Tribute to Robert (Bob) Gould

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John RobertsonOn May 27, John Robertson, parliamentary leader of the NSW Labor Party, paid tribute to Bob Gould in state parliament. The Hansard record follows.

Mr JOHN ROBERTSON (Blacktown, Leader of the Opposition) [10.00 a.m.] by leave: I acknowledge also the students in the public gallery from St Andrews Primary School at Marayong. On behalf of the Opposition I acknowledge the passing of Bob Gould; a great contributor to this city’s intellectual and political capital over many decades, who died suddenly on 22 May 2011. This House is a place of robust debate and differing views. We often find ourselves in agreement on matters but more often in disagreement, sometimes quite passionate and heated disagreement. But regardless of which point on the political spectrum we come from I think we all agree that all points are needed. We agree that diverse views, contrary views, majority and minority views are all equally important contributors to the healthy and robust debate that underpins our democracy. We should never silence in this place the dissenting view but rather allow it to have its voice. There would not be one member of this House who can say that he or she has not experienced moments of being in the minority and yet was afforded the respect and right to state his or her case.

Bob Gould was far more than the proprietor of the business that bears his name; he was also a great contributor to keeping this principle front and centre in the life of this city. This contribution was partly the result of the sheer wealth of knowledge, opinion and thinking that could be found in his various businesses over the years. His collection of political works in particular was legendary, featuring innumerable out-of-print titles and secondhand books. These allowed those with an inquiring mind access to the views of those before them and, in the process, access to a type of wisdom to inform the debates of their day. Significantly though, these inquiring minds needed to be both persistent and tenacious. Gould’s store did not reward those looking for a sound bite or a quick and easy answer to complex issues. Because of its deliberately uncharted layout, although all the answers were there, if one wanted answers in Gould’s store, one would have to seek them out. At any given time no one, not even Bob himself, could say for certain what was or was not in stock. It was, and still is, up to the customers to come and see for themselves.

The great benefit for those who pursued this challenge was that they not only found the opinion they sought but they also found the opinions of many others along the way, thus their understanding of the issue in question was greatly enhanced. It was a place that highlighted the difference between being knowledgeable and considered, versus simply being quick and clever. Reflecting on that point might give each of us a moment to pause in this age where all members of this place are increasingly encouraged to react rather than to consider. Beyond the walls of his various bookshops Bob was a legendary contributor to political debate in Sydney for over four decades. He was a pioneer in the Vietnam antiwar movement. He was one of the three people who pursued and tackled the man who tried to assassinate Labor leader Arthur Calwell at an anti-conscription rally in Mosman. He was also a leading voice opposing censorship of the day, openly selling the then-banned work Portnoy’s Complaint. For all this he was rewarded with numerous raids on his shops and great suspicion and surveillance from the authorities of the day. As former President Meredith Burgmann once remarked, Bob Gould’s ASIO file was fatter than hers. I am sure she meant that as a compliment to Bob.

Bob remained an active and vocal member of the Labor Party and an active contributor to debate on issues of public censorship, public policy and refugees up until his passing. I cannot remember a Labor conference without Bob Gould being there. He would set up a shop in the foyer of the Sydney Town Hall and allow us all to work our way through his pile of works to find something to read and occupy ourselves with for two or three days. Although we use this place to determine the view of the majority, we do so always respecting that there is no one right way of seeing any issue. We should do so always with a sense of history, which tells us that those in the minority at one point often prove to be the majority over time. Although Bob has left us, his legacy continues and, as I am sure he would have wanted, his family are keeping his store open. I encourage all members to pay a visit to Gould’s bookshop at Newtown. I encourage all members to spend an hour trying to find that book they have long lost or an old work they have been meaning to track down. But most of all I encourage members to browse the numerous other works along the way, the numerous competing points of view that lie stacked in Bob’s store, and to marvel at the diversity of opinion that makes our system of government such a great thing to defend.

Mr BRAD HAZZARD (Wakehurst, Minister for Planning and Infrastructure, and Minister Assisting the Premier on Infrastructure NSW) [10.07 a.m.]: On behalf of the Liberal-Nationals Government I acknowledge the sad passing of Robert Gould. Setting aside Mr Gould’s particular political proclivity, he was certainly in the vanguard of those who supported free speech. Those aware of Mr Gould’s history would appreciate that he played a pivotal role in pushing the boundaries to ensure the opportunity for free speech and that the issues relating to refugees, censorship and public policy were out in the public arena. I understand from those who have a little better memory than I have that his first bookshop was located near Chinatown, in the old Gould’s Book Arcade. I join with the Leader of the Opposition in extending condolences to his family and all those who found him to be an integral part of their lives over many years.

Irrespective of our political views, it is a sad day for New South Wales when giants of men who have contributed so much to public policy pass on. I congratulate the Opposition for drawing this matter to the attention of the House. On this occasion, the Government and the Opposition are as one.

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