In praise of Gerry and the good old days


The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Afloat - HE­LEN HUTCHEON

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.

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