Part Two – A Very Ordinary Seaman
Having completed my sea time as deck boy on the SS Balarr I paid off in September 1957 at age 16 and joined the SS Denman my first ship as Ordinary Seaman in October. The next few years were uneventful, and I continued to work on a wide range of merchant ships.
In 1959 both my brother and I served on the MV Baralga for what would become a unique voyage for an Australian ship as Australian shipping was traditionally coastal trade. Owned by the Australian National Line it was given a charter to deliver a full cargo of railway sleepers to Calcutta as part of some foreign aid program.
Our first loading port was Eden a small fishing port in New South Wales, much too small to fully accommodate a ship the size of the Baralga alongside the berth resulting in the ship having to be moored with headlines to the wharf and stern lines to a buoy with only the forward three cargo holds and the midships accommodation alongside the wharf.
The part loading was to take a couple of days and we were able to go ashore at the end of each day. The only place to get any alcohol was at the Fisherman’s Club which in a small fishing port can be quite exclusive as was this one. After sailing it was a short run up the coast for a further part loading of the cargo in Coffs Harbour after which we sailed to our next port, Brisbane, to finish the full load of cargo.
While the ship was in Brisbane, we were given a battery of injections for smallpox, cholera and yellow fever being hit with the lot over two days. The effect was an overall shock to the body resulting in fever, chills, tiredness, and not much interest in working. To complete the process, we were issued with a Seaman’s Document of Identity rather than a passport.
After sailing from Brisbane, we continued up the coast of Queensland to the Port of Townsville where we topped up the fuel bunkers, freshwater tanks, and stores. The early part of the voyage meant passing near the Island of Sumatra. Lying to the east of Sumatra is Banka Island, notorious for the murder of Australian nurses by the Japanese after the fall of Singapore in 1942.
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