PASSENGERS on Pacific Jewel will be sailing with Rugby League ‘royalty’ when former St George great John Raper and his Welsh-born wife Caryl step on board the P&O Cruises’ superliner on Thursday.
It will be 44 years between cruises for childhood sweethearts John and Caryl now living quietly in the heart of St George territory in Sydney’s southern suburbs.
Their last cruise was in 1969 on board P&O’s Himalaya, a 10-night jaunt to Fiji and New Zealand when John was at the height of his legendary rugby league career.
John won the Himalaya cruise in a raffle but the couple’s links to shipping and P&O in particular are much stronger than that single cruise to the islands.
Caryl migrated to Australia on P&O’s Oronsay in 1953 in the post war mass migration to Australia from Britain under the assisted passage scheme.
The family was among the thousands of ‘Ten Pound Poms’ who came to Australia under the program but, given her Welsh heritage, Caryl prefers to call herself a ‘Ten Pound Brit’.
“My father, Ronnie James, was the British Empire lightweight boxing champion and he came out to Australia at a time when wartime rationing still applied in Britain,” Caryl said.
“My dad saw Australia and decided straight away he was going to move his family out here. He came out and set up home for us so we didn’t have to go into the migrant hostel as other families had to do.
“We lived in Revesby (in Sydney’s then growing south-west) and John and I met playing tennis.”
John Raper played in eight of the all conquering St George’s 11 consecutive Grand Final victories -- a feast of success the likes of which Australian sport is never likely to see again.
In 2002, he was inducted into the Australian Rugby League Hall of Fame, in 2008 he was named in the list of 100 greatest players of all time and he was also named a member of the ‘Team of the Century’.
John toured with three Kangaroo sides to the UK beginning in 1959. He has always felt a little disappointed that his was the first touring side to fly to Britain – then a gruelling 57-hour trip on a Qantas Super Constellation – rather than travel by ship.
When he and Caryl step on board Pacific Jewel on Thursday, they are looking forward to some of the care and service they remember so well from the crew on P&O's Himalaya back in 1969.
“There is nothing like cruising and being on a ship,” John said recalling his trip on the Himalaya. “I couldn’t speak highly enough of the time we had on board and we were so impressed with the staff.”
For a rugby league legend to be enjoying a P&O Cruises’ lifestyle cruise is pretty natural considering NRL matches are broadcast live on the top deck big screens of Pacific Dawn, Pacific Jewel and Pacific Pearl.