Tribute in the House, Daryl Melham MP

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House of Representatives Adjournment Debate – Chamber 14th June 2011

Mr Speaker, Bob Gould was a unique individual. He was born into a socialist family in 1937 and died, where he would have preferred to die, in his Newtown bookshop on May 22nd 2011.

The Sydney Morning Herald summed Bob up in its obituary on June 2nd as:

“Lifelong Member of the Labor Party and Trotskyist. Bookseller. Bibliophile. Historian. Union Agitator. Anti-Censorship battler. Bohemian. Irish Catholic. Polemicist.”

I’m not sure what more can be said; it’s all there. Bob joined the Labor Party when he was 17 and was blooded during the Split of 1955 when he lined up with the anti-Groupers against the forces loyal to B.A. Santamaria. About this time he was actually a member of both the Communist and the Labor Parties.

In the 1960s he formed the group which spearheaded the anti-Vietnam War movement. He opened The Third World Bookshop in 1967; the bookshop morphed to become his last bookshop, Gould’s Book Arcade, in King St Newtown, near Sydney University. In the years Gould’s Bookshop was in Newtown, I doubt that there are too many students who didn’t visit regularly, as indeed did people from all over Australia. It was an institution. Just about every member of the Labor Party has a Bob Gould story and to be honest there wasn’t much about Labor history he didn’t know.

In the last 15 years, Bob wrote regular essays about every aspect of the movement. Bob was renowned for having successfully made the abolition of ASIO official ALP policy (for a few minutes, anyway) at the 1971 federal conference in Hobart when he was a delegate for the Socialist Left. It is only appropriate to let Bob tell the story in his own words, as written for Workers Online in March 2006 as part of an essay titled Right Turn, Clyde:

“I deliberately came in a couple of minutes late when the debate on ASIO started, and sat quietly when Lionel Murphy moved for reform of ASIO. Then I moved from the floor for the abolition of this repressive instrument of the bourgeois state, which caused a certain amount of consternation, and I made a fiery speech in support of my motion. Lionel Murphy, the left parliamentarian who was moving the formal proposal for the reform of ASIO, was a bit startled, and then rather angry, and Clyde Cameron and Egerton were also pretty irritated. However, my oratory was reasonably persuasive.

“One funny feature of the vote was that Gough Whitlam was out of the room, talking in the corridor, when the debate took place. He came back into the conference room for the vote, took a cursory look around, saw some people he identified with voting for my amendment, and not entirely realising what was being discussed, he voted for my amendment, which was carried by one vote. There was much consternation, and Cameron and Egerton, who were the managers of the conference, ran around in a bit of a flap. Eventually they moved for the recommittal of my amendment, which was then lost by a few votes. So, for all of 45 minutes, abolition of ASIO was federal Labor Party policy.”

That was Bob’s version of events, anyway… I suspect Gough remembers it differently.

The NSW state conference of the ALP is coming up next month at the Sydney Town Hall. For many of us, conference will never be the same without Bob sitting there surrounded by the inevitable piles of books and in conversation or argument with anyone and everyone.

I joined the Labor Party in 1974 and it was not long after that when I met Bob Gould. We became friends and I had regular contact with him at the annual conference of the Labor Party where he sold his books, and I also visited his bookstore in Newtown. He was a kind and gentle man. He was always arguing policy and philosophy. Quite frankly, in all the time that I knew him — those 35 or 36 years — he did not change at all. He was as constant as the stars. It was also observed that John Ducker, as the president of the ALP in New South Wales, would always give Bob the call and that would be at the consternation of the Left. To say that Bob Gould will be missed is an understatement, but consider it said. We mourn his passing. We will all miss him.

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