World War II Migrant Ships: Australis
The Australis retains a significant place in Australian
immigration history as the last ship to carry government
assisted immigrants to Australian shores in 1977. She had the
largest passenger capacity of any post World War II immigrant
ship to regularly visit Australia and many passengers fondly
remember her grandeur and remnants of Art Deco style.
History of the Ship
Originally named America, the immigrant ship Australis was
designed by William Francis Gibbs and built for the North
Atlantic trade – to travel between Europe and the United States.
When launched on 31 August 1939 (by Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt), she
was the largest passenger vessel to have ever been constructed
in the United States and provided luxury accommodation for 1202
passengers in three classes.
In the midst of World War II, she was taken over by the US Navy
and converted to an American troop ship capable of carrying 8175
soldiers. Realising the impact on public sentiment should
America be sunk, the American government quickly renamed the
ship the USS West Point. During the war, she visited ports in
Europe, Africa and South America and was frequently attacked by
After 12 years on the North Atlantic trade following the war,
she was sold to the Chandris Line in 1965 and christened
Australis, being converted to a fully air conditioned single
class ship for the Australian migrant trade. A large portion of
her original interior styling was maintained, and she remained
adorned with many murals and Art Deco floor coverings during her
Immigrant Ship to Australia
The Australis left Piraeus, Greece, for her first immigrant
voyage to Australia on 21 August 1965, reaching Fremantle on 6
September and Melbourne on 13 September. She made a total of 62
voyages to Australia between 1965 and 1977, traveling regularly
between Britain and Australia via the Suez Canal, stopping at
ports such as Aden, Port Said and Colombo. In 1967, when the
Suez was closed, she detoured around South Africa stopping at
Cape Town and Durban. In 1970, while traveling between New
Zealand and Suva, a fire broke out in the galley causing
substantial damage, not only to the galley, but also to the
ballroom and 40 cabins.
Passenger Experiences of the Journey
In the later years of the immigration boom, Australia saw many
younger, single immigrants arriving with high expectations and a
sense of adventure. At this time, the journey by ship was like a
holiday for some passengers.
For others, the journey on the Australis was a pathway to
freedom from political upheaval in their home country and the
beginning of a new life.
Her Final Voyage
After her final voyage to Australia on 18 November 1977, the
Australis was sold to Venture Cruise Lines and again named
America. After a number of unsuccessful cruises, she was sold
back to the Chandris Line, with plans to cruise the
Mediterranean. At this time she was christened Italis, but after
only three voyages, she was laid up. After a long period of
idleness, she was taken under Panamanian ownership and named
Alferdoss, but in 1988 had to be run aground near Piraeus to
stop her sinking.