh from a visit to Australia, had launched the ship using a bottle of Australian sparkling wine.

A portrait of the Princess was commissioned for the ship from an up-and-coming Australian painter, Judy Cassab. Her real name was Judit Kaszab, born in Vienna, Austria in 1920, she had a shocking early life, living through the Nazis and the second world war, experiencing horrendous events and the death of all her family. She moved to Sydney in 1951, but never played the victim, or, more remarkably, hated the perpetrators of misery. Judy Cassab gave an amusing account of her experience painting Her Royal Highness, explaining how a director of P&O bought a painting from her first solo exhibition in London, in 1959, and showed it to P&O’s Chairman, Sir Colin Anderson, who also happened to be Chairman of the Tate Gallery Trustees.

On her return to Sydney, informed of her invitation to paint the Princess and sworn to secrecy, Cassab describes a letter she received:

‘Her Majesty The Queen has given you the yellow drawing room in Buckingham Palace as your studio’. It was ridiculous - they asked me how many sittings, and whether I was I sure I would be out of there by 22nd April. I said, ‘Yes, I hope so.’ They said, ‘Because on the 23rd General de Gaulle is moving in’. Princess Alexandra came every day and changed and posed for me. She was infinitely patient and full of goodwill, saying, ‘Don’t worry if you don’t finish it. I will come up to the office of Orient Line and continue sitting for you’. But I did finish it.’

By adjusting our course rather than reducing speed and alerting the passengers, we made our arrival off Freemantle on schedule and proceeded on to Melbourne and Sydney, where we received the kind of welcome reserved for a P&O-Orient liner. There were thousands of people lining the quayside, and cars parked bumper to bumper alongside the International Passenger Terminal. I could see that Australia had really taken the ship to its heart. Many of the people there were spectators, just wanting to see the ship again; it was an unforgettable sight.

While we were alongside in Sydney, the ship was cleaned from top to bottom, in readiness for the voyage home. We were alongside for three days but I was not allowed ashore as I was under punishment for some minor misdemeanour concerning a Junior Assistant Purser. I had been enjoying a cuddle with Dee when there was a knock on her cabin door. She was in her nightdress and ready for bed, but the knocking persisted.

‘He’s in there with you, isn’t he?’ whined a familiar man’s voice from beyond the door. I recognised him immediately and opened the door, landing a punch on his nose as he peered into the semi-darkness. Unfortunately he was wearing glasses. Dee screamed and went to his aid, and I stormed off. It was the only time in my entire life that I punched someone, apart from in self-defence,. Unfortunately the Purser took a dim view and reported me to the Captain and Dee was told she wasn’t to have anything to do with me; ever. I had fallen in love with her; so much so that I had become badly constipated, which had obviously made me short-tempered. Anyway, it was the end of a beautiful relationship, and the very last time I associated myself with a member of the ship’s female staff. Banned from going ashore, and wearing a white boiler suit, I was given the task of installing some newly arrived Tampax dispensing machines in all the ship’s ladies toilets. I took great pride in my work and considered it a fitting end to my apprenticeship with P&O, the world’s greatest shipping company. If the examiner for masters and mates asked me what I did on my last ship, I could puff my chest out with pride, and tell him exactly how many screws it takes to mount internal sanitary protection dispensers on a bulkhead.

Departure day dawned and the crowds were phenomenal; it was as if the entire population of Sydney had come to see us off. The old Ballarat never experienced a send-off like this. There was so much ticker-tape and so many coloured streamers, it crossed my mind that we might never break away from the dock.

Oriana had tunnel thrusters fore and aft, driven by big electric motors. We let go our bow and stern lines and held the ship against the quay using the thrusters. Then, as the Sydney Police band played Waltzing Matilda and the spectators cheered, she moved sideways, as if by magic, much to the amazement of the assembled throng, and we were away, bound for Blighty with a full load of excited Aussies. It was the best send-off ever. Once seen, never forgotten. The ties between our two great nations are exemplified by the patriotic fervour of our Australian cousins.

Of course, the engineers had to go and spoil it all, by making their presence felt with a display of belching black smoke.

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Jamie, The Purser
Jamie, The Purser
Nov 29, 2022

Great story Nick, especially fraternising with Fluff Alley Personnel, (female officers cabins were known as Fluff Alley on Shaw Savill) a lesson learned, never get involved with women on a ship!

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