An Australian Merchant Seaman’s Story In His Own Words – Alan Oliver and Terry Relph

Australian Workers Film Guide


Part of a series of interview segments produced by the SUA/MUA in which retired Australian merchant seamen recount their working lives at sea as well as their engagement with union campaigns and activities. Each episode features a seaman, or sometimes a pair of seamen, sharing their story in a largely unstructured and extended interview. They form an important on camera collection of oral histories about Australia’s unionised merchant seamen.

In this episode seamen Alan Oliver and Terry Relph discuss life onboard ships, remembering details such as extensive libraries of books, the lack of TV and good food compared to the army. Along with two weeks of leave, the 1955 award was good.  Depending on the captain, some ships were happy while others were bleak. Australians reacted quicker to injustice and went on strike.

Terry was a cook and his first ship was 40,000 tonnes and he thought the conditions on the ship were far better than on shore, with an 8-10 hour day for cooks.  Some cooks on other ships would not bake bread, but he did so and received extra pay. He remembers the strong bonds at sea and all the ships were happy ships for him and seamen were top earners. He is thankful for the Seamen’s Retirement Fund and remembers older seamen who “never managed to get a household together”, since without a proper wage they couldn’t get a bank loan.

Special Notes/Achievements

Picture and sound quality is low given low budget production.

Author: J Bird, 2023

Duration: 96 mins

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Film Director: Wayne Finch, John Brittain,

Film Producer: Wayne Finch, John Brittain,

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Film Cinematographer: Wayne Finch, John Brittain,

Film Editor: Jennie Finch, Jamie McMechan,

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