Union Songs

Talking Ampol Sarel

A song by Don Henderson©1979 Don Henderson

Flicking channels in search of a decent show;
When I saw a big ship and said, that's for me.
I'm a sucker for movies about the sea.
Seen 'Caine Mutiny' eight times and am still unconvinced that no one was knocking off the strawberries.

But it wasn't a movie. It was just an ad.
An oil company talking about this new tanker they had.
Selling hard line petrol with the old soft-sell.
Ladies and Gentlemen. The Ampol Sarel.

Look at that. Twenty three thousand, four hundred and fifty
Horsepower pushing, ninety eight thousand, two hundred and fifty-nine tons;
Sorry tonnes of potential air pollution around the world
at a steady sixteen knots. Poetry in motion.

See the white water wake from her big prop's turn,
And the Australian ensign flying from her stern,
My mind went back to sixty two,
When it was a different flag that Ampol flew.

A flag of convenience. Panama. Liberia. Take your pick.
Different colours. Mean the same thing.
Floating sweatshops, where the cockroaches are a protected species.

But for years the union had been making submissions,
That Ampol should have Australian conditions.
On an Australian ship, put Aussies aboard it.
Ampol said they couldn't afford it.

Send them broke. Put an Aussie crew on one of its tankers
And the Public Receiver would follow up the gang-way.

But the P.J. Adams was built in this country.
We didn't think they'd have the effrontery
To put on a crew from a low wage nation.
We'd subsidised her building with our taxation.

Even seamen pay taxes. The Australian government
Stand to earn an extra $250,000 a year If we could only get on one...
There I go, I'm getting ahead of myself there.

Well we thought we had her, but we were wrong.
For in the dead of nights crew from Hong Kong
Was flown in, and with rushed through work permits to do it,
Slipped her away before we even knew it.

Ampol's board of directors should have voted themselves
A champagne breakfast that morning. Not so our Federal Executive.
All they got was hot telephones. Being an official of the Seamen's Union
is a pretty tough job. (The rank and file likes it that way).

But the blue wasn't over. It had only just started.
We had learned of a ship that Ampol had chartered.
The Oceanic Grandeur. Fifty-eight thousand tons
To carry crude oil on the Brisbane run.

Only a tiddler by today's standards, but back in sixty-two
The name was appropriate.

One morning we looked out and there at anchor,
Asking for tugs was that very same tanker.
The Brisbane Branch Secretary rang 'E.V.'
Who said, "Hold herthere Jack and waitfor me."

I truly don't know if Ampol's general manager had read
His stars that morning; but if he had, it must have been
One of the bleakest horoscopes that anyone has ever
Woken up to. What was he getting?
Eliot V. Elliott plus the 'Graceful Mover' waiting outside in his office
For something that was loosely termed 'a conference'.

Of course Ampol cried poor, but they knew we had 'em.
They'd get the Grandeur when we got the Adams.
Words like 'industrial piracy' were bandied about.
We called that 'negotiational clout'.

Arguing from a position of strength. Anyway, who in his wildest fancy,
could imagine the then Federal Secretary Of the Seaman's Union
in a three cornered hat and a black eye-patch?
And as for the State Secretary, He just can't stand the sight of parrots.

Well the rest is history, but it's food for thought,
As to the means to which unions must sometimes resort.
It's been seventeen years since we pulled that stroke,
And guess what? Arnpol still haven't gone broke,

Far from it. They play monopoly on the stock exchange using
Real money. Own twenty percent of an airline.
According to my calculations, that's one stale sandwich in five.

It's more than time that somebody sang
So I'll come to the end of the lengthy harangue.
Now we want a bulk coal ship and are being refused
By Utah, for reasons that Ampol once used.

They can't afford us. We're too expensive.
They're down on the uppers.
With over a hundred and fifty-eight million dollars profit last year
They have to be joking; and I thought that was my job.
Look I'll tell you what; they could keep an Australian crew on
for twelve months for less than it takes to keep Rod Taylor in Stetsons


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