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 Billy Langlois recounts starting on British ships at age 14. He remarks that, “The sea is a vicious taskmaster”. When you lost a man, “that was it”, there was no going back. Nothing could be done, otherwise they could lose the whole crew. If the ship sank, the wages stopped.
Billy discusses the 1936-38 Spanish Civil War, which he thinks was the real beginning of the Second World War, a training ground for the Germans and Italians. A committed socialist and member of the Socialist Party of Great Britain he thought of communism as a form of “brutalised socialism”. He was an active unionist between 1936-1988. He remarks that Seamen didn’t have to know much – using the compass or to “tie their shoelaces”. He says it was a rough and rowdy life, sharing plenty of seafaring anecdotes.
Picture and sound quality is low given low budget production.
Author: J Bird, 2023