Jack Mainland: Do You Remember Your First Trip at Sea?
Bill Ballingall: “Surely. I was on the old ‘British Duke’ for about 13 months, although that included two or three weeks in drydock, in South Shields. My first voyage was through the Bay of Biscay, the ‘Med(iterranean)’, the Suez Canal, Red Sea and round into what was then called the Persian Gulf, to the refinery of Abadan, in what is now Iran. A ‘milk run’ for tankers. In these days, Abadan was virtually BP Shipping, situated some 40 miles up the Shat-al-Arab, the river formed by the confluence of the Tigris and the Euphrates.
We used to say that if that if the Persian Gulf was the ‘a-hole’ of the world, then Abadan was 40 miles up it. There we loaded a cargo of refined spirit for Kwinana, a wee place not far from Freemantle, in West Australia. In these days Freemantle was pretty basic. Most of the buildings were built of timber, with wooden ‘sidewalks’ and the roads were simply compacted sand. It’s now over 50 years since that first time, and I understand it’s changed, somewhat.
In Kwinana we discharged, and back-loaded another cargo, much of it in drums, for two islands in the Pacific; Nauru and Ocean. It was a long trip, and our course took us between the Indonesian islands of Lombok and Bali, each with their iconic cone-shaped volcanos rising to 12,000 and 10,000 feet.
The coral islands of Nauru and Ocean were something else; from the ship we could smell the Frangipani flowers; the locals who helped us moor in deep water wore brightly-coloured sarongs, with flowers in their hair. But they couldn’t be called ‘sissy’ at all. Typical Pacific islanders, not particularly tall, but broad shoulders and strong-looking. They sat on the maindeck all night, singing and fishing, and were delighted with a pot of boiled rice and a large tin of corned beef our butler put out for them. (yes, our early Indian-crewed ships carried a butler!).
It seems that extensive parts of these islands are simply dug up, and shipped out as fertiliser. Nauru is the world’s smallest independent republic, and Ocean is a protectorate of the governments of the UK, Australia and New Zealand. Ocean is tiny, circular, about 3½ miles in diameter.
Although it was a long haul out to these islands, it was still some time before we got back to the UK. We returned to Freemantle and again we loaded and crossed the Great Australian Bight for ports in South Australia and Victoria. We did this shuttle trip for several weeks, before going back up to Abadan and loaded for Bombay (now Mumbai). I forget the last bit of the route we took to return to UK, but it was certainly a memorable first trip. I felt I had seen a large chunk of the world, or at least, some of its oceans – the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific.