An Australian Merchant Seaman’s Story In His Own Words – Bert Nolan

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 seaman Bert Nolan recounts how he started in 1941 in his early twenties, working on coal burners between Tasmania and Melbourne. He was instrumental in forming the Bass Strait Agreement, organising representation for seamen without prior leadership. Politically active, he was opposed to the war and wanted nothing to do with capitalism. Early on he attended Labor Party meetings, followed by union meetings. He explains how the Communist Party played a very important role in the union movement.

He thinks the mateship was the greatest part of going to sea.  He remembers how the Seaman’s Union’s existence was threatened during the Korean War when some members refused to load military supplies. The ACTU, the wharfies and the RAN supported the War, while the Seaman’s Union did not.  He explains how increasing automation meant there was nothing left to do in the ships.  He remembers disputes as late as the Kennett Government for a 35 hour week.

Special Notes/Achievements

Picture and sound quality is low given low budget production.

Author: J Bird, 2023

Duration: 53 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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