An Australian Merchant Seaman’s Story In His Own Words – Joe Pettison

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 Joe Pettison recounts how he started work as a 15 year old deck boy.  No alcohol was allowed.  Wages were about $7000 per year, which was astronomical wages for that time. The guys wanted to get the worst jobs so they could get paid better.  He tells many anecdotes about other seamen. He recalls that family life was difficult for the wives, and when the men came back it would throw her routine out the door.

The unions had to constantly fight for better conditions, and “BHP would spend a million dollars to save one dollar”. There used to be seven unions, cooks, engineers, stewards and so on. Stop work meetings were very important, but not so any more. The Seamen’s Retirement Fund was very helpful, the best thing that ever happened for the seamen. Australia today is losing ships to foreigners.

Special Notes/Achievements

Picture and sound quality is low given low budget production.

Author: J Bird, 2023

Duration: 92 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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