|Interviewer: Robin Hughes
Recorded: October 5, 2000
This is a transcript of the complete original interview conducted for the Australian Biography project. Each transcript page covers one videotape (approximately 35 minutes). There is also QuickTime video of the full interview available. To play the video, click on the icon in the right hand column. In addition, each question in the transcript is linked to the video. Clicking on a question will play the video from that point. (Help with this feature.) Optionally, you can download the video file for offline viewing (approx. 10MB).
The interview has been left it in its original state so that you can get a sense of how the conversation developed. The repetition of some questions, or a question followed by another question, is often due to the end of a particular tape or some other interruption, and has been indicated at the appropriate place in the text. There has been minimal tidying up of the text so that the flavour of the encounter has been kept.
Where were you living at this time?
I was still living with Judy ... with Stephanie's mother in Guildford, near Parramatta.
And were you still playing football?
No, I was finishing up. I was having a qualitative change from football to politics and I finished up. I had been coaching at ... as a player-coach at Riverstone, which is just out of Sydney, and after that - the time of Michael's birth - I retired and became a full-time communist.
And that involved quite a lot of time, did it?
That involved quite a lot of time?
Oh yeah, about twenty-five hours a day, yeah. Very much so.
What happened to Stephanie?
Well, within a year ... just a year after ... after she gave birth to Michael she ... she was good style of woman, good build and she fell away. Her weight fell right away and the GP couldn't pick up what was wrong, just put it down to postnatal health, depression, and her health didn't improve and she went into a coma, and Michael was fifteen months when Stephanie died and she was only then twenty-two, and she died of a cerebral haemorrhage. which the neurosurgeon said should have been ... should have been found out a long time before ... should have been discovered and so it was a very untimely death. And Michael's grandmother, where we were still living. then took over the role of ... of mother and I ... That was '62 and I stayed there for three more years and then '65 I married my present wife, Judy.
And then Michael came back to live with you?
Well, Michael ... I was with Michael all the time. I'm saying that from '62, when she died, I was living at ... with the maternal grandmother, who looked after Michael and then in '65, I went to the more salubrious Croydon Park with my new wife. I'm still there thirty-five years later, proving once and for all Mundey did not take the bribes from the rich developers.
And how did Michael get on? Did he adjust well to Judy? Did they get on well together?
Oh yes. He was ... he was just fifteen months when Stephanie died and a couple of years I started to go with Judy so he was three, three and a half, and so he was five when we got married, so he'd known her since he was three and, and [got on] perfectly with her - had a terrific relationship right through life with Judy.
Did you and Judy have any children?
No, we had Michael, but no, we didn't.
... Any additional children.
And what happened with Michael?
What happened with ... Well, Michael of course ... He unfortunately at the very same age as his mother, twenty-two, he was tragically killed in a car accident - passenger in a car. He shared my environmental concerns about many things, including motor vehicles, and ironically died as a passenger in a car when he was twenty-two and five months. Terrible set back. Never got over it. Wouldn't get too many more tragic stories. Mother dying at twenty-two, with a baby fifteen months and then when he was twenty-two, getting killed in a car smash. Very hard to take.
What sort of work did Michael do himself?
Michael was studying at the Institute of Technology for media work, when he died. Before that he worked as a builders' labourer and it's also interesting to note that he had to work under an assumed name because he was my son. He worked for a little while in the ... in the building industry and he was active in environmental issues. He went to Japan with a friend for a short period of time and when he came back he enrolled in technology, in the media work and that's what he was doing when he ... when he died.
How many years after you had left the building industry did Michael have to work under an assumed name? What year are we talking about that Michael ... that Michael started working in the ...
Wll he ... He started work when he was about seventeen and he worked for eight or ten months in the building industry.
That was in the eighties then?
Yes, yes, - the late seventies actually. It was during that period when I was barred from the union and so it would be late ... late seventies, early eighties and so that was a difficult period because ...
What year did Michael die?
'82. He'd been in Japan '81 and he came back and was killed.
Jack, you say that you never get over these things. At the time that they happen, how do you deal with the fact - I mean, when Stephanie died and you left with Michael as a baby, it was at the height of a lot of your activity. How did you manage it? What did you do? How did you deal with the feelings?
Well, if you talk about the period when Stephanie died. Well I had just commenced work actually in the ... in the ... full-time work in the union. She died in the September and I'd started work for the union in that very same month, so I was extremely busy and I guess that that helped somewhat to the agony that went on. And also I was fortunate in the fact that Stephanie's mother ... I was living at that house and of course she looked after her grandson, and that helped too. But, one just has to face up to it and as everyone has had some tragedy in their life, probably not as so shocked as a young person dying like that, but everybody has ... have had tragedies and you've got no alternative but to face up to them.
Well these days they have grief counsellors.
What was your method?
I guess I just threw myself into ... into the work. I mean, I was busy before but I mean I've been brought up a Catholic but the longer I was believing in Marxism the less I believed in ... you know, in religion and so I suppose, I think there is a realistic attitude that atheists have, that you don't believe in blind faith in religion. I think there's a ... It gives an atheist a strength, in my opinion anyway. It certainly did with me. That all you've got both in the death of Stephanie and Michael, all you've got are the memories and when people say, 'Well, time will heal'. Well, I say, 'I don't want time to heal, all you've got are the memories, all the good things that happen and all the many other things that happen, all you've got are those memories', and I treasure those memories, and I think that's the best way to ... to try and come to terms with something that will ... will be with you all your life, 'til you die yourself. And also ... also think back to the good things that happened, look at the positive things, like Michael had travelled with his aunts to New Guinea. His aunt, one of his aunts, married in New Zealand. He went over to New Zealand. He went on a holiday with us to Fiji, so he'd had a lot of experience. He was ... had Aborigine friends. He was very strong on linking with Aborigines and ... and so he had a really terrific approach to ... to ... to positive and progressive causes. When he was at school the teacher chided him ... at this school here in Croydon Park, for wearing a moratorium badge during the anti-Vietnam campaign, and he was fully ten, you know, and so he took the teacher on. So, 'You're not going to take it off', and so he was ... and I think that Judy and I put forward our socialist views and he was, from a young kid, he was involved in talking in and the house was always full of, you know, active women in the women's movement, or environmentalists or communists and it was a pretty interesting life for a young kid to be involved [in] and, you know, again with the Vietnam War and support for our blacks. They were pretty good causes for a young kid to be taking up.
And you were pretty proud of him?
Oh very proud, yeah. He was a good down-to-earth kid.
As you say, most people have something in their life that's a big blow, but you had a double blow there. Was it harder the second time to rally yourself and get over it, I mean to the extent that you were able to carry on? I mean, that also was a period of some difficulty for you, this, this all happened. How again did you use the same method, of just absorbing yourself in your work or how did you deal with the death of Michael?
Well, I think that when it happens what are the alternatives if you don't do that? If you don't face up to the grim reality of what has happened, well then of course you'll go down hill yourself and that's not going to assist those that have prematurely departed. So I don't think there's many ... there is any other option but to remember the lovely things that happened and the good things that happened and the fact that he did have a very good life, though unfortunately very short. I mean they're the positive things I think to look at and I don't see ... I can't understand any alternative but to go in on yourself. Of course you think about other things. You think about whether you ... you know, you're so involved yourself in politics and so on, whether you could have given more time to him, but I mean, he wasn't keen on cricket or football but in the usual old father thing, I ... I took him and got him to play rugby league and got him to play cricket but he wasn't keen on those sort of things. But, you know, so I had a good relationship with him and when someone dies at twenty-two, of course, you think, oh gee, I should have spent more time. But one's not to know what's going to happen around the corner.
Death has played a pretty big part in your life. You lost your mother when you were six, then you lost your wife right at the beginning of your marriage and then you lost your only son, your only child. Does this mean that you ... I mean, does it affect your own attitude to your own death? Does it make you more worried about dying? Or does it give you a strength about it?
Well, I'm not crossing into it but ... and as an atheist you know it's the end result, you're not having yourself on about other things. So, yeah, when ... and of course you can think, well, you know, fate dealt you unfairly with the loss of two people at twenty-two years of age, but then again where does that get you? I mean it ... it doesn't do any good to your spirit or your soul to go in on yourself and become thoroughly depressed about it. I suppose Michael's death particularly affected me. When you talk about ... when you mention my mother, well, it's ... I was only six when she died and, and I do remember when the realisation that she was dead hit me ... you know, that was the first real shock of my life: what did it all mean? When I saw the other aunts crying and I knew she was ... mummy's gone, gone to heaven. I knew she'd gone and then the sadness of Stephanie dying - even though she had been sick for a period but never, but didn't expect death. And then with Michael of course, alive and perfectly fit, good style of a kid one day and bang, the next day he's gone, is ... is something you wouldn't want anybody else to experience.
Do you remember back to when you were a little boy and you were trying to make sense of it? Do you remember what went through your mind when your mother died and it was the first big moment that you had a big thought to face?
When my mother died?
Yes, when your mother died.
Well, I mean at six years of age, being a country bumpkin, I wasn't thinking deeply about matters of spiritual value and other than the sheer shock of saying that she's gone forever, that was quite frightening, but then a couple of years later I went and even though we were on this little farm, the ... my father, as I mentioned, was a relaxed type of Catholic but we still went through the norm of getting holy communion, so I was exported to Atherton and to have the nuns put me through the hoops and learn the catechism and I was particularly impressed with one aspect of it, that said if you die with venial sin well you go to purgatory for a while, but if you die with mortal sin you go to hell forever and ever and ever. And I thought, Jesus Christ that's a long time and as a young kid I thought: forever, you know, and it strengthened my faith ... faith and for a while I became a devoted at eight years of age. But, no, seriously I thought, you know, it really shot home the catholic teaching of little kids and how it puts the fear of Christ in them.
And have you avoided mortal sin for the rest of your life?
All depends what you call mortal sin. I have some difficultly defining it, but, no, I'd say I have probably serious venial sins. [Laughs]
Your marriage to Judy, how did you meet her?
Well, of course, I was in the Communist Party and she was in the women's movement and also in the Eureka Youth League and I met her through that. And then later on, she was working in the Trades Hall in ... in another union and we got to know each other.
And what's she like. Tell me about her. What sort of work does she do and ...
She was a clerical worker.
And is she still a clerical worker?
No, I've improved her a bit. [Laughs]
How did you manage that, Jack? Most of us try to improve our spouses ...
And fail. But no, but Judy was very ... She actually came from a sort of right wing Labor Party background, not very political and I think that through her association with me she moved to the Left and being thirteen years older, I was more influential then with her than I am now, considerably one might say. And she believed in the general principles of socialism and she was active in the Eureka Youth League, which was the youth movement, and she was also involved in the women's ... just at the commencement of the women's movement and she was, you know, a strong feminist, so we had a lot of things in common. She was ... And then she was attracted to Michael, so she got a little bargain too with Jack and Michael, so one might say. I don't know if she would agree with that. o we were ... we were very good for each other and we decided to get married. And she joined ... later on joined the Communist Party and ...
... And rose to be president?
And rose to be president, two presidents. So, yeah ...
And a lot ...
And then later on she became ... Like many working class women in that period, they went through ... and she went to St George, a selective high school and went very well. She was a good student but then went into the usual thing: office work. But through the women's movement and her activity in politics in her early thirties, see, taking advantage of the Whitlam Scheme to let working class people into universities in greater numbers, she went to university as a mature age student and like other women in that period, flew through. In fact, in her period at Macquarie University, the three women, one of whom was Judy, who topped the school, were all mature aged women and it was that rich period when women were coming through ... mature age women were coming through, and she then became a lawyer ... a solicitor and worked for legal aid for a period and then became a barrister, dealing mainly in criminal and family and general ... general barrister's work, which she is still doing.
Who have been your closest friends in your life?
Who have been your closest friends?
Well, I suppose Michael and Judy would be two. But I ... there have been many friends. I ... I ... you know, I suppose when you're a kid when you're growing up, well, you've got friends then. You move from the Atherton Tableland to Sydney, you've got other friends and I suppose through being active as I have been in sport and in politics, well you have many friends and I would never ... [INTERRUPTION]
I'm awfully sorry. Sorry. I thought the tape ... Sorry.
So you have many friends. I mean I'm not one of those people who just has one friend, who's your best friend. Of course at different stages you have different friends and that's ... I've never been short of friends, although they've mainly been ... I haven't got too many right wing friends, put it that way. They're mainly progressive, intelligent, egalitarian, Left oriented.
What about enemies? Who have been your most staunch enemies?
Many, many. Not as many as friends, but quite a few. Oh well, I suppose, naturally in the ... in the union movement, the ... the rapacious developers were my ... weren't my friends. They were my opponents. Within the union movement, I suppose, some of the right wing people I liked but I also clashed with a lot of them. And my feeling for equality and for a genuine fair go for people means that I [was] against greed and avaricious type of people, regardless of where they come from.
Now you mentioned, when we were talking about your life in the union the other day, that especially during the Green Bans period you were approached a lot for ... with bribes, that people actually attempted to bribe you in relation to those. Could you ... could you tell me about some of those instances and the bribes that you were offered?
Yes, well not only myself, but also the other leaders were offered [bribes] but I guess more so myself because I was secretary at the ... at the time when ... [PLANE]
Well I think, I don't think I ... That period that we have discussed in this sort of ... the crucial era of my involvement in the Green Ban movement led to an understanding of just what ... how corrupt that period was, because there were two or three outstanding instances where people approached me and believed that I was buyable, you know, and one of them would have amounted to ... to millions of dollars. The idea was to lift a ban ... [lift] the Green Ban and even gave the logic about what I could do by saying, 'Well look, you could tell the people that if you allow us to build, half the amount of money that we ... We've got the right to build now, well then you can have five per cent of the proceeds', and I quickly worked out what that would mean and it was a considerable amount of money. So [they] even gave me the logic as to what I could do and I rejected that. Another occasion ...
Which project was that?
Well, the person is still alive so I'm not prepared to say.
You don't want to be sued.
Another ... another one was the question of a theatre where a person wanted to build a theatre in the Rocks. I advised them to go and see Nita McCreagh. They said, 'Come off it, you can do it'. I said, 'No, no, you go and talk to Nita McCreagh'. Again, an open cheque was the proposition.
Well, an open cheque, I mean, to do it, to have a theatre in the Rocks and the third one was over in North Sydney, where the proposition was to build a high rise building opposite the Opera House, which would allow people to ... from the North Shore, to drive in. It was when the car-parking ban was on ... would allow people, seeings that many of the eastern suburbs of course and the northern suburbs are the ones that go to the Opera House in large numbers, the proposition was that people could drive in from the various parts of Killara and Wahroonga, park their cars, go to the restaurants and then across to the Opera House and the proposition there was for a twenty storey building to be built opposite the Opera House. Again I said, 'Well there's no chance of that happening'. They said, 'Well we've got the right to do it. North Sydney Council we believe will go ahead with it, and the only thing standing in our way is the ban'. I said, 'Well we're supporting the people of the area. We will not put it ... we will not lift the ban'. Again the proposition was put up that I could have the penthouse if I could find my way clear to persuade them to do it. So they are the three classic examples. Many other offers were made of all sorts of inducements to lift the bans. So it shot home to me just the level of corruption that existed in the community in the Askin period.
Were any of these bribes even remotely tempting to you?
Not really because ... because we were so open in what we were doing, it would be very difficult to bring those decisions in and justify it to the other union officials, even if you attempted to do it, let alone ... It would be counter to everything we were standing for. So, no, and also, you get found out. It's not going to ... I didn't entertain it. The very fact that I've lived here for thirty-five years indicates that I haven't got ... I mean having in mind, probably one of the reasons I'm living here is, I was driven out of work for ten years really. Either driven out of work or being unable to get it because of the black bans on - being black banned from jobs. But I haven't got a heightened desire for large amounts of money, so again I'm not a ... I'm not a great consumerist, so it wasn't the sort of thing that I was tempted to do.
You say you couldn't have got away with it because the other union officials wouldn't have allowed it, but Norm Gallagher got away with it for a while.
I'm not saying other union officials wouldn't have allowed it, I'm saying that one would have been found out. I mean there's no way you could take that sort of money without being discovered even if you had wanted to. Not that I wanted to. Of course Gallagher did, but Gallagher fell for, as I call it, the three card trick. I mean Gallagher, when I first knew him, he was a militant union leader and we got on quite well together. I guess it was over ... mainly over political differences - the China line and our own independent line - that caused the rift. But Gallagher, when he fell for the offer of the employers and the biggest developers ... but the other thing which is humorous there is Gallagher could have settled for huge amounts of money and settled for a holiday home and building a house down on McLoughlins Beach, so he was castigated and ridiculed and, you know, lost any integrity he had through ... through a very small, really, to what Gallagher could have demanded ... could have easily got off the ... off the big developers. It was peanuts for them.
Jack, do you have a holiday house?
I've got a couple but I didn't want to discuss those. [Laugh]
What did you do during the period that you were unable to work? After you were banned from working on sites, how did you manage?
Well, I guess that because the Green Bans in particular and our activities had generated such interest in areas ... in wide areas of the community such as resident action groups, community groups, universities, high schools, etcetera, I was in demand as a speaker, both here and overseas, and in fact I ... I went on a lecture tour of the United States. I was the first communist allowed into the United States, to show you that people now don't realise that the Cold War lingered a lot longer than we thought because into the 1970s I was invited to ... to talk to the World Wildlife Fund in San Francisco and I was refused entry on the basis that I was a communist. Then I was invited to speak in Canada and I couldn't get off the plane. I wasn't allowed off the plane at Los Angeles, when it landed, and finally on another event even when Gerry Brown, the then Governor of California, invited me there, I was allowed in for ten days only, just to go to the conference. But because of the interest in Green Bans and environmental activities, it had created a lot of interest internationally in the ecology movement, in the main, and I was invited to give lecture tours and talk about our experiences in both England, in Europe, in United States and Canada and so, I went to Nicaragua and travelled around many of those countries. So I had that during a period when we were banished, that in some ways I was better off than some of the others who didn't have that because they, they were ... they ... they didn't have that opportunity anyway, even though a lot of them did speaking tours of Australia. And I had that sort of thing and because I was, you know, the secretary of the union when the Green Bans occurred and that continued for a whole number of years. Even now, I still speak often at universities, etcetera. So, there were speaking fees at that time which helped ... helped keep my sanity and also helped keep me going. And it also spread the Green Ban gospel, shall we say.
[end of tape]