SHF – John Oxley

Interview – Peter Wyatt – 3rd Engineer John Oxley C1968

(I was introduced to Peter by Brett Smith during a short visit to Brisbane in August 2010. There was not much time to talk, so I emailed a series of questions to Peter, hoping not to miss anything of importance or interest. As well as information about John Oxley, I also asked questions on crew training, recruitment and maritime practice from this period – AM)

Marine engineer training – In those days, completion of a fitting and turning apprenticeship (of 5 years), in a workshop where a heavy class of work was performed, was a requirement.

This was followed by obtaining PART A of a second class certificate issued by the Commonwealth, which enabled membership in the Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers. Employment as a junior engineer followed these steps.

Following suitable sea time, PART B second class, PART A first class and PART B first class could be obtained.
Department of Harbours & Marine recruitment – Manning was always provided via the respective unions of the day.

Seamans Union of Australia – Able bodied seamen, firemen and greasers
Deck Officers Guild – Masters and mates
Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers – Engineers

I joined the Department after sailing on the Australian Coast.

Cabin arrangements – Cabins on main deck were occupied as follows:- 1st mate Port forward outer just inside main hatch area, 2nd mate Port side aft of galley (originally for 3rd engineer), 2nd engineer on Stbd. side (this cabin was originally for 2nd). Master – always had cabin below wheelhouse. 1st Engineer, cooks and steward in accommodation block built on boat deck, which I believe has since been removed. Deck & engine-room ratings – Housed in forecastle. Seamen on Port side, firemen and greasers on Stbd. – they had a wash-room and mess in this area.

Engine room crewing arrangements – Complete engine rooms of John Oxley and Matthew Flinders used to alternate between the two vessels on weekly rotation of duty.

Whilst on board Matthew Flinders our firemen/greasers worked only as greasers, as she was a motor vessel. Back on the John Oxley they performed duties as firemen only, as the engineers carried out our own greasing and oiling.

Trips to service navigational buoys could take 2 days and involve anchoring overnight, when the steam plant was shut down and limited electrical power for lighting was supplied by a small diesel generator, possibly an “Apollo” which seemed to be of a stationary or farm application origin, as it was hopper cooled. These trips were carried out as “day trips” and we relieved each other in the engine room on an informal basis.

When the Matthew Flinders was withdrawn from the pilot station off Caloundra every six months for docking and overhaul, the John Oxley would man the station and all engine room staff would work normal sea watches of 4 hours on, followed by 8 hours off.

Engine room crew – Raising steam, berthing and manoeuvring were normally carried out by 1 engineer and 1 fireman; however, due to most time spent on “day work”, an extra engineer would stand-by in the engine room when departing or arriving at the port office berth.

Raising steam – Scotch marine boilers require great care from cold. In operating your other vessels, your engineers would be following careful procedures, such as alternating and spelling of furnace firing of the boilers from cold. A diesel powered pump, possibly a “Southern Cross” provided circulation of light fuel for firing from cold.

Fuel – Fuel as supplied to John Oxley was :-
* Light marine diesel, used for firing from cold from a tank of about 4 ½ ton capacity.
* Furnace fuel oil from the main bunker tanks
* A small distillate tank for the galley stove

Bunkers were usually taken alongside the wharf at the “Amoco” refinery. Could also be supplied via road tanker at our own berth if required.

Sea Service – As mentioned earlier, John Oxley performed two duties, pilot station and navigational buoy tender. Pilot station work was twice a year for about 4 weeks each, with buoy changing about a trip per month, on an overnight trip.

Engineering maintenance – Minor maintenance and adjustments were carried out by the ship’s engineers and firemen. Major work which required machining would be sent to our workshops at South Brisbane Dry Dock. When possible, these larger jobs would be scheduled for our 6 monthly docking at South Brisbane Dock.

Our deck crew chipped and painted on an ongoing basis.

Cooking and messing – When working 8 hours days and proceeding ashore and home every night, alongside our post office berth, we would provide our own lunches. At all times when steaming, our two cooks provided all meals (of a very high standard).

The crew had a mess room in the aft section of their forecastle. Master, mates and engineers used a mess room in the forward end of the main accommodation. A steward serviced this area.

Crews were always permanents employed via their respective maritime unions, which were applicable to the Australian Coastal Shipping. While most crew members served on the ship for long periods, others would return to Australian coastal vessels. Replacements would come from the coastal ships, usually guys who needed some time “ashore” for a while.

John Oxley steam plant – Regarding the main engine, auxiliary machinery, pumps etc. no problems come to mind. The boilers however could be another story. In about 1965 the Gourlay necks between the back of the furnaces and the combustion chambers were found to be cracked. The repairs involved specially formed sections being welded in place. These were fitted in segments to form the required circumferential form.

Remaining crew members – As I was one of the younger engineers back in 1968 and I will be 70 next birthday, most of contemporaries are not around now as they would have been a fair bit older than myself. I cannot think of another crewmember to talk to.

Pete Wyatt