My Union Right or Wrong.
A history of the Ship Painters and Dockers Union 1900-1932
By Issy Wyner
Cutting in the Line: The "line" was usually demarked along a ship's side with chalked string held at each end very taut, and when plucked left a marked line which a painter then followed. The topside paint would be used to cut in the line and then the boot topping paint would be painted in below it, following the cut-in line of topside.
Fleets: The section of the ship which each man scrubbed and painted from the punts was called a fleet. As one fleet was finished, the punts were hauled along the ship's side to the next set of fleets, and so on until the ship at that level was completed, when the pumps were set working to take the punts down to the next level which was then fleeted out by the men working at arm’s length from each other.
Land the punts: When the punts on either side of the ship could no longer be used to scrub fleets along the hull, the men were sent ashore and two were detailed to see that the punts were safely landed on the dock floor as the last of the water was pumped out of the dock.
Lazaret or Lazarette: This was a small stowage space used for storing food or ship's gear, either for'ard or aft in small ships. It was often cut into the main deck with a hatch cover over it. The name appears to be related to the word "lazar", a leper, and may have given some credence to stories of sailors being isolated by being locked in the small space as a form of punishment. The Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1959-60, notes
"Lazaretto" is also an obsolete term for a place in the afterpart of a merchant vessel for the storage of provisions,. etc.
As sail gave way to steam and ships grew larger, the lazarette was replaced by specially allocated spaces, such as paint lockers to house all materials and tools related to painting, etc; rope stores to house coils of wire and manilla, etc, ropes, splicing gear (spikes, fids, serving mallets, etc.), shackles, blocks and other equipment; and foodstuffs were stored in more hygienic rooms, including refrigerated spaces.)
Plague: Bubonic plague was rife in Sydney in 1900 and was the cause of many deaths. Max Kelly, in his A Certain Sydney 1900, notes:
....it was not until March (1900) that an overall plan for plague eradication got under way. On March 1 a poster was issued in both English and Chinese:
"Plague is present in Sydney. It has been introduced by diseased rats and there is a great danger of its spreading further."
When bubonic plague arrived at Sydney in the summer of 1900, it hit with some force. Between January 19th and August 9th, 303 persons contracted the disease and of these 103 died.....17,000 rats were destroyed in the normal course of the work. At the quarantine depot 27,548 rats were destroyed, having been caught by rat catchers....
Despite all the frenzied activity associated with seeking to wipe out this deadly disease, there were occasional outbreaks over the next few years, and the case of the two Painters and Dockers hospitalised with it is indicative of this.
Quarters: The four quarters of the vessel are its for'ard and after sections beyond the main body of the ship on the port and starboard sides. On the after end particularly, these areas could be cleaned and painted with some shelter from the elements for the men doing the work.
Rolling Chock. An invention which was aimed at taking some of the roll out of a ship at sea. It comprised a steel plate, about a foot or more wide, depending on the size of the vessel. It was welded or rivetted into place, like a fin, on each side of the ship, below the waterline, on the chine or rounded part of the hull where it turned in towards the keel. It usually extended for the length of the middle section of the ship’s hull.
Touch up: Sections where a full coat of paint is not required, but simply touching up bare patches.
Tunnel: The tunnel is a long restricted area through which the heavy steel driving shafts reach from the engine room to the propeller/s.
Free Current of Air: Among the many problems confronting the Union was that of defining "a free current of air" for men when working in confined spaces, particularly, work in tanks of a wide variety of sizes. The following case at Mort’s Dock, reported to a Union meeting by the Secretary, showed how little the employer attached to the meaning of such important words:
The Foreman Painter informed him that he had received instructions to cut the air off and take away the air hoses in the tanks on the "Iron Chief". He was informed that if he cut the air off the men would knock off work as it was a breach of Award (clause 17).
About 1.30 p.m. it was reported to Mahony and McDonald that the hoses had been taken away and that the men had knocked off work.
The action by the men led to an eventual reinstatement of the air hoses without any loss of time by those who had stopped work. (Minutes, 21/2/1927) The incident pointed up a number of important aspects of a Painter and Docker’s work. The use of air-hoses to give some air to men working in unhealthy confined areas was essential to overcome the foulness of stale air sealed up for a long time in the tanks. However, the Union often had to be given firm assurances that the air supply was fresh. There was always concern that the supply came from compressors and, without filters, contained oil and other contaminants harmful to the lungs, chest, etc. Assurances were given that such air was passed through a number of filters before reaching the working area. But over the years, there was always a feeling of unease about the air supply fort tank and boiler cleaning. But the definition of "a free current of air" was always uncertain. The members considered that the term suggested free flowing air from outside the work area. But the employer insisted that an air supply met the definition.
Blackleg: The term "blackleg" originated as an alternative to "scab" during the 1890s strikes. The Encyclopaedia Britannica (1959) noted:
Blackleg, a slang term in use since the 18th century for a cheat or swindler. Its modern use is as a term of reproach for a worker who refuses to come out on strike with his fellows, or, sometimes, but less correctly, for those who decline to join their appropriate trade society or union. Similarly, to "blackleg" is to return to work before the union or general body of workers have agreed to do so; or to take the place of workers who are on strike or have been locked out. Like the equally opprobrious word "scab", "blackleg" originally means a disease of cattle or sheep.