An Australian Merchant Seaman’s Story In His Own Words – Brian Peters

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 Brian Peters recounts beginning work in 1947 as a 16 year old deck boy. He was paid 8 pounds per month, but was paid extra danger money if the ship went beyond Townsville. If under 18, you needed your father’s permission to sail. Remembers the Australian ships being better than the English ships, but neither supplied anything in the early days.  Some seamen drank heavily. The European ships were generally in better condition and better built.  There was no smoko and it was always seafood on the Finnish ships. Back in the days before refrigeration, there was salted meat on the Australian ships, and they would also kill as they travelled. They also collected water during tropical rains.

During the 1940s shipping was tough work, and they had sailing ships well into the 50s. The unions were often at loggerheads with the companies, but the companies lacked vision and business acumen. Australian ships could look like “shit houses”, while the foreign ships were clean with bright colours. The ship owners had no foresight. Brian remembers bartering with other seamen for cigarettes and alcohol.  The ships out of Newcastle were only BHP and they spent money to keep ships in good shape.  He enjoyed his time on the ships, especially the little ships in Europe which enabled him to be home every few days, and they could even take their families on the ships for holidays – which was not allowed on Australian ships.

Special Notes/Achievements

Picture and sound quality is low given low budget production.

Author: J Bird, 2023

Duration: 127 mins

Film Release Year:

Film Shooting Format:

Film Aspect Ratio:

Film Distribution Format:

Film Colour:

Film Director: Wayne Finch, John Brittain,

Film Producer: Wayne Finch, John Brittain,

Film Writer:

Film Key Cast:

Film Executive Producer:

Film Cinematographer: Wayne Finch, John Brittain,

Film Editor: Jennie Finch, Jamie McMechan,

Film Sound Recordist:

Film Composer:

Film Production Company: