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Day Ground Zero

Download samples of Tall Tales and Day Ground Zero as MP3s by clicking on the CD covers above.
(Vocals: Andrew Sefton)

Paul Keane

In the name of the father

By KAREN MURPHY. Article courtesy of the Melbourne Times Magazine Melbourne percussionist Paul Keane was two days shy of his third birthday when his father Patrick "Bluey" Keane slipped into unconsciousness and died in the Royal Melbourne Hospital.

Only weeks before, in September 1962, the once-vibrant, red-headed merchant seaman had been discharged from his ship, at that stage anchored out of Auckland, needing urgent medical attention.

In the days leading up to his death, Bluey Keane could see the ship – now back in Melbourne waters - from his hospital window.

The MV Tri-Ellis, owned by the British Phosphate Commission, was used to cargo phosphate from Nauru to the eastern seaboard of Australia. But it was also involved in another operation. In a deal between Britain and America the ship was sent into waters affected by the fallout from US hydrogen bomb testing. While there, the men on board were asked to conduct tests and drills to research the effects of the new bomb.

As head bosun on the ship, and a committed union man, Bluey Keane refused to accept the official company line that there was no risk to seamen. He took on the company over the simple right to wear protective clothing.

He won the battle, but lost his life, dying just three weeks after his discharge, at 32. His death certificate, dated October 9, 1962, states bluntly the cause of death: "Acute leukaemia, weeks, pneumonia, hours."

Son Paul Keane, now 43, still chokes up when he talks of it. Although he has no memory of his father, the loss remains palpable, and inspired him to research the last months of his father's life. Now, 40 years later, he has used that research to compose a song and compile a booklet documenting the life and death of Patrick William "Bluey" Keane.

In the booklet are copies of ship logbook reports, and photos of his father modelling the protective gear and signing a petition for nuclear disarmament.

A maker of African drums but a devotee of Irish music, Paul Keane has written a moving lament to his father, calling the song Tall Tales.

"I was brought up by my mother and grandmother, hearing tall tales of my father the sailor," Paul Keane said. "My family always spoke of him fighting for a cause, but it wasn't until much later that I found a copy of the Seamen's Journal of 1962, which carried stories of his campaign."

The Australian Nuclear Veterans Association has also expressed interest. President Ric Johnstone said he believed Keane had compiled enough documentary evidence to seek compensation from the US Government.

He plans to send the booklet to a colleague in the American Nuclear Veterans Association. "The log books, his discharge notice and union journal cuttings represent significant evidence, in my opinion."

Paul Keane welcomes the recognition. "No-one ever took responsibility for his death and we can live with that - it wasn't about compensation in those days - I've just written this song to bring awareness to this tragedy and to honour the fact that Patrick William Keane died fighting for other people," he said.

Bluey Keane's death probably saved other lives.

In an article in the Seaman's Journal following his death, titled "Vale Bluey Keane", the union advised all other crew members of the ship to seek a health assessment. "There is every possibility that Bluey's untimely death is the result of the American Government's action in exploding the bomb at Christmas Island," it reads. "All crew members of the Tri-Ellis are advised to have a blood count."

Paul Keane hopes other sailors, other families, were spared his family's sorrow. "My father was sacrificed in the nuclear arms race of the Cold War. I don't expect an apology, I don't expect compensation; I just want people to know what he did and what he died for."




Day Ground Zero Tall Tales