In praise of Gerry and the good old days
THE INCIDENTAL TOURIST
ONone of the many occasions my husband Patrick and I boarded the Fairstar in Sydney for a South Pacific cruise, we were greeted by our friend and cruise director extraordinaire Gerry Gallagher, who worked on cruise ships around the world making sure passengers had the time of their lives.
The Fairstar didn’t have the built-in amusements of today’s megaliners — the rock-climbing walls, ice-skating rinks and aquaparks. Gerry created the Fairstar’s own fun. There were deck quoits, singalongs, talent shows, race meetings with wind-up wooden horses and fancy-dress balls to which women in all their jewellery and with borrowed neck ties pinned to their dresses went as the Queen of Thailand.
There were ‘‘crossing the line’’ ceremonies, in which pollywogs (those who had not crossed the equator) were inducted into King Neptune’s court. Some were given a shave with sticky flour-and-water foam and a large wooden razor wielded by a barber who looked like a butcher, with fake blood all over his apron. Others received a pantomime medical examination involving oversized instruments and a string of raw sausages. A dunking in the swimming pool followed and each newly appointed ‘‘shellback’’ received a certificate.
One of Gerry’s innovations was a ‘‘white elephant’’ auction just before returning to Sydney, when a lot of passengers were running out of money. At the time of this particular cruise, Sitmar was a cash-only company and you paid as you went, drink for drink, shore excursion for shore excursion.
There were race meetings with wind-up wooden horses and fancy-dress balls
Early in the voyage, people were flushed not only with cash but with the excitement of visiting new and exotic places. They wanted souvenirs of where they had been and we watched, incredulous, as they came back to the ship lugging an amazing assortment of handicrafts. Our Italian cabin steward, standing on deck with us, suggested there would be lots of wood for Aussie barbecues.
Soon they were having second thoughts. Would the coffee table inlaid with shells that looked so great in Honiara be out of place in the living room? Where to put the carving of a lethal fight between a mongoose and a snake?
At the auction, however, they could offload impulse purchases and make enough money to keep them in drinks for the rest of the trip. It went well, with woven rugs, flax bags, grass skirts and sarongs going like hot pizzas.
However, unbeknown to me, Patrick had decided to play a joke on Gerry and asked him to auction a picnic rug he had bought ashore. The bidding stopped at what Gerry thought was a fair price and he started saying, ‘‘Going, going . . .’’ But he stopped abruptly. Taking a closer look, he began laughing. ‘‘Patrick,’’ his voice boomed over the microphone, ‘‘the word Sitmar is stamped on this. It is not a picnic rug. It is a blanket from your bed!’’
(A notice in The Morning Star, the ship’s activities sheet, said: ‘‘Guests are requested not to remove blankets from the cabin in order to avoid the embarrassment of being asked to return same.’’)
When Gerry retired he wanted to live by the sea and moved to Hardys Bay on the NSWcentral coast. I am told by T&I editor Susan Kurosawa that he has been known to cut a dapper figure at the local Putt Putt Regatta in a punting outfit of blazer, bow tie and striped jacket, like a character from a Noel Coward play.