On this page: Jane
Morgan; Pamela Curr;; Jo Wainer; Hellen Cooke
fascism: any system of
extreme right-wing or authoritarian views Oxford
- At the end of my
sons' primary years I needed to change my life. I knew that the late nights
spent working on completing a job was not sustainable with a young boy
attending high school.
I needed a proper job that would pay regular money
and I needed the support of my family in raising an adolescent person.
I did get a job at Fitzroy Council in the Women's Support Program. This
was a very stimulating time, working with a team of women and providing
a feminist service to women and their children living in the high-rise
flats. The program we ran was primarily a group program with women learning
from one another and changing their lives in very elemental ways.
During this time
the union was very strong in local govern- ment and achieved many great
things for workers. There was a strong feeling of unity within the union
members and lots of fun we did have. It was this involvement in the union
at Fitzroy that led to my being so incensed at the brutality of the attack
on the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) by Peter Reith and the Liberal
Party. When this happened a close friend of mine and I virtually abandoned
our work and lent our numbers to the people flocking to the docks in support
of the Unionists under attack.
Management at work
were not very happy with us, but what could they do but sack us? This
is not, in fact, a very easy thing to do. What happened at the docks was
a remarkable and uplifting thing. It really proved that the 'People United
Will Never Be Defeated'. For
the two weeks or so of the shut down a new community was structured on
the road leading to the wharf. There were thousands of people coming and
going. Other hundreds just staying and not going home till Reith and his
tools were defeated.
To sustain this number
of people was a mammoth task and it happened through people as individuals
and a community uniting to defeat a common enemy. There was: - the group
of young people ('ferals' I think they were termed at this time) who set
up a kitchen and provided free and very cheap meals to whoever showed
- the musicians who provided their services free to see us through the
long and cold nights;
- the workers with welding gear joining together iron girders as barricades
against the police;
- a whole union movement united to provide things like toilets and coordination
to ensure no entry was left unmanned at any time and no protester was
left hungry or unappreciated or unprepared;
- Edith and Molly who stopped the train and sent that poor train driver
probably off for years of trauma counselling;
- the night of standing all night long in solid formation being buzzed
constantly by police helicopters and the police arriving the next day
in huge numbers to break the picket and having to turn tail knowing they
didn't stand a chance.
We were in a war
zone, but a happy war zone in many respects, because we were united.
Civil rights, human rights, workers' rights and the peace
movement. They are the four areas I work in. But you can't do everything.
Annie once said to me
"you have to focus on where you will be most effective".
But when you are an activist, you just see so much. It
is as if a lens is lifted from your eyes so you actually see the injustice.
You see things happening that are going to lead to injustice and you want
to engage with it. I am trying to stay within clear
paramaters, but of course, I sometimes get a call from somebody about
something and I may have something useful in my toolbag. I
see activists as having a bag of tools. We all have different bags of
tools - this is why it is good to work together. I think it has been very
encouraging to see, over the past few years, that people are working together
more, putting their political differences to one side to focus on the
concerns they share and to work together.
That has worked very well in the Victorian Peace Network.
There may be forty or fifty of us sitting around the table. There are
people from churches, from left-wing groups, from student groups, from
ethnic groups, from other community groups and from the unions - all sitting
together trying to work out a way to oppose a government decision to take
us to a war that we knew was unjust. This also
happened in the Fairwear campaign. You could go to a protest and
find, say, a Christian brother holding the banner at one end and someone
from a far-left political group holding the banner at the other end.
I think we need to see more of that.
exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the
same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today.":
John F. Kennedy
... At the moment I am working with the Victorian Peace
Network. I am also the national spokesperson for the Greens for refugees,
but even if I weren't, I see myself as one of the many refugee activists.
Some of us are aligned to groups and some of us
are not. We are all in communication through email. This is a campaign
that has been connected through email.
Recently I went to the Rural Australians for Refugees
conference in Albury. There I met people Ihad been talking to for the
last two and a half to three years by email and on the telephone. I met
them face to face. It was fantastic. There are
a lot of us who have become friends but never met each other, because
of our concern for the refugees.We often talk about
what activists do for causes and for groups, but I think we sometimes
forget what they do for us. The asylum seekers, in coming to this country,
have allowed us to see another way - another view of life.They
have also allowed us to see at first hand the incredible strength that
people have to struggle and fight back. They give us an example of how
we must struggle.
For many Australians life has been fairly easy. We come
up against these people who have faced a death struggle. They really can
inspire us and show us ways to endure - because that is what we have to
do. So I think we need to remember, as activists
involved in struggles and fights for others, what these people are giving
back to us. It is more than a 50-50 exchange.Also,
I would say there are more women than men working as activists in the
refugee movement. That may come about because women have a tendency to
see the humanity in people first and the politics and other things second.
We are not only doing this for the asylum seekers. We
are also doing it for ourselves, because if we allow a political situation
to exist in this country where one vulnerable group is picked off, we
then are allowing the next vulnerable group to be picked off too - and
to work at the ABC and Bert continued to challenge the abortion laws (he
did get to do his test cases) and to force the Victorian Government to
hold an inquiry in to the relationship between police corruption and abortion,
the Kaye Inquiry.
the lid off abortion in Victoria. For the first time ever the media started
using the word, and for eighteen months abortion was on the front page
pretty well every day. No longer could Melbourne, and Victoria, pretend
that this didn't happen. It
was very confronting: Melbourne sees itself as such as respectable place,
but for the first time ever women told their stories and that, basically,
changed the climate. It
was pretty hairy for us, we were disturbing a very lucrative industry.
People were sent to kill us and we lived a cloak and dagger existence.
Bert was bankrupted. The Tax Department bankrupted him for $1,300 he had
forgotten to pay in taxes. They took his land, they took his car and the
goods out of his surgery. His landlady was Catholic and her Bishop rang
her and told her she had to throw him out. He had nowhere to live and
was staying with his sister. Her house was fire-bombed and half burnt
down. He was
bankrupt and had had his first coronary, so we bolted to Queensland to
recover. We settled in Caloundra, which was then a sleepy little village
of 5,000 people - it is now a megalopolis. He became a country doctor
and we joined the Children by Choice Association there, the lobby working
to change abortion laws in Queensland.
were a very fiery and innovative group of women. They didn't have any
chance in Bjelke Peterson's time to change the law so they organized a
referral service for women, so women could get abortions. They
had it so systemized they would buy bulk seats in the aircraft to fly
women to Sydney and Melbourne at discount prices. They would funnel the
referrals to whichever doctor was behaving the best in terms of prices
and competency. They employed doctors and set a shopfront and clinic a
to assess the women. They did a wonderful job.
applied to be the medical superintendent of the hospital in Caloundra.
The hospital had been built as part of an election promise. It had never
been opened as they couldn't find a doctor to run it. Bert's experience
in the army was that he ran the military hospital in Brisbane and he also
ran the field army hospital - he was certainly over-qualified to run a
fifteen bed country hospital. I
remember very clearly the Minister for Health and the Minister for Police
having a public fight over who had the right to refuse Bert this job!
So he set up a private practice.
the United Nations International Year of Peace all sorts of grants were
taken away. People wandered away and took up other issues and tasks. It
was as if they said "we have done that, now we will do this". I was still
an acolyte, or student, of being an activist and I was puzzled. I ended
up being in the hot seat where, I felt, I had no right to be. And I still
had trouble with acronyms.
back at the Canberra Program for Peace I realize what wonderful people
they were - extraordinary people.
was a small amount of money available from the Government for the International
Year of Peace and the Non Government Organizations came together to decide
how to use it. At these meetings I found out that people who come together
for peace are not necessarily peaceful. In fact, some young men wanted
to take the word "peace" out of the International Year for Peace. We
weathered a few meetings by sticking to the agenda and these young men
got bored with us and left. But then the head of the Returned Soldiers'
League came in. He, again, seemed hell-bent on removing the word "peace".
A friend of mine, an ex headmistress, had enough of this - she spoke up
and said "Will you be quiet?" He was.
Cornelius (a member of Women's International League for Peace and Freedom
(WILPF) came in. She was an absolutely unflappable woman. The RSL man
said she must not criticize the men involved in the war games we were
having at that time. He called these men "the brave boys who would fight
the wars". She just said "Yes, I really want to help the brave boys. I
don't believe their lives should be risked wantonly, so I propose that
before we have war games we should have peace games - serious peace games".
She won me over. I still correspond with her.
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