The Farewells of no Return

I can’t remember the actual packing of furniture or any other belongings that got shipped over before our departure day. I was taken out of school and was set to work delivering fruit and vegies for a fruit shop. They were mainly deliveries to Embassies which were a rich vein of never ending tips. The tips were the start of an awareness of the value of having a bit of money. It never left me. Of course, the bulk of my earnings as a fifteen year old went to my parents who needed every cent for the uncertain future ahead. Even so, I managed to buy a camera and had some money saved up when we finally boarded the ship. The good bye to friends and family members was heart wrenching, but what could one do now? The departure from the Port of Rotterdam was on a rainy and miserable day. I consoled myself by mentally going over the immigration movie of Newspaper and Postal leaping over white picket fences with glorious sun and smiles from inhabitants of far away Sydney. The exploration of all the nooks and crannies of the large boat called ‘The Johan Van OldenBarnevelt gave relief to pangs of sadness and aches and pains about friends that were most likely never to be seen again.

There were quite a few English ‘ten pound’ single men migrants saying their permanent farewells with parents on the quay. I remember,” Goodbye Jack, don’t forget to write to your sister. Cheerio son. Let us know how you are going, won’t you?  Yes mum, see you then. Keep well boy,” and with these words of parting they too set sail for Australia.

After a couple of days, the sun came out and weather was getting Mediterranean with passengers settled. I was most impressed with the food and menus that we were asked to choose from. Can you imagine, getting to choose between boiled or fried eggs, beef or pork, mashed or boiled spuds, carrots or spinach, tea or coffee?

After a few days, arriving first in Genoa then Naples and finally Messina in Sicily, where I then witnessed the goodbyes of all goodbyes. Not only to mama, Papa, sorelli and brothers, uncles and aunties, the barber, grandparents, villages and brotherhoods, but also forever and ever with the unrelieved and spine tingling goodbyes that haunt those harbours still.  With great heaving, wailings, endless sobbing, and despair soaked up in acres of their best hankies. These were the goodbyes at their best and saddest and so final.

Those were the farewells of no return.

As the ship of Johan.V.Oldenbarnevelt finally pulled away from moorings and thick ropes, huge cries would rise again; reach across the widening gap of water. One old man, and papa to dear son Luigi departing, the best cobbler of the village, so unrelentingly steeped in grief and sobbing, lost his dentures in the water as well as son (going far away,) no doubt to be found that same week by a keen archaeologist of that ancient harbour.

The Dutch way of departing was a bit in between, more practical matters would be discussed. Have you got enough underwear for the six weeks? Don’t forget the cod liver oil. We heard the vegetables are not fresh. Yes, we are doing this for the children, and yes, we heard there are bathrooms in some of the houses in Sydney.  The weather is much warmer there and palm trees too. Stop sniffling and fidgeting Gerard!

Next day on board, those sad Sicilians were still hanging over the sides of the boat. Doe eyed and cast towards the shores that had disappeared and gone forever with’ famille en casa con la tavola’. While the young poms were strolling towards the bars that would open up in international waters away from coast and provide tax free alcohol relief. A little orchestra would soon strike up a cheery waltz, such as the much favourite; It’s on the isle of Capri where I met you………Was it Dean Martin? It would be another two weeks before an ’Oh sole mio’ would be tried. Tables would be set up for card games and Tombola. After a couple of days, the red rimmed eyes of the Southern Italians would revert to black again and friendships were being made quickly.

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