An Australian Merchant Seaman’s Story In His Own Words – John Titch James

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 John Titch James recounts how he started work in 1950 as a 19 year old coal trimmer assisting firemen. Some companies would buy bad, dirty coal, and that would make work much harder. Conditions back then were “rat-shit”, depending on what company they were working for. Conditions and food would vary. The water was usually rubbish and towels were so tiny, they would not fit around your waste.

He worked with many seamen who were socialists and all union members. They would sit around talking politics and he learned a lot from them. The job was not good for the family life, the missus and the kids. The leave system of six weeks and three months made a difference and they were able to be with the family. When the old timers finished, they usually had nothing to take with them “down the gangplank”, so the Seamen’s Retirement Fund made a big difference.

Special Notes/Achievements

Picture and sound quality is low given low budget production.

Author: J Bird, 2023

Duration: 52 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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