Better known as Labor Rat, Billy Hughes' little known contribution to Australian shipping is now the setting of a new book by retired seafarer and writer Wayne Ward - 28Men.
Long before he turned rodent, Billy, who was for a time a seafarer himself, did two important things for the labour movement and the nation.
It was Billy Hughes PM who, during World War I, fought the UK shipping barons, foremost Lord Inchcape, and started up Australian's first national flag shipping line with the purchase of 15 British ships. And it was Billy Hughes, PM, founder and leader of the Waterside Workers' Federation who set up ship building yards in Walsh Island and Cockatoo Island Sydney, the State Government dockyard Newcastle, Williamstown, Victoria; Maryborough, Queensland and Poole & Steel, Port Adelaide producing another 17 Australian made vessels over the next decade.
In all, under PM Billy Hughes, the Australian merchant navy came to 40 vessels running both the coastal and international trades.
The line was eventually sold for a song by PM Stanley Bruce Government, the same PM responsible for the shootings of waterside workers during the 1928 strike. And the same union busting PM, who, like PM John Howard, lost both government and his seat after a long and bruising battle with the unions.
Wayne Ward's first book The Last Seafarer was a hit with maritime workers. 28 Men, the lively love tale of a wharfie’s son and seafarer Jack and his romance set amid the turbulent strikes and struggles of the era, is, likewise, a must read for members.
Its publication is timely given the current perilous state of the Australian merchant fleet.
"It is odd with 44 years at sea I never knew a thing about the Commonwealth Shipping Line of 1916," said Ward. "Until I came across a little book on the internet. What a vista it opened, also a lot of anger. What has changed- nothing?"
28 Men sells for $28 and is available from branches.