12 September 2011

Sea Life 1952. Tynebank leave Geelong bound Fremantle

First Draft

Leaving Geelong and our pilot behind our ship, the Tynebank turned in a westerly direction to cross the Great Australian Bight for Western Australia and Fremantle. A few days after crossing the Bight we would enter the Indian Ocean and turn our heading in a northerly direction for Fremantle.

Our journey to Fremantle in Western Australia would take us about 15 days. Our cargo was to be grain and the destination to be the UK.

After carrying a “dirty cargo” of phosphate the holds needed to be cleaned down before loading grain. This kept the crew busy and the officers busy with supervision. The apprentices had to work with crew to learn how the job was done. Loading loose grain particularly, the holds had to be prepared so the grain had little movement and the load stayed level. Loose grain was a dangerous cargo to carry and if it shifted a dangerous tilt could be caused, or even capsizing the ship in foul weather.

The walls of the holds and flooring including between decks had to be washed down and clean. On completion the bilges had to be flushed out and clean. The 2 main ways of carrying grain was bulk and bagged. The Tynebank was a general cargo ship and so had to be ready to carry almost anything. Our cargo would probably have been bagged grain, I cannot remember. To carry bulk grain would mean building latitude and longitude walls of boards in the holds the keep the loose grain from moving. Today bulk like grain is carried in special ships called bulk carriers.

We eventually arrived off the port of Fremantle, picked up the pilot who took us into port and to our berth. Fremantle lies on the Swan River, the port is just inside the river mouth which is protected by breakwaters either side of the river mouth, each breakwater with its own stubby lighthouse. A short distance further up the Swan River is the capital of Western Australia, Perth.

It was  August in the southern hemisphere and early Spring. Western Australia is famous for its show of wild flowers. I remember we went out to nearby countryside to see the blooming of the flowers and like many before us, mightily impressed; flowers bloomed wherever there was a spare patch of ground.

We would have been here approximately 2 weeks, loading bagged grain. Loading times in 1952 was much slower than today. Twenty-four hour shifts and 7 days a week working was unknown in Australia then.

Periodically the Marconi Company, my employers required a major overhaul of the radio equipment. One day, here in Fremantle I had a visit from 2 engineers from the Amalgamated Wireless of Australasia (AWA).  They found little wrong except for worn valves in the communications receiver which they replaced. Later going outside the radio-room they checked the big bank of batteries and found there was deterioration. They indicated they would return tomorrow with a new bank of batteries. This they did and after doing a number of tests to check if everything worked correctly they asked me if I could drop the old ones over the side after a day or 2 at sea. They placed the old batteries in the radio-room so that I would not forget them.

During our time in port here in Fremantle I could see at an angle across the harbour a navy ship. In fact it was large, it was an aircraft carrier. I queried its reason and was told it was here for a series of nuclear tests. Or to put it, as called in 1952, atomic bomb tests. I took a photo of the Carrier with my camera but the distance was too great for my camera and the picture was small. I still have the black and white picture somewhere.

Recently, I dug around in Google. A number of atomic tests had been carried out in the uninhabited desert in  southern Australia and one test was still to be carried out with a target ship. The selected place was on a group of islands called the Monte Bello Islands, uninhabited and lying off the northwest coast of Western Australia. The target ship was to be moored within the reef, close to shore and a Hydrogen bomb placed 2 metres below the water line internally within the ship. The aircraft carrier was to monitor the explosion from a set distance on the horizon and take measurements.

Some of these following notes were taken from the writings of a sailor on the aircraft carrier which I found on Google. He said the crew were assembled on deck and instructed to cover their eyes with their hands. At the moment of explosion the flash was so intense his hands were blood red in colour and the bones of his hands were sharply outlined. He felt a sharp pain in his eyes from the blast. He said at first he thought he had forgotten to to put his hands over his eyes but quickly realized that he had already done so.

Another report said nothing remained of the target ship but small pieces which rained down on the island and the surrounding sea. Beneath where the target ship had been anchored in shallow water was a deep crater. By more modern standards the bomb was not a big one.

The aircraft carrier was the HMS Campania built in 1942/3.
The target ship, a frigate HMS Plym. also built circa 1943.

A few days later we were due to sail, our destination was to be Avonmouth near Bristol, UK. I enjoyed our stay in Fremantle, the main enjoyment here, seemed to be boating, fishing boats, sail boats, speed boats seemed to be everywhere. Around Fremantle everything seemed to be clean and tidy, even the wharves and commercial buildings. Recently I saw a real estate series on Sky TV, wherever the camera took us the city was so clean and tidy, the weather seemed to be always sunny with balmy a wind off the Indian Ocean keeping everything cool. A similar impression as when we were there, so many years ago.

My brother, John with Edith a few years ago, 4 years I think, on one of their visits to us in NZ decided to return to the UK via Western Australia and asked my opinion,  including the weather situation. I dug into Google and the results paralleled my impressions of the area. Talking to them sometime later, they loved Western Australia. So I didn't have my rose-tinted spectacles on after all

Well getting back to our voyage; we returned to the UK, crossing the Indian Ocean. Two days or so out from Fremantle, one by one I dragged the large batteries out and to the rail, heaving them over the side. Strange, I still think of those batteries now and then, I suppose they are still lying there on the bottom of the ocean. Crossing the Indian Ocean we now headed for the Suez Canal, passing through we we would  soon be close to the UK.

Arriving at Avonmouth I signed off the Tynebank on September 22 1952. A voyage of just over 41 weeks. Normally on the Bank Line ships a voyage can last up to 24 months. A travel voucher was waiting for me and via rail I headed back to home and 2 weeks leave.

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