An Australian Merchant Seaman’s Story In His Own Words – Max Woods

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 Max Woods recounts how he started working on ships with sails, where the youngest did the heavy rigging work because they were the most agile. They were given half a bucket of fresh water per day for all their needs. Sugar, butter and condensed milk were rationed. He sustained many injuries during his working life.

Because he did not have a sufficient education in trigonometry he could not advance in the pecking order and he would always have to go back to work when his money ran out. In the beginning the wages were too low, inflation ate at the wages and the ship owners had all the rights. Overtime boosted their income and they would not join a ship that did not pay overtime. It had to be an overtime ship to make a life, such as getting married and buying a house. They put in 14-16 hour days and some reached retirement with nothing. Most who went to sea were single and would do as little as possible and try to sabotage the ship owners’ profits.

He did different jobs onboard, including the engine room.  He came from Great Britain and there was a strong distinction between scabs and union men. There were mostly foreigners on ships; many Greeks and Scandinavians. The Howard Government reduced tonnage for Australian ships, but the trend started 20 years before with Labor.

Special Notes/Achievements

Picture and sound quality is low given low budget production.

Author: J Bird, 2023

Duration: 66 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: