Bob Gould, 1937-2011
By Ed Lewis
Bob Gould’s funeral, like his life, promised to be interesting, and it didn’t disappoint. About 500 people crowded into the Palm Chapel at Macquarie Park, North Ryde, to hear nine speakers, with Mairi Petersen, Bob’s former wife, making some introductory remarks and running the ceremony.
Mairi Petersen opened proceedings by saying this was farewell the man of the long sentence, a point appreciated by all who had conversed with Bob or read his writing.
Among the crowd were former NSW Labor premier Barrie Unsworth, former deputy premier and current MP for Marrickville Carmel Tebbutt, Greens Senator-elect Lee Rhiannon, former Builders Labourers Federation and Green Bans organiser Jack Mundey and many others from socialist groups, the Labor Party, the Greens and other cultural and political spheres that Bob moved in.
The speakers were Janet Bonser, Bob’s wife and political collaborator; Hall Greenland, associated with Bob in political activity for about 50 years; Jenny Haines former NSW Nurses Association secretary and longtime political collaborator with Bob; Nick Martin, assistant national secretary of the Labor Party; Meredith Burgmann, former Labor member of the NSW upper house; Ian Rintoul, a central organiser of the Refugee Action Coalition; John Percy of the Revolutionary Socialist Party; Phil Sandford longtime associate of Bob in socialist and other political activity; and Natalie Gould, daughter of Bob and Mairi and longtime political activist.
Carmel Tebbut had survived a Greens challenge by only 700-odd votes at the NSW election in March, but a ceasefire for the duration of the gathering was carefully observed except for a couple of stray shots, notably when Hall Greenland observed that Bob had been in the Labor Party for 50-plus years, remained a loyal member to the end, and “even worked for Carmel Tebbutt, for chrissake”.
Later, Meredith Burgmann appeared to think Bob was not the worst sort of “Trot” and had mellowed over time, but Natalie Gould responded that her father had remained a revolutionary socialist and Trotskyist to the end.
Meredith Burgmann recounted that Bob had visited her house many years ago and declared that he was not leaving until she and her housemates signed up to the Labor Party. The four of them did so and are still members. This was part of a successful recruitment drive to clean out the then right-wing inner city branches of the party.
Jenny Haines observed that Bob had been a supporter of immigrant and refugee rights for all of his political life, and had helped to start up Labor for Refugees. His determined opposition to the Vietnam war notwithstanding, his advocacy of refugee rights had not faltered when Australia received a wave of right-wing Vietnamese refugees after the Vietnamese revolution. He had supported the admission of the Vietnamese refugees.
The Labor History Society sent a message attesting to Bob’s contribution as a historian: “He was more than a bookseller, he was a great source of information on figures in the NSW ALP from the 1940s to the present – his knowledge was encyclopaedic. His father, a teacher at Marist Brothers Darlinghurst, was a staunch ALP supporter and he inspired in Bob a lifelong passion for the party. His involvement in the ALP and the anti-Vietnam-war movement were colourful and legendary.”
The program for the day was decorated with a pictorial message that newspaper cartoonist Bruce Petty had sent for Bob’s 70th birthday celebration, four years ago.
Several of the speakers recounted events from Bob’s long political career. Nick Martin told of his first meeting Bob, as a high-school student, and the encounters of the Gould and Martin families in the Labor Party over several generations, including the role of Bob’s father as a central adviser to NSW premier Jack Lang in the 1930s in defeating the insurgent Socialisation Units, in which members of Nick’s family were active.
The gathering, ran over time, as was obligatory for any meeting with which Bob was associated, and as a Sydney Morning Herald reporter observed, ended with “a lusty rendition of The Internationale, before adjourning for his wake at the Courthouse Hotel in Newtown”.