Obituary to Bob Gould, 1937-2011
Hall Greenland. June 2, 2011 , Sydney Morning Herald
Founder of the anti-Vietnam War movement in Australia. Lifelong member of the Labor Party and Trotskyist. Bookseller. Bibliophile. Historian. Union agitator. Anti-censorship battler. Bohemian. Irish Catholic. Polemicist.
Even Charles Dickens would have had trouble inventing a character as remarkable as Bob Gould. Add to that list, a founder of Labor for Refugees, as a contingent of Afghan refugees at his funeral last Thursday bore witness.
There were Labor rebels of Irish descent on both sides of Gould’s family. His mother, Ethel, was the daughter of Dick O’Halloran, who ran as an anti-conscription Labor candidate in the state election of 1917. His father, Steve Gould, after fighting in both Gallipoli and on the Western Front, where he lost an arm, became a close lieutenant of the radical Labor premier Jack Lang in the 1920s. He was eventually expelled from the Labor Party along with Lang for opposing conscription during World War II. By then, Steve described himself as a Marxist Catholic. This family background must have shaped Bob’s politics but he gave as much — if not more — credit to the brothers at St Patrick’s, Strathfield, for inculcating in him a critical and social democratic cast of mind.
Gould came to political life as a teenager in a turbulent time. Joining the Labor Party at 17, he was blooded in the Great Labor Split of 1955, lining up with the anti-Groupers in the Labor Party against the forces loyal to B.A. Santamaria. By this time, he was a member of both the Labor and Communist parties. Khrushchev’s secret speech on Stalin’s crimes in 1956 quickly disillusioned him about the Communist Party and he left it to join the local Trotskyist group led by Nick Origlass.
In the ’60s, Gould came into his own. In Sydney, he was both the prophet and enabler of this decade of revolt and change. He not only formed the Vietnam Action Campaign, which organised and spearheaded the street protests against the war and conscription, he foresaw that movement as a harbinger of wider youth radicalisation and cultural change. This inspired him to open the Third World Bookshop in Goulburn Street in 1967 to feed the growing appetite among young people for countercultural music, posters and literature imported principally from the US. Upstairs, he let out a floor to the Independent Filmmakers Cooperative, where New Wave directors showed their first works. It was from this shop, and the later one in George Street, that he fought censorship battles and defied police raids when he sold Portnoy’s Complaint and posters by Aubrey Beardsley and — believe it or not — posters of Michelangelo’s David.
Gould remained immersed in Labor politics. He was on hand in 1966 to help Wayne Haylen and Barry Robinson capture Peter Kocan after he shot the Labor leader Arthur Calwell as he left an anti-Vietnam War meeting in Mosman. A few years later, he combined with Paul Keating at a NSW Labor Party conference to have the expulsion of Jack Lang lifted. He was a Socialist Left delegate to the 1971 federal Labor conference in Hobart, where he successfully moved for the abolition of ASIO (a success overturned soon after when delegates realised what they had done). For decades, he remained equally immersed in the exotic world of the Trotskyist groupuscules, sometimes leaving them peaceably but often excluded because of his refusal to be silenced.
In the last 15 years of his life, Gould decided to reap the benefits of a lifetime of voracious reading, activism and research with a series of essays dictated to his second wife, Janet Bonser, and published on the Ozleft website. Typical was an Open Letter to Keith Windschuttle, prompted by the swing to the right of a comrade and writer he had previously admired. It is a picaresque 25,000-word survey of anti-Stalinist intellectuals of the left and right in the 20th century, covering everything from the gulags to the origins of civilisation, with an account of his school days thrown in. It is an education in itself, full of surprises, like his love for Mary McCarthy and staunch defences of Orwell, Koestler, Steinbeck and Woody Guthrie.
His daughter, Natalie, says her father was first and last a Trotskyist yet his hero was Lenin. He read all the latest revelations from the Kremlin archives about Lenin but they never shook his appreciation of his daring in thought and action.
Gould was well aware that the evolution of the Soviet Union and its allies had long ago ruined the attractive power of socialism but that did not stop him from searching for ways and means to renew the quest for a socialist society of the free and equal. Green shoots elsewhere, whether in Egypt or Spain, did not overexcite him. He was to the end more interested in what was happening inside the Labor Party, the unions, the Greens and the remaining Trotskyist groups in Australia.
Bob Gould is survived by long-time friend and lover Jenny Haines, second wife Janet Bonser, first wife Mairi Wilson and daughter Natalie.
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