The first life of the M/V Moonta: the “Gulf Trip” (1931/1955)

On November 28 th, 1931, the MV Moonta made her first weekly rotation for the Adelaide Steamship Co LTD.  This route, the famous “Gulf Trip“, consisted of a circumnavigation around the Spencer Gulf in Australia, which she was to perform for 24 years without interruption.

The Spencer's gulf and the "Gulf trip"




The “Gulf Trip” was very successful, and its extremely attractive price (only 6 pounds) was a major factor.  For this sum, one spent six full days (departure on Saturday afternoon and return on Friday morning), one covered 720 nautical miles and one stopped in 6 ports: Port-Adelaide, Port-Lincoln, Port-Pirie, Port-Augusta, Port-Hughes, then again Port-Lincoln and return to Adelaide.

Passengers had cabins with one, two or four berths. The comfort of the Moonta was another of its assets, in particular her air ventilation system present in all cabins.

The common areas (dining room, social hall, smoking room) were quite luxuriously treated with wood panelled walls.

The dining-room
The social-hall

 The Gulf Trip formula was halfway between a cruise and a regular line. Passengers embarked more often for the pleasure of the trip than for the necessity to go to a precise destination.

Parents and children enjoyed it just as much, and it was also a very classic honeymoon.

The first stop, after leaving Port-Adelaide, was Port-Lincoln. The next stop was at the bottom of the Spencer Gulf where the Moonta served Port Pirie and Port Augusta. 




On the way back, Port-Hugues, then Port-Lincoln again received the ship. Depending on the voyage, a few other stops could be made at Whyalla and Port-Germein, before the return to Adelaide.


At each of these stops, shore excursions (optional and at extra cost) were offered to the passengers. According to most of them, the only drawback of the Gulf Trip was the navigation outside the very calm waters of the Spencer Gulf, especially around the Althorpe Islands, where the Moonta‘s roll was causing an epidemic of sea sickness.

Port Lincoln is the main port on the west coast of the Gulf of Spencer, which explains the double call of the Moonta. This port was also served by the Minnipa and passengers could arrive with one ship and leave with the other. 




One of the classic excursions offered there took passengers to Coffin Bay, a very pretty stretch of coastline west of the city. When she arrived at the ports of call, the Moonta did not have empty holds and disembarked with a cargo of mainly food products.

On the way back, she loaded lead lingots at Port Pirie, cast iron sows at Whyalla and bales of wool all over the place.


Most of these ports on the Spencer Gulf were not deep enough, so the Moonta was accessed by long wooden booms that still exist.

Port Pirie

The Moonta was like clockwork and made her usual 51-week run each year. 



The 52nd week, the same one every year, on the first Tuesday of November, saw her set sail for Melbourne. It was in this port that she did her annual refit because it was on this date that the biggest horse race in Australia, the Melbourne Cup, was held. The company made the trip profitable with round trip tickets for the week. The passengers stayed at the hotel in town and returned to the plane for the return trip to Adelaide. In the following video, we will observe some shots where the Moonta appears at the dock in this same port:


Buvard publicitaire

The Moonta was very popular with its passengers and they usually bought a souvenir of their crossing on board. The choice was quite large, with napkin rings, various dishes, ashtrays, cutlery, postcards, writing paper, etc… 







The menus themselves, which were not sold, had a special place for autographs of the crew members. Everything was of course marked with the effigy of the ship. These objects are the pride of some current Australian collectors because the memory of this ship is still vivid in the popular memory. During the second world war, the menu became a little less attractive, but the Moonta remained at all times a famous and appreciated table.


The stay on board the Moonta was organized like that of a real cruise ship. Distracting passengers was a constant concern of the crew. The restoration was of high quality, an essential rule known to all shipowners. The bar was well stocked and the piano in the social hall in great demand. Differents sports activities were offered during the day: deck tennis, shuffleboard, little-horse racing, in particular.

The evenings were filled with a variety of activities: costume balls, musical hooks (the “Amateur Hours”) and endless games of “housie housie”, the equivalent of our lotto. Excursions on land were a perfect part of this program. One could discover the blast furnaces of Whyalla or the mountains of the Flinders Ranges in the hinterland. A ritual event was very popular: the big ball offered to the “gulf trippers” on Tuesdays, at the Port-Augusta stopover, which took place in the town’s village hall.

Today, the only ships carrying passengers, with the exception of ferries, are cruise ships. In the 1930’s, on the contrary, only liners were built and operated on regular crossings. The Moonta and her Gulf Trip, disregarding her function of transporting goods, already prefigured this specialization in cruising. The two following videos give an overview:

That’s where she was most appreciated, that’s where she had most of her clientele. And that was something very unusual for the time. She was a real trailblazer.





In the early 1950s, competition from land transportation, with the development of cars, began to compete severely with the Adelaide Steamship Company’s freight and passenger business in the Gulf of Spencer. The Gulf Trip fare had been gradually increased after the war (it was 15 Australian pounds in 1955) but this was not enough to make the operation profitable



It was decided to reduce the fleet and it was the Moonta that first paid the price.

Her last Gulf Trip ended on Febuary 4 th, 1955.

A few months later, another career began under the Greek flag of the Hellenic Mediterranean Line, but that is another story…


The rest of her story:  Here


                    Jacques Hiron                            

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