Sunday, May 8, 2011

Ship Repairing Men

Lyrics and Music ©Harry Robertson,
and subsequently ©1995 Mrs Rita Robertson, Brisbane, Australia

Non-flash audio for iPhone, iPad etc

Right-click to download

From the workshop off we go, toolkits heavy in our hands,
To a big ship that’s come in, from a trip to foreign lands,
Salty streaks of rust have marked her, but her moorings hold her tight,
And we’ll work to fix her engines, all today and half the night.

Don’t wait up for me this evening — I’ll be out all night again
Working on the Brisbane River with the ship repairing men.

Oil-fired boilers throb with power, drinking up the furnace heat,
Water turns to driving steam to make the engines beat,
But the feed pump’s sighing wail to us cuts through all other sound,
As it sings a song of triumph, for the valves that we have ground.

Engine bearings that knocked and hammered through the wild and stormy seas,
Will be machined and fitted till they run with silent ease,
And that winch that rattles every time the piston turns the shaft,
Will hum along and sing its song to men skilled in their craft.

When you see an ocean liner glide between the river banks,
And the Captain in his gold braid orders men of lesser ranks,
Have you thought perhaps this stately craft might never sail again,
If it wasn’t for the toil and sweat of ship repairing men

The illustration is a photograph taken in 1963 of the Evans Deakin shipyard in Kangaroo Point on the Brisbane River. One of my favourites of Harry Robertson's songs, I learnt this one in the Brisbane sessions.

As adminstrators of the copyright in Harry's songs on behalf of Rita Robertson, Evan and Lyn Mathieson have asked that I include the following:

As longterm friends of Harry and Rita Robertson and family, Evan and Lyn Mathieson had the good fortune to learn many of Harry's songs directly from the man himself immediately as they were being written. SHIP REPAIRING MEN was one of them. It was written in the 1960's when Harry was working in ship repair at the Evans Deakin shipyard at Kangaroo Point, and the Cairncross drydock downstream at Colmslie, on the Brisbane River. Harry explained to us how he used the rhythm of his tune to simulate the rhythm of the ship's engine. Sadly Harry never professionally recorded SHIP REPAIRING MEN, but the following mp3 from Evan Mathieson's CD "HARRY'S LEGACY" gives a true rendition of Harry's original tune and his finger-picking guitar accompaniment style.

Harry Robertson was a singer songwriter in the true "oral tradition". He was not literate in musical notation so he did not write scores for his songs. His tunes were passed on by the actual singing in the true oral tradition. His words were very carefully chosen and worked in beautifully with the rhythm of his tunes. Harry's lyrics and music came from his his lifelong love of the works of Robbie Burns, and the oral tradition heritage of his own musical Scottish family.

At the request of Harry's widow Mrs Rita Robertson, so that Harry's great songs will live on, Evan Mathieson has recorded many of them on his two CD's "HARRY'S LEGACY" and "TRIBUTE TO HARRY ROBERTSON — 1923-1995". Both CD's are available through the website.

The words for Harry Robertson's songs are available on his official website


  1. A wonderfully authentic Australian folk song about the Brisbane River, that one would have imagined had been written in the 19th Century. Brilliant lyrics and tune. Warren R Rodwell

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