An Australian Merchant Seaman’s Story In His Own Words – Laurie Bell

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 Laurie Bell recounts how she went to work as a cook on merchant ships. She was inspired by a seaman she met working in a pub. Initially the Federal Government refused to allow her as a woman to go to sea.

She worked 12 hour shifts peeling potatoes and preparing, and recalls second hand food being delivered to ships that was rotten and had to be returned. Cooks had to supply their own knives, while owners supplied boots and clothing.  They knew where they stood with BHP and there were no wage payment mistakes. Laurie worked on many coastal ships and got on well with the boys. She thinks the younger generation doesn’t share the same union culture and knows less about the sea. But without unions they would not have achieved what they did. The industry is changing, the characters are leaving and the benefits for seamen are shrinking.

Special Notes/Achievements

Picture and sound quality is low given low budget production.

Author: J Bird, 2023

Duration: 45 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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