An Australian Merchant Seaman’s Story In His Own Words – Alby Ireland and Bobby O’Shea

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 Alby Ireland and Bobby O’Shea recount their lives as working seamen. Chasing money and keen to escape, they started work on coastal shipping in their early teens. This came to end when the coastal shipping “died in the arse” in the 1950s and 60s, which they attribute to the owners being too stingy to pay musicians to entertain their clients. Wages were low but were made up with overtime and the battle to improve conditions was an ongoing struggle, with militant trade unions back then.

During the Vietnam War the RAN requisitioned merchant ships, but RAN seamen were not taught seamanship. Some ships were labeled as Red Cross, but they were carrying ammunition. They saw the conservatives as taking bread and butter from pensioners.

Special Notes/Achievements

Picture and sound quality is low given low budget production.

Author: J Bird, 2023

Duration: 69 mins

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Film Director: Wayne Finch, John Brittain,

Film Producer: Wayne Finch, John Brittain,

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Film Key Cast: Alby Ireland, Bobby O’Shea,

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Film Cinematographer: Wayne Finch, John Brittain,

Film Editor: Jennie Finch, Jamie McMechan,

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