It’s Wednesday 6th April, 1960 and Barry is sightseeing in Colombo, Ceylon now Sri Lanka.
Colombo is situated on the Indian Ocean side of Ceylon in the mouth of the Kelani River and was our last port of call before destination Fremantle, Western Australia. In company with my new found mates we set about walking in and around its ancient and timeless thoroughfares.
“That’s our ship, it’s leaving without us!” screamed one of my mates….
Colombo was a mixture of Sinhalese/Portuguese/Dutch and British architecture. Some of the street names and landmarks were easy to pronounce. Such as: Queen’s, Prince Street and Gordon Garden. Others were not so easy to get our tongues around. Still, we were truly enjoying the day being distracted by its Sinhalese and colonial charms – so much so that when we heard the long sound of a ship’s horn drifting in from the nearby harbour it did not occur to me that it was the SS Orsova’s signal for all passengers to embark within the hour. I was daydreaming and had lost track of time.
Now, I wonder where that behaviour came from?
Not for the first time had a much younger Aussie Rules been distracted to the point of being separated from his family when day tripping in North Wales. It was so easy when there was so much to see and do. Such as: eating candyfloss, fish and chips and ice-creams; riding on the bumpers; losing money in penny arcade slot machines; walking the promenades; riding the ponies; watching Punch and Judy; and generally wandering off in a world of my own. But my parents were always one step ahead of my wanderings and from the very beginning instructed me to go to the nearest policeman or police station should I find myself absolutely lost. I was to give my name and address, explain my predicament and ask if I could wait until they came to collect me. You know what? It worked every time.
“That’s our ship, it’s leaving without us!” screamed one of my mates. But yours truly was not convinced saying something along the lines of ‘Don’t worry, we’ve got stacks of time to get back on board’ as we proceeded to make our way back to the docks. Or so I thought.
When we arrived at the landings the SS Orsova was turning around in the outer harbour preparing to steam out to open sea – the sight of which created more than mild panic in our little group. At the same time the Harbour Master’s pilot boat was arriving back at the landings. By now we were shouting to anyone who might care to hear “That’s our ship! That’s our ship!” with mild panic fast giving way to abject fear of being left behind in a strange land. This was definitely not the time to be looking for a policeman or police station. We wanted only to be back on board the SS Orsova.
It seemed an eternity before the Harbour Master was standing in front of a very frightened group of teenagers. His smile should have eased our frantic minds, but all we could do was to keep pointing to the SS Orsovo and shouting the same thing over and over again. Blind panic was taking over fast.
Looking back I’m still not sure how the Harbour Master gained our attention. But he did. With our minds in turmoil he explained to us that the ship’s company was aware of our absence and that he – the Harbour Master – had been instructed to return and find us and to get us back to on board. In the meantime the captain had instructed that the SS Orsova be prepared for departure as soon as we were on board and that we should embark via the port side lower deck.
When finally making our way back on board we were met by a senior crew member and our mums and dads – plus my sister hell bent on not missing out to enjoy our moment of being ticked off in disgrace.
For many of the passengers it was the stuff of shipboard humour and ribbing for the rest of the long sea journey between Ceylon and Western Australia.
See you later…
December 10, 2018