TRIBUTE TO BOB by Jenny Haines

by

Bob GouldBOB’S FUNERAL – 26.5.11

Thank you all for coming today. Bob would have been really pleased to see friends and foes, Labor, Green and Far Left supporters all in the same room and he would have been trying to figure in his head how it could all be turned in to a political force and not just a gathering at his funeral. One thing he wanted to see in his lifetime was a resurgence of the Left and he could only see it ever happening through supporters of all the parties and groups putting aside their differences and working on the commonalities.

You could go through the dictionary and the thesaurus pulling out adjectives to describe Bob. He was an Australian of Irish Catholic origin and very proud of his heritage, but he never drank beer, smoked cigarettes or went to the footy. Bob’s achievements were of the mind and the brain and the heart. One of his old school mates once told me that they tried to have him play footy at St Pat’s but he was so poorly co-ordinated they had to sit him on the sidelines where he read books, voraciously. Bob had a fierce intellect. He was reading the works of major Catholic intellectuals in his teens, then, as he moved past his faith into political beliefs, he moved into reading Marx and Lenin and Trotsky. Old compatriots of Bob who ended up in other factions of the ALP remember Bob coming to meetings of Young Labor in his school uniform and even then impressing many with his idealism and his commitment.

Bob had many friends and many alliances some of which lasted, some did not. He was an idealist in a post-idealistic world, particularly in his later life. We need more idealists. Bob worked in partnership with Jim and John Percy in setting up the Third World Bookshop in the City, an enterprise that had a stormy relationship with the law over censorship. I remember telling an art historian when I was travelling in Europe in 1987 that the police had raided a store in Sydney in the 1960s and taken away a picture of Michaelangelo’s David as being pornographic. She was stunned with disbelief.

The partnership with the Percys fell apart and Bob went on to take over the book business, building it into an empire. He opened 12 shops and closed 11. On paper at some stage he may have been a millionaire but he never had the cash flow of a millionaire, and in more recent times struggled against the perils of the Global Financial Crisis. Bob put his money where his mouth was, much to the chagrin of his family and friends. But there are thousands of workers and trade unionists across Australia who owe Bob a debt of gratitude for the wise counsel and political experience he gave to rank and file trade union campaigns and party members. A number of those trade union campaigns were successful in obtaining office in a union. One of the campaigns that he was most proud to be associated with was the campaign run by the rank and file in the wharfies union to save the building from being sold for a song to redevelopers, saving union members millions of dollars. He was also proud to be associated with the campaign run by the Nurses Association in the 1980s in opposition to the cuts to mental health funding proposed in the Richmond Report. This was a campaign that the union ran among its members and took to the floor of the NSW ALP State Conference, achieving significant changes to the original proposals with a significantly better funding base than first proposed.

But his greatest effort and greatest achievement was the Vietnam Action Campaign. Mairi Petersen his then wife can tell you stories of their house being turned into a mailing centre. There was no internet then. His role as Secretary of the Vietnam Action Committee, challenging the Communist Party and its friendly organisations, was central to the campaign against the Vietnam War in Sydney. Bob and Wayne Haylen and others, led some of the first sit downs in the streets against the war that gave inspiration to thousands of others later to march against the war. Bob always said that one of the proudest days of his life was the day the North Vietnamese took over Saigon. But Bob had a heart and when the South Vietnamese took to rickety boats to get out of South Vietnam, he welcomed them coming to Australia against the protestations of many in the Labor Party. Some may see that as contradictory, but that was Bob, full of contradictions! And he understood his contradictions and could explain them. He knew that life is full of contradictions that can tear us apart or make us better human beings if we understand them.

I first met Bob at a rank and file conference in 1980. He did not impress me much at first, but when he and his then compatriot Paul Ford talked about scientific socialism, it sparked my interest. I went to some of his Sunday afternoon meetings in the George Street Shop where he and George Petersen talked passionately about labor history. Bob and I became close friends and have stayed close friends to this day. Economic rationalism was becoming popular with governments and we set up the Defeat the Health Cuts Campaign, a Labor Party rank and file campaign . This led to nurses, disgusted  with the lack of leadership by their union on the health cuts, and award changes, setting up the Nurses Reform Campaign. The Nurses Reform Campaign were successful in the 1982 elections. I was elected Secretary of the Union and Bronwyn Ridgway Assistant Secretary. We stayed in office for five turbulent years, and although we did not achieve all we set out to achieve, those years and the subsequent years I spent as a Delegate in the Nurses Association, candidate in elections, along with the commitment of many, many nurses who were polticised by the events, were important in building the Nurses Union into the leading force that it has become. We could not have done any of it without Bob’s inspiration, and Janet Bonser’s typesetting skills. What we learned from our experience is that unions, like parliaments, need a government and an opposition to thrive. Bland boring consensus kills unions. My old friend Terry Muldoon, now deceased, once told me that after I left office in the union, that my successor Pat Staunton once told NSW Health that they may have thought they had trouble with the Nurses Reform leadership, but she was going to give them hell if they did not concede what she wanted. And if they wanted the Nurses Reform leadership back she could arrange that! They conceded. Good cop, bad cop, and that is what unions need to negotiate effectively.

In his later years Bob wrote as well as read voraciously. He and Ed Lewis set up a website, Ozleft, which is an online record of Bob’s writings. He never did get to write his autobiography that we urged him to write but his online work on Ozleft is a wonderful collection of his writings on politics, society and religion. Ed Lewis his partner in setting up Ozleft, has , in the last couple of days opened some pages on Ozleft where anyone who wishes can place tributes or obituaries. Just Google Ozleft and it will readily come up if you wish to contribute.

I will miss him. We had an unusual life, spending time together mostly in the mornings and then he went to work in the shop and I went to work in nursing and now at the university. When we ate together I could look up and he would have discarded the Murdoch media with disgust, and could be reading anything from medieval history to engineering books to sci-fi novels. One of the signs of his declining health in recent weeks was he stopped reading and just sat with the newspaper. We travelled together, mostly to book fairs where we bought the books that stock the shop, but we tried to take diversions and have a bit of time just away from the city. The 60s and 70s were Bob’s time and he felt brushed aside and forgotten in more recent years, one of the curses of growing older.

I could go on and on but I just want to read a poem that I heard read a couple of years ago and it stopped me in my tracks as it reflected what I thought I would save to say at Bob’s Funeral, whenever it was to be. I had hoped there would be more years of his life before I had to read this , but that was not to be

WH Auden Twelve Songs, National Poetry Day, 7.9.99

Stop all the clocks

Cut off the telephone

Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone

Silence the pianos and with muffled drum

Bring out the coffin let the mourners come

Let the aeroplane circle moaning overhead, scribbling on the sky

He is dead.

Put great bows around the white necks of the public doves

Let the traffic policeman wear black cotton gloves

He was my north, my south, my east, my west

My working week and my Sunday rest

My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song

I thought that love would last forever

I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now – put out every one

Pack up the moon, dismantle the sun

Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood

For nothing now can ever come to any good

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