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Immigrant shipping: Post World War II

Post World War IIAustralis

Following World War II, millions of emigrants came to Australia; the majority of these came by ship, but from the 1960s jet passenger aircraft began to carry migrants and in December 1977 the Chandris Line's Australis arrived with the last assisted migrants to come by ship. Following the war, the pattern of migration changed with the number of non-British migrants increasing dramatically. In addition to the suggestion by the Australian Department of Immigration that non-British migrants would be acceptable, in 1947 the Australian government signed an agreement with the International Refugee Organisation accepting 12,000 displaced people a year. This number would grow. To cope with these vast numbers of people, a large number of ships, some of which might otherwise have been scrapped following war service, were recruited as emigrant ships.

Passenger conditions changed at this time too, due to the greatly increased numbers.  Dormitories came to the fore again with men housed separately from the women and children: families were separated for the first time on the emigrant ships. This in itself was cause enough for strained relations aboard ship. However there was plenty of food, particularly for people who had suffered war-time and post-war rationing. There was variety too in the food supplied, and second helpings were often taken. Again there were careful medical examinations at Fremantle before the ships moved on to the other ports.

The immediate post-war ships had virtually no refurbishment whatsoever; passengers were 'asked to sign a statement that they are aware of the conditions of austerity.' The British Ministry of Transport in the effort to transport as many migrants as quickly as possible, gathered together whatever pre-war liners it could; their passenger capacity was generally bumped up. Ill-proportioned and inelegant as some of these ships were, they carried thousands of migrants safely to new lives in Australia.

If the dormitory conditions were austere, the lavish food and the attempted gracefulness of the large dining rooms, attempted to make up for it. By 1957 the Ministry of Transport ships were no longer: the shipping lines had built new vessels and P&O, Orient as well as foreign lines were now carrying the migrants. European migrant numbers began to ease off, but the British continued to come in large numbers. When the first rush of post-war emigrants was over, and as new vessels were placed back on the Europe to Australia run, the dormitory conditions, which had served that first urgent need, became a thing of the past: tourist class accommodation became the norm.

The Sitmar Line became the main carrier from 1955, and in 1970 the Greek line Chandris took over this role. Under long-term contracts with the Australian government, both shipping lines operated one class air-conditioned vessels. When the Italian shipping line Sitmar was awarded the contract there had been consternation among British shipping lines. 

From the late 1970s emigrant shipping was no more: migrants now arrived by aircraft.

Further reading

Haines, Robin Life and death in the Age of Sail: the passage to Australia. Sydney, University of NSW Press, 2003

Parsons, Ronald Migrant ships for South Australia, 1836-1866 Gumeracha, Gould Books, 1999

Cooke, Anthony  Emigrant ships: the vessels which carried migrants across the world 1946-1972 London, Carmania, 1992.

Fitchett, TK  The long haul: ships on the England-Australia run. Adelaide, Rigby, 1980

Plowman, Peter  Emigrant ships to luxury liners: passenger ships to Australia and New Zealand 1945-1990. Kensington, NSW, New South Wales University Press, 1992

Lunn, Geoffrey And the crew went too: the 10 pounds assisted passage Stroud, Gloucestershire: Tempus Publishing, 2007

York, Barry  'Ready for a cup of tea': the diary of Annie Duckles National Library of Australia News November 2006 pp 7-10

Advice to emigrants
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Aerial view of Outer Harbor
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Australis last assisted passage ship to Australia
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Cabin interior
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City of Adelaide clipper
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Emigrant ship sailing 1849
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Emigrant ships' arrival
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Emigrant ships departing August 1838
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Emigration Square
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Encouragement for German emigrants
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Encouragement for German emigrants
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Immigrant ship Star of India
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