Arrrrghhh maties, gather round, grab a pint and let me tell you about one of the greatest gems of Sydney living, the often unspoken treasure of getting your mates together for a sea shanty.
Yes, a sea shanty. Alright, I know it sounds like a bunch of people dressed like pirates singing absurd songs about whiskey and fair maidens by the ocean, but that isn’t what it’s like at all. They don’t wear pirate outfits.
In case you’re confused, a sea shanty is basically a sailors song. It is also the name for this certain event, where people from all walks gather to sing said sailor songs. No invitation needed. You can come alone or in a group. Everyone is super welcoming and newcomers are celebrated with glee.
My first time at a sea shanty was at the beginning of the year, and I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I went because my boyfriend invited me to one for our third date back when we first started off.
At first, I was absolutely confused as to what the hell a sea shanty was, especially because he phrased it to me by saying, “do you like singing?”
And so I went along, and I was truly blown away by how much I enjoyed it. I would often return once a month to the events, which have now stopped due to Covid, but I cannot wait to return. I’m a convert. You could say I’ve acquired a taste for walking the plank.
The events are hosted by Shanty Club, and are usually held at The Dock in Redfern on Mondays, but also change location from time to time. The main Sydney group that hosts is around 12 people strong, and you’ll usually catch them around as they swap hosting responsibilities every week.
So now that I’ve caught your interest in just how in incredible these secret Sydney events are, I bet you’re wondering how they operate.
Well first off, everyone gets a drink, huddles round in the bar, and then after some time of friendly chats and sinking down pints, the real action kicks off. A burly looking guy will usually chime up and tell everyone to appreciate the process with some silence, and that is when you know the songs are about to begin.
At this point, everyone goes quiet, and the friendly host will begin the first shanty. There’ll be a few people who lead the songs throughout the night, with a healthy mix of men and women in the lead. This ain’t no boys club, which is beautiful to see.
Basically, they’ll go over the lines one by one, teaching you the song, and then the entire pub sings this new song which everyone has just learnt.
It’s actually really amazing seeing everyone work together to learn something and then give it a crack as a unit.
Here’s a very good inside look from The Australian into the Redfern sea shanties and how they operate.
Honestly, it is the height of camaraderie joining together in song with an entire pub. Everyone is so friendly, and the atmosphere is utterly joyful.
The best part about sea shanties is that nobody takes the songs too seriously, which for a newcomer is a great thing to see. Ultimately, you won’t be walking into a room of people pretending they’re pirates.
There’s this very respectable and adult admittance of some of these old-timey bops being pretty basic in their subject matter, and sometimes pretty backwards too. Oftentimes, the hosts will crack a joke about how sometimes, the backwards nature of the songs is quite similar to the backwards nature of modern-day Aussie politics.
You’ll even get some original work from the sea shanty hosts from time to time, which is always super cool to hear, and always provides an element of newness to each visit.
Also, some of the seaside bangers that you’ll be letting out of your windpipes have pretty deep meanings too, like The Chemical Worker’s Song which is quite literally about young chemical workers risking their lives for their jobs.
For obvious reasons, sea shanties are closed at the moment, but as soon as they return you can expect them to be PACKED.
See you there, sailor.