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

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.

The focus of this episode is Bill Hawkins, who began work as a seaman at 15, scrubbing decks with no mops. It was very hard and dirty work on the coal ships and the meals barely covered the day’s work. There were no restrooms or luxuries. Nevertheless it was difficult to get into the merchant navy.  The Seaman’s Union was very supportive and stop work meetings were important. The ships were old and were owned by the coal owners. BHP ships were better, but the river ships were worked to death.  Because of the danger at sea, comradeship was strong. Ships had cricket and football teams who would play against each other.

Special Notes/Achievements

Picture and sound quality is low given low budget production.

Author: J Bird, 2023

Duration: 25 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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