REMINISCENCES | Larrikinism 101


Larrikin: a mischievous young person an uncultivated, rowdy but good natured person- a person who acts with apparent disregard for social or political convention.

A recent article by Michael Grey about his bicycle on board his ship reminded me of all the hijinks we got up to on ships to get around the ports we visited. I recently related in one of my articles how crew members on the Jeparit acquired a US Army jeep and then secreted it on board the ship for the voyage from Vietnam to Australia. It was a clean swap for a cement mixer.

These guys went to no end of trouble, at the risk of the management, the master, the military (both Australian and American), Australian Customs, and various other authorities merely to prove it could be done. There was no profit in the exercise but certainly a lot of bragging rights. This escapade entered into the realms of legend within the company.

Then there was the Land Rover on the Allunga. This was before my time on the ship but having heard the stories from a couple of different sources I’ve no doubt of its existence. The story was that the Land Rover was kept in the vehicle deck for use in both Australian and American ports. I understand that it wasn’t registered in either country.

It was fitted with “deep tanks” for the stowage of restorative beverages for the occupants during sorties ashore. I believe that at one time the vehicle was involved in a motor accident and the deep tanks were broached leaving a permanent aroma of whisky and Tia Maria in it for the rest of its days. I don’t know what became of the Jeparit’s jeep or the Allunga’s Land Rover but I never heard of any one being punished for these acts.

Not for public consumption

Bicycles are another thing. I always took a bike with me on coastal ships I sailed on. It came in handy for a number of things, most of them marginally legal. I have vivid memories of a ride when I was on the sugar run out of Sydney to the Harwood Island sugar mill on the Clarence River on the New South Wales north coast.

The second mate was a Cook Islander and we got in very well together. He came to me one day while we were loading at Harwood Island to report that he acquired bottle of Inner Circle rum from one of the mill employees and would I care to try it. Now I should explain that I am not much of a drinking man and certainly wasn’t used to spirits.

The rum wasn’t for public consumption at the time. It was made exclusively for the CSR management and came in three different grades, 60, 70, and 80 proof. Pretty powerful stuff and could be used for racing fuel or weed killer as was your wont. The second mate was issued with some verbal warnings about the rum from the mill employee. He said that when (not if) you lose the power of speech you should head straight for your bunk because the use of your legs would surely follow soon afterwards.

As it turned out the mill employee’s predictions were spot on. I slipped into a comatose state that evening only to wake up refreshed and clear in the head the following morning. Being a free day I thought it would be a good idea to ride my bike into Maclean and get the Sunday papers. What I didn’t know was that I was still in the grip of powerful drink at the time and it wasn’t until my return ride to the ship that the most monumental hangover crept up on me. Every sugar truck that passed me on the return trip to the ship caused my head to fall off onto the road (or so it seemed). I never touched rum from that day to this.

“Miraculously I saved the lamingtons”

Now on the subject of bicycles another story comes to mind. ANL’s Webb Dock Terminal in Melbourne had an abundance of bicycles for shore staff to get around on. Some of these bicycles found their way onto the ships. The Brisbane Trader had one which came in very handy on our Melbourne to Tasmania run. The Brissy Trader had two separate mess rooms, one for the mates and one for the engineers, our Chief Engineer, a lovely Dutchman, always bought us lamingtons for smoko from the Devonport cake shop. Bless his heart. One of the mates spotted the pile of lamingtons in our mess room and wanted to know where theirs were. We said they were exclusively for the engineers so naff off. He went away in a huff.

One particularly rainy day the next trip it was my turn to go up and get the lamingtons for smoko. The Chief gave me $20 and off I went to the cake shop on the ship’s bike. It didn’t rain on the way up there but on the way back it bucketed down. I was belting across the Devonport terminal at full tilt with the lamingtons safely stowed in my overalls. I took the dock ramp at full speed only to find the mates had raised the ramp about a metre above the vehicle deck during my absence.

I crash landed on the vehicle deck, bouncing across crinkle bars and wrecking the bicycle but miraculously I saved the lamingtons. I entered the mess room with skin off everywhere, tattered overalls but happily the lamingtons were undamaged. Up until that point I was going to share some of the lamingtons with the mates but after my life threatening injuries I vowed they would never see a lamington from me.

There were other stories about Honda Four motor cycles that were smuggled in from Japan but these are better off left untold. Australian Customs has a long memory.

Submissions wanted! Do you have an exciting, amusing or downright dangerous anecdote from your time in the maritime world? Each week, we will feature new personal experiences from across the globe. Submissions to: [email protected].

Kent Stewart

Founder of Maritime Engineers, a multi-region maritime consultancy with clients in the oil and gas industry, navy, commercial shipping and marine insurance, Kent Stewart is our resident expert on commercial shipping and the offshore industries.