Vale Alan Oliver

Vale Alan Oliver, veteran seafarer, union activist and, in the words of National Secretary Paddy Crumlin, "wordsmith extraordinaire, the Damon Runyon of the Australian maritime and international working class".

Alan died on September 8 and it was standing room only at his funeral held in Sydney on September 14.

Some of the many tributes to this outstanding union veteran follow:

PADDY CRUMLIN, MUA National Secretary: 'Alan was an extroadinarily compassionate and generous man who  put the interests of others before anything else really, particularly in the context of constructing a better political and industrial framework within which those lives take place . He was unashamably committed to  workers rights and the working class, and even though he didn't frame his committment in the dogma and rhetoric of class struggle, it shined in his words and actions in a way that was far more effective due to their accessiblity.

 He was a genuine character, not unlike many he depicted .Although he respected the fine traditions of seafarers always dressing well to go ashore, and  the importance of a good meal and wine with good company in many locations around the world, Alan lived in a simple fashion and with the humility of a person who has nothing to prove to others.

His written words could be sublime and subliminal. Humour and soft and telling irony  amongst his most potent weapons and  literary tools. His knack was to consistently capture relevant insights into the contradictory nature of the human condition. He did it from a perspective of empathy and sympathy for its better aspects and dogged persual and exposure of it's worst.

This literary dimension was always framed in the language, faces and places of ordinary workers punctuated by their aspirations and needs, and it was a powerful political narrative that changed ideas and the actions of people. That was his objective. Even though an accomplished and engaging raconteur, his fluency with the pen was only matched by his terror of the formal spoken word and Alan would run the hungry mile rather than make a speech to a gathering. In effect that meant that he wrote the speeches many others delivered,although he never sought recognition for this part of his contribution.

His was the gift of insight  that consequently drove awareness and determination to action. This determination to remedy  injustices and support those most in need is one of his abiding legacies and will continue to be as long as any of Ollies comrades hold breath and sway.

His words were ultimately rooted in the life of our quite unique national  personality within  the wider  working class. He was the recorder of the rich fabric of humanity that lies therein. We all saw our australian humour and experience in his works and words and through that found further knowledge of ourselves.   That in turn help motivate us all to be better and to do better but in the ideosyncratic and colourful way that shaped the long history of the Australian waterfront and shipping industries and the workers that have consistently found material and political sustenance there . He truley is our Damon Runyon  Jack Kerouac and Jack London amongst others.

A loyal seamen to the great adventure, he was more than an able hand. He was one of the intellectual and political bosuns of our ongoing voyage, loved and respected by all who truely knew him. He goes with the Orders of Elliot and Healy and the other highest honours our union can bestow on those that are the finest we have amongst us.'

Dr Diane Kirkby, author Voices from the Ships, Australian seafarers and their union: "Alan Oliver made a huge contribution to writing the Union's history.

He knew how important history is in knowing what you've won and lost and what this means for the union's future. He wanted to preserve those memories, He shared his collection of tapes, and photos, and back copies of the journal that no-one else had saved, and spoke of his own personal memories. Most of all he provided a guiding voice - Alan was a natural writer, a born historian who knew the value of the union's history and what it must look like. He was a real strength and inspiration.'

Mick Carr, S. Queensland Branch Secretary.“Alan was truly the epitome of an activist in every sense of the word. A few beers today in memory of Alan is surely mandatory.”

Warren Smith, Assistant National Secretary:  "Alan was a legend. Seafarers that have never worked with or known Alan personally have recognised the passing of Alan as the end of an era.

"They did know Alan though  through his beautiful words and a unique turn of phrase that captured the essence of Australian working class values.

"Alan will live on through those words. I was extremely fortunate and privileged to be able to work with Alan for the last six years on World Maritime Day of which he was the heart and soul. We also campaigned together on the Hungry Mile. There was never a union action in Sydney that Alan was not a part of. The exemplary activist and union stalwart.  

 Paul McAleer,MUA Sydney Branch Secretary:  Alan was an outstanding trade unionist, activist, and skilled seaman of the highest order. He was respected locally, nationally and internationally for his contributions in all areas of his life. Alan’s contribution on behalf of distressed seamen and members of the merchant marine is second to none, still playing an active and leading role in the organisation of World Maritime Day up until his passing. 

The Sydney Branch in partnership with National Office and retired MUA members will be ensuring the legacy of Alan Oliver is remembered by maritime workers and the community in general for generations to come. These activities will be outlined in more detail in the near future. 

PAT GERAGHTY, retired SUA secretary: “The  Union is a family, a family that embraces everybody,  that was one of things Alan wrote.   I knew Alan 60 years as a seamen, we’ve been shipmates.  Your’e like a family. You live together more than than you do with your own family.  Because you eat, sleep, drink ,work, fight together.  You do all the things you do when you are at home, in all the other parts of the world.  You become an internationalist…Alan was on of the best writers because he could communicate with humour and he could write about anything.  He was an historian.  He made sure the history was recorded.  And above all he was a humourist.  The seamen’s union was his family.  He was a great fellow and everyone here will remember him."

MICK DOLEMAN, MUA Deputy National Secretary:  “There is more than one family in this room - the Alan Oliver family and the MUA membership and the royal family of maritime industry.  They are all in this room paying homage to a great great man - captains of industry, former leaders of our union, Taffy Sweetenson, John Benson, Papa Constuntinous, representatives of the CFMEU, Painters and Dockers, captains and shipmates - all here to celebrate the great life of Alan Oliver.”  

Terry Langham and Sylvia Piddington In Adelaide: "Alan we can still hear you taking and fighting for the cause.  Many thanks. We will keep talking, fight for the cause and fly the flag with you."

MAIL YOUR TRIBUTE to be posted here on the website to

PHOTO: Alan in his prime (centre left) on board the SS Bungaree

VIDEO:  Deputy National Secretary Mick Doleman at Alan’s last lunch get together with comrades in August.

Alan's stories "Sea Daddies" and "My Ship My Home" also features on the ABC TV website program Making Australia