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Insight into the life on the docks: review

Posted on November 1, 2015 | 1 comment

stevedore docks Claire Norman wharfie

The realities of life working on the docks is central to Melbourne wharfie legend Jim Beggs’ funny and insightful memoir, Proud to be a Wharfie. Image: Stevedorelife.

South-west Victoria is home to a number of thriving bookclubs that meet monthly, including the Bool Belles. One of their members, Claire Norman, reviews what what they have been reading…

Proud to be a Wharfie, by Jim Beggs

Proud to be a Wharfie is the biography of Jim Beggs whose long standing leadership role on the Melbourne wharves is highly respected. His children encouraged and assisted him to make a record of his life.

It is the story of one man who made a difference not just on the Melbourne wharves, but with positive repercussions for wharf workers internationally.

Jim worked to look after the workers but not just the workers because he sought solutions that benefited both the workers and the ship owners. He created real and permanent change over his years of involvement.

The first part of the book deals with Jim’s “Huckleberry Finn” childhood in Fairfield alongside the Yarra River.

It also introduces his early connections with the church and his daily practice of a form of reflection called Moral Re-Armament (MRA). This set Jim on a broader course – considering more than just his own welfare and those of his fellow workers to considering all those involved with the wharves.  MRA gave him a strong moral compass that guided all his decisions and actions.

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The book moves into details of his work life and politics at many levels over sixty-two years of wharf involvement.

There are stories of remarkable individuals, critical chance encounters, work gangs, communist groups, socialist groups, ship owners, multiculturalism, social events, fundraising, welfare issues, strike actions as well as political factions and frictions. It confirms through many entertaining anecdotes the culture on the docks and how it changed so dramatically over the time of Jim’s presence.

proud to be a wharfie

Overall Jim sets the record straight about the reality for wharfies rather than the demonised image put forward by the media over time.

For readers of this book, many of the names and events are highly familiar due to exposure to this very media coming out of Melbourne over the decades.

However, the book also exposes other elements of which we were less aware, like the blatant Catholic/Protestant divide, the cultural diversity of the docks, and the varied and sometimes extreme conditions endured by dock workers.

Proud to be a Wharfie is an entertaining political read with plenty of amusing stories and  a collection of photos. It makes a massive difference to our understanding of life and times on the Melbourne wharves and introduces us to a quiet and self-effacing character at the centre of positive change.

Next month, we will be reviewing The Golden Age, by Joan London. 

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1 Comment

  1. How well I remember my father’s cousin coming to stay with us on the farm in Woolsthorpe in the 50’s . He worked on the warves in Melb. ‘Oh you are one of those going on strike’ ( I might have been 10) I said cheekily. Oh dear – sti here child and let me tell you about it. A valuable lesson in social justice and unionism followed.
    ” give me the child….”

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