An Australian Merchant Seaman’s Story In His Own Words – John O’Loughlan

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 John O’Loughlan explains how he started work as a seaman at 21 and notes how they had to have medicals to get in. On passenger ships he worked as a baker, cook and later on as a chief chef. Some of the vessels carried up to 400 passengers, often running between Melbourne and Cairns. While conditions on passenger ships were very good, conditions for stewards were not so good.  Union disputes were short and the government usually sided against ANL.

They fondly remember the characters who built the industry. In the beginning there were too many small independent unions, but through amalgamation the MUA was born.  The union fought for the 1972 seaman retirement fund, which provided security for old timers ‘dumped’ from the industry.

Special Notes/Achievements

Picture and sound quality is low given low budget production.

Author: J Bird, 2023

Duration: 39 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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