Author Wilma Henriksen
Author Wilma Henriksen

The shipping news!

42 MEN & Me is the catchy title of Wilma Henriksen's book, which was launched at the Bunker Gallery last Friday.

The book tells the story of Mrs Henriksen's adventures as the first Australian woman to crew on a Norwegian ship and the youngest member of the crew of the Norwegian oil tanker Havsoy.

The naive 20-year-old from Armadale in Victoria spoke no word of Norwegian. When she boarded the 18,000 tonne Havsoy and joined its crew of 42 men and just two other women in 1956.

Wilma travelled more than 200,000 nautical miles on the tanker, visiting ports in Asia, Africa, the USA and Europe with her fiancé and later her husband, Norwegian ship engineer Hans Henriksen.

“I had never had much more important things on my mind than what I would wear to church on Sunday and how my hair was looking,” Wilma said.

But she followed the advice her father had given her as a small girl: “If a man comes along one day and wants to take you around the world- go.”

That man was Hans, who had met Wilma's father when he was asked to share a table in an Italian restaurant in Melbourne when Wilma was just 18.

The two men had become friends and Hans said he fell in love with Wilma the moment he saw her.

Wilma agreed to travel to Norway to meet Hans' family but as the ship did not carry passengers she had to sign on as crew, so she became the galley 'boy', although she had never peeled a potato.

The woman who had arrived on board with no clue about domestic matters found herself scraping food off walls and floors when sea storms interrupted meal preparations; making beds and becoming 'mum' to eight officers.

She also earned the undying enmity of the second ship's cook after she accidentally left him locked in the freezer during merry preparations for Christmas aboard.

She watched from the deck as crew members armed with rifles watched for sharks while the rolling vessel dunked Hans in the predator-infested ocean as he worked on the ship's propeller.

Wilma learned first hand about crippling poverty and Cold War political tensions as the ship moved from port to international port, but she also saw many of the world's most famous cities.

Hans and Wilma's wedding in Melbourne in 1957 was front-page news.

Wilma, who began putting her story together 10 years ago, was encouraged in her writing of poetry and prose by Hans, who died last year.

The self-published book '42 Men and Me' costs $20 and is available from Dymocks, the Book Warehouse and the author on 66514936.

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