An Australian Merchant Seaman’s Story In His Own Words – Bill Andrews

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 Bill Andrews begins by recounting how, in 1939, he started in the Royal Marines at the age of 14. He was medically discharged in 1942 and given the option of going into a coal mine or becoming a merchant seaman. He remembers poor food including “scrapping maggots off meat”.  He later found the Australian merchant navy vastly superior to the British merchant navy, with better conditions, food, soap and blankets. On the British ships they were given a tin of milk for a week, providing almost nothing else for the seaman.  The lowest point was during World War Two, when the British merchant fleet was decimated by U-boats. The wharfies were also fishermen and diggers from the last war.

The union supported independence for other British colonies and opposed the Vietnam War. He explains how Robert Menzies based the Liberal Party on hatred of the trade union movement and the Communist Party.  The seamen were forced to fight for everything they got. Bill was secretary on the union committee and believes in the continuing struggle for the working class. He is saddened by the demise of the Seaman’s Union at the hands of conservative governments, but believes the Seaman’s Retirement Fund is a great achievement.

Special Notes/Achievements

Picture and sound quality is low given low budget production.

Author: J Bird, 2023

Duration: 49 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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