Life at Cockatoo Dockyard in the Early 1980s

John Stevenson


I was employed at Cockatoo Island Dockyard as a fitter from early 1982 to the end of 1985. Mostly I worked on the Royal Australian Navy’s (RAN) Oberon class submarine fleet, but I also spent time on HMAS Success and a variety of ships, both merchant and Naval, large and small. I worked on the entire Oberon submarine fleet, Ovens, Otama, Orion, Oxley, Onslow and Otway, either on full or intermediate refits. Other vessels I recall were the iron ore carriers Iron Curtis and Iron Carpentaria, MV Gerringong and the cruise liner Fairstar. Many of the ships’ names I cannot recall but they included harbour ferries, bulk carriers, in fact anything that sailed the seas.

Much of this paper is about the industrial battles in the yard and the fight to save jobs, as well as reminiscences about work mates who I worked alongside with on the various vessels. I have attempted to recollect as many people as possible with whom I worked; hopefully I have recalled their names accurately but I apologise to those where I have failed to do so and to those whom I omitted – it is merely the passage of time and a fading memory that prevented me. I have also written on the work on the Oberons, no recollection of the island would be complete without their inclusion. However, I have not sought to delve into the technical details, simply recounting some of the ways of working, intricacies and mishaps.

I was far from the longest serving employee. Many workers spent their entire employment at the island but I did take an interest in issues that were arising and the struggle to save the dockyard, including both rallies at Canberra, which I took part in.

Undoubtedly the workers at Cockatoo had a significant impact in shaping industrial relations across the country; their history is often unique and central to the ship repair and construction industry throughout 20th century Australia. The island played a major role in both world wars, repairing vessels of the allied fleets and built ships of all classes. Amongst these I particularly remember the Empress of Australia, a car ferry, which was the largest ship in its class at the time and was one of the first to be constructed in modular form anywhere across the industry.

For completeness I make a number of historical references; however, this is not an academic essay. Many others have written about the history of the island and this short piece is about my own personal recollections of being employed alongside many others at Cockatoo.

I hope I have recalled events accurately; it is over 35 years since I worked on the island – so many of my memories are hazy. I have attempted to check as many facts as possible and I am indebted to the Sydney Morning Herald Archive which supplemented my own records. But this has not been possible in every circumstance; therefore, any errors that are contained within this work are mine and mine alone.

It is hoped that people will find these recollections of interest and that they add something however small to the story of Cockatoo Island Dockyard.

John Stevenson, March 2019

Life at Cockatoo

I arrived at Cockatoo Island on my first day of work, Thursday 13 May 1982, full of trepidation. . I’d only arrived in Australia a matter of days beforehand, aged 21 and fresh from completing my apprenticeship at Rolls Royce in Coventry, so everything was new; the people, the sights and now a new job – fascinating! The journey from Circular Quay took around 15 minutes on the inner harbour ferry, exactly which one I am unable to recall, but it could well have been the Karrabee, which some years later had to be winched from the harbour by the Cockatoo crane, Titan, after sinking at Circular Quay.

Unknown to me at the time was that I was entering a dockyard that had played a major role in industrial relations in Australia and was at the forefront of many major disputes impacting upon the country. It had a history of being in the forefront of Australian ship building and maritime struggle over many decades.

On the Tuesday before beginning work I had my interview with Ray Baxter, the Head Foreman, who I later learnt had a fearsome reputation. However I always found him to be fair and his bark was worse than his bite. Before starting work I needed to join the union, this was in the good days when the closed shop was in existence. The following day I made the journey to the offices of the Amalgamated Metal Workers Union[1] (AMWU) on Chalmers Street to join up. Walking up from Central Station, I noticed the offices of the Australasian Society of Engineers (ASE) and, mistaking the name, I went to walk in but then realised my error and continued on to the Metal Workers. I did not know at the time but the decision to walk past the ASE was fortuitous; although a recognised union on the island, they were clearly the moderate right-wing organisation unwilling to partake in struggle. The Metal Workers at the time were the most powerful largest union in Australia with around 170,000 members. The AMWU were in the vanguard of the workers, dominated by the “Left” and clearly less inclined to follow the dictate of the capitalist class.

On my first day at work, I travelled west under the iconic harbour bridge and up the Parramatta River, past Goat Island and then on to Cockatoo, which I was to later learn is the largest island in Sydney Harbour. The thing that struck me most when approaching the island was the cranes, especially Titan, projecting skyward; the mechanical arms dominated the skyline. The ferry was packed with my new work mates, many of whom were to become good friends. Off I got at Parramatta Wharf, disgorged with the throng, and armed with my union card I went to Ray’s office in the Turbine shop, walking past buildings that were full of mystery. I was now employed at Vickers Cockatoo Dockyard Limited.

Ray passed me on to Peter Connellan, who at that time was temporarily the Foreman managing the Turbine Shop. My recollection of the first few days is sketchy. I was given a tour of the yard by an employee, was issued coveralls, provided with a locker, shown the canteen and then taken back to the Turbine Shop. The first ships I went on board were the Iron Curtis and Iron Carpentaria, moored at the Sutherland Wharf owned by the mining giant BHP[2]. The work was not difficult, replacing a few valves and piping if I recall correctly. The most arduous task was walking between the two ships across a gangplank strapped to both ships with rope. It could not have been more than 18 inches wide, perhaps not the best introduction to health and safety standards for a new starter.

One of the things that struck me was the number of nationalities employed among the workforce. Obviously, there were many Australians but there were also workers from around the world; fellow prisoners of mother England, (English, Welsh and Scottish), Maltese, Greek, Italian, Spanish, Irish, German, Dutch and many more representing nations from all continents, all of whom had come to Australia in search of a better life and adventure. Many had fled the troubles of post war Europe: the aftermath of fascist Germany, the 1956 uprising in Hungary, national service in Yugoslavia, the troubles in Ireland, the oppression of the Greek Colonels, fleeing the crack down after the Solidarity strikes in Poland, the fascist regime of Franco and many, many more.

One of the features of the diversity of the workforce was that they brought their own experience of trade unionism with them. Workers learnt from each other, debated issues and explored the traditions and cultures of the immigrant workers. One of the positive aspects of the daily journey from Circular Quay to the island was that it created a daily venue to discuss and debate the issues of the day. Self-education was evident, with many books and newspapers being absorbed and exchanged. Similarly, the comradery was abundant with a great deal of repartee taking place across trades and national boundaries.

The age demographic of the work force covered all groups from 16-year-old apprentices through to those to retiring at 65. The loyalty of the workers is demonstrated in the photograph taken in 1982 of those who had received long service awards; the 37 recipients had an average length of service of 41 years.

History was often self-taught, as well as through reading, the testimonies of those who were there at the time and had been involved in various events provided a vivid picture, from the dropping of the atomic bomb through to the Rhodesian Crisis, the war in Vietnam and the Cold War. There was a greater anti-British feeling amongst many Australians, not centred on cricketing rivalries but on the reprehensible decision of Britain to join the then European Community. This was viewed as a betrayal by a number with whom I conversed. The negative impact, especially the decimation of exports in the agricultural sector, was that Australia lost valuable export markets and was forced to face the full brunt of reactionary European protectionism.

Many older British immigrants had left due to the austerity of the post war period, the running-down of shipyards, unemployment, austerity and rationing but many others, of whom I was one, were seeking adventure and a different life from that in which they had been brought up. Australia, especially Sydney, did not disappoint. The city’s beaches, weather and nightlife all added to the cocktail of excitement and new places to frequent, especially for a 21 year old who had grown up in a small Midlands mining town.

Over time I was able to walk around the island discovering and learning some of its history. The bottle shaped grain silos dug out by convicts were in daily view, as I had to walk past them to get to the turbine hall. Later, at the top of the island, the old barracks and officer quarters that were still in use by the dockyard could be seen. For a number of years, the island acted as a prison; the sentiment of many was that being employed on the island bore similarities to penal servitude which, at times, suggested that perhaps things had not improved greatly. The Power Station with its aged electrical equipment resembled something from Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and cannons embedded into the dockside provided ready-made fixtures for ship moorings.

After working on Curtis, I then moved to the Mechanical Assembly Shop, working on various components for the submarine re-fit programme. After a short period, I wanted a change so I moved to work on the afternoon shift, 15.00 to 23.00. The move brought the difference I needed at the time. I quickly made friends with people on the shift; Gerard Van der Voort from the Netherlands became a firm companion during my time in Australia, and it is a shame that I have lost touch with him. Others on the shift were Jim Chaston, Con Genois, Steve Farrow, George Carruthers, John Crabbe who played in a Joe Cocker tribute band[3], John Hupp from Germany, Pino from Italy, and Branco from Yugoslavia. There was also Australian Gary Elliot, whose father and brother were both employed at Cockatoo, the Foreman Andy (?) who was from Greece, and Pardu and his two brothers who were of Indian descent but had arrived in Australia from Singapore, where no doubt their forefathers were employed administering the British Empire.

This was also the time at which I first became a shop steward. I cannot say I was the best but I certainly sought to represent the views of those with whom I worked and had elected me. I am not sure if workmates thought I was the outstanding candidate as I was the only one who volunteered, so there was no hard-run election campaign based on either perceived ability or ideology. This was the first elected position I held in the trade union movement; I was still only 21 but it was an event that was to shape my whole life. The other AMWU shop stewards on the day shift were Mick Fulham from Scotland and Mick “the Greek” Christoforou.

Many of the first people I made friends with were apprentices, or those who had just completed their time, principally as they were of the same or similar age to me. Cockatoo had approximately 400 apprentices employed at any one time. The yard had a proud history of training and provided workers with skills that would equip them for a lifetime. Many of the older workers were ex-apprentices who had spent their careers on the island. Keith Dwyer, a Foreman on the submarines, and John Crabbe, a charge hand on the afternoon shift, had both served their time as apprentices.

Kev Kramer, Murray Turner, Chris Rassmussen, Gary Elliot and Steve German, all of whom I worked alongside, began as apprentices in the training centre located at the top of the island. The developing skills of the apprentices were self-evident in the restoration of the yacht Yendys, which had been a regular in races in the harbour in the 1920s and 1930s, and the Japanese midget submarine that was involved in the attack on Sydney Harbour in 1942 during World War ll.

In 1980 the island broke new ground with employment of female apprentices and after the first tranche it became the norm, with all new intakes having a small but significant female cadre. The training of apprentices was one area where there was genuine agreement between the employer and trade unions, as both parties recognised the benefits of training skilled workers for the future.

For many years there were no mess room facilities on the island, with men being compelled to eat on the wharves or where they worked and travel home in filthy work clothes. Fortunately, by the time I became employed those days were firmly in the past, with rooms to eat, lockers to keep clothes in and showers to ensure we returned home in a cleansed state. However, during the summer months, we returned to the ways of our forebears and often sat around the wharves and on the slave dock to eat, chat, smoke and watch the activity on the harbour.

One hangover from the past was that our overalls were not cleaned by the company. We were provided with two issues of shirt and pants coveralls and a pair of safety boots every 12 months.  In compensation for laundering our coveralls we received an allowance of $2.50 each week to cover the costs. In reality they were cleaned in our own home washing machines. As the grime left over was horrendous, I would have gladly forgone the payment and allowed the employer to take responsibility for cleaning of overalls.

One amusing anecdote relates to the time when we were unable to reach the island on our normal morning journey to work. The day had begun with a deep fog as the ferry left Circular Quay at its normal departure time, but not long afterwards the fog became too dense. As the ferry was not equipped with radar it had to seek sanctuary at the first wharf we arrived at and wait for the fog to clear.

We remained stationary, tied up at the wharf for well over an hour when suddenly the captain gave the order to slip the moorings and to continue the journey. Almost immediately the sun shone and the fog disappeared. On looking astern of the ferry, we saw that the wharf we had moored at was still shrouded in fog. We had spent the last hour going nowhere sitting in a fog bank! We finally arrived at Cockatoo considerably later than the normal start time of 7.30 am, but no worries, the journey had been fun and we were still being paid as there was an agreement to cover such natural occurrences!


It is distressing that one of the dominant features of Cockatoo, the Titan Crane, is no longer present on the waterfront of Sydney. Although heritage-protected, Titan was sold to a Singaporean company and authorisation was given to tow her to Singapore in 1992. Titan was listed under the Protection of Moveable Cultural Heritage Act 1986 but permission to export the crane to Singapore was given by the Department of Arts, Sport, the Environment and Territories.

The incompetent and irresponsible official who allowed the crane to be towed to Singapore should have been held accountable. Anyone with any sense would have realised that towing a flat-bottomed vessel from Sydney to Singapore could only end in one way – disaster. The range of Titan had, some years previously, been limited to work no further than north than of Bradleys Head without special dispensation, even crossing the heads to the harbour had brought difficulties, so why anyone thought they could tow Titan from Sydney to Singapore is beyond me. As predicted by many, Titan over-turned in Smokey Bay south of Coffs Harbour and the crane had to be scuttled some five days later, an irreplaceable piece of Australian industrial heritage lost forever.

Booking a sickie

On one occasion I was going on holiday for a week in Tasmania – everything was booked, accommodation and flights but I only had four days leave left and I needed five. What to do? I then realised I had some untaken sick days remaining so I duly completed the holiday form for the Monday to Thursday and at the same time completed a sick form for the Friday and handed them in together. No worries; all sorted, and I had an enjoyable week away from Cockatoo. In March 1985 we had our rostered day off on the Monday, followed by ANZAC Day and the Metalworkers’ Picnic Day[4], so instead of returning to work on the Thursday I booked two days sick and again took the week off. The use of sick days for additional leave was normal practice; 20 days leave per year from often hot, difficult and challenging conditions was insufficient and invariably the ten sick days which were part of our terms and conditions were used to extend our annual holidays.

The 38 hour week campaign was finally concluded for all metal workers in March 1982; at Cockatoo, which had been in the vanguard of the struggle, the shorter working week had been won in the preceding year after a six week strike. The deal provided for a 38 hour week but the island worked 40 hours, so there was provision for one day off per month. Thus, we were effectively working only 19 days in every 20, which was the case for most major employers. At Cockatoo the day off was initially staggered but after a period it simply moved to a fixed 19 day month with all employees having a common day off.

For manual workers, having a shorter working month was of great benefit; if you timed your annual leave correctly you could extend the time you were on holiday. Furthermore, it provided more time to rest from a physically demanding job and to undertake activities you could simply not do at the week end.

It is disappointing that little progress has been made since the 1980s in further reductions in working time. Trade unions have appeared to lack the will to fight for greater time away from the workplace and for workers to use life for greater things than simply earning a living.

One substantial benefit of belonging to the AMWU was the access to the union medical insurance scheme. In the early 1980s, in the period between the Fraser Coalition government’s abolition of Medibank, the universal health care scheme created in 1975 by the Whitlam Labor government and the establishment of a second universal scheme, Medicare, by the Hawke Labor government in 1984, Australian citizens had to provide their own private medical insurance. For many, this was a significant financial burden. In May 1982 the union established its own insurance scheme, despite hostile opposition from the private sector providers.

The costs of the scheme were around five dollars per week which was a considerable saving. I had not been in the country that long and so had no medical cover; with the creation of the union scheme this was resolved and I immediately joined, no longer having concerns as to whether I could afford to visit the doctor.

The Dockyard had its fair share of feral cats roaming and slyly skulking around the island. They were allegedly introduced to keep the rat population down. The felines must have done their job well as throughout my time in the yard I did not see one rodent. The cats seemed to survive by eating the remains of the lunches brought in by the workforce. One night I was having a rest in the canteen, stretched over a row of chairs. I managed to catch some sleep, but on waking up found that I was surrounded by around 20 cats, all staring in the same maniacal way. Luckily, on my stirring from my rest they all scattered, fleeing to any place of refuge they felt to be safe.

HMAS Melbourne, the aircraft carrier and then flagship of the RAN was on one occasion tied up in Sutherland Dock. I was not called upon to work on her but it was interesting seeing her berthed in the yard. My father during his national service had sailed to Sydney in 1948 on board HMS Theseus, as part of a goodwill tour with the aim of encouraging the RAN to purchase an aircraft carrier, which they subsequently did. The end result, the Melbourne, was the same class as the Theseus. Walking around the flight deck, I could imagine my father as an 18 year old working on Fireflies and Seafires. Looking back now, I believe the fact that my father had also been in Sydney, albeit briefly, contributed to my wish to live and work in Australia.

HMAS Success

On returning to the day shift in early 1984, I spent a short period working on HMAS Success before returning to work on the Oberons. This was the first and only time I worked on ship construction.  It was of course interesting experiencing Success slowly coming together; the noise was tremendous, and it was often difficult finding your way around an unfamiliar and ever-changing environment. I worked alongside a workmate whose name I can no longer recall but I believe he was from South America.

The delayed construction and cost increases of Success came under criticism from the political right, whose target as always was the workers for their temerity to take strike action. In reality the time lost to the 38 hour dispute was negligible in comparison to the problems caused by incorrect drawings supplied by the French designers, poor contract design and the structural changes to Success required by the RAN.

Success was 67 percent completed when she was launched, one of the most complete ships ever constructed. She was also the first ship to be constructed at Cockatoo since the destroyer HMAS Torrens in 1971. The timespan between the two ships meant the workforce lacked experience of ship building which clearly impacted on the time taken to complete the ship. It is simply impossible to turn off and then on again the flow of skills required which is why any dockyard has to have a steady supply of work to ensure the appropriate levels of skill and knowledge are retained.

On one particular stormy night the crane running alongside the slipway was hit by lightning, and at the same time struck by a particularly strong gust of wind. The gib of the crane doubled back on itself and came crashing to the ground. Fortunately, the crane driver was sheltered as he was standing under Success and was not injured. If he had been a minute earlier, he could well have been killed. The crane was a 50 ton capacity Butters crane, especially bought to build Success. The force of the wind and lightning can only be imagined, given the damage that was caused. The crane was inoperable and was never used again in the construction of the ship.

Shop Steward Credentials 1982
 HMAS Ovens, the first of the Oberons I worked on. Article taken from the local Homebush Newspaper 1982.
Workmen’s tickets from 1982 for the ferry from Circular Quay to Cockatoo. These were discontinued with soon after starting work at the island.
Fairstar berthed at the Overseas Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay and the Cockatoo pass used to gain access.

One of our pastimes during breaks was to play chess, a number of us spent the time eating our lunch and competing against each other. In fact, Steve German, Jim Davies, myself and others had a mini league. It was always a pleasure to beat Steve German, a really good chess player, but the look of disappointment on his face when he lost was always a pleasure to see. No doubt he held similar feelings towards me.

Nuclear Armageddon

One of the major issues of the day was the threat of nuclear war. The views of many Australians towards Britain had been tainted, not only by the joining of the EEC but the actions of Britain during the 1950s and 1960s in testing nuclear weapons in a number of locations in the Australian Outback. A total of 12 weapons were detonated, raining contamination down on vast swathes of the country. During the 1980s the sites had still not been decontaminated creating long term health impacts on the Aboriginal population and alongside this Britain’s secrecy on

One of our pastimes during breaks was to play chess. A number of us spent the time eating our lunch and competing against each other; in fact, Steve German, Jim Davies, myself and others had a mini league. It was always a pleasure to beat Steve German, a really good chess player, but the look of disappointment on his face when he lost was always a delight to see. No doubt he held similar feelings towards me.

Nuclear Armageddon

One of the major issues of the day was the threat of nuclear war. Many Australians’ attitudes towards Britain had been tainted, not only by the joining of the EEC but also by the actions of Britain during the 1950s and 1960s in testing nuclear weapons in a number of locations in the Australian Outback. A total of 12 weapons were detonated, raining contamination down on vast swathes of the country. During the 1980s the sites had still not been decontaminated, causing long term health impacts on the Aboriginal population. Alongside this, Britain’s secrecy on the tests themselves, and the lack of willingness to accept responsibility, all inflamed what was already a toxic mix.

The test site scandal was not helped by the Cold War and the ever-present danger of nuclear annihilation. Protests took place along the quayside when HMS Invincible docked at Garden Island in 1984, and the workers refused to undertake repairs to the ship given the nuclear weapons contained on board.

Opposition to nuclear weapons was also heightened by the French nuclear weapons tests in Polynesia and the subsequent state-sponsored terrorism of the French in the sinking of the Greenpeace ship Rainbow Warrior. The stance taken by the New Zealand Government in declaring the country to be nuclear free and banning visiting naval forces if it was suspected they were carrying such weapons was a remarkable and outstanding piece of leadership.

Many of the local municipal councils across Sydney declared their districts to be nuclear free, and in March 1985 the city experienced one of its largest demonstrations when over 60,000 people walked through the streets demanding the end of nuclear weaponry. As a member of Metal Workers to Enforce Nuclear Disarmament, I marched with the AMWU group. We were all provided with a white and blue flag with an anti-nuclear emblem in the centre and provided a disciplined and well organised spectacle.

I still remain firmly opposed to the possession of nuclear weapons; their presence does not provide security, in fact the very opposite: it is weaponry that threatens the existence of mankind. But while society continues to elect leaderships that are devoid of a moral compass and view a nuclear missile as an extension of their self-inflated egos, we will never make the great leap forward required.

  The Iron Curtis and Carpentaria, the first ships I worked upon when arriving at Cockatoo in 1982


  Fairstar berthed at the Oversea Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay and the Cockatoo pass required to gain access. 

Working on Oberons

Cockatoo was the sole submarine re-fitting site in Australia and had the most advanced non- nuclear facilities in the world. It had years of experience on submarine work, the first being HMAS J5 which completed its refit in 1920. Prior to the arrival of the Oberons, Cockatoo had undertaken the refits on the “T” class submarines. The Mechanical Assembly Shop – more commonly known as MASH – and the clean room within it were specifically constructed for the overhaul of submarine components. As the name suggests, the clean room provided an extremely clean environment for the equipment to be worked upon, due to the close tolerances that were required.

The slave dock, one of only a few worldwide, was designed and built on the island, demonstrating the technical and practical ingenuity and skills of the workforce. Oberon Submarines had been maintained and refitted at Cockatoo since the early 1970s, Oxley in 1972 being the first, and they formed the bedrock of the work on the island. On most occasions there were two submarines being worked upon, one completing a refit with another just beginning; typically, this took 18 months to two years to undertake. In addition to this, there was often one of the fleet receiving an intermediate refit, which normally took approximately 12 weeks.

In all, I worked on the entire fleet of Oberons: Orion, Otama and Oxley on refits and Ovens, Onslow and Otway on intermediate refits. An intermediate refit is where anything needing to be overhauled, checked or upgraded is undertaken – akin to a car service but more complicated.

One submarine I recall working on had to take part in exercises with the US Navy; consequently, work was continued around the clock with evening overtime and weekend working. The submarine sailed on time, still with some workers on board who were dropped off at HMAS Platypus[5] when it berthed.

I cannot exactly recall the reason for the requirement for an early completion of the refit. I assume it was to either take part in exercises with one or all of the fleets of other allied nations, usually Britain, New Zealand or America, or to undertake clandestine work such as visiting Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam where the submarine would sit silently spying on the Soviet ships moored there. The Oberons had a reputation for incredible quietness which enabled them to carry out such covert operations to a highly effective level, something that a nuclear-powered submarine was unable to accomplish.

The working conditions at the island were often difficult and physically demanding, working on the submarines especially so. Fitting a new valve in Q tank[6] on an Oberon was a particular struggle. All of the machinery and components on board the submarine had first to be taken out of the hatches, which invariably meant using the dockside cranes. When returning all the machinery back on board, the whole process was repeated using pulleys and chain blocks to move the various components throughout the submarine.

Alongside the difficulties of working in Q Tank were the torpedo tubes which were always a pleasure to work in. The fore end tubes, of which there were six, were 21 inches wide and 23 feet long. Worming your way along them was no easy task, especially when a workmate found it amusing to close the tube caps, leaving you entombed in pitch blackness.

There is something about submariners that makes them stand out from other personnel. It must be an extraordinary life, being submerged in a claustrophobic steel tube, not knowing what time of day or even what day it was, except by which meal you were eating. Having to hot bunk with your crew mates must have placed stressors that many people could not endure. The closest I ever came to experiencing life on board was when the submarine was being pressure tested.

All hatches were tightly shut and the submarine pressurised and two people, a naval officer and a dockyard inspector, would walk through the length of the submarine holding a candle. Particular care would be taken around hull valves and hatches, the slightest flicker from the candle meant there was a problem, air was leaking out of the boat. If any leak was identified, the offending equipment would be marked for immediate repair.

Working in an environment like a dockyard brought its fair share of minor injuries, and cuts and bruises were commonplace. Although health and safety had improved greatly over the years, the dockyard could still be a dangerous place to work. After being at Cockatoo for a few weeks, one workmate had his arm trapped in the hydroplane ram he had been working on. The oil pipes at the distribution block which fed oil to the hydroplane ram had been connected incorrectly. As a consequence, the ram moved when the valves were operated for another piece of hydraulic equipment that was being tested.

The workmate spent around two hours with his arm trapped until it could be established which pipes had been incorrectly fitted and the fault rectified. Once this had been accomplished, he was attended to by paramedics and airlifted to hospital. His arm badly injured, he was no longer able to work in his trade as a fitter. Although he received substantial compensation, this would never be sufficient to recompense for a life-changing injury.

The closest I came to a serious injury was in June 1985, when I was removing the aforementioned oil distribution block out of HMAS Otama. The block was a similar size and weight to a car engine, so we hooked it up to a crane on the wharf side and to a block and tackle within the fore ends of the submarine. The block was slowly being taken out of the torpedo room hatch with me on the block and tackle inching out the chain and Joe Sierra, a rigger, guiding the block through the hatch. This being a major refit, the submarine was on the slave dock, tied up at Bolt Shop wharf.

One of the many pleasure craft on the harbour, no doubt attempting to get a good view of Otama, came too close and caused the slave dock to rock in the bow wave, with the result that the cable attached to the crane stretched past its load weight and snapped. There was a warning cry from Joe, and he threw himself one way and I went the other, the block narrowly missing us both and landing with a crash exactly where I had been standing. A split second made all the difference – both of us could have been killed, or at the very least seriously injured, if we had not managed to get out of the way.

The first of the Oberons I worked on was the refit of HMAS Orion, where I spent time in the engine room working on “Bonnie and Clyde”[7] the V16 diesel engines. As with all conventional submarines the engines would be used to either drive the generators or drive the propellers. When the engines were running, they could only be operated with external ventilation either while on the surface or just below the surface using two snorkels, raised within the conning tower. One snorkel brought in new air while the other took the exhaust fumes from the engines.

One only has to look at a photograph of any of the equipment on board a submarine to understand the compactness and limited space available to work in. The complexity of the equipment created an intricate program where all components had to be taken off and brought on board in a predetermined order so that it could be installed. The very first job on beginning a refit was the taking of countless photographs and attaching steel labels to every single pipe and component; this then allowed for everything to be traced and brought back at the appropriate time.

On the day shift, the majority of time was spent working on the weapons systems in the fore ends of the submarine. The Australian Oberons carried American Mark 48 torpedoes and Harpoon missiles stored in the forward compartment. These were fired from the six forward torpedo tubes; the aft torpedo tubes in all six submarines, although operational, were used for storage by the crew whilst at sea.

Whilst on days, I worked alongside really good people: John Rutherford, Larry Fong, Steve German, Mark Pratley, Paul “Digger” Chisholm and Murray Turner to name but a few.

Overtime on the afternoon shift usually meant working a double shift, which meant working through the night until 7 a.m. I recall one particular shift where we were replacing the propeller shaft into one of the Oberons. We were in the Sutherland dock; it was winter and rain was teeming down and the wind was howling through the dock. We were under tarpaulin covers but these did little to protect us from the elements.

The shaft was replaced using the dockside crane and block and tackles; we worked through to around 4 a.m. disregarding our break so that we could get the job completed. Once it was accomplished, we retired to the mess room to dry out, eat and have a rest, doing no more work, resting until the ferry arrived to take us home.

Working such shifts was tiring but often we would visit the Sir William Wallace pub at Balmain. We would invariably have a couple of beers but the main attraction would be the breakfast, by far the best in Sydney. For a few dollars you could purchase bacon, eggs, fried bread, sausage and tomatoes, all rinsed down with a schooner of Tooheys New. Occasionally we would extend the time and have lunch, finally leaving around 3 p.m. and going home to spend the rest of the day recovering. However, being young, we were still able enjoy the nightlife of Sydney the same evening. After finishing an evening shift, time was often spent in The Basement jazz club, situated close to Circular Quay. However, the best music venue in Sydney is no more, having succumbed to progress and corporate greed, becoming another location for city offices. Another favourite haunt, usually after completing a day shift, was the Ship Inn, again close to Circular Quay. Looking at recent photographs of the inn, I see that it is no longer the watering hole of the workers, tiled from floor to ceiling, but more a trendy tourist spot covered with mock wood veneer.

Working through the summer months could be particularly arduous, especially when you were working outside with the full force of the sun on your back. The submarines, being black and made of steel, held the heat from the sun’s rays and we were often compelled to use cardboard or any other material to put down on the steel surface to create a protective barrier from the heat. Likewise steel toolboxes on the wharf side would have to be opened using gloves or by wrapping a piece of rag around your hand. The heat often dictated when certain work could actually take place; for example, when the periscopes were installed, the work was undertaken in the evening when it was cooler, as the expanding and contracting steel would make any measurements invalid as the steel would alter in shape and size.

HMAS Success prior to its launching in 1984. The damage to the crane on the port side stern can be clearly seen.
Submarines in Sutherland Dock c1985


Cover of the AMWU magazine clearly demonstrates the concerns at the time,

and shows the fashions of 1980s Australia.

Industrial Struggles

Politics of all shades were represented, at least those of the left; Trotskyism, Communism, and Labourism were all present within the workforce. As well as the forum the island provided for debate on political issues, social interaction was strong and networks and friendships were formed which provided solidarity in struggles and instilled a deep sense of mateship.

I quickly understood that Cockatoo was in the vanguard of fighting for workers’ rights and safeguarding employment. When I informed anyone I met outside of the yard about my job they would invariably comment on the yard’s militancy. This was nothing new to me, after all, growing up in a mining town and working in engineering in Coventry meant that I positively embraced the struggles. When I was an apprentice at Rolls Royce, we were sent home for around six weeks on two occasions, as the factory at Parkside was occupied by the workers. Whilst not being able to take industrial action, as apprentices we would attend the mass and shop meetings listening to the debates of the trade unionists. Mass meetings received very hostile coverage in the press at the time and many on the right of the political spectrum did and still do seek to attack the role of a “show of hands” vote and walking off the job.

Although the level of activism and militancy was particularly high on the island this did not mean that union members blindly followed the instructions of their stewards or officials. There were calls for an occupation of the island at many mass meetings but invariably it was only the proposer and seconder who would ever vote in the affirmative. Similarly, at one mass meeting held in Sydney there were calls to march on the State Parliament. A number of shop stewards supported the motion and urged that this take place, but the resolution was overwhelmingly rejected by those present.

Stop-work meetings were always a lively affair; workers were not afraid to voice their opinions, even if they were not universally endorsed. The tool of industrial action is a blunt one at times but it is a necessary and effective tactic which governments and often trade union officials have sought to curb in an effort to shackle the legitimate activities of workers. The workers at the yard held many political ideologies; however, what was clear was that the trade union leadership was predominately militant with a strong communist presence. This was certainly true within the AMWU, whilst the ASE, which had a limited and less significant presence on the yard, was far more moderate with its membership continuing to work whilst others were in dispute.

There were many trade unions on the island – exactly how many I am unsure but I believe there were 22 unions representing numerous trades included boilermakers, electricians, painters and dockers, plumbers, shipwrights, carpenters, fitters, machinists, storemen, draughtsmen and many more.

After only a few weeks of being employed, in May 1982 I attended my first mass meeting in “red square”, the area between the Fitzroy and Sutherland docks[8]. Following the lead of workers at Garden Island, the Naval Base, who had already walked off the job, the workers at Cockatoo met to debate the sandblasting and painting of HMAS Stalwart in a Singapore dockyard. This is an anathema to many; naval ships should be built and maintained in the home nation, and jobs needed to be protected. Cheap labour elsewhere should not be used. The decision was reached relatively easily: we would walk off the job until the government of Malcom Fraser gave assurances that this would not recur.

In total 5,200 walked off the job, 4,000 from Garden and Cockatoo islands and a further 1,200 from the Williamstown yard in Melbourne. The reasoning the Liberal Government had provided was that the ship had to take part in naval exercises in South East Asia and so had to be worked upon in Singapore. No one ever explained exactly why the repainting of the ship could not have been held over until the completion of the war games. The Cockatoo unions sought support from the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU)[9], asking them to intervene in the dispute.

The ACTU sought assurances from the Government, but these were not forthcoming and so the dispute continued, after we had voted at a further mass meeting that we would not return until the government agreed not to provide naval work to Singaporean yards. Although the Liberal Government denied it at the time, their reasoning for taking the work overseas was because workers in Asian yards were paid significantly less than Australian workers. This was not about us pricing ourselves out of the market, we would have had to work for $A10 a day if we were to have any hope of competing with a yard in Asia.

On Friday 3 December 1982, Cockatoo once more shut down to support the “Right to Work” march, which began its journey around 80km south of Sydney in Wollongong to culminate in a rally outside the New South Wales State Parliament in Macquarie Street. The march was made up of some 50 men and women workers, many of them retrenched miners, who had left Wollongong on the previous Tuesday.

From what I recall, the months after the festive period were quiet industrially, at least until the cleaners in the yard walked off the job. Over what I am unsure, but the result was that nothing was cleaned in the whole yard for a period of three weeks. Showers and toilets began to reek, bins remained unemptied and, despite the Health Commission describing the canteen as a health hazard, the dockyard management declined to do anything to resolve the situation. And so again we walked, collectively agreeing not to return until normal hygiene standards had been restored. The employer was not immune from creating disputes if they saw potential benefits for management in them, and certainly this dispute felt like one that was generated by the employer as it could have easily have been resolved. Some will question as to why an employer would take such a course of action? The answer is relatively simple: if the yard was short of work, then the profits would take a hit but if they could create a dispute and the resultant strike stopped production, then they gained financially from the contracts with the RAN and the Oberon refits. And, of course, they saved money by not paying the wages of the workers.

The Accord

The lack of industrial disputes could well have been the result of the recently negotiated Accord agreement signed by the ACTU and Bob Hawke’s Labor Government in 1983. In essence, the agreement created wage restraint in exchange for an increase in the social wage and a reduction in inflation. However, it should also be viewed as a no strike agreement as it committed the trade union movement to submitting no further pay claims in return for wage indexation. The Accord was the basis of the Hawke government’s consensus approach towards the economy and brought wage increases of 4.3 percent in September 1983 and 4.1 percent in April 1984. However, it has to be noted that this was set against a background of inflation which was close to 12 percent in 1982 and slightly over 10 percent in 1983. In reality wages stagnated and workers lost out as wages fell in real terms. The Accord was supported by many in the AMWU, possibly due to the endeavours of the legendary communist and AMWU official, Laurie Carmichael, who no doubt viewed this as a first step towards a planned economy. Carmichael would become a staunch advocate for the Accord, recognising it had faults but believing it could deliver gains for workers. After the years of waste under Fraser, which brought divisiveness and mass unemployment to Australian society, it is understandable that the Accord took hold within the union movement. 

In later years tax reforms were introduced in a further attempt to limit pay increases, along with job creation and increased union rights, in order to develop a package that enabled unions to advocate wage restraint to members. Employers claimed the Accord was actually hindering economic recovery, blaming automatic wage increases, which allegedly placed too high a burden on their profits, for their ills.

What is evident is that, despite the many disputes that took place on the island, none during my time employed there were for increased wages. This is central to the decline of trade unions throughout Australia and beyond. The Accord undermined class struggle from the workplace, removed independent shop floor organisation and centralised power within the union bureaucracy. The unions took a shift to the right when the moderates within the AMWU actively organised to remove more militant officials, which only helped to embed the new direction.

Not all disputes were about saving the yard. I recall one was over the dismissal of a fellow AMWU member. The Foreman still held some control on the yard and had the authority to dismiss. The member had a disagreement with the Foreman over some minor matter; the Foreman took umbrage at being challenged and dismissed our workmate. Accordingly, we AMWU members held a meeting and in complete solidarity voted to walk off the job until he was reinstated. The showdown lasted for a couple of days until the Foreman was moved to another role and our workmate was reinstated. A complete victory.

The Reactionary Right

As has already been written, the AMWU was dominated by the left but throughout my period of membership there was a constant battle with reactionary elements who were aiming to remove the progressive left leadership.

The right-wing Reform Group claimed to be a rank-and-file movement. However the source of their funding was seen as dubious as they were able to spend many thousands of dollars on campaigns, much more than the resources of the union, which casts doubt on their claims that money arose from ordinary members only. The reactionaries were virulently anti-communist and particularly targeted Laurie Carmichael despite his being one of only two communists in the AMWU leadership, which was predominately made up of the left of the ALP. Their reactionary slogan was “Vote for candidates loyal to Australia” which was particularly nasty given the ethnic diversity of the country.

I recall one of the Reform Group members, after his election, paying a visit to Cockatoo over a minor dispute we were involved in.  The meeting turned into a farce; he had little idea of the issues at Cockatoo and could not hold the attention of the assembled workers. Thankfully the Reform Group failed in their aims and the progressive broad left leadership of the union retained control.

November 1983 provided the first indication of the future of Cockatoo when Minister for Defence Gordon Scholes broke the news at a meeting with union officials that there would be no second ship for the yard. It was estimated at the time that if this was the case then around 1,000 workers would lose their jobs and that the livelihood of many more, suppliers who relied on the island, would also come under threat. However, it was still hoped by many that the decision could be reversed and jobs could be saved, especially since the Prime Minister Bob Hawke had given an assurance, prior to the election, that the Liberal government’s decision to cancel the second ship would be reversed.

Protests at Canberra

In December 1983, as a consequence of the announcement the previous November, the workers at Cockatoo staged their first protest outside Parliament House in Canberra. Around 600 workers made the journey to the federal capital, meeting up at a pre-arranged rendezvous at Circular Quay, climbing onto the 12 coaches in the early morning to make the 280 Km journey to the nation’s capital. Full of optimism, we felt that the newly elected Hawke Government would listen to the reasoning of the workers and grant the building of a second oil replenishment ship, saving thousands of jobs on the island and many more employed in the local economy. We were not so naive as to believe that overturning the decision of the Liberals to defer a future order would happen immediately, but we did hold the view that we would get a fairer hearing and the Labor ministers could be persuaded. A delegation of representatives, led by Pat Johnston, AMWU Divisional Organiser, met with Bob Hawke and other ministers.

The 600 workers who made the trip, representing all trades employed at the yard, including the Foremen and Apprentices, arrived in Canberra around 11 a.m. On arrival, when marching across the lawns outside parliament, we came across an anti-nuclear peace camp and chatting to those present we tried to make common cause on the class struggle. However, when they found out what we were protesting for, their class solidarity waned somewhat.

When we arrived at the steps of parliament scuffles almost immediately broke out. We had a plan to replicate the tactics of the steel and mine workers and to storm Parliament; however, we hadn’t accounted for the fact that the Federal police, having learnt from previous experiences, had been issued with new riot control batons, which they used enthusiastically to beat us with.

With the main entrance barred, we decided to try to locate a back entrance to the building. The police were again wise to our actions and ran ahead to block any doorway we could have used. Finding no way in, we doubled back on ourselves, with the police in chase. On command we doubled back, which sent the officers into a panic, behaving more like the Keystone Cops falling into one another.

The television news programmes and newspapers reported all the action and it was the highlight of the following day’s ferry journey to spot who had made the news either in the newspaper or on the television. In the meeting with Gordon Scholes, Minister for Defence, held in Parliament, the government line throughout the meeting was the lack of resources. Capitalism has never made sense to me but I cannot see the logic of putting people out of work and destroying an industry, which is surely a greater waste of money rather than providing much needed work. Capitalists do not support genuine wealth creating resources; they prefer playing in their casinos. One ship being built at Cockatoo would have created 300 new four-year apprenticeships, with young people learning real skills of value and worth. Hawke’s government simply created six month traineeships in the wider economy, which sums up the economics of the situation. It was not just at Cockatoo that wealth would have been created; a new ship would have saved a further 2,000 jobs across Sydney, in manufacturing, transport and services.

In February 1984 the yard hosted a meeting with the ACTU, the Government, Vickers and the island’s trade unions but, with no satisfactory conclusion being reached, the first of the retrenchments took place following the launching of Success.  Boiler makers, iron workers, welders and painters and dockers were the first to go. In the first tranche 76 of our workmates were retrenched and the response was immediate: the entire workforce at Cockatoo walked off the job in protest, standing by our comrades who at that point received only one weeks’ notice pay as compensation for losing their jobs.

It was not until the November of 1984 that genuine compensation was won for those being retrenched, when the Arbitration Commission brought in new scales, following an ACTU campaign with the AMWU and Electrical Trades Union in the lead. Up to eight weeks pay for those workers being retrenched was put in place. Cockatoo received special mention; the award was made retrospectively and those workers who had already been dismissed also received the compensation. Of course, the employers squealed and opposed the retrenchment payment but this was a victory that they were unable to overturn.

The downing of tools was followed by a complete shutdown of the Sydney waterfront with a mass meeting held at the Balmain RSL to discuss tactics. The aims of the workers changed over time; in the beginning we focused on seeking a new ship to build but in later years it was all about the defence of the dockyard itself, aiming to ensure that it remained a working dockyard. All workers were of the view that if Cockatoo was allowed to go then they would not be far behind, regardless if they were employees of the island or not.

March 1984 saw the launch of HMAS Success and an open day for families was arranged so that all could participate in the activities of the yard. The day held some portents when Lady Stephen, the wife of the Governor General, took a number of attempts to break the traditional champagne bottle on the bow of the ship – surely an unlucky omen?

In May 1984 we again protested outside Parliament House and the same scenario took place: barricades, further struggles and at least one arrest. We managed to break through the first line of police but with two more to get through before reaching the entrance we were once again beaten back. After some time, a certain Roger Shipton, a Liberal MP, paid the demonstration a visit and attempted to remonstrate with us about our lack of Protestant work ethic. Needless to say, his deranged ramblings were drowned out in a chorus of catcalls, much of which is unprintable, with the police finally having to come to his aid and offer protection to this foolhardy individual.

We arrived with the usual banners, including the Republican Southern Cross flag reminiscent of the Eureka Stockade[10]; I believe the plan may have been to attempt to hoist one from the flagstaff on Parliament House but the tactics of the police prevented this from even being attempted. The mood of the workers on the march was already at a low ebb, with 300 already having been dismissed in the preceding weeks. It is little wonder that tempers became frayed and scuffles broke out; there was nothing to lose. The Hawke Government declined to support shipbuilding at Cockatoo; instead, when Hawke met with delegates from the yard, his only offer of support was to advocate redundancy payments. The fruitless day was finished off with beer and food at the Canberra Working Men’s Club before returning to Sydney.

I recall that after HMAS Success had been launched, life on the yard felt that little bit less secure. In the weeks following Success coming off the slipway a further 200 workers were retrenched, with an expected 1,000 to lose their employment by the end of the year. Ray Baxter would be a prominent figure walking around the yard handing out retrenchment notices. You would try and keep out of his way but what was the point; if he had an envelope with your name on it you were out.  Many of the familiar faces, whom you had travelled daily on the ferry with and worked alongside, were no longer present. You knew when someone had been retrenched and was leaving the yard as they would be carrying their tool box on the evening ferry. I was not retrenched myself, but you could not but help but wonder when it would be your turn to carry the tool box.


August 1984 brought a glimmer of hope for the yard. The Australian Labor Party (ALP), passed a resolution at its national conference supporting the construction of another ship at Cockatoo. However, the hope and optimism were soon short lived; the Government ignored the ALP and stated categorically that a new ship would not be built. Gordon Scholes, along with his deputy Kim Beazley, used the spurious grounds that building another ship at Cockatoo would deprive other yards of work but this was patently untrue as it was accepted that the whole of the Sydney waterfront would benefit.

The following September the frustrations of the workers spilled over to bring them into direct contact with the ALP and ACTU. The Dockyard committee decided to place advertisements in the press which accused the Labor Government of betraying the workers on the island. The advertisements began with the words “Betrayal, Betrayal, Betrayal” and called on all workers to abstain from voting for the ALP at the next election.

It took all the eloquence and powers of persuasion of Pat Johnston and other trade union officials to get the workers to curtail their campaign. The meeting was attended by 2,000 workers, lasted for over two hours and was often fractious. In the end we agreed to a resolution which called on the ACTU to campaign for a second ship. This was a real climb down; in the end the ACTU and the Labor Government failed to back Cockatoo. Clearly the word betrayal was and is the most apt to have been used.

My own view is that Scholes did not wish Cockatoo to remain viable, wanting the bedrock of trade unionism in Sydney removed from the industrial equation. Like many on the right, he feared the power of workers and wanted their power to be constrained and shackled. Today many of the right wing kneel at the altar of capitalism, simply telling the bosses how much they need trade unions. This may be true, but what is clear is that trade unionists do not need capitalism.

Attempts to save the dockyard took many twists and turns. The employer even proposed that it was prepared to build the ship out of its own resources and then either sell or lease the ship back to the government. The proposal as far as I am aware was not taken seriously by the Labor Government, who preferred instead to see the destruction of the shipbuilding capability in Sydney, especially the Treasurer Paul Keating, Gordon Scholes and Kim Beazley.

In 1984 negotiations were concluded with the employer which would have discarded the traditional trade definitions and demarcation of roles and initiated re-training of workers to address some of the technical requirements of the Dockyard. The agreement failed to have a major impact because a little over two years later the decision to close the dockyard was announced. Despite some of the tensions and history of the yard, this agreement demonstrated that it was possible to negotiate arrangements that could have brought about a more settled environment at the yard. It is debateable whether or not the agreement would have improved industrial relations at the island, because of the years of history and tradition that needed to be overcome. Nevertheless, it was a ground-breaking agreement – but, given the eventual closure, it remains simply a case of “what if?”

Industrial relations anywhere has challenges, and clearly the employer at the island was not slow in creating disputes for their own gain. I can honestly say that the metalworkers did not walk off the job simply for the fun of it. There was always an objective at the end of it: safeguarding workers’ jobs, shipbuilding, and retrenchment pay. The new agreement negotiated with the employer in 1984 would undoubtedly have brought a more structured approach to industrial relations at Cockatoo.

I left Cockatoo at the end of 1985, spending time travelling around the vast country of Australia.  As a consequence, my direct involvement ceased but I retained my interest in the life of Cockatoo and kept abreast of the struggle to keep the dockyard alive.

Pat Johnston addressing the crowd
Arriving at Canberra
Scuffles breaking out. The author 2nd from the left, facing the camera. Gerard Van der Voort to the Rightther
Shipton’s ramblings

Photographs of the second demonstration outside Parliament in Canberra in May 1984, reproduced from The Metalworker, Journal of the AMWU.


In April 1987, Minister for Defence Kim Beazley sounded the death knell for Cockatoo Island. Under cover of defence review it was announced that Williamstown would be sold and that the lease for Cockatoo would not be renewed after it expired on 31 December 1992. Therefore, the agreement that had been negotiated in 1984 never had the chance to embed and change the working practices on the island. The review which was used to close Cockatoo was the “Two Oceans Policy”, which subsequently resulted in the submarine fleet being stationed at HMAS Stirling in Western Australia instead of HMAS Platypus in Sydney.

The announcement of the closure had an immediate impact on the yard as contracts for work were cancelled. Work on the Oberons continued with the refits of Ovens and Orion, with Orion being the final contract to be completed, in June 1991. The closure of Cockatoo Island effectively destroyed ship repair and construction in Sydney and in my view was a deliberate act aimed at removing the organised working class from a position of strength. At the time this was taking place, a similar pattern could be seen across the Industrialised world, in Thatcher’s attacks on the miners and Reagan’s assault on the Air Traffic Controllers.

There were many difficulties at Cockatoo, in particular the lack of a direct road link to the mainland, which meant everything had to be loaded to be moved to the dockyard by barges and then unloaded. In some ways you would never have built a dockyard in the middle of the harbour; nevertheless, these issues were not insurmountable and processes could have been developed to alleviate many of the production issues.

The dockyard closed after the completion of Orion but not before the workers had staged a 26-week occupation of the island, with 2,000 workers stopping work. In the end the workers were compelled to return to work but they did win an increased redundancy payment and a bonus for the completion of HMAS Orion.

Cockatoo is a now a UNESCO site. The historic buildings and machinery have either been preserved or demolished and the site is enjoyed by many visitors and tourists, but it will never again be a hive of industrial activity.

The author, John Stevenson, has been involved with the trade union movement throughout his working life. His first elected role was as shop steward at Cockatoo Island with the Amalgamated Metal Workers Union. Upon returning to Britain, he continued his activism with the Amalgamated Engineering Union as a shop steward and convener. John subsequently became involved in the Manufacturing, Science and Finance Union, continuing his activism at local and regional level.

In 1994, John became a full-time organiser with the Community and Youth Workers Union and in 2000 joined IPMS (the Institution of Professionals, Managers and Specialists, now Prospect). In his role as a Negotiations Officer, John has represented workers in the Energy, Defence, and Public Service sectors, and at present represents workers in the aviation sector. John has written numerous articles on trade unionism and the issues impacting on workers.

[1] At the time the union was known as the Amalgamated Metal Workers Shipwrights Union (AMWSU), in addition the union also became known as the Amalgamated Metal Foundry Shipwrights Union (AMFSU) but for ease I will use AMWU throughout the essay.

[2] Broken Hill Proprietary Company.

[3] Stormy Monday Big Band

[4] Trade union holiday dating from the 1800s

[5] HMAS Platypus, the submarine base at Neutral Bay Sydney.

[6] Q Tank was a small ballast tank on the forward of the submarine keel which, in the event of a crash dive, was flooded to allow the submarine to submerge quickly.

[7] Traditionally all engines on the Submarines are named.

[8] The Fitzroy dock was designed by Gother Kerr Mann, the island’s Civil Engineer, and built between 1847 and 1857 utilising convict labour. The foundation stone of its ashlar lining was laid on 5 June 1854 by Governor Charles Augustus FitzRoy, with the dock being named in his honour. When completed in 1857, the dry dock was 316 feet in length and 76 feet in breadth, with an entrance 60 feet wide. The Dock was lengthened in 1870 and 1880 to be 643 feet. The Sutherland dock was constructed under the supervision of the engineer Louis Samuel between 1882 and 1890. – cite_note-Gillett-15 The dock was named after John Sutherland, the Secretary for Public Works and was large enough to accommodate ships of 20,000 tonnes (20,000 long tons; 22,000 short tons). The dock was modified in 1913 and in 1927 to accommodate Royal Australian Navy ships.

[9] Australian Council of Trade Unions formed 1927

[10] The Battle of the Eureka Stockade, December 1854 was fought between miners and British colonial forces of Australia.