An Australian Merchant Seaman’s Story In His Own Words – Ron Chumbley

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 Ron Chumbley recounts how he started work in 1949 on an iron ore carrier. If they spent 12 months on one ship they were entitled to 3 weeks annual leave, but some seamen would be laid off before Christmas and then put back on after Christmas so they didn’t get leave. Danger money was provided for carrying explosives. On some ships they got food poisoning, while other ships were better. The best meal on Australian ships was roast chicken at Christmas, while on Norwegian ships it was always seafood. Seconds were not allowed on the Scandinavian ships though. There was no formality between the officers and crew on the Scandinavian ships, unlike the Australian ships where the officers would not mingle with the crew, which he describes as “leftovers from the Pommie ships”. Often there was no fresh fruit for 6 months and depending on the company they would get two beers per day.

Ron describes how the armed forces took the best ships, leaving the old ships to the merchant navy. Up until the 1960s, ships in the Australian merchant navy were from the 1920s and 30s, ships that traveled at 8-10 knots, which meant they were outrun by foreign ships traveling at 18 knots. So they could not compete.

Special Notes/Achievements

Picture and sound quality is low given low budget production.

Author: J Bird, 2023

Duration: 57 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: