An Australian Merchant Seaman’s Story In His Own Words – Roger Wilson

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 Roger Wilson recounts how he followed in his brother’s footsteps joining the navy in 1946 as a 16 year old. Conditions were primitive in the beginning as the ship owners had it all their own way, with the unions being savaged in the Depression. Australian ships followed the British tradition and deck boys had certain responsibilities. Conditions slowly improved over the years. The cooks were the best paid and rarely went on strike. He enjoyed being paid to travel, but by the 1950s there were 50 year old ships in the merchant navy, which were slow and antiquated and took many men to keep running.  Australian ships were slow compared to Scandinavian ships, so slow you could throw a line and catch fish.

Many seamen were members of the Communist Party and taking up Curtin’s message “If the law is wrong oppose it”, they fought to improve conditions. Slowly the ships became more automated and needed fewer crew, which made it easier to improve conditions for the men.

Special Notes/Achievements

Picture and sound quality is low given low budget production.

Author: J Bird, 2023

Duration: 132 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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