Out on the waterfront at Newcastle harbour the sun shined on the 200 Maritime Union of Australia members and supporters who had gathered to celebrate Iron Boat day, which this year coincided with International Women’s Day.
As a result, this year’s hosts – the Newcastle Branch – decided to dedicate the ceremony to women involved in shipping.
Three women – Karen Williams-Burbury, Yasmin Catley and Ann Gray, each spoke about their own experiences of the industry followed by MUA National Secretary and ITF President Paddy Crumlin, while Newcastle Branch Secretary Glen Williams was MC for the day.
Karen Williams-Burbury was one of the first women to go to sea and she is known as the first ever ‘deckboy’ after she joined the industry in the 1980s. She remained a ‘deckboy’ until 1988 when the role changed its name to trainee integrated rating (TIR). Karen offered insight into the early days of women going to sea.
Long before Yasmin Catley was in the running for a State seat she was connected to the maritime industry through her family. Her father was a seafarer and she married a seafarer, in Robert Coombs. Yasmin offered the perspective of someone who knows what it’s like to live with seafaring men.
Ann Gray is a current seafarer, who has been employed in the industry for more than five years.
She shed light on what the current sea-going industry is like.
Like many women involved in the maritime industry, many of Ann’s family are and were seafarers.
“You could say it’s in my genes,” she said.
“I love my job and couldn’t see myself doing anything else.
“That’s not to say there are not any hurdles for women working at sea but I would love to see more young women get involved in the industry because it really is a rewarding career.”
National Secretary Paddy Crumlin said the Maritime Union of Australia had always encouraged more women to become involved in the industry.
“Despite our tough and robust reputation, the MUA has a strong track record of attracting more women into the traditionally male dominated workplaces and also nurturing the existing female workforce” Paddy said.
It was also important, he said, to recognise the important role women, as partners of seafarers, played in the past.
“Wives, daughters and sisters of what were once known as merchant seamen, were passionate about the industry and more involved in their communities than the men and must be considered as equal partners in the job,” he said.
“Seafaring is about families, equal opportunity and the communities we live in.
“All suffer unless this essential Australian industry is maintained.”
Newcastle branch secretary Glen Williams said as well as celebrating women, the original intent of Iron Boat Day should not be forgotten.
“Ships involved in the transport of iron and steel and the people who worked on them made such an indelible mark in Australia’s history books,” Glen said.
“That fact should be remembered, celebrated and built upon – the future of the maritime industry depends upon it.”
Iron Boat day was sponsored by the Maritime Union of Australia Newcastle branch and Hunterlink Recovery Services.
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