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Jim’s Australiana Spot – 2UE - May 15, 2016


Our everyday language is full of seafaring terms.

Questions - Explain the original meanings of these everyday terms.

1 Know the ropes.   2 No room to swing a cat.   3 Money for old rope.

Others are: 3 sheets to the wind - Ship shape and Bristol fashion - son of  gun - as the crow flies - chock a block - devil and the deep blue sea - cut and run - cut of his jib

The sea was the major means of transport for Australians until quite recent times. Not only was the sea the only link to the rest of the world, it was the major link to the rest of Australia. It is true that railways eventually linked the inland to the coast, but each colony had a different rail gauge and the only way to get to other major cities in Australia, or even to towns within each colony, was by sea.

We became a wealthy nation not because we produced wool, gold, beef, coal and iron in vast quantities, but because clipper ships and steamers carried our wool, gold, coal, iron and frozen beef to the world. It was not only international shipping that made us a great seafaring nation. In our brief European history of 225 years, with a small and scattered population, our coastal sea-lanes have been home to over 5 000 ships operated by over 300 Australian based shipping companies.

Ships that plied Australian waters were operated by Australian companies as huge as the Adelaide Steamship Company and the Australian National Line, or as small as my favourite, the Humpybong Steamship Company of Brisbane, which operated the steamers SS Pearl, Beryl, Garnet, Emerald and Olivine between Woody Point and Sandgate from 1891 to 1907.

Australia relied on coastal trade from the earliest days of the colonies until the 1960s. There were no interstate roads to speak of until the Twentieth Century and air travel was only a novelty until WW2. A look at any newspaper archive from the earliest colonial times to the 1960s will reveal the daily ‘shipping section’, showing which ships arrived from which ports and which ones were leaving, it also noted which ships were expected and when mail could be accepted on board etc. The shipping news was a major section of every city newspaper and usually occupied a good part of one of the leading pages. Our nation was not only ‘girt by sea’ it was sustained and supplied by sea!

Sea Fear
Charles Souter

I can’t go down to the sea again
For I am old and ailing;
My ears are deaf to the mermaid’s call,
And my stiff limbs are failing
The white sails and the tall masts
Are no longer to be seen
On the dainty clipper ships that sailed
For Hull, and Aberdeen!
I can’t go down to the sea again:
My eyes are weak and bleared,
And they search again for the gallant poop
Where once I stood and steered,
There’s nought but wire and boiler-plate
To meet my wand’ring gaze.
Never a sign of the graceful spars
Of the good old sailing days!
So I will sit in the little room
That all old sailors know,
And smoke, and sing, and yarn about
The ships of long ago,
‘The Flying Cloud’, ‘The Cutty Sark’,
‘The Hotspur’ and ‘The Dart’ . . .
But I won’t go down to the sea again,
For fear it breaks my heart!


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