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Passing through the Suez Canal


Taking the liner to England
Norman Greenwood Scientist
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The next big thing in my life was going to England, and that is an awe-inspiring experience. In the late 1940s it was the thing that people who’d been out in Australia or who wanted to study further, would go back home, as England was called then or to Scotland or Wales, or to Europe, because there were many Europeans, of course, in Australia as well, particularly Italy and Greece and Germans and Austrians. So there was a big connection with Europe, but there were hardly... essentially, no airlines. The centenary of Melbourne was 1935, the centenary – or ‘36 – the centenary air race was... won by KLM. I don’t know how many weeks it took them, but they were the winners of coming from England – from Croydon, I think, they started – to Darwin, and then to Sydney. But it was a long trip, if you went to England you went by ship, either round the Cape, or through the Suez Canal.

Now, the Suez Canal of course cut quite a bit off the journey, but even so, from Melbourne it was four and a half weeks, it was five weeks from Sydney, so it was a major undertaking. But particularly from Melbourne, when these liners left – and I went on the Orontes, JS Anderson, when he left, was a P&O, Ray Martin went on a P&O liner – they were about 20 to 25,000 tonnes, they would take perhaps up to 700 or 800, perhaps 1000 passengers. But saying farewell to a ship pulling out of Port Melbourne was just an incredible experience, everyone... well, the ship was always free on the afternoon, it was there, so that anyone that was coming to see someone off, the family, friends, and so forth, would come. I think on the day that I left, which happened to be a Saturday and happened to be a fine day, there were over 30,000 people came to see us off. Can you imagine that? Even on a fairly large liner, for the probably 600 or 700 people that joined in Melbourne, there were some on from Sydney, one or two others got on in Adelaide and Perth, but then you threw streamers down to them, and the bands were playing, it was an incredible sight, and one that, actually, that one would never forget. 

Norman Greenwood (1925-2012) was born in Australia and graduated from Melbourne University before going to Cambridge. His wide-ranging research in inorganic and structural chemistry made major advances in the chemistry of boron hydrides and other main-group element compounds. He also pioneered the application of Mössbauer spectroscopy to problems in chemistry. He was a prolific writer and inspirational lecturer on chemical and educational themes, and held numerous visiting professorships throughout the world.

Listeners: Brian Johnson

Professor Brian FG Johnson FRS, FRSE, FRS Chem, FAcad Eu, FAS. Professor of Inorganic Chemistry University of Edinburgh 1991-1995, Professor of Inorganic Chemistry University of Cambridge 1995-2005, Master Fitzwilliam College Cambridge 1999-2005. Research interests include studies of transition metal carbonyls, organometallic chemistry, nano- particles and homogeneous catalysis. Professor Johnson is the author of over 1000 research articles and papers.

Tags: UK, 1940s, Australia, Scotland, Wales, Europe, Italy, Greece, germany, Austria, Melbourne, KLM, Royal Dutch Airlines, Croydon, Darwin, Sydney, Suez Canal, SS Orontes, P&O, Port Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, JS Anderson, Ray Martin

Duration: 3 minutes, 6 seconds

Date story recorded: May 2011

Date story went live: 25 November 2011