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Title: A Lesson in Tactics
Author: "Dunbar"
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1900371h.html
Language: English
Date first posted:  March 2019
Most recent update: March 2019

This eBook was produced by: Maurie Mulcahy

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BY "DUNBAR" a.k.a. Frederick William Mole

Published in Telegraph (Brisbane, Qld. : 1872 1947), Wednesday 8 June 1927,
and also in The Week (Brisbane) 17 June, 1927

Without a preliminary knock, without a warning of any kind, the door leading to the private office of Captain John Dolman, chairman of directors of the shipping firm of John Dolman and Sons, Limited, was opened, and in walked a truculent individual with all the arrogance of a bloated capitalist or a labour boss.

Captain John Dolman looked up from his desk, surprised at this sudden intrusion, and the muscles of his weather browned face twitched ominously, as he took stock of his uninvited visitor.

Without being invited to be seated, the truculent individual, without removing his hat, sat down on a chair opposite Captain John Dolman and said: "I'm the secretary of the Seamen's Union, and I've come to lodge a formal complaint against your company."

Without immediately replying, Captain John Dolman, in as leisurely a manner as possible, reached over and took a cigar from a box on his office table, deliberately pierced it, and still more deliberately struck a match and lit it. Then, after a few deliberate staccato puffs, he fixed his keen grey eyes on the truculent individual, and deigned to say: "Oh, you have, have you? And what is the nature of your complaint?"

"The crew of the Nirvana are very dissatisfied at the way in which the boat is provisioned, and they have complained to my union."

"Is that so, but why complain to me? Why not go to the captain of the ship?"

"I did."


"Well, he ordered me off the boat, and threatened to throw me into the river if I didn't clear out at once."

"Surely," said Captain John Dolman, smiling, "that would have been a very highhanded proceeding on the part of the captain."

"You may smile," replied the truculent individual, incensed, "but I now intend to see the matter through, so I've come to you as head of your company, to save trouble, yer know."

"Precisely, and what is the nature of the crew's complaint?" asked Captain Dolman as he calmly surveyed the upward curling smoke from his cigar.

"The complaint is a general one. The crew are dissatisfied at the manner in which the boat is provisioned— victualled, yer know."

"Oh, come. That's no good. I must have specific charges," and Captain Dolman turned round on his revolving chair, and sternly and deliberately faced the truculent individual, who began to squirm. "Come, out with them," he snapped.

"Oh well, the men complain, for one thing, there's no Worcestershire sauce served with their meals."

"No Worcestershire sauce, eh? What else?"

"Then the food is not sufficient. If a man asks for an extra chop he can't get it, yer know. He has to put up with steak, or a sausage, instead. That's against the spirit of the Navigation Act, yer know."

"Oh! Is it? Anything else?"

"Yes, the cooking utensils are not what the men like. They strongly object to their food being cooked in chipped enamelled ware. It hurts their dignity."

"It does, does it? Very well. I shall have these complaints recorded and investigated. I'll have them typed out and you'll sign them."

"Oh, no, I won't. I'll sign nothin'."

"Oh, but you will. You'll not leave this room till you do," and Captain John Dolman deliberately got up, walked to the outside door and locked it. Placing the key in his pocket he resumed his seat at his table, and rang for his typist.

"Look 'ere. I've made the complaints as requested by the crew, and it's for your company to rectify them. Isn't that enough?"

"No. It's not enough," thundered Captain Dolman. "Unless those complaints are reduced to writing and you sign them, no notice will be taken."

"Oh, orl right. If you insist. But you'll hear more about this, yer know."

"So will you," replied Captain John Dolman, grimly.

In a few minutes the complaints were typed, and the sheet duly signed by the truculent individual.

"Now, you may go," ordered Captain John Dolman, getting up and opening the door.

Later, at the request of Captain John Dolman, the chief steward of the Nirvana called at his office, when he was given the list of complaints to read.

"But this is all bosh, sir," (bosh wasn't the word he intended to use), remarked the chief steward indignantly, handing the list back to Captain John Dolman. "There's nothing in any one of these complaints, so far as I'm aware. The food is more than sufficient. I have heard no grumblings from any one of the crew."

"Well, what are you going to do about the matter?" asked Captain John Dolman, with a humorous smile.

"Will you leave it to me, sir. I'll consult the captain and the cook."

"Very well, steward. I'll give you a free hand. Report to me later."

Captain John Dolman handed back the typewritten list of complaints to the chief steward.

Returning to the Nirvana, the chief steward handed the document to the captain for his perusal.

"So, the blighter has gone to Captain John Dolman with his complaints, has he? Very well. Just ask the cook to step into my cabin, will you, steward?"

When the cook arrived, and had read the complaints, his remark was "Piffle!" as he handed the document back to the captain.

"Then you are of the opinion, cook, that these complaints are trumped up for a purpose?" asked the captain.

"I am, sir. The crew are not dissatisfied. The food and the appointments of the Nirvana are as good as, if not better than, on any other coaster I know."

"But someone must have lodged a complaint with the Seamen's Union?"

"That is so, sir, and if you ask me, I think it is that damn Swede Olaf Olafsen."

"Yes," interjected the chief steward, "that blighter is always making trouble. He didn't know what good food and good quarters were until he joined the Australian coastal service."

"I've had my eye on that man for some time," said the captain. "In fact, I've only been waiting an opportunity to fire him; but he's too cunning, and you know I can't fire him for making these complaints to his union. Besides, we must first satisfy ourselves that it was he who lodged the complaints."

"In my own mind, I have no doubt that he's the man," said the cook.

"Then I'll bluff him. You make yourself scarce, and meet me here at four o'clock."

The captain of the Nirvana made it his business to waylay able-bodied, seaman Olaf Olafsen, and remarked to him casually, "Er, by the way, Olafsen, it has been reported to me that you have lodged certain complaints concerning this ship to your union, and I've been requested by the company to inquire into them." The captain mentioned the nature of the complaints.

"Dat iss so. Der conditions on dis boat ain't satisfying to me, and I make a gomplaint vot you say."

"Very well, Olafsen. That's what I wanted to find out—the man who complained to the Seamen's Union."

When the captain, chief steward, and the cook met again in the captain's cabin at the appointed time, and the captain reported the result of his interview with Olafsen, the cook said: "Well, captain, as these complaints are a reflection on the Cooks' Union, I move, as a member of that union, that I be empowered to bring same before it."

"Those who are in favour? Carried!" snapped the captain.

"And I desire to add," remarked the chief steward, "that as the complaint concerning the cooking utensils is a reflection on the Stewards' Union, I be empowered to bring same under its notice."

"Those who are in favour? Carried!" said the captain.

In due course, the matter of the complaints was duly debated by the Cooks' Union and by the Stewards' Union, when it was resolved that a delegation representing both these unions wait on the Seamen's Union with a fire request that Olaf Olafsen, a member of the Seamen's Union, be pulled out of the Nirvana forthwith, for making trivial and unfounded complaints reflecting on the Cooks' and the Stewards' Unions, with the ostensible purpose of creating a disturbance among the seamen in the employ of John Dolman and Company, Limited. Falling immediate compliance with this request, the cooks and the stewards of the Nirvana will walk out and hang up that boat indefinitely, thereby creating an industrial disturbance detrimental to the interests of all the other seamen in the employ of John Dolman and Company, Limited."

This request, with such a solid backing, was unconditionally compiled with by the Seamen's Union, but with a very bad grace.


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