The transformative power of travel is well-documented. Four Australians explain how cruising shaped their lives for the better.

Australians love cruising more than any other nation. About one in 20 Australians, almost 1.3 million travellers, enjoyed a cruise in 2016, spending an estimated 12 million days at sea. Along the way many are discovering that travel can help heal traumas, create new friendships and relationships, and transform the spirit – put simply, cruising can change lives.

From Hobby to Career

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Chris Frame divides his time between working in marketing in Perth and a career as a maritime historian. He was just 11 when a trip on the QE2 sowed the seeds of his future passion. “The voyage was Auckland to Sydney, a very short little hop across the Tasman, but there’s just something about the QE2,” he recalls. “They had a bookshop with big windows that looked out over the main promenade, and in the window there was a book a maritime speaker had written and underneath it a little plaque that said ‘Author on board’. I thought that looked so amazing and decided I wanted to write a book about the QE2 one day.”

With his wife Rachelle Cross, Frame has achieved that ambition, publishing books including QE2: A Photographic Journey. He often cruises on Cunard liners, as both passenger and guest lecturer. Giving lectures in the ships’ elaborate theatres has helped him overcome his childhood fear of public speaking.

For Frame, cruising has a life-changing capacity that goes beyond travel’s noted ability to help voyagers see the world in new ways – and Cunard liners have a special magic. “Even in Australia, where we’re quite far away from the Transatlantic, but especially in Britain, the US and Canada, it’s something that’s been there so long, it’s almost a part of history in itself,” he says.

To Love, to Mourn… and to Heal

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Gavin Harper fell in love with the idea of cruising when he and his first wife, Glenys, drove out to see the QE2 in port in Adelaide. “I thought, ‘One day I’m going to sail on that ship, even if it’s just for one night or two nights,” he recalls. Nine years later, the couple took a short voyage, aiming to tick QE2 off their bucket list and be done with it. It proved the start of a lifelong fascination.

Harper has sailed on 40 cruises, 26 of them with Cunard, and the QE2’s final voyage in 2008 was particularly emotional. Glenys was sick with cancer, and, while the pair did not know how long she had, they knew every day must count. “She died a few months later,” Harper, who has no children, recalls. “It had been a major part of our life together, and our short retirement, because she died at 63. She said, ‘Look, your hobby and your love is cruising. You MUST keep doing it.’”

Harper, who worked for an airline before his retirement, found himself on board the Queen Mary 2 soon after her death, when Iceland’s Eyjafjallajökull eruption left him with no way of visiting his mother in Scotland. “When I got to New York for the Transatlantic, I thought, ‘What have I done? It’s all too soon!’ It was only eight months later,” he recalls. “But the crew were fantastic – from the managers through to the social hostesses.”

It was through a cruising friend that Harper got to know Eleonor Porter, who recently became his second wife. The pair married in an intimate ceremony aboard the Queen Mary 2. “I’m really delighted that he and Glenys were so keen on cruising, because at least I can do it as well,” Porter says. “I wouldn’t be a part of this otherwise.”

To Discover Self-Esteem

Hayden Gilbert, who owns a car dealership in Brisbane, found the welcoming atmosphere on board cruise ships helped heal the scars of a traumatic childhood. As an underweight teenager he was savagely bullied at school, which left him with low self-esteem, anxiety and a deeply ingrained belief that strangers he encountered would be hostile. “For me, if I’d admitted I’d had a problem, that would have been weakness,” he says. “So I had bottled everything up.”

On his first trip on the Queen Mary 2, Gilbert was exploring the idea of entering a bodybuilding competition. Not only did the travellers he met on board make him feel welcome, they encouraged him to pursue his dream and brave the gym that had been a source of fear since childhood. “Hearing people I’d never associated with before telling me to ‘Go for it’ made a huge difference,” he recalls.

Gilbert recently returned to the Queen Mary 2 for a four-month world voyage, and posed proudly for one of the on-board photographers in his tuxedo. He had placed a respectable fifth in competition.

Friendships Across the Globe

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Christine Curwen, a retired real estate agent from Canberra, and her husband David Irvin, a retired public servant, found a new and international circle of friendships thanks to cruising. “The Three Queens all came into harbour at once – it must have been about 11 years ago,” she says. “We went down with a whole crowd of friends to look at them, with champagne and chicken as you do in Sydney, and said, ‘One day we’ll sail on one of those’ and five years later we did.”

Before embarking on their 75-day cruise, they joined an online “rollcall” of guests who would be joining the ship, and met up with a couple from the UK. Since then, the group have cruised together every year, while Curwen and Irvin have racked up an impressive 250 days at sea since 2015.

For Curwen, it’s the semi-detached nature of cruising friendships that makes them so perfect. Unlike with a land-based holiday, she said, “You’re not in each other’s pockets. The ship is so big that you don’t have to see them all the time. We meet up every night for drinks, we might meet up to wander around the town, but we’re not going to spend 24 hours together.”

Most important, however, is the sheer variety of friendships out there to be formed, particularly on the world cruise segments. “You get Japanese, Germans, French, Americans, Canadians, Kiwis, so this huge mix of different people,” Curwen explains. “We love meeting people from all over the world.” And it’s in that global exchange, for many cruisers, that the life-changing quality of travel truly lies.

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