Australian Biography: Tom Uren
Tom Uren (1921–2015) was one of the most respected Labor politicians of his generation.
His youthful plans for a career as a boxer were derailed by the outbreak of the Second World War. His experiences as a prisoner of war, slaving on the Burma-Thai Railway, instilled in him a lifelong opposition to militarism and a belief in socialism and peaceful co-existence.
At war's end, he joined the Australian Labor Party, entering Federal Parliament in 1958.
In 1972 he became Minister for Urban and Regional Development in the Whitlam Government, setting up the Australian Heritage Commission and the Register of the National Estate and creating new national parks.
Interviewer: Robin Hughes
This is a transcript of the complete original interview conducted for the Australian Biography project.
Well, a happy one, but poor ...
My father was out of work in those days, he was just a labourer and he was out of work in the early '20s, in the late '20s, and 'course in those days umm, we lived in Balmain. I was born in a house in 40 Pashley Street, Balmain. And I can remember my mother talking, even as a very young boy, about the poorness of our house because we used to have to pawn. The old landlord, who was a pillar of the church, used to come round and ask, 'Mrs Uren, is there anything else you could pawn to pay for the rent?' And I might tell you that all we had left in the bedroom was the normal bed and butter boxes each side and, so, it was very very grim conditions. I might say that that in those days, you know, there were no unemployment benefits or anything at all like that, I mean, if you really wanted to get welfare, you had to go before the 'nice' people of the community, to see whether or not you were worthy of welfare. And those things always stayed with me. Because my mother had told me about it. But normally my mother worked with my Aunty Mary as a barmaid, between having children, because you see in those days the society wouldn't accept a pregnant woman behind the bar, and that's why at the most needing period of our lives was the most difficult because my mother couldn't go out to work, my father being out of work. My father was a person who … he made, he was a handyman, you know, making yachts and making small things, he was very very clever with his hands but he just couldn't get … people don't realise how difficult it was in the '20s and '30s in this country for employment, not only the '30s but even the '20s.
My father was a jockey, the only profession he had. He was a jockey.
Well he was, even though he was round about five-foot-eight, but tall and thin, and ultimately he had to give up riding because he was too heavy and he was always wasting to try and get his weight down. But, yes, and my mother wasn't a tall woman either, but I think I draw my height from my mother's people, because the Millers -- that's my mother's maiden name -- they were tall people and that's where I think I got my tallness from.
Well, we were a mixture. The Uren name is a Cornish name. It comes from Penzance in Cornwall but my grandmother, my father's mother, was part-Jewess and her mother was a Jewess and her father was a Wellard, an Englishman. On my mother's side, they were both Scottish. The McCouats and the Millers.
Well there were three children. The eldest brother -- it was an unusual thing that happened to my brother, the first-born, and I think because of that I received a great deal of the love of really being the first-born. I was the middle one. Jack was two years older than me and Les was two years younger. But when my mother and father met in Newcastle, Jack was born in Newcastle. My grandmother who was quite, in many ways, a remarkable woman because she'd helped during the flu epidemics and all those things, she went out and nursed and she did wonderful things, but it was thought that she was going to die of cancer. And she was given six months to live. And she more or less asked my mother could my brother Jack stay with her. And of course it broke my mother's heart, but she conceded to that request. Well my brother Jack was 14 years of age before my grandmother died, and that's when he came back to live with us. But we always would go there on school holidays and things like that. But my mother gave the warmth and love and affection to me really as a first-born.
Yeah, and she was special to me too [laughs].
It was always a warm one.
Yeah, yeah. No, it was a great relationship. Yeah, great relationship. I would kiss her by the ear and, you know, flirt with her right up into her early 70s. She died at 71. But we had a wonderful relationship and ummm she was a very loving woman, very giving, very warm, and in a way I think I draw a lot of that warmth from her and …
My old mate [Jim] Cairns reckons that every child needs a great deal of love for the first five years of their life and where he didn't get much affection and love I certainly got all and he always used to say to me, 'Uren, you're the most natural guy, person, I've ever met.' He always says that because I think it was that enormous amount of love that my mother had given to me as a young person.
Well, I don't, one doesn't know, but you know I think that people do say that I've always had a kind of inner strength and inner security and I've always had that. I've been inadequate in so many ways, but ummm certainly I've always felt good about that and I've always felt that my mother has given me that strength and that tenacity and that drive and that warmth and affection and love in my life.
Yes she was ... Oh, only from the point of view of 'Tommy, you've got to go and go back to school and get a better education because I left school at 13 to get a job and to help the family,' in that way, but I would go to night school and she would always be driving that, you know, 'Tom, you've got to try and better yourself, you've got to keep on and better yourself, improve yourself.' [laughs]
Oh yes, very much so. She thought the Army made me a little coarse, but what mothers don't?
My father. I think I got much closer to my father through my wife Patricia, my first wife, 'cause he had a dry sense of humour and Patricia had that, that warm sense of humour as well. But I always remember my father long before I even, you know, became older and was courting Patricia, but even in my fight days, I was about 19 years of age and I was fighting, I remember, fought in the stadium, like I bid for the Australian heavyweight title, and I really was not fit enough, I'd only had flu a few days before and I shouldn't have fought, but it was the courage, my father said to me how proud he was of me …
Yeah, I think the influence on my personality was my mother, although I'll never forget my father's death. And I thought my father was the most courageous person I've ever seen in death. Because I've seen so much death in my life. And some people die as heroes and others die as cowards. I mean even in civil life as well as prison life. But my father died as a hero. [breathes deeply]
Yes, yes, ummm … I mean Dad's a bloke who's really, you know, he was a battler but a person who really had a great deal of ability within himself, he made boats, and, not only model boats, but big boats would go out on the sea and everything, he had enormous ability, and he never really was able to, because of the economics and conditions, achieve anything of any real note in the business world. But in my childhood period, there were times when dad worked at Tooths Brewery in the early '30s and I would have been just about 10 at the time, maybe nine or 10, and Dad would come home with a few drinks, then I my mother would kind of nag at him or probably go cross about it and I've never seen my father hit my mother but, you know, they can kind of get aggressive back and I've always kind of got in front of my mother, between my mother and father, but as I've grown older I also know the understanding of a working-class worker, the pressures on him, and the conditions, so I meant I have had some understanding, greater understanding, of my father as I've grown older.
No, no, I don't think it did in any way. No, I think the only mark on me, the imprint really that still remains today, is the social injustice to my mother -- that here was a woman that had to raise a family and couldn't get the right of welfare without going before the 'nice' people to plead for some economic justice. That left an enormous imprint on my life. But I don't feel any other imprint in any way. I always admired my father's personal skills with his hands, to create things. And my old Dad … I always remember after the war when I came back and my Dad was by this time, they had to move. Not a lot of people realise again that at the war there was a lot of unemployment, right up till 1939, and my Dad had to go down to Wollongong to work at the Port Kembla steelworks for they were starting to gear up there and a great deal of employment, and that's where Dad worked through all the war years. And of course when I came back from the war and came home, my Mum and Dad were living in Wollongong and I went down there and stayed with them. But on the whole I kept my headquarters in Sydney and I stayed with, first of all, a friend called Babe Daniel's parents and later with my Aunty Mary at Five Dock. But Dad was on a 17-week strike -- it was an enormous big strike in the steelworks after the end of the Second World War -- and it was then there was Left leadership and the Communist Party leadership was leading the unions and they were having a really stand-up struggle against BHP, which was then the powerful union, and my dad was a part of the 17-week strike. Well, of course, my third pay and all that paid for the family in that period, but I always remember Dad at the end of that strike saying, 'We beat the bastards!' [laughs] Well, so much so [there was] the question of two men and they, the Arbitration Court, said that they had to re-employ them and they stayed I think a week and then moved on to another job. It was really where the union movement -- particularly the Left union movement, the leadership, a lot of Communists there, Ernie Thornton and others in the ironworkers -- overstepped themselves, over-stretched themselves and in fact I think they paid for it in the years to come because they were removed from the leadership …
But my Dad, I mean long strikes I can always recall. I always recall when I was writing, reminding the pilot strikers (that long strike of the pilots during the Hawke era) they should look at some of their history, should look at the AWU strike at Mt Isa, and anywhere, whenever there's been a long strike. Generally the workers replace their leaders, it's a most unusual case where they don't. There are rare occasions when they don't, but on the whole [with] long strikes the workers are the ones who suffer most [INTERRUPTION].
… But what I was trying to get to was that point about my father saying 'we beat the bastards'. [laughs] I'll never forget it. It was a good education for me.
Well, for the first five years we lived in Balmain and from there we moved of course to Harbord where, in those days, a lot of Balmain people used to go down there and [it] used to be a kind of a weekender area and it was a very working-class period at that time, Harbord, lot of weatherboard cottages there, and my father used to work for a landlord by the name of Nixon and we used to repair the houses and so I lived in Moore Road, Harbord, nearly opposite, not quite opposite, where the Harbord Beach Hotel is now.
Oh, just a wonderful life. I mean, I went to swim, I would go swimming before school and after school. I never wore shoes. When I went to primary school we went barefooted to school. And in fact the first time I wore shoes is when I had to go into Manly into intermediate high school. But I just hated wearing shoes and I didn't realise there was also, probably, economics were also involved, but I didn't realise that. But I can remember walking from where we are, we're in Moore Street, up to where Harbord Public School is now on Harbord Road, that most of the country between there (we'd cut across the blocks) was tea-tree country and a lot of Australian flora was available in those days. It was just a wonderful spot. Even in those days I can always remember sometimes my mother would make a hot dinner and she would come up and meet me as a kid and we'd have our lunch together. It [was] just wonderful.
Not particularly. I wasn't, I wasn't great at school. I was good at things like history and geography and maths fascinated me, always fascinated me, figures always told me a story right from the word go as a kid, but the English and grammar I was always frightful. I always remember, there was a Miss Rolfe in our class in Harbord and she told me, she said, she would get me to stand up and read a certain passage and I'd drop every 'h' in the thing and she'd kind of belittle me and I'd go scarlet from tip toe, I was always an extremely sensitive person and always [laughs] I can still feel it now, it, it's a strange thing, but that always, it never left me.
No, you know, the thing that -- I wouldn't say humiliated -- embarrassed me, I prefer to use the word embarrassed, but all my political life I hated reading speeches and if I'd read a speech, particularly in my parliamentary life, particularly when I was a minister (would never read a speech if I wasn't a minister) [I'd] make an off-the-cuff speech, cos I was much more relaxed and I could talk to people with my eyes and my hands and my heart. But if I had to read the speech, particularly if I wasn't comfortable with my audience, I'd be really uptight. An' it's never left me, I hated, I hate, reading speeches.
Well, Miss Rolfe is still with me, if I [laughs] can remind you. She never left me. But what I do love, and I want to say this, what I do love about communicating is I prefer, when I'm talking to an audience, particularly anything up to 150 people -- I live off them, I draw on them and they bounce back and I get their warmth or the look of their eyes or attitudes or you know when you're going well because you can hear a pin drop. But if you're not doing too well you can hear a few just ruffles around the audience. So I love communicating with people, and talking with people; I love it more than ever I loved, liked, talking in parliament, never did like talking in parliament. On very rare occasions, a few rare exceptions, but ...
Well, I loved football and I loved cricket and I loved to swim and ultimately I probably was one of the best junior surfers, you know, and swimmers in the district. You know I think I won [as a] 12-year-old the Manly-Warringah District swimming championship in those days, and of course then went on to become a young surfie, and was junior surf champion freshwater from '36 to '39, and I was a part of the R & R team, so that I played football with Manly-Warringah present club side -- in those days we didn't have a first-class side. North Sydney was the first-grade side, and I played district football, first of all football at school and then later of course representing the district as a President Cup side; that's under-21. And I did that three years from '38, '39 and '40.
Well, I think underneath it all, growing up, you know, as a youngster, I didn't really think too much about the future, I mean, I was enjoying life and really it didn't seem to worry us too much. But ummm as a teenager, the more I became engrossed in sport, I started work when I was 13 and I had worked for a firm called Allaledjian & Company, they were an Armenian group, and there was a chap by the name of Chaldjian, who was my boss, and he was a man of, an Armenian, a person of outstanding character.
They imported furs and skins from overseas that they would sell to both the furriers, the fur-trade, or also to the … in those days what they called the mantle trade, which was the frocks and coats and what have you to put the fur-trimmings on. And that we would do. But it was his great strength of character that I admired greatly and he had an enormous influence on me, because of his strong character. He was as straight as a gun-barrel. And where the other Australian person who worked with us I found was a devious person who would blame everybody else but himself. But not my boss, Chaldjian, he had this great strong, strength of character, which talked directly at people. And he had magnificent brown eyes. I can just see those shining brown eyes now [chuckles], they just stayed with me. But anyway, that was a job that I had and I enjoyed it but the more I went on, the more sport kind of took over. First of all I'd swim in the surf carnivals, every Saturday, and all during the summer time and win quite an amount of money in those days: 30 shillings was the first prize and I was one of the best junior surf champions, although Bob Newbiggen was the best and the next best was a bloke by the name of Jammy Jenkins and I think I would have been third in the list although in the surfing game if you catch a wave you can beat your mate, but I was one of the best surfers at that time, so therefore I used to get a certain income, small, only prize money, and that that was of some help to me personally because my people were still not over, you know they were still, battling during the '30s. I think the question of sport though [helped] cos I carried the name Tom Uren and in my own way I could -- I wasn't what you would call a bully kind of bloke, I never did -- but I could fight a little bit and kinda defend myself, even though, even as a youngster, I had a mate who was a bit better than I was, a bloke with the name of Georgie Scott, who turned out a great cricketer in Manly. But I went on and when I joined the Army and of course went on and got tuition at Jack Dunleavy's, and I wanted to become a great fighter, and that was the ambition and aspiration.
Well, in those days it was the sport where you really lifted yourself out of the norm, and made some money if you really made it. If you were a really good fighter you really made a lot of money. And money wasn't the question, money wasn't the question, but it was the question of fame, if I can use the terminology. And so I went, that's the only profession that I've ever learnt scientifically in my life.
Well, Tommy Uren of course was one of the greatest fighters of our history. I mean, not as great as [Les] Darcy, but he was in a category very special. And he was the lightweight, welterweight and middleweight champion of Australia and he was a great fighter and he fought from about 1918, during the First World War, right through well past the 1930s, so he fought a long while, probably too long. But he was a great fighter, and a very skilled fighter.
My dad and he met when my father was riding as a jockey and they both discovered their parents came from Penzance and they discovered that they were cousins. Now, how far back their cousinship goes I don't know but they, my Dad, always said that Tommy and he were cousins and [in] Penzance the name Uren is quite a common name; we're a clan really.
Well, I think my mother was never happy about that, but my father was as proud as punch but I really did enjoy fighting and not from the point of view of brutality, but from the point of view of scientific boxing, and I learnt the scientific boxing, and I boxed in a scientific way, and the people I admired in those days -- there was an American, a great American fighter by the name of Archie Moore, who came out here and I saw him box, and he later became light-heavyweight champion of the world, and I admired him greatly, and I admired people like Billy Cohn, who was an American light-heavyweight champion of the world ...
Oh well, ultimately I was a heavyweight. I couldn't get down to the light-heavyweight. But I fought at about 13.3. Now 12.6, 12-stone-6, was the weight for the light-heavyweight, but I fought always at 13.3. But I admired people like Joe Louis too but anyway it was a sport which I saw as a skill, not the brutality of it.
Well of course, you only have to go into a gymnasium to see the damage that it did do and that people's brains were affected, so I always had that well in my mind, yes.
No, not deter me at all, no.
Well, I thought that I would make it to the top and I always thought that I had the ability and the skills to reach the top and that I had enough common-sense to know that when I had to get out I would get out. There were also other inspirations. People like Gene Tunney, who in fact really made it to the top and got out without any real scars at all. So I mean, there were other examples of people, where in fact you could really make it. On the other hand there were others that sadly drink and other things, see it wasn't drugs in those days, it was drink and women and the fight games which in fact ruined them in the long term. And though I didn't drink, I didn't smoke and I lived, you know, I watched myself generally. I mean, actually women weren't a great attraction to me in the early part of my life, I mean I wasn't a womaniser at all.
Yes. I lived, dreamed and fought everything, worked through that fight game, and sport, it was the whole of my life. And I put everything that I had into it.
I had an attraction on one person, but it was never deep, no, not before the war, no.
I was 18 years of age. And in fact I'd applied for the Army, to join the permanent Army, in May of 1939. I got the call up. The war broke out in September and I got the call up in October, so I was in the Army from October 1939.
Well, young people are adventurous, you know, it wasn't really the patriotism that made me, it was just more or less adventure, change in lifestyle and as I told you I saw myself as being a boxer. I s'pose again it's that kind of sensitivity that I had, the feelings about it, that even the question of Darcy, the story of Darcy, that Darcy had been branded [a] slacker and …
Not serving in the First World War and of course although I saw myself as a returned soldier, I didn't really see myself as a patriotic warrior when I joined up.
Yes. Well, but that was really only a part of the sport, but I actually weren't paid for my lessons with Dunleavy, and every moment I had spare I would [go from] North Head, I would go and train at Jack Dunleavy's gym, which was down nearly on the corner of -- it was in a building upstairs near the corner of Liverpool Street and George Street, Sydney, opposite where the theatres are now.
Oh well, Jack was really good and he in fact thought a lot of me because I had some early success. He said to me one day, 'Tom, you know you should make sure that you don't get a big head with the publicity you're getting.' And I said, 'Oh gee Jack, I won't do that, I'll just work all the harder.' And of course that's what I did.
No, war broke out in September, and I joined and I was put up at North Head. And I was at North Head from October 1939 until about the middle of 1941, when I got transferred across to the AIF [Australian Imperial Forces]. It was very hard to get out of the permanent Army into the AIF, but, because they decided that there were two coastal batteries, two guns from the old six-inch mark-elevens off the old Sydney had been put over at Timor, they decided they wanted an artillery unit to man that, those things. And of course, planning went on for months and months before the actual thing happened. But so about mid-1941 I was transferred from the permanent Army across to the AIF and I was there at North Head down at the quarantine station until we got transferred to Darwin. And I will never forget, they took us onto a railway siding at Alexandria; in those days they put us into cattle trucks and what have you [INTERRUPTION]
Well, can I say this about travel, that I'd never travelled any further south than Port Kembla, north, Newcastle, and west, Katoomba. And I got on that train at Alexandria Railway Station and went right across, stopped at Broken Hill, and then from there down to Terowie in South Australia, and then right up again on the old, what they now call the Ghan, up to Alice Springs and then of course after leaving Alice we then transferred into trucks and it was a dirt road between Alice Springs and Birdum, and we would do 200 miles a day. And that journey is still with me today, particularly the sunsets in the Northern Territory. In late July it was so magnificent, you know, their sunsets are so beautiful. And what we would do because we were sitting in the back, we would have red dust, about a quarter of an inch of red dust on us, and we'd have to wash this red dust off in the bore water and of course your hair would stand up as straight as a poker because of the harshness of the bore water and using this bore water in washing yourself. From there of course we went to Birdum and then, in those days, there was a railway line from Birdum up to Darwin, so we would trans-ship again into cattle trucks and up to Birdum, right up to Darwin. So we arrived in Darwin in early August 1941. So it was a great -- that in itself was a great adventure for me personally. But for the next four months we stayed in Darwin and I was stationed at Larrakey Barracks and that was a very interesting experience in itself.
Well, of course I started fighting again, and I had two fights in Darwin, one with Jimmy Gray and another one with Danny Holden and [laughs] they're a story in themselves.
Yeah well, the one with Jimmy Grey, which was the first, I was well ahead, I knocked him down a couple of times in the earlier rounds, and then there must have been a lot of betting. He was a waterside worker at that time and all the civilians and waterside workers in Darwin were on Grey because they thought it was gonna be a great bet but when Grey could see I was gonna win the fight, he goes over and clocks the referee and of course the referee has ruled it out, a no-fight, and of course all bets were off. But the next fight I fought, I fought Danny Holden who was a much more scientific fighter, and I fought him over 10 three-minute rounds and I won that too. So ...
... so, and I was getting good money for both fights, I might say.
Oh yes, well, I don't know about hero, but I was certainly fairly popular amongst my mates and I was well-known of course in Darwin at that time because I was a fairly well-known fighter at that time.
Yes. Actually, just before -- of course you know the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour and on the 7th of December, but in Australia it was the 8th of December and on that day we got our marching orders -- and exactly on that day I received a letter from a promoter who had promoted my fights in the Sydney sports arena, had the authority of the police, had the authority of the government, or the Army, to bring me back to have a charity fight with Cec Overall, who was then one of the best fighters in Australia at that time. But I was so much in a hurry to get across to go to the war that I didn't bother about, I didn't answer, Charlie Lucas who was the promoter, until I'd got to Timor. I wrote and said I couldn't come.
No, no, of course. That's the trouble. Once you get into the Army, the Army blokes want to get into a fight -- if there's gonna be a fight, they wanna be in it. It's a mentality one has; it's very difficult to be able to overcome patriotism.
Personally. Very much so. Very much so.
So when did you get to Timor?
The eighth and we were there, landed on the 12th. And there was another ship came over with us and the independent company that we were landed at Koepang on the western end of the island of Timor and of course the independent company then went up to Dili. And a lot of people don't realise that we invaded a neutral Portuguese East Timor. We were invited into Dutch West Timor by the Dutch Government, the Dutch authorities, but on the Portuguese end we invaded that and in fact the East Timorese have suffered a great deal because of the invasion at that time, because you know during the time of our invasion of that country from '42 or really late '41 through to '45, something like 40 to 50,000 of their people were either killed or starved by the Japanese during that occupation period, out of a population of 650,000 people. Now they suffered that because they protected our people in the hills for a year after, all through 1941, the end of '41 and right through 1942, until submarines took our forces off East Timor.
Well, I think, I mean, you've got to ask the Army that at that time but they just thought the Japanese may invade. But in fact if you look at the question of history, the Japanese didn't occupy Macau in China, they left that neutral right through and of course at that time the Portuguese Government was a neo-Fascist-type government and therefore why would they need to invade East Timor? But I think our military strategists determined that we should occupy East Timor, and we did. Now they suffered, even though they were the ones that protected our troops for so long, they suffered more -- if you give comparisons, for instance, the way the East Timorese suffered during the war years. They lost between 40 and 50,000 people out of a population of about 650,000. We lost 27,000 killed in action or died as prisoners of war out of a population of between seven to eight million people. So you can see the magnitude of the loss of the East Timorese. We in Australia owe a great moral debt to those East Timorese. We've never paid that debt. We've failed them so long, so many times. We are even failing them today by not dealing with their question, raising their question, in the United Nations. We've never given any leadership and support of the East Timorese people.
Well, we of course proved and calibrated our guns, which were the six-inch guns, at Koepang Bay, and there was a 5th column or rumours that the Japanese were landing on the other side of the island all our infantry went round of course to combat those soldiers. The artillery unit at Koepang was sent to a place called Babaoe where the Japanese had landed paratroops and so we were made into a kind of infantry, untrained I might tell you, and we were at this village of Babaoe to take on these Japanese paratroops. And I tell this story that ummm I always remember that they had little one-man mortars and, you know, the mortar goes off and then there's an echo comes back and you say, 'Well that's them,' and then you'd hear the reply 'And that's us' and that's how much I knew about mortars. But I was there a couple of hours, must have been on the fringe a couple of hours, and I said to my two mates, one was Babe Daniels was with me, but I can't recall who the other person was, but I said to him, 'Look, I'd better go down and see what's happening' so as I got down, we were on a incline, we were up above the village, and as I got down ... I could see the trucks pulling out. So I sang out to my mates, 'Look, they're pulling out.' Well, those two blokes moved so fast they both beat me down and we got the last truck out of Babaoe, and I can tell you 'old somebody' was looking after me at that time, because it was only fate that really allowed me to go down; otherwise I would have been butchered and I would never have seen … because they took no prisoners, they just killed them. So I was very, very lucky.
Well, it then took us back of course [and] we decided that we would not prove and calibrate our guns. Then the infantry came, knew that it was only a 5th column kind of story that they were landing on the other side, and the infantry used their forces to try to remove those 500-odd Japanese paratroops; in a four-day battle we eventually obliterated the whole lot of them. In fact, I found the fighting on Timor chaotic and I thought to myself -- of course we were only odd bits of course, attached to people -- where's all this great Anzac tradition and we've always been bred that, you know, the Australian soldier, what we did on Anzacs, and what wonderful heroes we were and of course it really started to have some doubts in my mind about this. Anyway, eventually I was sitting with a group of men and a Bren Gun Carrier came up and said, 'Look we want somebody to load a Lewis gun, anybody volunteer?' I said, 'I'll volunteer,' so I got in for centre at this kind of narrow slit Bren Gun Carrier. I must say, the only armoured division, armoured, protection we had, was two Bren Gun Carriers. And this carrier was so ill-equipped they had Lewis guns; they had Vickers guns on the front and on the top they had this Lewis gun which was a relic of the First World War. And there, it's a round cam that you had to put, slide up, into it to, to kind of rotate it so you could put the bullets in. And they didn't have anything to put in the cam so I had to put my finger in, and I tell you it was pretty raw, but as I turned the cam I'd kind of load the ammunition. And as fast as I'd load 'em and give 'em to this mate of mine, a bloke name of West, he would fire these at the other blokes. We had gone up to this road at a place called Asau Ridge and it we'd retaken Babau and it was beyond Babau, this place Asau Ridge, and I was just watching this -- his name was, the old CO, Bill Leggatt, he later became a prominent Liberal member of parliament, but he was a courageous old … all the guts in the world, and we were in the centre on this road and we were of course attracting some attention from the machine-gun entrenchments of the Japanese that were dug in. And you could feel the bullets belting off the side of the carrier. By the way, the top's wide open, but just the same if you got down low enough you had some protection. But old Bill Leggatt's out in the middle of the road [laughs] with no protection or just giving instruction to the leadership of this infantry battalion. I saw these Aussie blokes of the second 40th battalion just marching up the slope as cool as cucumbers, see them take over the Japanese and bayonet them and -- real courage, I mean you just couldn't help but admire them.
… So that gave me back this love of courage, of our Australianism and you know it was just so gutsy, you just couldn't go and see it on movies, you see it in black and white, in real, real life. And so, that really rekindled my faith in the courage of Australians and fighters. And as we drove through this little village of Asau you could see where our blokes had been taken over. There were dead blokes in the back of trucks who'd been shot up and were all dead and some of our blokes had been told that [the Japanese had] got medical orderlies and hung them up. Of course we did some brutal things to them too, to the Japanese after that. After Asau.
Well, the killing that went on, the burning that went on, I mean just in the heat of war some brutal things are done.
It's the strange thing, when you're in the heat of war you don't really worry about -- it's either them or us, I mean, you don't really worry about compassion even, it's just a survival kind of situation that goes on. And in fact you admire blokes, to see one killing another. I mean, I admire to this day those 2nd 40th blokes that walked up that Asau Ridge and, in front of machine-guns, entrenched machine-guns, and just bayoneting -- you know I, I saw that as courage. You know, I hate war, but I still admire the courage and guts of those blokes.
Well, beat the bastards, that was the real thing. I just really didn't -- we just had to beat 'em, that's all there was to it, we didn't know where we were going. I mean, you've got to remember, at a lower level, you don't know what's going on, you don't know what the officers have got in mind, what the plan was. All we knew was that there was this long single road and that, unlike Dili where the mountains practically come down right to the sea and therefore our people could retreat into the mountains, we had to go along this long way and we didn't realise [until] after we'd taken over Asau Ridge and Asau Village that there was nothing between us and the mountains, and we waited all night there because there was this single road running through this, something like I suppose kilometres-wise about 40-odd kilometres from the mountains, from the coast down to Usapa Bisar at Koepang up to the mountains, and of course Babau was in the centre of that and they tried to stop our retreat to go to the mountains. Well, we'd broken through them and in breaking through to them we just stayed there and what happened was, the following morning we -- I might say that we had on our trucks everything we possessed, this long line of military along this one road. If you went off you got bogged in the paddy fields and we had something like 150 dead we were carrying, we had about 40 per cent casualties of that thousand-odd Australian infantry people and the following morning the Japanese had come up on our tail, and at first the lack of communication again, or garbling of communication, they said, somebody said, 'The Yanks are coming,' and then said, 'the tanks are coming,' so the first rumour was the Yanks were coming, the Yanks had arrived to save us, you see, but in fact what it was the Japanese tanks that had come up under our rear and they had given us, our officers, a certain period of time to determine whether they would surrender or not. And of course they made the decision that they would surrender. After we had surrendered, and the Japanese advanced through our troops, to my surprise they all looked alike, they all looked like little buggers. That was the first thing, was what little buggers they were, and how much alike they were. And anyway, as they went through our troops and of course we were all there, then 27 Japanese bombers came over us and just dropped bombs on the Japanese as well as us. And of course a lot of the Japanese were killed as well as a lot of our own people during that bombing raid. Luckily for me, one of my mates was hit, was near me, but luckily for me I, we were … mud and of course just lifted us up, but that was all, there was no ...
But again I survived.
Well, one doesn't know what may have occurred then. Of course we may have linked up, ultimately linked up, with the independent companies and fought in the mountains. I just don't know. But that was the plan. But unfortunately the people who were at the camp base at a place called Champlong did not communicate down with the troops, and they just kinda looked after themselves and off they went. It was a brigadier, by the way. And seemed to look after themselves and survived; in fact he eventually contacted, he caught up with, the independent company, this brigadier, and actually got off, ultimately off, Timor. But , no anyway, we would have had some much bloody, longer, fighting if we'd got into the mountains, but we didn't get into the mountains and that's another story.
Well, I just took it in my stride myself. I think most of us at the time thought it was good that the war, you know, that at least the fighting was over and we were still surviving -- and of course that's when the real struggle started from there on.
No, I was not frightened, I've never really been frightened when bombs have been dropping around me; the only time I panicked was once in my -- what happened is that we arrived as I said in Timor on the 12th of December '41. And from January the 19th, 1942 right through to February the 19th we got either a bombing raid or a strafing raid every day in our position at Koepang. And on one occasion when I heard the Zeros coming in and the air-raid sirens, I tried to run across that plateau to get to the foot of the mountain, or hill, slight hill, where we were in our camp, and that was the longest 100 yards I ever ran in my life and I realise that it was stupidity, that I should have just dropped there and then because if they drop bombs, the coral and other things would cut you to pieces, but if you went down you got a better opportunity of surviving either strafing or bombing. So that is the only time that I can ever stress that I panicked and that I wasn't in control of myself during the war years. But every other time I was bombed or strafed, and I was bombed and strafed on so many occasions, I was always in control of my faculties, and I kept my cool.
I don't know. It's just, I think it's a part of my moral strength, I think that I've got more moral strength than I've got physical strength, even though I wasn't, you know, without physical courage, but I think I've got more moral courage and I've never been fearful of death or men or issues or Japanese, or anything the whole of my life. I've faced what I had to face.
Well, you see my mate, I'll never forget, I had a great mate by the name of Doug Smith and Doug said to me one day, 'It's alright for you, you just stick to it and you can fight. You can stand up to those people.' And I said, 'Look, it's not a matter of that. It's a matter of having the courage … ' I mean, I just feel I've got guts without having to do that, and I've found in life that, you know, whether I had to stand up to Whitlam, or to Hawke, or in my Woolworth days, or even my fighting Packer and Fairfax, I mean, I fought 'em and that was all there was about it and that's it. And I just wouldn't bend to the system, and in fact I think I haven't used it excessively, but I don't think I've ever bent to the system. And I think that's it's that inner moral courage, maybe that confidence my mother gave me, I just don't know but it's always been there. And I think I've always had more moral courage than I've had physical courage. Because there are some things I wouldn't do physically, which I might do morally.
No, it didn't really. I don't think they thought that they were at fault, or that they'd let anyone down. As I said earlier, we had 150 dead, killed in action, we had 40 per cent casualties. They really, the 2nd 40th infantry battalion as I said earlier -- great courageous fighters. I think we protected and fared very well under the circumstances. And I think there was a general feeling, in fact, the Japanese wouldn't believe that there were only about a thousand-odd men on the island, because we'd killed the 500 Japanese, paratroopers, see, they were all dead. And the Japanese frontline troops treated us very well in those early periods. The first nine months of the war there was no real excessive brutality. Although, if somebody escaped from the camp, they were either killed by the Indigenous people or they would be dealt with by the Japanese, other Japanese military. I mean, we knew that some of our blokes were out in the wild. And we know now that they were assassinated but I didn't know of any executions or saw any executions in my time. The first nine months was reasonable treatment by the Japanese. The discipline was hard, like fairly firm. But the food was poor and that's when the malnutrition started to set in. And, you don't realise it, but when you don't get the right type of vitamins, its particularly the scrotum, I mean male scrotum, and woman's genitals must do the same thing, I mean with vitamin deficiency, those women that suffered as prisoners of war must have gone through hell, they must have gone through a much tougher period than males. Because of the vitamin deficiencies, I mean ...
Well, we'd been prisoners for nine months in Timor when they'd trans-shipped us to Java. By the way, when we went to from Koepang we didn't go straight to Surabaya. They took us along to Dili. We no sooner landed in Dili than the iron Lockheed Hudsons started bombing us and of course it wasn't until years later, when I read a book on East Timor that [I found] it was our independent company up in the mountains that were notifying Hong Kong, notifying Darwin, that a ship was in the harbour at Dili and consequently we were bombed. Then we went from there to Surabaya and there were torpedo attacks in that period then too. And then when we got from Surabaya we went right along that north coast and one of the things that I saw in Surabaya of course was about 70 to 80-odd ships scuttled in the harbour and again you could see the effects of the war there. And we went along the coast, the north coast of Java, to Batavia [now Jakarta] station, and then down to what they call the dock areas of Batavia or Tanjung Priok, and we lived in a horse stable there. And it was, you know, these little Timor ponies that used to carry the rickshaw type of little taxis, they used to live there before us. And I might say [laughs] the bugs and the lice and that were something from that period. But I often laugh about this experience, about the scrotum; talk about women talking their complaints. Well, the scrotum was so sore that we couldn't even put trousers on, we just had a bit of a lap-lap round us you see and the first discussion when you'd meet a mate, or meet a mate you hadn't seen for a little while, and you'd say, 'How's your scrotum?' [laughs] They'd pull back the lap-lap and they'd get the scrotum in their hand for examination. Well, every quack, every bloke was a quack, and they had a special solution to it, they used everything to try and solve these problems. But in fact you couldn't solve it at all, you had to solve it internally with food, and it wasn't until we got to Singapore three months later that we were able to get things like Marmite and Vegemite and some of these other things from the Red Cross because the Japanese, the prisoners of war in Singapore, had had Red Cross parcels and we were able to get some of the nourishing food and [vitamin] B1 and the right deficiency to kind of heal up the scrotums. It's painful, I tell you. Painful.
So the whole experience in Timor and your period of active service had taught you a great admiration for the courage of the men and a certain scepticism about the ability of the leaders to organise things?
Yes, I didn't see … although I must say, in fairness to Leggatt, I think Leggatt remained the CO at Timor and once we were in prison camp I think that there was certainly some discipline there, and I think some leadership, 'cause everybody respected Leggatt, and certainly respected the officers of the 2nd 40th battalion. As a matter of fact, at that time John Carrick was also an officer and he was with an anti-tank unit and when Leggatt was taken earlier off Timor, they took the senior officers off Timor, he took John Carrick with him, he was then a Lieutenant. But I only heard good things of Carrick as an officer, so ...
Yeah, later to become a Liberal minister. And in fact, I heard some of my blokes tried to turn the bucket on him, and I said, 'Well, I've never heard a bad thing said against him,' and generally, there's one thing about prison camp or the Army, if an officer's on the nose, you knew about it. And I never heard a hard thing said about Carrick, ever. So Leggatt I would say was a good officer, but I never saw real leadership from officer corps until I really came with the corps up against Weary and what happened here was that Weary Dunlop had been in the Middle East and he'd been shipped off to Java. In fact, if any group of people was sacrificed, it was that last group of people that was sent to Java. And the historical archives can deal with that. They should never have been put off. But thank goodness because a man like Dunlop was some human inspiration to us. Now he was on Java and of course when we came across from Timor we were on Tanjung Priok. They were a camp called Cycle Camp. But when our boat, when we went to Singapore, we went on the same ship but little did we know one another, because one group was in one hold and another group was in another hold. And even in Singapore I'd heard about this Dunlop, but I'd never met him or seen him. But after a fortnight in Singapore, in Changi, we were put on Malayan goods trucks -- now they were steel-sided trucks (they are still about by the way) and they are about a quarter-inch-thick steel on either side and they got kind of an iron roof. And if you touch 'em in the daytime, they'll burn you. On the other hand, if you touch 'em at night-time they'll freeze you. But we used to have 30-odd blokes in there. And it took us from five to seven days to go from Singapore up to Bampong, which is just short of, about 50 or 60 kilometres south of Bangkok. And there we were taken off. And of course we went by trucks then to ... Tarsau Camp.
No, not really. In fact, even when we got to the Burma-Thailand railway we didn't even know what we had to do. There were some rumours that we were going to build a road, normal weather road, but later on [chuckles] we gradually found out exactly what it was. What happened was that after they left, we left the train at Bampong, we went by truck, we were lucky, we went by truck from there to Tarsau and then from Tarsau up to Konyu [River Camp]. And it was at Konyu Camp where our crowd were split up and luckily for me I was a part of that group that marched into Konyu Camp a couple of weeks or a few days after Weary Dunlop had marched into Konyu. And so I was under Weary Dunlop's leadership from January 26th, 1943 right through to the middle of about June of 1944.
Well, because of his outstanding leadership. I mean, he really was, or turned out to be, a remarkable man. We'd only heard rumours about it. When we first went into Konyu Camp it was just a big open space, about twice the size -- it had been cleared from the jungle -- of two big football grounds. And we had to build our own adobe huts to stay there. And it was at that time that I linked up with a group of other people that were originally in Weary's group that had come from Java. One was Bill Belford who was a Spitfire pilot. Another one was Kevin Wylie and the other one was [Donald] 'Scorp' Stuart, who later became quite a famous author. And we decided, the four of us, we decided we wanted to escape. And we'd heard rumours that the British were pushing from ... the Indian border down through an area between oilfields, between Mandalay and Rangoon. And so we had decided that we really would like to set out a plan. We had set up catapults and we were practising how to kill wild fowl and things like that and live off the bush, and we decided we should really have a discussion with the colonel and we went and saw Colonel Dunlop, and Bill Wearne was there also. And Weary gave us a great hearing. Or 'The Colonel' as we always called him; in fact I always called him The Colonel right until after I was a member of parliament. And anyway, The Colonel gave us a good hearing but Bill Wearne got stuck into us and told us it was just an adventurous proposition and we didn't have firm information that the British were making any advances and it was an impossible task and the reprisals that would be taken. So we left of course not so very cranky with The Colonel but very cranky with Bill Wearne. [laughs] Of course we found, if one reads the diaries, they had a radio at that time, they knew exactly what was happening. Certainly the British were making no advances beyond the India-Burma border. And so there was no more talk about escape from there on. But the great part of Dunlop's leadership, I came into contact with it, was at the Hintok Mountain Road Camp, which a lot of people call the Hintok Road Camp, and we were there for most of 1943, and it was the second half of '43 that the serious deaths occurred. But in our camp we were a bit different than most other camps. Weary would, he had the Japanese, to cover a sham. Under the Geneva Convention, they had paid the officers and the medical orderlies a small allowance or an allowance of money. And the men who went out to work were paid a small wage. What Weary would do, [he] would pool the great bulk of that wealth into a central fund and with the money from that we would go out and get people to trade with the Thai traders and the Chinese traders and get medical supplies and food to look after our sick and our needy. And we worked in our camp by the strong looking after the weak, the young looking after the old and the fit looking after the sick, and of course collectivising our wealth. And I give the example in my maiden speech of where, just before the wet season came in, about 400 Britishers came in out of H Force and for temporary arrangements they had tents. The officers took the best tents, the senior NCOs took the next best and the men got the dregs. And you know, within six weeks less than 50 of those men marched out and less than half of those survived ultimately. They either died of cholera or dysentery and, I said in my maiden speech, that only a creek divided us: on the one side the law of the jungle prevailed and on the other side the principles of socialism. Of course, these days I talk, I don't want to upset a lot of servicemen and then I just talk about the collective spirit, but we worked together under Weary. And it was that great collective spirit. And Weary's recognised my concept of that collectivism many times since. Now, really, the tragedy of that, to see the deaths, to walk over those dead people, particularly those Britishers. They would lie out in the mud of a morning where you have to go to work and it was such a depressing figure. The cholera is such a terrifying complaint. I mean, I'm a born optimist, I always thought I'd make it. The only time I had any doubt in my mind was during this cholera period because you would leave work of a morning and then return home at night and one of your mates had aged 40 to 50 years in a day, in less than a day. And they dehydrated that kind of greyish green colour. You know, their eyes had sunk back in, their temples had sunk in and there was this tragic look about them, that they would discharge fluid from the mouth and from the penis and from the rear, and the only way that you could get it back in was to strap them down and put distilled water saline into their veins and of course that's what Weary and his other doctors did. We had two other doctors with Weary, a Dr Arthur Moon, and a Dr Ewen Corlette. They'd all, the three of them, been in the Middle East together and they came out. And they were all, they were, magnificent people. In fact, the more I read Weary's diaries, the more I understood, and particularly Sue Ebury's biography of Weary, I understood more about it. In fact, I thought Weary's diaries understated our problems but Sue's book develops more fully in private discussion both with Weary and with those people who Sue had discussed the problem with. And I think that any person that really wants to know more about the struggles of that railway, that biography of Weary really sets it out very clearly. And he, you know, his leadership was so … he was such an unassuming man, and very conservative too in so many ways. But a tenacious and driving force and the whole question of setting the example. I told the story recently of Jack Prescott who was a butcher by trade but he was our cook and we very rarely got fresh meat, but on this occasion we just got in some cattle and Jack knew where the best cut was so he just takes this lovely cut of meat, fillet steak, and takes it up to The Colonel and he says, 'Colonel, you got a lovely meal for the night.' And the Colonel says, 'Jack, you just put it back into the stew with the rest of the men's because that's the best we can do.' And of course Jack was telling this joke, this story -- against himself really. It was Weary's great strength that ... it was the service, it was his background and his training. And Sue Ebury in her book talks about this and she understands him so fully. Because you see it was that British tradition where in fact he'd got a lot of his training and his education, you know, before the war broke out [so] that he was instilled with many of the traditions: your men, your horse, your self, kind of mentality. [laughs] But here's me, I believe in the collective spirit. I argue so often, you know, why is it that when we are in crisis we need each other, we need each other to survive: when we're in flood, when we're in famine or we're in drought, or difficult economic circumstances, we seem to need each other, but for other times, for some reason or other, the individual, you know, is the supreme being. It's the collective being I really believe so very much and even though I made that simple speech and expression in my maiden speech, when they were writing the history of the Labor Party they said, 'Uren had a crude type of socialism.' Well, I might tell you that I've travelled a long way in my political spectrum but I still stand back to those basic fundamentals of life that it is right of the strong to look after the weak and the young to look after the old and the fit to look after the sick, and we should be a collective society surviving, because on this planet of ours we have got limited resources; we really need to work together and we need to build bridges between peoples and nations of the world. That's what life's all about. And that simple philosophy that I drew out of my experience of serving under Weary has grown. I mean, I picked a few other things up along the way in my lifetime but that had an enormous influence on the base and that's you know the compassion from my mother and those issues are so very important.
Yes, well, I was 20 years of age when I was taken prisoner; by this time I was 21. I was 21 when I walked into Weary's camp and he was I think 35 or 36. And, you don't realise, but you know, he seemed so much older, so much more worldly. In fact, I'd remembered as a young boy, as a young teenager, I'd seen Weary play rugby football on Manly Oval international, yeah. See, because Manly was the the heart of rugby union in those days. And he was a great footballer. I'd seen Orb, him playing with Orb Hodson, yeah. And other great players of that time. So I've got happy memories of Weary, and he still remains with me.
Well, nobody avoids getting sick. My major problems, I s'pose, arising out of prison life was, you know, malaria. I've had well over a hundred attacks of malaria. In fact, the last six months of the war, I had malaria like clockwork every 10 days. It was four days malaria, six days off, four days on, six days off. And generally when you get malaria you get the rigor, the strong rigor on the first day and then the next day you're weaker but then the third day you get the rigor again then the fourth day you seem to be alright. So I had a lot of days on my back, at least 400 days on my back, of sickness, on malaria alone, apart from amoebic dysentery and other things, but again you draw from sickness; it's the, it's a humbling effect. The person who led me into politics was Franklin Delano Roosevelt and I'd read all about Roosevelt, in his earlier years in the '30s and it was talk, you know, of the suffering of his polio and all that. Every time I got crook my mind would go back to Roosevelt on the one hand cursing Hitler on the other. It was strange but so much in my thoughts lying there, you know, thinking about how sick and how crook you were, my mind always travelled back to Roosevelt and my readings and my thoughts of Roosevelt and his struggles of rehabilitating America out of the great Depression, and the struggles [for] economic justice in his country under his new deal programs.
Oh, oh yes, I was an avid reader. My Aunty Mary used to get the Saturday Evening Post and there was a syndicated article, I can't say who it was by, it was at least 12 articles in depth and I read every word of that. And lived, in many cases, every word of it, the struggles that went on within the cabinet itself. You had the social worker, Harry Hopkins, who said you really had to put money in the hands of workers or put food in their guts and clothes on their backs and shoes on their feet, [which] will help the economy to stimulate. And on the other hand there was Harold Ikes, who really was the Minister for the Interior, that built Boulder Dam, who was the real dour Scotsman, who believed in bricks and mortar. Well, be as it may, it would be wonderful in Australia if either of those two philosophies really functioned today, that they would be doing for the public good to get rid of the scourge of unemployment. But at least the the Minister for the Interior, Ikes, really wanted to built bricks and mortar and ultimately of course that's what Hopkins did as well, but it was the early stimulus that had to be created to get them out of that early Depression that was in America, and I used to read those arguments that went round the Roosevelt cabinet.
No, by this time I'm more or less living a lot of my time with my Aunty Mary who lived in Five Dock. And my mother and father, as you know, had had moved in the late '30s down to Wollongong, so my second home apart from the Army was my aunty Mary.
No, her husband earlier on was a traveller for Dewar's Whiskey and he used to get this Saturday Evening Post, and in those days it was quite a magazine, and anyway [there were] these wonderful Roosevelt stories that I read; every one of them.
No, no, even when I did that, some of this was back in Timor. Some of that thinking that I told you was back in Timor. I was a very strong Christian, in fact I remained a Christian until I was 45 years of age. About 1964-65 I stepped away from my faith. I love men and women of goodwill and people of great Christian faith have been an inspiration to my life and Christ is one of them, I mean so, but I had moved away from my faith ultimately. In those early days I would get down and pray, kneel and pray, in front of my colleagues, there were about 30 of us in the huts together and then I found that I was praying mainly for myself and I hate hypocrisy. And I stopped praying [chuckles] and I don't think I ever went back to praying again whilst a prisoner of war, although my faith still remained with me. So that that was a part of me, it was in different parts of my prison life, but particularly I had a lot of malaria even in Timor and, because I'd got malaria within days of landing in Timor, even before the action broke out, I spent Christmas of 1941 in the Koepang Hospital, base hospital, with malaria, from then right through in fact until well after the war.
Well yes, that's the big question mark with everyone and it was the only time I was not confident of making it. I was always confident that I would get out of prison camp, but somehow or other you had little control over whether you would get that dreaded germ that would give you this terrible disease of cholera. And that really did always give me a fear and a fright. I mean, in many Army cases, for instance when I was in prison camp, I had many other complaints, like you know for instance dysentery. People look at these adobe huts but when you've got your slit trenches and we used to have latrines and in fact one of the great things about our camp was that our sanitary arrangements were set up much superior than most other camps. But for 15 months when I was on that railway line I never had a firm motion. I mean, there were times when what I would have to do, I would be on the slats, and you would sleep on the slats with just a blanket over it, and I used to have a four-gallon drum of kerosene at the bottom of the thing, and I'd have to get up and try to get to the toilet. Well, once you've left the hut it would be -- you might only get 10 or 15 feet and you would be nearly up to your knees in mud and before you would get there it would be oozing out of you and you just couldn't do a damn thing about it. And you are covered in mud, and you would have to come back and wash yourself. And that just wasn't one night, it was night after night after night after night, so that in itself, and I didn't know, I mean I knew I had dysentery, but I didn't know I had amoebic dysentery, but ultimately that's what I had. So I mean, I'm lucky, I'm just one of the lucky ones because I've got over all those things.
Well, the work was extremely hard and heavy. I did do some of the embankment work but most of the time I was on the hammer-and-tap crews. And I, luckily for me, my partner was an old chap by the name of Harry Baker who'd been a cane-cutter in North Queensland. And they'd set a darg first of all. The darg is the contract, of 80 centimetres a hole and you could go home, and then they built it from 80 centimetres up to a metre then a metre 20, then a metre 50, two metres, two metres 50, three metres, a day, and then ultimately they made them work all day. But that was the contract work, under the Japanese. And of course some of the show-offs really got stuck into it and got home early and that was that and the weak, then they would blast, and of course the weak had to pick up the blast rock and put it into embankments, and some of those people would work from 16 to 20 hours a day. If you talk about the six kilometres, six or seven kilometres, they had to walk and work and then get home again, it was just hell for the sick and the weak, but I was always strong. But the great thing about Harry Baker was, he said, 'Look Tom, just take your time, let the hammer do the work' -- an eight-pound plumb hammer -- 'let the hammer do the work. Don't bust yourself, those blokes are busting their guts.' And of course, they did. They got sick and when they got sick they went down and they were the same as anybody else. But so Harry's guidance, and knowing how to do hard work, the science of an intelligent worker, could transfer his knowledge to me and that's what helped me survive. In such a way. So I owe a lot to Harry Baker.
Yes, that's right. There's a way of doing hard work in a scientific way, and doing it in a foolish way. And taking your time about it.
Well, the daily life is -- first of all you would get up in the morning and very, very early, at daybreak, sometimes dark; it was still dark when you were awakened. And then you would line up and you would get pap. Now pap is just a kind of porridge, made out of rice and [you] keep on adding water and keep stirring it and stirring it. A bowl of pap would be your breakfast and then they would pack your lunch, would be a level pint of white rice and very little else. That was why you would get sick because there wasn't the vitamins to go with it. But the pap was just water and when you were walking -- you had to walk six or seven kilometres to work -- and I might say that the fluids go through you and by the time you've had two or three [laughs] wees on the way, your breakfast was gone. And you had to work virtually on an empty stomach. And the other cruel thing about walking to work, very few of us had our shoes left and either some would wrap bandages around our feet to try and stop us from sliding down the inclines, cos when you are going down, you are going down a path and it's wet and you know how slippery it gets … But the worst of it was when your feet would go right underneath and then you would drop down onto it and it would shake every bone in your body, I mean, really it was the most agonising experience, and you would go through this, and this is going out to work. And it's very hard to explain the hurt of that fall. But you just wouldn't do it once, you did it five, 10, 15, sometimes 20 times getting down a hill. That's the way it was. but then when you'd get out on the job you'd do this contract work and you'd be working and of course you'd be perspiring; you can imagine being in a cutting. If you look at Hellfire Pass, for instance, it's 50 metres in depth. And the heat of the tropical sun coming down on you and it's just oozing out of you, the perspiration. But then the next minute there's a cold tropical storm hits you and you're freezing. I mean, you're freezing cold. Going from that extreme heat to freezing from the rainiest, tropical rain. And then when your work was finished you would make your way home. Now I'm saying I was one of the lucky ones because, I suppose, there was a very rare occasion that I wasn't back home and showered and bathed and what have you at a reasonable time. But the other people that used to have to struggle in, they could struggle in at every hour of the morning, it was just a terrible thing, and of course the Japs were pressurising, you know, the doctors, Corlett and Moon and Dunlop, to keep the quota up, to keep the system moving. And of course where the Japanese say the Korean guards were the ones who [were cruel], not with us it wasn't, it was the Japanese engineers who were the cruel ones. They were the militarist animals. And their brutality was something vicious. And my feeling about the Japanese in the first two-and-a-half years I was a prisoner of war I felt so strongly against them that if I could have exterminated [them] from the planet I would have done so. I mean, I just would have exterminated every one of them, they were so vicious, so cruel and so sadistic. And it's not much good trying to describe their cruelty, because their, their, their cruelty is indescribable. That that's the brutality of the people. But you know it's strange, I didn't have much respect for the Dutch either. And yet here was this great hero of mine, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, a Dutchman. So I thought to myself, 'Gotta do a bit of thinking about that, Tom.' And as I went to Japan in the last 12 months of the war I was very lucky again. I went to a place called Saganosekei.
Well, first of all, after we went to Hintok Mountain Camp they took us down to Hintok River Camp and from there we went up to Kin Sayok, which is still further up towards Burma. I never got to Burma at all, I was on the Thai side all the time. And from Kin Sayok, that's when the railway was linked up, I saw the -- what do you call it? -- comfort women, go up through the trains there, and I saw the old F battalion, Australian POWs, come back in the trains, who marched up and really did it tough, they really suffered probably more than any other group of Australians. And then after having left Kin Sayok we went back down to what they called the rest camp at Tamuan. And that's when we started to get bananas and egg, fresh eggs and some nourishment and we started to get fit again. And I wasn't there too long when they started sending us off to Japan. And of course they sent us back down again, down through those inhuman Malayan railway carriages back down to Singapore. Didn't stay there very long. Then they put us on a tramp steamer. Was about four-and-a-half thousand tons. They put a thousand troops on there, and it took us 70 days to go from Singapore to Japan. Anyway, having got to Japan, I was sent to prison camp, Saganosekei. It actually is owned by the Nippon Steel Company I found out afterwards. But it was the manager who was there, spoke good English and he was a very cultured person, and very human person, and we also worked with old retired Japanese workers alongside us, even the Koreans, indentured labour. You've got to recognise that the Koreans were indentured labour and anyway I found that the compassion and the consideration of the old Japanese were so decent and at the end of it we worked three shifts and at the end of your shift you would go into the communal baths together, the Japanese, the Koreans and the Australians, all together, and there was a bridge of -- we didn't understand their language, they didn't understand ours, so the old body language started to come in and I found that bridge of understanding and I grew as a person in this period myself. And I found it wasn't the Japanese I hated but militarism and fascism and of course that's been my struggle all my life, against those aggressive people who want to be vicious to other individuals. One of the things I regret about Saganosekei … in 1960 for instance, I went back to Saganosekei and I told them about this manager and they arranged for me to see him. And I went to see him and he'd been purged by the MacArthur Government, because anybody that had had anything to do with POWs working under them were purged, for better or for worse. And the tragedy about this great compassionate man, he suffered just the same as others suffered. Some of them deserved to suffer but he should not have suffered and the trouble was that even when I came back -- I'd also gone to China at that time and I actually went to Japan for the sixth world conference against A and H bombs and of course went over to China later [chuckles], and when I came back to Australia I thought the the roof of Parliament House was going to fall in. Anyway. I really did try to make representation for his case, but I wasn't tenacious about it. Now normally I am a tenacious person, and one of my regrets in my life of people I've let down is this wonderful Japanese manager, who I think was a man of humanity, and a man of justice, and did the right thing by us and I let him down. [pause] I regret that.
Oh, lost his whole livelihood, nothing, no pension, no nothing. Completely purged.
Oh, just by his family's charity.
Yes. At that time; of course I think things have changed since then. But that was the situation in 1960 and of course that was 15 years after the war. So you know, there's been some injustices done on both sides. But I don't like letting people down. I don't like letting the Australian people down, I don't like letting individuals down.
Yes. I mean, they have changed a lot, in fact, even though they've changed a lot, even though I believe there's no progress in hate, I still believe that we must fight fascism and militarism and we must really I think [INTERRUPTION]
I was at a place called Omuta. About three months before the war ended they transferred us from Saganosekei. What occurred on Saganosekei is that when we first arrived there they had these old ornaments and that from China and bronze ornaments, and we used toss them into the furnace but in the end, with scrap, with all the scrap ...
Yeah, well, for the cartridge cases and of course in the end all they had was the soot that would come out of the furnace, they would sweep that up and put that back in the furnace. Oh we could see, three months before the war, that Japan was on its knees industrially. And then they moved us from there across to Omuta, which was about 80 kilometres as the crow flies from Nagasaki; it's in what they call the Fukuoka Group. And we were on lead smelting works, some of our fellas were in coal mines, but I was in the lead-smelting works for a while until I was given a job in the compound itself and it was really working in the compound itself that morning that I saw the blast of the second bomb. And we didn't see the mushroom cloud, but we saw the discolouration of the sky and it was that crimson colour, that beautiful sunset magnified about a hundred times over. And you could never really forget that graphic description, colour, of the sky that day.
No. Nobody knew what that thing was. We thought it was a big ammunition dump or something like that. And then several days later the Japanese came in and said the big bomb, the war's all over, started bringing out the Red Cross parcels and so forth and soon after that General MacArthur had made an announcement over the air that the prisoners of war in Japan were to be the 'garrison' of Japan and they started planes flying over and parachutes started to float down with coloured parachutes, with these food canisters and all that and so we were quite on seventh heaven. Because I had worked in the camp just prior to the surrender, the American in charge there knew me, of course, knew that I was a fighter, said could I get three of my other mates because they were setting up what they called a garrison to police the town, so there was four of each denomination -- there was the Americans, the British, the Dutch, who was Indonesian and Dutch, and the Australians. And so we made what were called town marshals. And the very interesting thing about it was that we would really police the town and the brothels and the courts. In fact you would find ... the Japanese police would bring in the Japanese women with either some food or blankets or whatever had come down, because our blokes had bartered them with the Japanese to share the rights of their daughters and other such things. I mean, you've got no idea what fraternisation went on within that short period of time.
Yeah, well, the most interesting thing is Mitsubishi actually owned this mining area and was still one of the very few buildings standing in this city of Omuta, because the town had been burnt down in an incendiary bombing raid about a month before the war was ended. And half of our camp was burnt with it. But one of the palatial palaces or buildings, lovely big building, with this headquarters -- and I always remember the red upholstery in the seats and the red tablecloths and what have you. [chuckles] Anyway, we were served by the Japanese, prisoners one minute, being served off the next, I mean it was just ironical. But I'd become the super-democrat because what irritated me, in those days, I know there is this function of the Japanese bowing to one another as a matter of courtesy, but during the war years if you had a Japanese guard for instance on a public building and a woman went past it, they would stop, they would bow to the guard and then proceed. Or if the policeman was coming along for instance, they would stop and bow to the police. It looked subservient to me and so I banned [it] overnight; no more bowing in Omuta by the Japanese women. I didn't care if the Japanese men bowed, I just [thought that] the Japanese women shouldn't bow to men any more. So the judiciary, the police, would bring them in for punishment, the women, and I just couldn't find myself inflicting punishment, I just chastised them and say, 'Don't do it again,' and go home and let them take the thing to work with them. [laughs]
Oh, I think that I've always been a driver for equality of the sexes and I've always respected women even though I've no doubt it's not without my mother's influence, but I've had enormous respect and I've found throughout my life my great friends have been women, more so than men. I've had some great men comrades, but I've found that most of my great friends have been women in my life. And still are, by the way.
Well, I can't say that. Of any. At the time. All I can say is I don't think they treated them badly, I mean, I never saw anything bad. In fact, I think there was very little VD, for instance, transferred from our people if they went into the brothels or if they fraternised with Japanese women. There was very little VD reported amongst our prisoners of war at the end of the war, particularly amongst our group, but certainly if I may take you back to my Japanese experience, my early experience of Japanese prison camp, again the question of Timor, [then] what had happened is that just a few days before the battle started, opened up on the 19th of February 1942 in Timor, about 100 Britishers had come over to us. They had travelled for three months going from England round the Cape of Good Hope, up to Java, stayed there a few nights and then transferred across to us just before the action broke out. Soon after we'd gone into prison camp, 20 per cent of them were put into sick bay with VD. They'd got it, they'd got it in Jakarta, the venereal disease. Now this was not the case as I know it with those people that had relationships, sexual relationships in Japan; in fact there was a certain cleanliness and a certain -- I mean you got a receipt, I understand, where you could trace back the person involved if there was any conditions involved. I think there was a kind of good relationship. There were funny incidents. For instance, I told you about the pap situation. Well, when we were in prison camp in the early part of it, when we got to Omuta, when I was still working at the lead smelting works, the town had been burnt down and what would happen, we'd get on a tram one end and we'd go down from one end of the city -- we were on one end and the industrial centre was down the other -- and that end survived, but the township was flattened. In one night. Just burnt with incendiaries. Well, because we wouldn't hold, it's just impossible to hold your bladder, and there was a canal there and once they'd get out of the tram they'd let that go and stand on the edge of the canal and do their business. And the Japanese women used to -- because they had no homes they'd dug caves into the side of the clay mountains -- they'd all come out and they thought [laughs] it was a great act every morning; they'd watch the Australians pee into the canal. So y'know that's what you get, cross-fertilisation with human beings.
I was only there for about, I'd say, a week. It was an interesting experience and [chuckles] I suppose I never felt a big shot or anything, I never had tickets on myself, I've always kept my feet on the ground. But I just felt compassion for people who had suffered, really. I didn't feel any brutality at all to anyone.
No, the reason being was -- well first of all let me put it this way. First of all I've always been a romantic and if I was to have sex I wanted the other person to have me just as I would want them. But I'd also remind, was always imprinted in my mind, the experience of these 100-odd, the percentage of these 100-odd Britishers, who'd got VD in a couple of overnight stays in Jakarta. So that never ever left me [chuckles].
Well, I wrote a letter to a dear friend recently. Because you see in a period of life I think that one can talk about oneself a little bit too much. And I'm going through a period of my life, particularly, I've just come back from Vietnam and (in) Vietnam I did a lot more reading about Ho Chi Minh and I think he was one of the great humble men, a very humble man, and I think greatness really is humility. And I've really tried to look at myself in a much more self-critical sort of way to stop blowing your bugles about what you've done [chuckles], Tom. And it's the service of the human family, service to is what it's all about. Now, in a way, I think there was a certain arrogance because where I'd lived by a certain principle that my mother's and my Christian philosophy had put into me, and I'd lived up to those ideals, in my own way I really felt a little smug that I'd 'made it', you know, in such a way, in such a principled way, without bending the knee. In fact, I think I'm a bit critical of myself about that certain smugness.
Yeah well, I was a bit of a purist as a young man. And I mean, don't get me wrong, in prison camp, because I thought I was a bit bigger than most people, and stronger and fitter than most people, if I had to go, there was a log, in prisoner of war camp, and there was two ends of the log, I'd pick up the heavy end as a matter of responsibility. And I'd do things which I thought was my responsibility. In fact, in some ways, without being an elected leader, I just arbitrarily said, 'Well look, we know who's crook, we know who's sick, he can't carry such-and-such a load,' and I'd delegate, 'Come on you big bugger,' or I'd call them some other adjective, 'you can carry that and I'll carry this and we'll help em home.' So there was a kind of a fairness; that philosophy in a way that old Weary had given me, you know, kept on going.
Well, it had grown in me, that that's what I felt I wanted to be.
But even today, you know, I'm still trying to do that, I'm still trying to serve it, but you've got to do it in such a way that you don't have to tell other people you do it. You know what I mean? I finished my book and I said it's my relationship with people, my greatest reward is that when you walk down the street it's the way people treat you, it's the look of their eyes and their faces, that give you strength, and I said Packer couldn't buy it with all his millions. Well, that's what life's about. It's about -- look, there is no greater public service, going into public life, to serve and give to your fellow human beings. If you are not even in public life, it's giving; giving in my view is the greatest strength you can do. And people say, 'Ohhh, you get hurt, giving.' To hell with that -- you just keep on giving. I'll tell you, in the long term you'll get paid back. I mean, I know I have. And it's not that I haven't been without sorrow in my life, I have, but life has been good to me, people have been good to me, and I feel so wonderful about the way people treat me in that way.
Well, the example was set, and you either be guided by that example, or you don't. And now, some ways there I'd drawn from Roosevelt, I'd drawn from my mother, in those early years. I'd drawn from Chaldjian who I worked with. There was another great person in my early army life called Norm Avery who I worked with. He himself, his philosophy, was that same giving, sharing, kind of broader philosophy -- tolerance, patience, good over evil. So you know those things all blended into my mind and helped mature and develop me.
Well [laughs], I suppose, I s'pose it was a type of university degree, yes.
Yeah well, in a way, where on the one hand I've had a certain security and confidence, on the other hand, I've always had a kind of, I suppose, an inferiority complex about the question of lack of formal education. And I couldn't apply for jobs, you know, and show any qualification. I'd left school at 13 and that's all I've got to show. And so I tried to get employment, so I first of all ...
Well, after we were in Japan, we decided they couldn't get the shipping into Nagasaki Bay because of the contamination and we had to wait until it was decontaminated, but we heard information that there were American B-17s which had been sent up to carry freight into a place called Kagoshima on the southern end of the tip of the island of Kyushu, the southern island of Japan, and that if you could get down there they would fly you out, and so I was due to go out and I got another attack of malaria. So my Scotch mate was Jock Cowie, who was in the Gordon Highlanders, and Babe Daniels, and another mate of mine called Sid Irons, they went on and I told 'em I'd meet up later. And so, instead of being on my back for four days I think I waited two days or maybe three days and when I thought I was right enough, up I went. I went with a group of Americans and we got by train nearly to Kagoshima, but then the bridge had been blown for the railway and the only way you could get over was by car, by truck, so we commandeered a truck. And we got over in this truck and when I first saw the Americans I thought they were men from Mars because they had the different helmet (when we became prisoners they had the same Tommy helmet as we had in the First World War). They changed their helmet. They were a very yellow colour because they had been on Atabrin to overcome the malaria. So they were the strangest looking people, I wondered who they were. So anyway, we went into this camp and they just fed us and looked after us and I'll never forget that night, the arguing with them; they said, 'our Navy did this' and 'our Navy did that, it's the greatest Navy in the world,' and of course everybody knows that the greatest navy in the world [is] the British Navy [laughs] -- the greatest in the world, talk about brainwashed [laughs] . Course, I found out later that all the things they were saying was on the knocker. So, there was that that experience. And I must say, their compassion and generosity was just wonderful. But if I can mention -- because our camp was about 1700 strong and it was Americans, British, Dutch and Australians, the Americans are the worst prisoners I've ever seen in my life. They were quislings of the worst type, snivelling, cringing, degrading individuals, you just could not imagine them. Not all, but the overwhelming majority of them. They would sell their own brother to survive. I mean, they were degrading people. And here I found that having gone through that experience and seen that and then seen this secure, generous Americans, and there's no doubt about it -- an American when he's secure, or any individual when they're secure, they can be so warm and generous and giving. So that in itself was an experience.
Well again, I think it's the survival of the fittest mentality amongst them. They never had the camaraderie. I mean not all Australian camps were as good as ours under Weary Dunlop, but be as it may, there is something about a camaraderie among Australians to one another, and even the British, there was a certain dignity amongst them to some extent, but I'm only talking about this experience I saw personally with the Americans in that camp. In fact, the CO of that camp, a Lieutenant Little, was court-martialled later. He was a regular officer and I don't know what the final outcome was, but he was court-martialled and put up before some tribunal for collaboration with the Japanese. Of course somebody must have charged him, somewhere in the system. But again it's the magnitude of the Americans. For instance, when we left Kagoshima we left very early in the morning and it was still dark and when we flew over Okinawa, you know, we could see the city, we thought it was the city of lights, but in fact it was all the ships in the bay. It was all the ships in the bay that were there.
Yeah. All ready to invade Japan, of course. And there were thousands of ships! I mean you've got no idea. All these lights -- of course didn't know what they were and when we eventually went, flew out, it was daylight and you could see what they had done to Okinawa, the airstrips that they had done, the magnitude of work they'd done in such a short period of time. And you could see the might and the ingenuity and the organisation of [the] American war machine was such an impressive thing, it really was graphic in your mind, just to look down on to see their organisational base. And if I could just tell you a funny story about Okinawa. When you are up on the front lines they must had Red Cross huts that the men didn't have to buy anything, it was just go in and help yourself. Anyway, it was certainly help yourself with us. We were told and I had a pair of Air Force overalls and I tied a piece of string around it and in those days I loved chocolates and I got onto these Hershey chocolate bars. I went in and I filled up the whole of the top of [these overalls] [chuckles] with Hershey chocolate bars and of course from there we flew out to Clark Field in the Philippines. And we remained there 30 days. I was 10 stone when I was released. And within 30 days of remaining in Manila I was 14 stone. So, I put on a bit of weight within 30 days.
Yeah, most of it Hershey chocolate bars. And the interesting thing was that there were some great songs, the Andrews Sisters' Rum & Coca Cola, they played that from morning noon and night. It was quite a song for us.
Great. We actually waited as I say the 30 days in Manila and the HMS Formidable took us, stripped down, and we were all taken aboard ...
Well, we went out on the HMS Formidable, and they stripped it down and we sailed, the captain told us exactly what day we'd come in, what time of the day, and he said we would sail through Sydney Heads at 8am the morning of the 13th of October, 1945, and we did that right to the second. Now we sailed off, of course it was a wonderful feeling going up the harbour and then pulling in at Circular Quay docks and there was one sign there, 'Welcome Home Tom Uren,' and it wasn't my mother, it was my Aunty Mary, but we weren't allowed to meet our loved ones at the Circular Quay dock, we were to meet them out at Ingleburn. So they put us straight on to buses and we were sent out to Ingleburn and it's a funny feeling about freedom. It was really going along Parramatta Road, of all places, in this double-decker bus, and I'm on the top deck, that I started to feel, you know, I got this feeling of freedom. Now it's ironical because first of all I was not a member of a political party, I was going out to an area which I never dreamed I would represent for about a third of a century, and there I am with this wonderful feeling of freedom and of course when we got to Ingleburn I met all my family and all my loved ones and we went back to Five Dock to my Aunty Mary's place, where the Urens and Miller clan just met and welcomed me home. We were all there, everyone was there, except my younger brother Les, who was on service up in Mount Morgan. I stayed for about a week and then I got permission to go up there. I'll never forget first of all flying up from Sydney to Brisbane. I think it was what they call a DC-4. It was stripped down. You had to have a blanket around you because there was no air-conditioning or anything. And you sit either side, and facing one another. That was my first air trip in Australia, although I'd flown in the B-17s from Kagoshima to Okinawa.
So here you were back in Australia, and you had to find your way, you had to decide what you were going to do next. Now with your lack of education, there was postwar reconstruction and some of the men were going and getting qualifications. Did you look at that at all?
No I didn't. No, I really went first of all to Jack Dunleavy's gymnasium, and that's where I started to train, right from the early part. And I kept on breaking down, in health, because of malaria. And there was a doctor at Repat given me called Alan McGuinness, who really became quite a renowned doctor in Australian profession. And he said to me, 'Tom look, if you really want to have a chance of making it then I suggest you have at least a year's lay-off, don't do anything for a year.' And that's what I did. And so for a year I just looked after myself and didn't do much -- but what occurred the first Christmas we got back, we arrived back in October, I had gone to visit my mother but I was a bit lost in so many ways. And around about Christmas time, I spent Christmas in hospital, with another malaria attack. It was where Merrylands Park is now and just off Woodville Road there, first of all there was an American naval hospital and then the Australian Army took it over later and I was in their hospital. And so that was in December but I got a telegram from my mate Babe Daniels (I was staying with [his] family) to come down to the south coast at Illawarra and they said 'come down' and I sent back a telegram, 'Is Patty Palmer free?'
Pattie Palmer is one of my POW mates' sisters. Billy Palmer was a part of the group. There was a group of us: there was Billy Dircks, there was Babe Daniels and there was Siddy Irons and myself. And we were real close mates in prison camp. And Billy had shown me this photograph during the war of this lovely brunette and lovely eyes and her name was Pattie Palmer, and I asked was she free, or was she connected? They said, 'Come down'. 'Course when I got there, I found out everybody was sweet on her. So, that's when my courting started. [laughs] And I'll never forget as long as I live, I was a terrible dancer, I only wriggle you see, and so the first time I get up on the dance floor on New Year's Eve night of 1945 to have this dance with Pattie Palmer. I'm so uptight that I've got her wrist in my hand I've got my arm around her and it's a waltz and I don't know how to waltz and I felt so awkward that when we all finished, Pattie in her mischievous way said to me, 'Do you think I can have my wrist back now?' [laughs] 'Or my hand back now?' Because I'd stopped the circulation of the blood in her hand because I'd held it so tightly. Well, I didn't think I was making much progress with her. But a couple of days later we, her Aunty Maisy and myself and Pattie went back on a train from Wollongong to Sydney, and we talked the whole way. And I think that was the beginning and I must say that I made a date with her the following night. I had to go home at her place; instead of taking her a present I used my ration cards to buy her a length of fresh material for her mother [laughs] and take home four yards of material. Her mother had been wonderful to me, by the way, during this New Year's Eve period. So I take home this four yards of dress material which was so, it was, like, you couldn't get it for hen's teeth.
[laughing] So I made a wonderful hit with my mother-in-law. And so that was the starting of our courting days. we courted one another, that was early January, we were engaged by the 8th of February and we waited 13 months, long engagement, before we were married -- and it was the longest 13 months I ever spent in my life.
No. No. No. No. It's um, it's a remarkable thing. She's quite a remarkable woman, my wife. And she was a further part of my development of my life but she was very special. She's the nicest human being I've ever known.
I was working as a clerk at the Department of Munitions and that was in [the] David Jones building and she was working in the other building at David Jones, so we used to see each other a fair bit at lunchtime, so we saw a fair bit of each other and we'd go to the pictures together in those days; she was a quite keen picture-goer. And we would go to the beaches on the weekend and we'd go down the south coast and meet my mother and father. It was a warm friendship, but 13 months is a hell of a long [INTERRUPTION]
Well, first of all I started to train, and go to Jack Dunleavy's gymnasium and do my training and keeping fit, but I kept breaking down in health. And in doing so I went back to what was called the Repat Department then, now Veterans' Affairs, and they put me onto Dr Alan McGuinness, the doctor, and he looked after me and he was a wonderful person. And he suggested to me that I should have at least a year off and that's what I did; in that year I just did nothing. I just courted my girl. And just tried to get fit. And then when we got married I travelled down to Wollongong and that's what happened. In the early days you couldn't get a house, it wasn't possible, but my wife's people had this holiday home at Lake Illawarra South and of course that's where I went down and the first four months of our marriage we spent it there. And I worked at the Port Kembla steelworks, I was a builder's labourer on that job and then I started to train at home. And eventually, when I felt I was fit enough, after the year, I thought I would give it another go and I discussed it with my wife and it was decided that I should go over to England because there weren't many fights in Australia, it was very difficult to get fights as a heavyweight. So, after dialogue with Patricia, I went down and talked to one of the shipping captains and he agreed that he would take me on as a supernumerary, which would pay me, I think you get a shilling a month, but you live with the officers on the ship and so I signed up that way. But the night that we left Newcastle, and that's where I joined the ship even though I'd signed the documents at Port Kembla, they were they were at sea, they were what they call a 'fireman-trimmer' short and they couldn't get one from the Seamen's Union. They said, 'Do you, would you be prepared to do it?' Paid 19 pounds sterling a month and at two shillings an hour overtime, and would I like to do the job? And I agreed that I would do it. In fact it was [the] most foolish mistake I ever made, because it was the intensive heat, working in front of those fires, that brought the malaria bout out on me again. And that I worked particularly hard and I only trimmed, in other words cleared the ashes away, for the first trip from here to Suva. We went to Suva and then to Lavuka in Fiji and into Samoa and then across the Pacific through the Panama Canal. Just after we'd left Suva, one of the firemen got a backlash from the fire and was burnt and therefore I had to take his place and we would do six hours on and six hours off. Now you would think that that sounds pretty good, but it's living under primitive conditions, in fact they were frightful conditions, you had to shower or bath in a bucket of water and because I no longer lived with the officers I moved aft with the men and it was very hard laborious work. In fact it was a 7000-ton tramp steamer, you had to keep your pressure up at 120 pounds, and it seemed to me that in rough storms you would go one pace forward [laughs], two paces back. It was hard, tough, laborious work for the two-and-a-half months it took us to go from Sydney through the Panama Canal eventually landing on the Clyde at Greenock. And anyway ...
Yeah. From there I didn't worry about -- even though my people came from Scotland -- looking at Scotland, I really made a headway for the railway station and I caught this train straight down to London. And of course in London, I'd contacted an old friend -- a chap by the name of Slim Elliott, who was in the East Surreys, was a prisoner of war, and I'd met him in Java, and we'd made a pact that if we hadn't heard from one another for three months after the war then we would write to their parents, and I wrote to Slim's parents just after three months, and Slim was torpedoed off, just off, Nagasaki and never got home. And next to the Department of the Army I was the only person that ever contacted them. About Slim. And of course we kept on corresponding and when I went to England in '47 I took a big luggage, big tin it was, about two-foot-six high and about the same across and that depth, or height, and it was full of food, tinned hams and what have you, 'cause food was so difficult in England, and all I did was, I just took it there and I said, 'That's yours.' [chuckles] Of course they insisted that I should live with them but the wonderful thing about the Cockneys, they lived near Tower Bridge road and Old Kent Road and New Kent Road, just near the Bricklayer's Arms there, just on the other side near the Thames there. And they were real working class and they [chuckles] immediately started sharing it with all their friends within their flat. But the primitive conditions that I lived, they lived under, you could see what the pre-Second World War families had to live under. You know, there were two rooms, I suppose the room was about 12 feet or say three metres, a little bit over three metres by three metres square, the bedroom, and the kitchen, where there was a pull-down bed where I slept was about the same size, and there was a fuel stove and outside, there was no running water inside, but outside there was a little narrow verandah about the same, a little bit over three metres long and about 90 centimetres wide, on one end was the toilet, and on the other was this cold running water. And that's how Slim and his sister had been reared in this family; of course his sister had married and she wasn't living there any more, so the old couple asked me would I stay with them, and I did for several weeks. I stayed with them. But I never ever saw the old feller. He was a chap who used to work on renovations and he'd come home, very dirty job, and I never saw him wash from his waist down, but he would just strip off to his waist, with the furnace with this hot water, and would wash himself each night when he came home. It was an insight, it was a real insight into the London working class. So that was a good education for me. But later I moved from there over to an old friend of mine I was a prisoner of war with, who was a publican in North Islington, and I stayed with him the remainder of the time I was in London.
Well, as soon as I arrived, I went down to Jack Solomon's gym and interviewed Jack Solomon and Jack Solomon must have been impressed with me, and consequently started to allow me to use his gym and I trained there daily, almost morning and night, and met many great fighters, particularly Freddy Mills, who was then light-heavyweight champion of Britain, but later to become light-heavyweight champion of the world. I certainly sparred with him a great deal and Johnny Murphy, who was later also became heavyweight champion, or light-heavyweight champion of Britain too. We were mates together and we trained together. So I trained there and of course a fight was set up for me. There were two major arenas: the major arena of course for the major fight were Harringay and the other one was Royal Albert Hall. Anyway, my first fight was at Harringay and that was the time that -- I was fairly fit by this time, I thought I was, and the chap in my corner said to me, 'Go out and murder the bum.' and of course the chap in my corner, said to me, he said, 'Go out and murder the bum.' And, you know, without using any brains at all I went out to show him how good I was. I ran into one. Well I never ever … I kept getting up off the canvas and [chuckles] in the end they stopped the fight, so I lost on a TKO. I must have got up a half-a-dozen times off the canvas. I just couldn't, so the tragedy of all this ambition, of wanting to be a great fighter, and thinking about fighting and planning a future, I'll never forget as long as I live, of lying on that cold bench in that dressing room alone, with just a blanket over me, cooling down, and the thoughts that had gone through and had relived many of the years that I'd spent in prison camp and my aspirations and everything; I thought my world had crumbled around me. So it was a defeat really. If you take defeat in the right way it can be really character-building in a person, because I feel that when I've been defeated, physically and been sick on both occasions, I found it a humbling experience and if you get too cocksure with yourself it's a kind of a self-examination. And so it was, I had to try to build from there on.
Oh no, no, no. No, I continued in the fight game and I had several fights. One was at Oxford Town Hall, and I stopped the feller in, I think, the second or third round and I had several other fights and I was quite successful on that, so it looked like I was going to be a great success in England, and then I fought a chap at Caledonian Road Baths, and I was leading by a long way on points -- he hit, it wasn't deliberate, it was accidental, he hit with his head, he hit my eye and it split wide open and of course the referee stopped the fight. The bleeding was so, so bad that they then took me to St Bartholomew's Hospital and they put the clips in it, and overnight the clips, they weren't going to stitch it, it was just clipping, but overnight the clips just fell out, they got pushed out, so they had to go back and they stitched it and I had made up my mind there and then -- well, within days -- that I certainly wasn't strong enough. You see, in the fight game, you have to first of all like being in the sport. And I did, I wanted to be a fighter. But I got to a position where I couldn't get strong, because I was taking drugs all the time, I was taking a drug called Paludrine to try and suppress the malaria that was re-occurring on me and so I just couldn't get fit and I couldn't get strong. It was a very, very cold winter in London, I was lovesick for my wife but I'd made up my mind I was going to give the game away. And of course when I made the decision I told Solomons that I was going home and I'd decided not to fight at all. Then, how was I to get home? I had enough money by the way, by this time, to buy a ticket back, but you had to wait six months or a year to get a passage back from England. So I went down to the company that took me over, the Bank Line, and it seems one of the top executives must have seen me in a fight and so he must have known that I'd gone over on one of his boats so he said, 'Oh well, I'll arrange that,' so they [chuckles] arranged for me to go on a boat, which was a motor ship going back and I went back as a 'donkey greaserman' -- that was the terminology -- and I got paid much more money on this job than I did on the other, I just sat under a ventilator. But before, while I was waiting for this boat to come to Liverpool where I had to pick it up, [at] Solomons I just kept fit in the gym and I was moving so well that Solomons kept on saying, 'Look Tom, you've got to fight, gotta stay and fight,' and I said, 'No Jack, I've made up my mind.' So I was firm about that, that I'd made up my mind, that I just wasn't strong enough to get back and to reach the top, and I just decided I was going to give it away and I did. It was a hard decision but it was a firm decision. And even when I came back, even though I kept fit, I never ever considered going back, although in my dreams I was fighting again. I would dream that I was in the ring again. I would wake up but I was firm on my decision that I would not make it again, but the difficulty was when I came home, [getting] housing in Australia. I mean Patricia and I, where could we live? There was nowhere to live. And she'd looked and looked and looked, whilst knowing that I was coming home and she couldn't get a place. So anyway, we found a place in Five Dock where we could share conveniences and room, and we got a bedroom there and we lived there for say a year or two whilst we both went to work and saved up our money and started to build a house.
Well, again the difficulty was beginning to get employment. Um, it wasn't easy. I mean there were plenty of work, and I could have got any jobs as salesmen and other things, I wasn't interested in that. An old mate of mine, Tiny Kane who'd been a prisoner of war with me, was working at Goodyear Tyre & Rubber Company on what they call the making tyres, the treadmill, which is very heavy laborious work. So Tony got me a start there and it's a job which again taught me something about, you know what the working class goes through, the hard laborious work, and I worked shiftwork and you get the lamp black and a hole, even the threat of losing your hand in a mill itself, I mean I've felt my glove going in before I pulled the safety cord, and so I've seen the danger, even again the question of carrying, knowing how to work, heavy loads. There is an art and a skill in hard laborious work and your comrades would teach you how to do it the tough and hard way. And I was able to work those skills. And so I worked there for well over a year, looking for good jobs all the time and it wasn't easy to get a start because again I had very little formal education ...
I didn't know. I certainly got an interest in the union movement. It was a Right-wing union, the Rubber Workers' Union, and I started to talk to workers about conditions and different things like that, so there must have been some spark of feeling in there about ...
No no, I had had certain characteristics about what I thought was rights and wrongs because, whilst I was working as a builder's labourer at the Port Kembla steelworks on the steel-wright mill there, there were a lot of people that were at work had come there, that really were drifters, if I can use the term, and in fact many of them would put in that they've got several children and so, in other words they wouldn't stay very long, and they were trying to beat the Taxation Department. So there were villains within the workforce, not all angels, but we were getting paid very high wages at this steel-wright mill, it was a cost-plus job, concrete constructions actually, [but] they were a very, very harsh company during the Depression. In the Depression years, Concrete Construction would bring a person on the job and they'd pay 'em two bob an hour and they might work a bloke you know -- in other words, the bull ring, they'd pull 'em off, off the hill on a bull ring, and they'd work them for a couple of hours, fast, and then say, 'Well you're finished,' and bring other people in. So they had a very bad reputation during the Depression years in the construction industry. But on this job they were cost-plus with BHP so there wasn't any real pressure on us. But there was a lot of destabilisation because every day or every other day you'd have a stop-work meeting. And they'd stop, wouldn't matter what dispute was on, they'd stop work and have discussions. So on this occasion ...
Yeah, it was a policy, I mean they were basically blokes with no real responsibility because they were drifters, not all of them, but when they might only need a half-a-dozen, and if they are of a kind of super-militant attitude, then you'd be surprised how much guidance they could get anyway. In this case there was a stop-work meeting one day and I got up and moved an amendment saying that I thought we shouldn't stop work, that what we should do, if there's a dispute, let the steering committee or the shop committee deal with it, and if they feel it's necessary to call us out, well we can come out then. So a big bloke by the name of Jack Harkness started making agitation at me, and making remarks to me, so when it was all over, I just went down to him and said, 'What, you got a chip on your shoulder mate?' And 'No,' he said, 'I'm not, but you're a mug.' I said, 'Well, look, you knock the chip off your shoulder or name the time and place.' He said, 'Well the time's alright, the place is okay.' I said, 'Alright, well just wait till everything clears away and the workers go back.' It didn't look like anybody was going to go back, so about three or four hundred blokes [laughs] round on the hills. I'd been training at home and I was in fairly good nick and you always know when you shape up to a fighter whether or not you got his measure or not, so anyway, Jack tried to get in at me and I just pick him off with my left hand he'd walk right into it you see and I just kept walking around him with my left hand, just poking him in the left all the time [laughs]. Jack's head would jump back and ultimately I could see him, his mates after a while said, 'Jack's a bit exhausted, this is the end of round one.' I said, 'No rounds in this, mate.' So I just crossed him with one right hand cut him under the eye, you see. And there's this big split under the eye, which he had to get stitches in. And so I felt sorry for him, picked him up, and the funny sequel to it is that, you see, Jack's got a bit of a sense of humour. My father works in this steelworks and he's in the casualty room this day that Jack Harkness walks in. And they said, 'What's wrong with you Jack?' And he said, 'Oh, some bloody bloke out there. Young Tom Uren, I pick him. I hit him and he smiles at me and he hits me and it's just like a pack of bricks falling on me.' [laughs] So he's got a terrific sense of humour. So my Dad's listening to all this, of course, he's as proud as punch that old Jack's saying this. And for years later he'd always say to my father, 'How's young Tom going?' Tom. They were great friends. And of course when Jack stayed off for about three or four days after this incident and when he came back to work there was a stop work meeting again and I moved that the steering, that the shop committee, look after it and Jack Harkness got up and he said, 'I second that motion' [laughs] so that was in good humour, and that was the Builders Labourers Union of which I was a member of in those days. Though that was my period in Port Kembla.
Well, I agree completely that violence is not a solution to personal problems. Again I probably shouldn't have, I mean, one grows in oneself, but I don't believe that personal violence, in the family relationship or in a communal relationship, is a solution to problems, nor do I think it's a military solution in the world. I think political solution, dialogue, is the most important thing. So [laughs] I have grown, I have learnt a little in my lifetime.
Well, by this time I was starting to think politically ...
No, no look, even with my father's 17-week strike you might recall that I thought that they'd over-stretched themselves, the union movement at that time, I just thought that to take workers out for 17 weeks there's something basically wrong with the leadership. So I had even that evaluation, even on those things, and the position of laborious work and even the labour. I talked with the union when I got off the ship for instance, I talked to the union delegates there and told how bloody awful I thought the working conditions of British seamen were. And so I had a feeling there about justice, wherever I come into contact, that was always an educational process in a way, in my living process, because life has been my teacher, it's been my educator. Life and people. So I was growing and understanding those conditions even when I was in prison camp. You see, in prison camp, the working class people, particularly the English, loathe the Welsh. They loathe the Welsh because what happened was the Welsh, during the Depression, the '30s, they would come across, they were forced because the mines were closed, they'd come across, and they'd under-bid and under-cut the Londoners, and there was conflict between the Londoners and the Welsh, and an old bloke once said to me, 'Tommy you can never judge a Welshman until you've eaten a bag of flour with him.' And from that terminology I grew that you never know a person until you've eaten a bag of rice with them. Because when you start off eating that bag of rice with some of your fellow comrades or prisoners of war they look pretty good on the top but by the time they got down to the bottom they weren't too healthy at all. On the other hand, some people who didn't have the best of reputations, for instance some of them [who] were with us were part of Weary Dunlop's group off what they called the Empire Star. The Empire Star was the last ship out of Singapore and it was reputed that those people, soldiers, that got on there deserted and forced women and children off to put for themselves. Now a lot of it was just rumour. But when they came to Java they had to make up their mind whether or not they wanted to stay there and fight the Japanese or be sent back for court-martial in Australia. The overwhelming majority stayed in Java and fought. Now I found later that many, particularly some of the young, only really needed leadership and they turned out remarkable people. On the other hand there were some villains there that were villains when they started and they finished up being villains. There was a transport company there, that were rather oldish people. You know when I say 'oldish' they were up in their 40s and that was quite mature [laughs] in those days. And as they came down from Wampo right down, all the Chinese and merchants would put their wealth and belongings into the safe, and lock their safes, and of course run off. But our blokes, these second-force MT people, they used to blow the safes [laughs] as they came down. And they, in prison camp, they had watches and they had jewels and everything else and they would swap them and barter on them and some of the wealthy POWs, they even gave them IOUs, you know till after the war. I mean, there was some villains in prison. Every one of our blokes was not an angel, don't get me wrong at all, but so there was good and there was bad, and I always say that you can't judge a bloke until you've eaten a bag of rice with him. And I got this from this old experience of learning from the British working class about the exploitation that they, of the competition that they, had with the Welsh.
Oh no, most of my life is -- I mean books have been a great asset to me as well, but most of my life I've been drawing on, and I've been a sponge, from experience of life and world and other people. But ...
Well, I kept on applying, looking in the Sydney Morning Herald every Saturday morning and applying for jobs. And I wasn't making much progress. I could get sales jobs but I wasn't interested in that at all, but I applied for a job as a trainee executive with Woolworths. And there were about 500-odd applicants at the time I applied and there was only a handful taken. Now in my case they didn't make a decision about me. There was a chap name of Bill Nash. He was the state manager of Woolworths and he said to me, 'Look, I've got to go across to New Zealand. I'll be back soon. I want to have another look at your case.' And of course I thought it was just a con job, you see. And I said, 'Oh thanks very much, Mr Nash.' So I thought that was the end of that. When he got back from New Zealand he called me in. And he said, 'Look, if I put you on this trainee executive course, you're not gonna really like it because most of these blokes have either done university degrees or are doing them or have done part university degrees. Your background, you'll find that's the competitive thing that you won't find, but in the end the course I'm going to put you on, you'll all finish up in the same thing. I'll put you onto a trainee floorman's course.' So I said, 'Okay.' So they started me as this trainee floorman. And of course I went through the early stages of learning to wash windows and sweep the floors and do all those things, and I never forget it was the 1949 strike just about the time I started, I was [laughs] cleaning the windows out at Rockdale, one of my mates, 'Oh Christ Tom, are things that tough?' I said, 'Oh, just a trainee, I'm just getting a start on, but I'll be alright.' So anyway, after about three months training they sent me to Kings cross. And the other day I went up to John Hargreaves' funeral, the funeral service at the Catholic Church in Roslyn Street, Kings cross, and when I got off the train I walked across and for sentimentality I walked into the old Woolworths store there. It's a variety now, but it's owned by, and it was, Woolworths. And of course it brought back so many happy memories. In fact I didn't realise it but Brian White, that great radio announcer, he reminded me many, many years later that I was the one that put him on as a casual at Kings Cross as a student; he worked behind the counter there as a casual. Anyway, it was a kind of a sentimental feeling before I went down to John Hargreaves' farewell.
Well, at first I thought I was going nowhere in Woolworths. I spent that nine months on the floor up at Kings Cross and then they sent me down to Liverpool Street. It doesn't exist now but there used to be a big Woolworths store, actually it was the second largest Woolworths store in the chain, which was on the corner of Pitt and Liverpool streets, Sydney, and there was a manager there by the name of Bill Maiden and he and I clicked like peas within the pod, I mean, there was just fantastic, he was a really understanding old guy and I was at first just a section floorman but before long they made me the deputy manager of the store and all the trainee executives used to come through this store and Maiden would tell me how to administer, he'd say you know, 'If you tell 'em how to do it and they don't do it, well then you've got to start examining your own, you might be in the wrong the first time. But if the second time they still don't, well there's something wrong with the bloke you told.' So it was a kind of administration and supervise kind of concept and one of my fellow floormen said to me, 'Why is it one minute they hate you, one minute they love you the next?' I said 'Oh, as long as they love me the next, that's the important thing.' And I always found the capacity to work with people, and get people to work with me. And I must have made a lot of progress under Maiden because the next thing I know is, after [I've] been in the company for about 21 months, I'm being interviewed by Laurenson, who was-- the state is cut up into two directors, under Bill Nash. And one of them was Laurenson, who later went over to New Zealand as their state manager there. And Laurenson had said, 'Look, we want to make you a manager at Lithgow.' Of course you could have knocked me over with a feather. And so they decided [laughs] that I should go to Lithgow. Lithgow was the only five-day-a-week store in the whole of the chain because in those days you used to open five-and-a-half days. and it seems we'd had in a bit of problem and so they thought that I could get it on its feet. So, there I go up and my first store is Lithgow. Because housing was such a difficult thing to get in Lithgow, the company bought a house in Wright's Road which is immediately behind the small arms factory. And I found that I got on remarkably well with the staff up there. They didn't realise but after a while I'd get them up and talk to them in the morning and talk out things, it was kind of a [way to] get used to things, doing things, practising public speaking in a way to your staff, and addressing your staff, it was a matter of communicating with them publicly of a morning, talking together before we'd start work.
Yes, yes, and talking about teamwork, always teamwork, and you find that was always the spirit of my, basis of my management, was to work together and help: the strong, if a person was a little bit more capable, I'd get her to go over and kinda help the other person to kinda come along a little bit more. And it was quite a remarkable achievement. Anyway, the funny thing about it was this bloke, there were two, one whose name was Les Christie, and this Mr Laurenson, and they were the two state directors -- now Laurenson was in charge of me at Liverpool Street, I was under his administration, but at Kings Cross I was under Les Christie's responsibility and I didn't think I'd made headway at all with Christie. In fact I'm sure I didn't. But this store at Lithgow was under the direct administration of Les Christie. So, after I'd been there a few months, he rang up to say that he'd be up tomorrow. So I got the staff out in the morning and said, 'Look, tomorrow morning Mr Christie's coming up. I know you're all frightened of him and most people are, he might be a cold fish, but if you can get him to smile he's got a smile that's wonderful. He's got a wonderful smile.' So [laughs] the next day he comes up and he goes to talk to the staff and they say, 'Oh, how are you Mr Christie,' and they smile at him [laughs] and he got this from every one of the staff. And he pulled me in for afternoon tea, he said, 'Mr Uren, you've done more in a couple of months than I've been trying to do in six years. I always hated coming to Lithgow but there's something you've done to this place. I just feel I'll enjoy coming here in the future.' And from there on he did. And it was just making him feel secure and then the staff themselves felt secure. So it worked very well. And I had some of my own peculiar personality in my administration of Woolworths, but you'd go to a state conference of managers, managers only, of Woolworths, and they would complain about, you know, the customers were going, they were dealing out, ripping them off on money-back guarantee policies and all that, and I got up and I made a speech, 'What are you talking about, money-back guarantee policy? It's a basis of goodwill. If a company's got so much faith in their merchandise and the customer's not satisfied, why don't you want to give their money back? It's not your money. It's the company, that's the company's policy, so why don't you carry it out?' And of course, little did I know, but you knew the top echelon of Woolworths were very impressed with my philosophy in this regard. Because what they don't know though is that I sometimes used it a little bit over the odds, because I'd built up a good rapport with the people and the particular unions in the valley and also the district, particularly the outlying miners' districts. They would have their picnics and they would come in to see whether they could get a lend of some crockery or cutlery or what have you. And I'd say, 'Alright, well I'll give you on Friday afternoon, now you've got to have it back first thing on Monday morning and if you break anything or chip anything then you've got to pay for the breakages.' So it was kind of like the money-back guarantee policy only they didn't pay it until after they [broke it]. But a funny thing happened on one occasion. One of the assistant supervisors came up and he said, 'God, Tom, where's your glassware and crockery?' And I said, 'Oh it'll be alright, it'll be back in a few minutes.' [laughs] And sure enough, it came back.
… So I built up a basis of goodwill -- by this time I might say I had joined the Labor Party, but ...
… I was in Lithgow for four years, four wonderful years.
No, no, actually, not until the end of the process, but it was the real end after I joined the Labor Party and in fact I'd ...
Well, what happened was, for the first year or so I was there I'd gone to night school and I was doing accountancy with my wife and also I was tied up with Legacy, I'd become a legatee and I had several families I used to look after under legatee responsibility in the country areas, and that's where I discovered Mt Wilson, I might say, in one of these legatee outlets in 1951. So that was the first year, and a few months after I'd arrived there, Chifley, it was Chifley's electorate -- I arrived in April and Chifley died in June -- and they had his state funeral for him at Bathurst and we didn't have a car at the time, in fact I had jaundice, I was sick I had jaundice at the time, but I wanted to go to Mr Chifley's funeral, so we had to go up in a bus and Patricia and I were on this bus and we met a mate of mine called Viv Gordon, who had been a prisoner of war with me, he was a miner out at Cullen Bullen. And he was in the Labor Party so I said, 'I've always wanted to join the Labor Party, how do you join?' Well, I didn't see him again for a long while, but anyway I found I found it very hard, very hard indeed, to get into the Labor Party, because I didn't know anybody in Lithgow that -- I would go up to this shop with the ALP on top and knock on it and knock on it, but nobody ever answered it so it took me the best part of a year before I joined the Labor Party. I didn't get into the Labor Party until '52.
Well, it wasn't, because Chifley had died and Luchetti was then the Member after he succeeded, he was a Lithgow man by the way, but no, it wasn't flourishing, and [the] strange thing about it when I went to the ALP meetings, there were so few unionists and I wondered why. You've only got to look at the miners and of course again, lack of understanding, but the miners had deserted the Labor Party and very few miners were left in the Labor Party in Lithgow. And so that was a problem then. And I always recall that in the first election [I stood] was '53, I think state election. And I had criticised -- we had raised money for the public funds from public campaign expenses and it was the haphazard way that they explained the expenditure of it. An old feller by the name of Jim Robson, who was a nice old guy, he was campaign director for Chifley in his days, but he really lacked responsibility, the way that money was spent, and I felt that when you've got money, particularly public money or people's money, you had to dot your i's and cross your t's and I criticised this you see. So that when the Senate election came about, about six months later [laughs] some of the old blokes nominated me. Kind of 'put up or shut up'. And of course, I thought to myself, 'Well, how in heaven's name can you -- the only way you can raise money is to go to the unions', so I got permission to address the miner's union. And I went down and addressed these pit-top meetings. And, except for one, they all agreed to strike the levy but the secretary of the steward would pick the money up and of course give it to me accordingly. But in the state mine, which was by far the biggest mine, they said, 'Oh no.' Jack Parkinson, he was the brother of Bill Parkinson, who had been the President at the '49 strike, you see. And he refused to collect the money for the Labor Party so I had to go down on pay day and wait, and as the blokes'd come through they'd give me their levy. And there was a period there where I really did become what you'd call anti-communist, in a negative sort of way, because of the negative attitude of the communist hardline position there was with me. But that's the only time in my period. Also in that period, there were two other communists that I'd come up against, both at the trades -- because I went to the Trades and Labor Council meetings as well. Even though I was a manager I was also a member of the Shop Assistants Union and I would discuss issues there, and there was a woman by the name of Joan Goodwin, who was a good person, and Merv Moffit, who was also a communist. When there was an economic recession in the early 1950s, particularly round about I'd say '53, there was a problem up in Broken Hill where they were determined married women couldn't work, only single women and so forth, so then there was an issue put forward about, you know, that married women shouldn't stay in jobs if there were any single women out of work, or men out of work. And course I argued the principle that, you know it's the right of every human being to have a position of employment, and of course this Joan Goodwin played a remarkable role with that as well so the tools with which we found ourselves, against the Right-wing generally on this position, and I argued the position that even if they did employ every single unemployed woman and put the married woman out of work, who's going to be the Jesus Christ to determine which one should be disemployed and the other one not, so we won the argument. And we won the argument that you had to get full economic conditions to get full employment for everybody at that time. So that was a very interesting further experience for me. And I found that, they used to challenge me on issues and by this time I was what you would call a socialist, a social do-gooder, I'd say I was a 'Roosevelt New-Dealer'. I wasn't [really] a socialist in any way. But certainly I had those values that I'd accrued out of my prisoner of war life plus my readings of Roosevelt, and my own personal experience which was starting to mature and develop.
Oh yes, I rose fairly fast within the structure of the Labor Party. I've never sought positions within the branches, although I became a vice-president of the Macquarie Federal Electorate, of which Tony Luchetti was of course the Member. And I worked very closely with Luchetti and Luchetti was a person, a politician, of the Right, and he was the kind of politician that you move round with him, he was a kind of all things to all people, but an astute, tough old politician in his day. There's no doubt about him.
No, I wouldn't say in those early days at all, because I had a closeness with Luchetti, and I wouldn't say that I was on the Left at all, but what really [influenced] my determination about where I should go … and some of it was sectarian in the early stages, it wasn't just ideological. There was this -- when in October 1954, Dr Evatt exposed the Movement [Catholic Action] within our Labor movement, then I certainly was attracted to Evatt's philosophy, because after all I came from a very strong Protestant upbringing, Masonic lodge and that concept, and it was always the question mark of the whisky-badge people: what were they doing, what was that secret society, and were they taking over the Labor Party? And on their negative kind of anti-communist crusade. Well, with a couple of other colleagues, we went from Lithgow down to Wollongong, which was Evatt's first public meeting after making the announcement of October 1954, and we decided to try to get a public meeting in Lithgow. And Evatt agreed to that. And I did most of the organisational work for that. Now that was a very clear position that I was beginning to take, but again internally it wasn't ideologically to the Left, it was, if I might use the term, it was [a] 'what's those bloody Catholics up to?' kind of attitude, and so that was the beginning of my movement to a Left projective position.
Yes, and I was there until April '55, but in the meantime after that Wollongong meeting, we did this meeting at Lithgow, and it was organised for Dr Evatt, and Dr Evatt came there; that's when I started to do my activities. Now I had made up my mind -- it was about this time, or soon after this that Mr Nash called me down to have a discussion with me and said, 'Tom, you know there's only one thing that'll stop you going a long way in this company?' And I said, 'Yes, politics.' And he said, 'Yes. I understand you get out on the street corner and make speeches, and you hand out how-to-vote literature and all that,' and I said, 'That's right. But Mr Nash, what I do before 8.30 of a morning and after 5.30 of a night is my business.' He said, 'Oh no, Tom, no, in Lithgow, you're Mr Woolworths.' So I said, 'Mr Nash, look there's something inside me that I've got to express, fight for some social justice and for the rights of people. I know I'm no Jesus Christ, but there's something inside my heart. If Jesus Christ hadn't come out and espoused his principles we wouldn't have had Christianity today. Well, I'm no Jesus Christ but I've certainly got something in my heart and I'm gonna do something about it.' Well, d'you know the older feller said: 'I s'pose you're right. Pack of bloody Libs in our company. I s'pose we could put up with one Labor bloke.' And what I put the hard word on him about is that I said I wanted to come back from Lithgow. And I said I wanted to get back to Sydney, but what I didn't tell him was why I wanted to get back to Sydney, because I'd already made my decisions for this, I'd made my decision that I wanted to get out of Woolworths, and I wanted to open my own store. Right. I had to make the decision about politics and so I'd bought a block of land on the corner of Chetwynd Road and Hawksview Street, West Guildford. And I put two lock-up shops there. And how I was to finance that was to mortgage my home, the home that I'd built in Guildford, which I'd built and just finished, just before they called me to appoint me to Lithgow.
Well, again, that's interesting because we bought two blocks of land. We saw this lovely block of land -- I must say it was in a semi-rural setting at that time -- a lot of gum trees around it in Guildford and that's where I wanted to go, live. The other one [was] I'd bought this block of land a long time ago at Manly Vale. And I think Patricia would have liked to have lived at Manly Vale. She was a Guildford girl. And I said to Patricia, this is long before I ever joined the Labor Party, this is back in late '40s, early '50s, I said, 'Look Patricia, I could be Ben Chifley, but I'll never get into parliament' [laughs] and I wasn't even a member of the Labor Party. It's quite ironical that I'd make such a statement. So there must have been that feeling. So anyway, Patricia agreed that we should build, that it would be more economical also to build at Guildford and we built our home, the both of us did it, but we did it with contract labour and people helping us and what have you. Just a simple little house it was at first, straight up and straight out But it was broad and big, glass and steel-framed windows to get the maximum sunshine.
Well, the house first of all. But then of course, I used to use the house to get my political freedom from Woolworths. My intention was, we thought that there'd be a redistribution of boundaries round about that time. And I had to get transferred back from the Lithgow branch to the West Guildford branch of the Labor Party. I transferred at the end of 1954, so that I could stand as a delegate to the respective federal and state councils, by the early part of 1955, which I was able to do because most of the people in the Guildford West branch knew the family that I'd married into, but knew very little about me, and thought that, you know, they were fairly conservative-type people, the people I'd married into.
No, she wasn't -- well, she was a member of the Labor Party, she joined the Labor Party in Lithgow when I did, but prior to that she'd never been a member. In fact, her family came from what you'd call a middle-class background, her grandfather had been a person of some eminence in the district, he was the man that laid the foundation stone of the school of arts many years before and, if anything, I'd say that they were conservative voting people.
Well, I would have thought long before Menzies even, just conservative-type people. But it's remarkable that we never talked politics, but gradually they really followed my position very strongly in the long term. Particularly Patricia, I mean she really a really brilliant working-class woman in every respect.
Yes they did, they transferred me back and I was the opening manager at the Merrylands store. At the same time I was building these two lock-up shops up on the corner and when they were completed I went back and got a further loan from the bank to stock 'em. And then I resigned from the company. But by this time unfortunately Bill Nash had died, he died of heart attack and so I didn't find that very difficult to leave. Although I must say, in fairness to Woolworths, they were a very good company to me and I feel I owe them [because] that was a part of my education process. They gave me the ability to teach, how to lead, and to work with people, and I've always had a kind of a sentimental spot for the company. I'm glad they're an Australian company, by the way. They're not an American company, they're an Australian company.
Well, just to get political freedom. I had a butcher shop and a general store and that allowed me to at least ...
No, I ran the general store myself and I leased the butcher shop. And I did that from '55 until '57, because in 1957 I ran against Charlie Morgan in a preselection. Now prior to that what happened was, when the redistribution came about, it didn't alter the boundaries in the West Guildford area at all, so in fact I was still in the electorate of Reid where Charlie Morgan was the member, and Charlie Morgan had been the member for 15 years. But in the split, he had kind of sixpence each way, and [in] Canberra he was a pro-Evatt man, in New South Wales he was pro the New South Wales Right-wing machine.
Well, Charlie was a product of a mixed marriage, so it was very hard to say whether he was a Catholic or not; he certainly wasn't a practicing Catholic as far as I was concerned. And I think he had his conflicts with Catholics over the years. Also in the case [of] the Browne vs Fitzpatrick affair, where Browne -- remember Fitzpatrick was a big contractor from Bankstown who also had a local paper in Bankstown threatened, or [was] supposed to have threatened Morgan and instead of Morgan taking a libel action against him, he took a privilege case in the parliament. And Browne, who was the editor of that newspaper, was brought before the Bar of the parliament, the same as Fitzpatrick, and they were given three months' jail. It's the only time in the Australian history that people have been sentenced to jail by the Australian parliament. And so that was historic in itself and a lot of people thought that the Browne-Fitzpatrick thing had upset Morgan and that's what allowed me to break through, but in fact the people who opposed Fitzpatrick in the Bankstown areas were nearly all Left-wingers, and they were supporting me. So I found that in the preselections Fitzpatrick wasn't my ally at all, in fact to the contrary, although he would have been [laughs] happy to see Charlie Morgan defeated.
No, well again, nothing happens like the turning off of a light -- you have to do the preparatory work and I moved from Lithgow at the end of '54. I came down into the ALP activities in both the Granville State Council and the Reid Federal Electoral Council during the whole of 1955, '56 and '57 and with that was an activity of crisis because the Labor Party was in crisis in New South Wales between 1955 and 1957. Now, during this period of time, I found when I came there that [in] the Reid electorate there were some wonderful people but they were all individualists, they were all putting their own individual point of view, but nobody collectivised them. And that was probably the greatest strength that I did in those days. And there were some quite remarkable people, I mean Pat Flaherty [James Patrick], who later became the party whip under the Wran government, and Jack Ferguson, who later became the Deputy Premier, under the Wran Government. They were members as well as Bob Gradwell, who became quite a famous trade union leader. And quite a number of other eminent people were there but I was able to coordinate them and work 'em together as a team. I never stood for any position, none at all. But what I did do, I discussed it with our colleagues and said, 'Well look, if we're gonna defeat old Charlie, we've got to do it in a collective way. Now I'm not myself forward as the candidate. But several of us should be considered as candidates. And if we do run against him all we've got to do is just interlock our preferences.' So what I did, I just built bridges -- there were 18 branches in Reid at that time -- and I built a bridge with a family in every branch, and what I would do was go and have a cup of tea and first of all win them, and they would then give me a history of the branch members, and gradually I'd go round in cups of tea, just from house to house, and talking about my philosophy and what we should do and what we shouldn't do and gradually, over several years, over at least two years, because there'd been a preselection in '55 when I was there when a chap by the name of John Ferguson, who was the Headmaster of the Merrylands Primary School, he had stood against Charlie, and he was beaten overwhelmingly by Charlie in a preselection. But in that two years from '55 to '57, it was my organisational work, and winning and convincing people that I could do a better job than Charlie. And at that time of the '57 preselections there were about six sitting members opposed. Now I was the only one that broke through. And I thought that I'd win by 74 votes and I actually won by 64, and I identified clearly the five votes that I missed out on, in one branch, where they'd gone one way. So I knew exactly four -- Jack Ferguson and I were probably the only two because he was the only one I would consult very closely with, and we knew that when the ballot came up that I would actually defeat them. Now the night that the ballot came up and was decided the forces, the Right-wing forces, were astounded because Charlie himself was convinced that he was going to win. Because what happened was Charlie had come up from Canberra and particularly in the Bass Hill area (which later went into Paul Keating's area, by the way), as Charlie went round, they rang me up and said, 'Look Tom, Charlie's coming round' ... [INTERRUPTION]
No, he hadn't. He thought he was going to win and he'd come up from Canberra to visit some of the old people in Bass Hill areas and they rang me up to ask me, 'Charlie's going round to branch members, what should we do?' I said, 'Tell him you're going to vote for him.' And of course, Charlie went back to Canberra thinking that everybody was telling him 'you'll be right Charlie' but that was just nonsense because that area, I knew, would've been fairly substantially mine. And he must have made examination but he certainly was overconfident that he was going to win and of course in the end they were flabbergasted, the whole Right-wing machine was flabbergasted that I could win. In fact, they held up the preselection for four months trying to find something to take away from me. But in the end the caretaker of the state executive allowed and endorsed my position. Then Charlie ran as an independent in the general elections and I really was concerned because Charlie had been the member for 15 years, in fact, I always remember sitting in a taxi cab just before the election, and I said, 'Who do you think'll win? He said, 'Oh, the Labor candidate Charlie Morgan'll win.' Anyway, luckily for me, it was a wonderful battle and it was after the first two ballots had been counted I knew I was going to win, even though there were about 20 or 30 booths. But after the first two first booths had been counted I knew I was going to win because they were the two areas that Charlie should have finished ahead of the Liberals. As it was, the Liberals finished ahead of him. Because if the Liberals had run second to Charlie, the Liberals would have put their preferences to Charlie and he would have got in. As it was, as Charlie ran third, I was able to win on Charlie's preferences and win by a 13,000 majority. But it was a very narrow experience of that, on that first ballot.
Well, there's always been two sides of my nature. One's a kind of tough side, and the other [a] gentle side. One's the realistic side, and I've never really been a dreamer. I've been a realist and I try to face facts and face life and that's been how I live my life.
No, well, I only told the one [person] and of course he responded, he wanted a way out. And I just said, 'Well tell him you're [just] going to vote for him'; he wanted a way out, I mean there was no argument about it. And so I never found that at all. We were at war with Charlie, and Charlie was a very difficult candidate, and he was doing some very difficult things at that time. And I never found that at all dup ... dup ...
Oh, there's no argument about it. I really thought that Charlie was an old conman, played both ends against the centre, that was the old game he was playing, and he was a very wealthy man in his own right but as it turned out, he had a tragic death in the end of his life, he died of cancer, and I went back to him and thanked, I represented Calwell both visibly and personally, and also [at] his funeral in the end. And Mrs Morgan, his mother, was a remarkable old Labor lady as was his wife [who] was a fine woman and Kevin (his son) was a good person, too. He came and worked for the Labor Party in the arts in the Whitlam Government. You know, I built rapport again, if can use that term, with the Morgan family. I'm not trying to say that I had to clear my sins or anything, but because I thought I was doing the right thing for the Labor Party and the Labor movement.
Oh, yes, many times, yes. I was challenged practically right through. Even when I was Deputy Leader of the Party I was challenged in preselections. But if they would have challenged me at the crucial time when they could have had an opportunity to defeat me, they never really, if I might use, took the bit between their teeth and went after me. It was the 1968 preselection for the 1969 election, my seat or Reid had been cut in four. Part of it went to Parramatta, part of it of course stayed in Reid, a part of it went to Blaxland, and I just forget where the other part went. No that's right, Reid, Blaxland, Parramatta and part of it Prospect. That's the other part. And so that was, you know, my base to some extent had been diminished and the best seat of course was Reid, although it was only Reid in name because a big part of it had come in from the Auburn/Lidcombe area but I ran in like 'nothing succeeds like success' and I won that preselection, although I must say that at that time the Right-wing of the party really didn't vote, they just abstained, they just didn't vote at all, nobody marshalled them to come and vote, they didn't feel that the Right-wing candidate was opposing me. [The] 1968 elections was the one, that was the time when I was more vulnerable for defeat.
This respect for the need to get the numbers together was something that you then carried forward into parliament and you were actually very good at getting numbers together. Could you talk a little about the importance of that side of politics.
Well, when I got to parliament, of course, I found that the Left itself was not an organised body. You had individualists like Clyde Cameron and Eddie Ward, Leslie Haylen, people like ... old Stanley, Leslie, Jimmy Cairns, and people of that description but there was no collective Left, no organised Left at all, and some of those people never ever became a part of the collective Left. For instance, Cameron never became a part of the collective Left, nor did Eddie Ward, but Lesley Haylen was, and really became a type of numbers man or the convenor; what they're called today. And I would do most of the legwork and of course I didn't see myself being advanced to a leadership position. I saw Cairns as the solution to many of the problems and, in fact, I saw Cairns as an outstanding representative of our people. I once said he was 'our Fidel'. I mean, you have no idea, Cairns in the late '50s and the '60s, what a magnificent orator he was, what a debater he was, his great intelligence, compassion, commitment to ideals. I mean really, I love the man, and had a complete commitment to I worked for him and through him; my whole life was committed.
Yes, I do, I met him in the Labor Party caucus. I sat down and we introduced ourselves to him, and soon after he told me that he thought Charlie was very confident of winning the preselection and that they never thought that I would win, and that I was fairly well denigrated as being a bit of a no-hoper and things of that description, but Cairns and I right from the very word go had brought ourselves together. I first heard about him reading an article in the Daily Telegraph, this article about the young Doc taking on the old Doc. What had happened is that the Labor Party's policy had an immigration policy, this is 1957 we're talking about that was sixty percent, had to be 60 per cent [British] and 40 per cent non-British. In other words, European, but we still had a White Australia policy in the Labor Party and held one until 1965. Now, Cairns argued against Evatt saying that the southern Europeans, which this policy was directed against (against Catholics) Cairns argued that they were economically Labor voters and that they would be voting in our favour and the logic that he argued on, the economic and social question of it, it really fit in with my own development and my own thinking at that time. And so I was attracted to him on that alone, but of course the more I got to know him, the more I got to respect him and draw from him.
No, no, no, no, no. He was my mate. He was never my mentor. No-one was my mentor. If anybody was my ideal at that time it was Reggie Pollard who was a much older person. But my life has been -- I draw from men and women of knowledge and goodwill and that period, that early period of life particularly during the late '50s and the early '60s, in those [days] in the old Parliament House we'd have long morning teas. We'd have long afternoon teas, and we would really sit round the table and discuss many issues, and people like Reg Pollard and Lionel Murphy and Sam Cohen and Jim Cairns and Frank Crean and Billy Hayden later and John Whelan, a brilliant young man, they were all there and this great reservoir of knowledge hits me like a sponge, drawing from all this, and so I was a part of it. Now, Jim was my mate, who I saw as an answer, he had qualities that I didn't have. On the other hand I had qualities he didn't have. And consequently it was the mateship. We really were very very close. I mean, not for one year, but for more than a decade and a half.
Well, I think his knowledge more than anything else. I think that he didn't know how to show love because he'd never really ... for instance, his mother had never kissed him. She'd never kissed him. And this great warmth that I had for my mother he reckons, he always said, that I was so ... naturally he argues now philosophically the importance of love and affection to children at an early age but that again it is a further development even though he's in his 80s; now he's still growing and teaching things. But the thing about Cairns was he himself was fundamentally decent. He's one of the most tolerant men I've ever seen. In fact, I once said he was the most Christ-like man I've ever known. Now I know that because of that Christ-like image that he had within, so much within the community, that when the Morosi Affair arose so many people were let down about that. And Jimmy only really had one love affair in his life (and Gwenny was a wonderful woman don't get me wrong) but he wasn't a promiscuous man. That's the point I'm trying to make. He wasn't a promiscuous man. And so many other politicians were, and they treated him so harshly. What I thought was wrong was that he did things so openly and so publicly and you say, well, that's his honesty, well that's baloney! Maybe it's an ego ... you see, even in some of the most compassionate and humble people, ego comes down in such a strange way. But I really think it was a failing on the part of Cairns, and also a letting down of the working class to some degree, of the class that had so much commitment to him personally.
Well, as I said to you earlier, right through the '50s, the late '50s and the '60s, I saw him as our Fidel. I saw him [as] the answer to an ideal working-class leader. But I've been critical of some of the things he did as a minister and certainly his appointment of Junie Morosi on to his staff, I was very critical of that. But the thing about Jim was that he allowed nepotism to come into his being. When you become a minister, you're only as good as the people around him. No matter how brilliant Cairns was as a person, he never put brilliant people around him, I mean, he allowed the Victorian branch of the Labor Party to get rid of some of their deadwood, or to give people jobs and he put them onto his staff. He put people that he had long associations with that really shouldn't have; it was kind of a nepotism approach. He put his own son on as his secretary and in the end of course he hired Morosi. Now, in a way, he set up his own defeat.
Well, he even accepted some criticism in that regards. Then, in fact, I was going to second Pat Troy who was the Deputy Head of the Department of Urban and Regional Development (DURD) across to him to try and help him restructure certain aspects, particularly in regards to the Treasury and the Reserve Bank and other things at that time, but again, Jimmy's -- well, I learn more and more every day of little things that come up that he never discussed with me, and I would discuss things openly with him in a comradely way, but Jim wouldn't do it in an uncomradely way, he just didn't think it was necessary to discuss it with me. Having said my criticism of Cairns, I want to say quite clearly that Cairns still was in many ways a great minister, for instance some of the things he did as Minister of Trade in building trade with the Soviet Union and China, his question with the building of the structure of AICD, which is the major trading organisation. Even, if you can remember as far back as December of 1974, when he was acting Prime Minister, it's that time of Cyclone Tracy. People thought his compassion and humility showed through, everybody thought what a great leader of the nation he was in replace of Whitlam at that time. It was only a couple of months after that the whole rot set in about Morosi and other things. So up 'til December or 1974, a lot of people thought Cairns was just wonderful, but that wasn't my view. I was very critical of certain things he was doing even at that stage.
Well, yes. In the administration of the structure, when you become a minister, you've got a responsibility to appoint people not out of charity, but out of what you call the best interests of -- first of all, you carry out your job, and do that job efficiently, not only in the interests of the nation as a whole, but also of the class that you represent.
Educator, yeah ...
He should have never been a politician. It would have been better if he'd stayed back in the university and wrote from the university. Probably, it's a bit like Vincent [Van Gogh], you know, was he too beautiful in this world? And Cairns, in many ways, is a very beautiful human being, and I'm not saying he didn't prove himself as a parliamentarian in Opposition, he did, and may have even still been a great politician had he not taken over the Treasuryship. To some extent I blame myself for that, because I helped push him into that position. Now, I think that was the worst mistake I ever made. Because he took on the system and he wasn't, if I might say, tough enough and crafty enough to deal with those devious people that he was dealing with. He was dealing with the Mandarins of Canberra, and he wasn't prepared to, he wasn't equipped to, do that. And in fact, he gave them weapons to beat him.
You said things are coming out even today that he didn't share with you. Given that you do have this realist side to you, do you think that if he had listened a little bit more to you that it might have helped him through that time.
Well, I realised he had that kind of vulnerability about him. Because at that time of the '68 challenge to Whitlam, over the leadership, I got him to promise that if he ever came to a position of leadership that before he made any major appointments he would at least discuss it with me. Now I tried also to get him to do the same thing when he got into government, but he didn't take any notice of me. Particularly when he became Deputy Leader also there was so much euphoria ... he was there ... Jimmy loved to be liked, he was a most unusual man, an enormous courageous man, but for some reason or other he'd let people get in there to con him. Now, I can smell a con a mile away, but not Jimmy, Jimmy took everybody on trust and they were some of the worst conmen you ever met in your life. And conwomen, god they were terrible. I mean it's a part of leadership. It's a part of responsibilities. But having said that, god if you'd just see him now, I mean, he's eighty two, he's nearly 82, and he's a beautiful person, just beautiful.
Oh yes. Always. Yes, helped me in my type of reading and discussing and even the question of patience I learned a lot about, you see -- when Cairns entered a meeting and they want to talk to him, particularly during those Vietnam days, and he'd listen to their point of view, and answer their questions, and so articulate. The interesting thing was that when he was talking to you he wasn't looking anywhere else, it was you he was dealing with and he would deal with your problems and your questions.
Yeah, really long before that, the great thing, back in the late '50s, was of course against the anti-nuclear testing, and it was Cairns. I was always pro-peace, but never in the peace movement, and it was Cairns that encouraged me to participate in the peace movement and for instance I attended the 1959 peace conference in Melbourne, which in fact was a very important conference, particularly against nuclear testing, and of course we agitated from there right up until 1963 for the partial test ban treaty. And when we in the peace movement would complain about the testing of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, that the Americans or the British, when their bombs would go off -- 'oh, they're clean bombs' -- but when the Russians or the Chinese would go off, particularly the Russians in those early years because the Chinese didn't come until later, that they were dirty bombs. But we in the peace movement opposed all nuclear, but because we were opposing the establishment, we were suspect people. Of course when the partial test ban treaty came about in 1963, they went underground and we continued to oppose underground testing, but China and France continued to test in the atmosphere and we opposed those as well. Now what I'm so proud of in Australia today, recently against the French tests, was the unanimity of the Australian people against nuclear testing because they now know that testing, whether it's underground or in the atmosphere, it does affect our environment and humanity as a whole. And it's been quite remarkable, but I can tell you that Cairns and myself and other people in the peace movement, in those late '50s and early '60s, we were suspect. So that was the first big struggle I was involved with him, but then, later we struggled in those early years, in those early '60s, about the nuclear test ban treaty, I'm sorry nuclear-free zone in the southern hemisphere, and of course little did I realise in later years that a Hawke Government would in fact do the partial test ban treaty or the nuclear test ban treaty in the southwest pacific, which was quite a remarkable achievement at that time. But we were early beginners, again, on seeking the test ban treaties. And then of course, gradually the questions of the '60s are the problems of Vietnam, and the problems of Malaysia. For instance, myself, I opposed the first time that we sent advisers to Vietnam, that was in May of 1962, and when I got back to Parliament in August of '62 for the budget session of those days, I put a question on notice paper, I was the first person to raise that question about our troops going to Vietnam. But I've made an examination of those studies and going back to the periods of the 1960s, in '63 we raised it again, and in '64 again we continued to raise it, and by '63-'64 Cairns and I were doing certain universities and campuses and union movements and communal meetings and other such things. Now even the Labor Party was not really committed to our position, and in fact, the Left of the Party, as early as February 1965, they endorsed the US positions within the caucus. What happened was that we reassembled for the Autumn session at Canberra in February and in the meantime there'd been this bombing of North Vietnam and so we in the Left moved the resolution -- Cairns was the one that moved it -- that we should condemn the bombing by the Americans of North Vietnam. And of course there was an amendment moved on this occasion by Kim Beazley (who by the way later played a remarkable role on the Vietnam question) but again it took a long time in the late '60s and early '70s, so we were defeated, and therefore the Labor caucus supported the bombing of North Vietnam and both Whitlam and Calwell were both supportive of that. Now where the dramatic change came about was, in April, Menzies made the decision to send a battalion to Vietnam. And of course, that reply by Calwell on May the 4th, 1965, in the parliament would add a great change of position of many within the Labor movement in its Opposition. But even then, even [though] Calwell's speech itself was a very wonderful speech, don't get me wrong (though I wasn't there, I was overseas at the time) but I know by reading it was a great speech, but the positive term in it was that Cairns had written into the paragraph 'we will work to reverse the decision'. Now I examined Hansard not so very long ago and Arthur had just changed it to 'we will try to work to reverse the decision'. But we in the Left used that resolution, that speech of Calwell's, as a positive term of our Opposition that we would work to reverse the decision. But there was no real unanimity within the Labor Party across the board about bringing about -- I mean, there was opposition to the war, most people, Whitlam and the whole lot, were opposed to the war and thought that we should not be there and America shouldn't be there, but they wouldn't do anything positive about our withdrawal position. It wasn't until Whitlam, in November 1969, said that if he became Prime Minister [that] by the 1st of July, 1970, every Australian would be home from Vietnam. That united the Labor Party behind Whitlam as the leader, and particularly on the policy of Vietnam. Up until then there was still divisions, and I can recall even on the great moratoriums in 1970 and early 1971, there were still, in the early stages in New South Wales Right, reservations about the moratoriums, so it wasn't until the last moratorium of May of 1971 that people like John Ducker and the then Secretary of the Labor Party, Geoff Cahill, came onto the platform and shared the platform with the anti-moratorium movement. Or pro-moratorium movement. In Vietnam, against the war, and I was the chairperson of that Sydney committee. Now of course the position was much more advanced in Victoria where there was general unanimity, but you've got to recognise that New South Wales Right still had a very powerful position and it took them a long time to come on side.
Did that have anything to do with the fact that during the '50s when you were working in the peace movement you were so suspect, and that that was associated with your being seen as really associated with communism in the activities in the peace movement?
Well, I never really got involved in the peace movement in any way, I was Mr Respectability in a way until I became a Member of Parliament, because I'd never really taken up any real position in the peace movement or anywhere else, but I certainly did take a position on the split within the party, and as I said earlier on, I was guided more by sectarian than a logical position but as I evolved as a person I hadn't taken up the role in the peace movement outside until the 1959 conference. By that time I was a Member of Parliament, but because of my position against the group of movements -- I might tell you, for the first 11 years I was a Member of Parliament, I never got an invitation from a Catholic organisation. Now thank goodness that's a thing of the past and I find today that in the peace movement and the anti-war movement generally, throughout the world, many Catholics are playing a magnificent role and so is the church. I think the Catholic Church in Australia, particularly bishops like Bishop Benjamin of Townsville and Bishop Heaps and Bishop Heather of Sydney, I mean they are magnificent men in themselves and they're great peace fighters in their own right. And many of the nuns as well, by the way.
Yeah they were, but the sad thing about it was, it took a long time for the Catholics in Australia to get their ecumenical spirit. John XXIII, who had an enormous influence on both Cairns and myself as a human being, and his philosophy, it took a long time for the Irish Catholics of Australia to recognise the spirit that he entered into. I mean, he opened up the Catholic Church which had been moribund for 300 years and could start to evolve. Now, many of the great political, social, leaders of the world, in Latin America or Central America or Africa -- look at their role against apartheid, they were never budged on this issue, so it took a long time for the Catholics in Australia to get the Liberal brew view through it. Really, it was a bit like New York City, in New York, and American Catholics under Spellman and people like that, they really did take a pretty rigid negative anti-communist role in that situation, but now that the Cold War's over, , even before the Cold War was over, from '63 onwards, there's been a real evolutionary process of change I believe within the church. That's from my own observations anyway.
When you arrived in Parliament you were already involved with the Left of politics. Did you have a sense that you were coming in as a Labor member, or were you conscious of the factions even then that you felt yourself already identified with the Left?
No, I was so proud to be a Member of Parliament, to be a representative of the people, that was the main basic thing, but once I got into the caucus itself and built the bridge with Cairns, I never ever thought I was amongst any other group other than the Parliamentary Left.
It was just an atmosphere of the feeling I had with the people I was involved with. And also, from what I'd read, I really was orientated more that way. But I was completely unaligned, even with the steering committee of New South Wales I was not really deeply involved with them prior to being elected to parliament. I'd been, I suppose a Leftist, but I was fairly independent prior to that. I'd become more collectivised towards the Left after being elected into the parliament itself. And I think that the initiatives I took, I mean I never ever ... for instance, the Left these days is quite regimented. And it's a part of proportional representation -- there's careerism as much in the Left as there is in the centre of the Right these days, because people go into it for career, to advance their own personal career position, but in those days we didn't really determine who the Left candidate should be, what we would do. If there were two or three candidates from the Left running for a position, we'd more or less say, well, vote for the best man of the Left, but make sure you interconnect your preferences. We never tried to regiment people whether they could stand or whether they couldn't stand that occurred and remained right through until the early '80s.
No. That's right. In fact in those days, if you wanted to make anything, you not only got the block left vote, but you knew you also had to convince some people at the centre, in my case the centre, because very rarely would anybody from the Right ever vote for me, to convince them that you were the right type of candidate to get up. Now, for instance, I never ... I mean, right up until the time I even became a minister in the Hawke Government, that's in '83, I'd never relied on any factional group just to get me there; I was already there. I mean, I was a part of the leadership of the party from after the 1969 election right through to the 1987 election. I carried a position either in the shadow ministry or as a minister and sometimes Deputy Leader. For two years I was Deputy Leader of the Party, so I was a part of the Left and I'd earnt my spurs not from being a token leftist, being a part of a bush representation, but I'd earnt my spurs with the support of the caucus who thought I was worthy of being elected to a leadership position.
Well, at first I think it took a long time. First of all, it was 11 years before I stood for any position. I worked behind Cairns and people knew that I was a person who was a fairly strong servant generally of the movement itself, and I think I must've made some contribution otherwise I wouldn't have been elected after the '69 elections. Because right up until '69, particularly I'd had very little in common with Gough, for instance, on foreign policy. I found a conflict with his position and many of the internal issues which I think I'm wrong and he was right, that I wasn't greatly involved in. And people would say to me, why don't you stand after the '66 election? Some of my Left colleagues got up into the shadow ministry and they said, 'Why don't you stand? I said, 'Oh, I won't waste my time, the big bastard would probably give me Veteran's Affairs or something like that,' a portfolio which would take up a lot of your time but you want to determine your priorities on other issues. But to my great surprise after the '69 elections -- by the way I thought Whitlam's greatest hour as leader of the party was in the '69 elections and I admired him greatly for the role he played at that time because I always thought if we were to achieve victory, we needed an economic downturn. Whitlam was able to prove to me anyway that at the '69 elections, he nearly won the election without any major economic downturn. Mainly on positive policies. And of course we were united on the question of Vietnam and bringing our troops home. So after the '69 election for the first time I went around amongst my Left colleagues and said to them, 'Do you think I should put my name forward as a member of the executive of the Parliamentary Party, as we called it then; there was no shadow ministry up to that point, it was always the executive of the Parliamentary Party. And it was after the '69 elections that Whitlam in fact allocated his portfolios and in allocating his portfolios, he gave me Urban and Regional Development. Now I appointed myself as the Environmental spokesperson, which he later concurred on, but my real portfolio was Urban and Regional Development. And that was a liberating thing for me and it was a great choice on his part. I asked him years later, you know, why did he make that decision? He said, 'Well, Tom, I'd observed the way you lived and surroundings that you created in Guildford and also what you'd done with your retreat in Mt Wilson, that I thought that you were the person to look after that field.' So you know, he'd been observing many things about me, and of course he should've ... if he'd been a little man, in many ways, a petty man, because of the things that I did to Whitlam during that period of the '60s, then he would've given me a kind of a portfolio that would've isolated me, but as you well know urban and regional affairs was so close to his own heart. I think Gough was terribly involved in the environment in Australia. He certainly was involved in the grand design of the environment in old Europe, you know, particularly the historical sites and the cathedrals and many of those things, but I don't [know] that he was ever deeply involved in environmental things in Australia but in fairness to him, he certainly, when I took on that environmental portfolio, both the natural one and the man-made one, he certainly backed me all the way.
Well, I wouldn't have dreamed it, that I could have got -- I always wanted portfolios which was close to the people. And certainly he, in his wisdom, made that decision, that I was close to people and the issues I must've talked about; he chose wisely, I mean for me personally ... it certainly was rewarding to me ...
Well, housing. I was always interested in housing and that was a part of my portfolio, overall portfolio. And I was always involved in community issues, so that again was interrelated with that. But I didn't specialise on it, I specialised on taxation matters and foreign policy prior to that. That was my main ... I was a member of the economics committee and right from my beginning. And also I was very interested in foreign affairs and matters of world war and peace. They were the issues that overwhelmed me.
Well, first of all, we foresaw or I did anyway, always saw Cairns as the natural leader. Whitlam, I thought, more than a centrist, I would have thought he was to the Right of centre, on a lot of these issues, and I thought he was too Americanised on his foreign policy. The one thing I admired of Whitlam during the '60s, really admired him for, was he was one of the early pioneers against White Australia. And he with Cairns and Billy Hayden was also greatly outspoken (of course we in the Left were also) against the White Australia Policy. We believed that Australia's policy shouldn't be determined by colour, creed or race. We've always stood by that position; now, Whitlam was outstanding on that situation, and every time he'd make a statement (and of course old Arthur Calwell was the leader) I would always send him a telegram of congratulations.
Well, Calwell would believe black is black and white is white and never the twain shall meet. And he was with that philosophy right through to his death. As were a lot of other old traditional Laborites. If you go back and do early Labor history, there was always the threat of a slave labour from the Asian labour or the black labour and there was that mentality ran through their veins, so I don't think a lot of them ever got out of that situation.
And Tom, on this issue, for you personally, what had been your own progress through this, because you had spent that time with the Japanese in a prisoner of war camp, and certainly the prevailing views around as you grew up and developed were often quite racist in the Australia of that time. What was your own personal position on all of this, and did you have a struggle with it?
No, first of all, hate. I don't think there's any progress in hate, in fact as I developed Martin Luther King's view on hate; hate is always tragic, it distorts the personality and scars the soul. It's more injurious to the hater than it is to the hated, and my own view was there was no progress in hate. Now I think that that growing period that I had in the latter part of the last year as this prisoner of war ... I think I've always had a compassion for people, and having that compassion, the barriers broke down. That's why even the question of -- still I hadn't really evolved completely because there was still that sectarian streak in me up until at least the middle '50s. And it took me a while to in fact evolve out of that. But I'd say by the late '50s that I'd evolved out of no such thing as religious prejudice. There was no issues such as racism of any description. So before I got into parliament I'd gone far beyond that -- having a feeling of racism or prejudice against other human beings.
No. I can't. I can remember feelings of sectarianism, but not of racism. And of course, that sectarianism was only bred into me by other prejudice from my upbringing itself, and of course you've got to recognise in this country of ours, I mean Catholics, they might have gone through a difficult period in the Labor Party, but you've got to remember if you go back to the 1930s, if you wanted a job in Sydney or in New South Wales, you had to put down what your religion was, and if you applied for a job in private enterprise and you were Roman Catholic you didn't get a job. So I mean we went through that very strong sectarian period. So that's why the public service was full of Catholics, both state and federal, because they had nowhere else to go to get jobs. So thank god we've got that behind us. But we went through a very sectarian period in the early part of our 30's, and evolving in our history as I said, in 1957 even it was prevailing in the Labor Party to try to counteract the split that had occurred in the party over the movement issue. Because '57 you had to be 60 per cent British immigration and 40 per cent non-British, meaning Europeans, no white, because it wasn't until 1965 that we in fact changed our White Australia Policy. But I entered the Parliament in 1958 with no such thing as colour, creed or race. In fact, I attended the Commonwealth Association Conference at Canberra in 1959 -- that's where I met Clem Attlee, by the way, the former Prime Minister of England, and so many others. Actually Turner, John Turner, who later became Prime Minister of Canada, he was also there. But I met a young Singapore doctor, and I was talking this way and he was just astounded that here's me, Tom Uren, the way I talked in a white Australia, he was astounded the way I did talk, in a country that still had a White Australia Policy. But it just came naturally to us. But that's what I admired about Whitlam at that time. And it wasn't a popular thing to do in those days. It was really quite courageous on his part.
I think I was a natural environmentalist but my wife, Patricia, really nurtured me a great deal in it. But I can recall though even back in my prisoner of war days, you know, we had to walk about six to seven kilometres back from the railway back to our camp and we had to over a mountain and on the top of this mountain was this blacksmith's forge and where my feet had been sore and weeping -- they had a 44-gallon drum that had been cut in half and was full of hot water where the people who were on the blacksmith's forge had been sharpening the grilles that we used to knock the holes through to (in the railway) and I'd sit on this edge of this 44-gallon drum and put my feet in and I'd look out over those teak forests, and I thought to myself what a beautiful environment it is, and how I must come back to this one day, when I'm free. We used the words 'when I was free'. The tragedy was, I went back there in '87, when I was free, I was a minister at the time, and do you know there wasn't one teak tree left. Not one. The whole of that area, practically the whole of Thailand, has been raped of the most precious timber in the world, the teak trees. They're now moving into Cambodia and Burma and places like that. That's the tragedy of it. And so I'm talking about that feeling about the environment was there, but then when I came particularly with Patricia, my evolvement -- first of all my love of my garden and the love of the northern hemisphere, first of all I fell in love with the northern hemisphere's trees and I can always remember in my early days, particularly as a Member of Parliament, talking about the question -- instead of talking about the peace movement I might be talking to a group of ladies from the International Red Cross or it might be a church group and I'd talk about my story about my garden, because I used to talk about in my garden we got the cedrus deodora of the Himalayas, the liquid ambers and the camellias and ashes ... sorry, can I start all over again?
In my garden I would have the cedrus deodora and the rhododendrons of the Himalayas, there'd be the camellias of China, there'd be the azaleas and maples of Japan, there'd be the liquid ambers of North America and the jacarandas from Latin America, the oak and ash of England together with the good old silver birch of the Soviet Union blending together with the Australian gum. It would be a wonderful thing if the human race could just take a pattern from our garden. Of course, the ladies would get up and start talking about Mr Uren's ... of course I was talking really about the human race and what we should do. Or I might go to naturalisation ceremonies and I was talking about, you know, our citizens. Our new citizens who had come to this, our shore. That, you know, you plant a tree, you plant two trees, one will grow up strong and robust without any assistance at all. On the other hand, the other one will have to struggle. But if you take care and nurture it and make its root systems healthy, it too will grow up as a strong and lovely tree. So with our citizens ... And so I used to always use this philosophical message of trying to talk about human beings together with what our trees were. But as I've developed, I've realised also that the love of my own flora and the need to plant our own flora because of the dryness of our continent and our lack of water, and so I've come kind of the circle, but I love the planet. I love the human race. And I see this inter-relationship. An American biologist by the name of Barry Commoner had an enormous influence on me very early on. And he has two main principles. The first ... there's four really. But the first two principles, one is that everything's connected to everything else, and the second principle, everything's gotta go somewhere. Well, you think about that. It's so interrelated. All my urban programs, when I'm talking about urban matters, when I was talking about the local governments, get out of their little parochial, little local areas and look at the inter-relationships that they've got to have in a kind of regional concept. And with my urban planning, with my environmental planning, because you just think of things: if you burn something it goes up in the air and it's going to affect -- whether it's industry, chemicals or anything else, or whether you pour something down the drain in the sewer, where does it go or where does it finish up? And that's had such an influence on me in my thinking and in my environmental thinking. And of course, there was my love, my love of man-made things. Not only nature but man-made. Luckily for me I had Elizabeth Farm cottage on one end of my electorate and Lansdowne Bridge on the other: two of the most historic pieces of man-made culture in Australia. And of course, I agitated, even through the '60s, to do something about this. Or, the natural environment, I was a great lover of -- I used to always talk about the beauty of the lemon-scented gums, they were the silver birch of our own gardens because like the silver birch they peel their bark. But, on top of that of course, my greatest love of all of my own local flora in Sydney is the angophora. I wrote a letter once to the Sydney Morning Herald saying I loved every angophora from Sutherland to Bilpin to Avalon, and that when any Commonwealth Estate bureaucrat scars those angophoras, I feel the scar personally myself. And of course my letters to the Sydney Morning Herald talking about the environment kind of balance my personality of aggression, my anti-war role in the war, so again this was showing two sides of my nature. They really were interconnected, but a lot of people used to think I was a terrible monster insofar as opposing the war in Vietnam, but on the environmental questions I was a little bit more human.
You were drawn into the environmental movement initially by your love of beauty and your response, your emotional response, to beautiful things. Then gradually you began to understand more about its significance for our entire future, for the future of the world. When you actually got an opportunity in government to do something about it, were you positioned by then to [see] very clearly the way you wanted to go with the opportunity to lead us in relation to that area?
Well, can I tell you a story? First of all, it was Christmas of 1971, not long before we got into government. And I'd had a nice meal at Beppi's in Sydney, lovely Italian restaurant, and Geraldine Pascall who worked for Lionel Murphy at that time, she was crying on my shoulder about some of the things Lionel wasn't doing, so when we'd finished lunch, I walked up to the corner of Park and Elizabeth Street, and straddled around the old TNG building was this scaffolding to pull down something which was unique in its architecture in that majestic old TNG building. Then from there I walked along Elizabeth Street and I just passed Market Street and there they were pulling down the old St James building, and I was a great theatre-goer, and MGM films used to always show at this St James Theatre. It was a lovely old building and they're pulling it down to put up another one. And top it all off, I walked down King Street and I stood on the corner of King and George Street, and there right opposite was this lovely old sandstone building which had boarding around it saying 'you can bank on the Wales' -- really scarred looking. I went down the GPO and wrote a short note to my secretary and I sent that to the Daily Telegraph, the Sydney Morning Herald and The Australian and three of them published. It was this letter about the destruction. I walked through the centre of Sydney and the heart seemed to be torn right out of it. And I was complaining about, 'can't somebody in some authority create something to protect our heritage', and little did I know that within a year or so I would be given that opportunity. Now what broke my heart to some degree was that because we were 14 shadow ministries, and when we became government they made us into 27 ministries so therefore Gough had to put the portfolios, spread them more widely. So he rang me up, first of all to tell me that he'd just appointed Justice Evatt to an important position on the bench, to try and soften me up because he was knew I was close to old Clive Evatt, and then he said, Look, comrade, I'm afraid I've got to take Environment away from you.' And of course, I was brokenhearted. But when the administrative arrangements came, well first of all I convinced him who should replace me, and I convinced him it should be Moss Cass. I think Moss Cass and Graham Richardson are the only two great environmental ministers we've ever had. Since the environmental portfolio's been created. John Faulkner has still to prove himself, but those two, they were outstanding in their portfolios. Anyway, when the administrative arrangements were set up, Whitlam had still left me with the National Estate. Even [though] I had urban and regional development, the National Estate was still mine. And that was specific. Now, so after a short while, and I was, you know, talking -- different people had asked me what I meant by the National Estate and I'd talk about the landscape of the lower Blue Mountains, the foreshores of Sydney Harbour, that clump of lemon-scented gums, spotted gums, between Appin and Campbelltown and remember if you go up into the Bellingen Valley there's a magnificent stand of melaleucas there, and he said, 'My god Tom, we've got to have something more definitive than that!' So we set up this inquiry into the National Estate. Now this chap we chose for it was Justice Hope of the Supreme Court and we had intended to put Jack Mundey also onto the inquiry but [Robert] Askin wouldn't release Hope if we had Mundey on the thing because Mundey had had a libel action out against Askin. So that held it up for several months 'til ultimately I went to Gough and said, 'Look, what about if we put Jack Mundey on as adviser onto the cities' commission and that we put Milo Dunphy in Jack's place on the inquiry into the National Estate, and of course, that's what happened. And Gough concurred immediately. And of course the inquiry was set up. Now it really was my initiative -- it wasn't Gough's -- but it was set up under joint names of both myself and the Department of the Environment and if you look at the records at the time of the whole inquiry the Department of the Environment never even made a submission. The reason they didn't make a submission was they were a bit worried that it was one of the expansive ministries. They thought I was going to take over their empire. But that wasn't my position at all, in fact, I always supported Moss in environmental questions. But, so anyway, when the inquiry went through and it was a great success, there was one person who emerged out of it that in my view made the greatness of the report and made the greatness of its evolutionary process, and that was David Yencken. He's now a professor in one of the Melbourne universities, Victorian universities, but also he was a former Head of the Victorian Planning and Environment Department and I appointed him as the first Chairperson of the Australian Heritage Commission, so the inquiry came down of the National Estate and arising out of that, I then introduced the legislation for the Australian Heritage Commission. So, that's what I'm extremely proud of, my role in that evolutionary process. Now, Gough, in his book, virtually gives me little recognition and in my book I deal with some of my conversation with Gough saying that I can have some arguments about the historical development. But in fairness to Gough, it was Gough's drive and tenacity that allowed the legislation to come forward and to get through. Otherwise it would have never got through. We got the legislation through, we got Yencken made Chairperson of the Australian Heritage Commission, but we never ever appointed the commission before we were struck down in November of 1975. So it's really, I suppose, a joint effort between Gough and myself, and Moss certainly went along with me on those issues, although his department were extremely sensitive about my interfering with their portfolio. But in the end Gough and Moss and I made an agreement whereby I would look after the man-made environment and he would like after the wilderness environment and that's how Gough set up the administrative arrangements for the National Estate, or the Australian Heritage Commission. So you know I am proud of that evolutionary process which grew out of my love in so many ways, about my love and commitment to the environment.
I was always worried about that, but there were two things that really survived out of our portfolio. One was the Heritage Commission and I think to some extent it was probably David Yencken's wisdom and patience that was able to get through and hold it together. Although it was slightly amended by the Fraser Government (the legislation) the other thing which survived out of my portfolio, inter-related with Charlie Jones, transport ministry, was the urban public transport, rapid trains and buses within the urban cities. They're the only two major programs, but the great thing about the programs out of my department that survived, most of them either built up within the state apparatus, you see, and prior to that there was very little planning authorities within the states, but after DURD there was the development of the New South Wales planning process, the Department of Environment and Urban Planning, and certainly Victoria, South Australia and Perth also made great advances. There doesn't seem to be much progress on urban planning until modern times in Queensland, and it's done on a minor scale in Tasmania. But I'm proud to say that even though my DURD suffered, being struck down in 1975, something like 20-odd members of that wonderful band of people that worked with me finished up being either permanent heads or what they call secretaries now, in federal department or state departments or statutory authorities, either in the state or commonwealth. So, the DURD influence is still functioning today. And if that Commoner, those principles -- they weren't socialist programs that was on, but there were two things, the first thing is efficiency and equity that we have to make our cities efficient ...
Well, first of all the department was based on equity and efficiency, and that we really wanted to make the cities more equitable. And people don't realise how inequitable a city can be, particularly in the case where employment exists, where social and recreational opportunities are. Everybody says Sydney is a beautiful city, and it is a beautiful city if you live in or round about the Sydney Harbour, or you live on the north down to Warringah or you live on the South to Sutherland, on the coast, Cronulla way, but once you go west of Strathfield, you've got to keep in mind that it stretches now for something like 50 kilometres from the GPO, stretches south-west. And in my days, the centre of Sydney's population -- we're talking about the period that Whitlam and I were arguing about -- we used to argue that if you looked at Rookwood Cemetery and drew a line north and south there were more people living west of that line than lived in the whole of South Australia or the whole of Western Australia. But now, of course, you've got to draw that line well beyond Parramatta and that same thing, terminology, exists. And where the future growth of Sydney's going to be is in the western corridor and in the southwestern corridor and probably in the northwestern corridor from Blacktown to Windsor. And we foresaw this and we wanted to bring some equity and justice to the western region of Sydney. But not only Sydney, we looked at all the cities of Australia and did plans. For instance in Melbourne, we cooperated and did a plan with the Hamer Government where we felt that there were 18,000 too many Commonwealth and public servants in the centre of the central business district of Melbourne and that they should be relocated in other sub-metropolitan centres and with inter-regional areas, we were prepared to do similar things and in fact we did do similar things in the Sydney region because they were the two most advanced cities. But even a city like Brisbane, one can see what a crying need of a city like Brisbane is that it needs [an] electric railway line from Brisbane to the Gold Coast. It needs to create another sub-metropolitan centre between those two points so that if you build a transport system, then if you send it out the trains of a morning or the buses of a morning, they all go out empty and then come back packed to go into the central business district. What you've got to do is balance the transport load. And I noticed that since our days, when we started to talk like this, that now if you travel on a railway carriage that there are people going to Parramatta for employment from the east to go over to the west or if you go on the northern lines you'll notice that people are travelling up to Chatswood for employment instead of all travelling into the CBD in the morning and of course the reverse situation at night so there's some balance on that transport load and that was the one of the things. But there was also the social isolation of so many because they built Housing Commission and other new suburbs out into the western suburbs of Sydney, southwestern suburbs of Sydney. The isolation particularly if they're only a one-man car, but public transport away from the railway lines is so atrocious that most people would use their own motorcar, the husband, and the wife would be stranded all day at home. What did the wife and children do for social amenities? And so these are all the studies that we had to do and, again, if I can use that inter-relatedness, you can't do anything in isolation. If you really build houses in an isolated area then it's going to affect other social matters, there's that inter-relationship, so when you give shelter make sure you don't transfer other costs by giving them shelter [over] health and social issues and employment issues and cultural issues and other such responsibilities. You've got to look at the city as a whole and I used to try to argue that we should look at the metropolis and not just look at the central business district. I'm arguing now, and have been arguing for a number of years, even in the Hawke Government (I mean I had less influence of course in the Hawke Government than I had in the Whitlam Government) but after I'd even left the ministry I warned the Hawke Government that the worst thing they could do was to build the third runway at Sydney. It would be environmental vandalism. Because what it will do, it will crush the minds of so many people within the inner city of Sydney, and many of them will be working-class people, for the next 50 years. I warned them that what they should do -- next to the Aboriginal question in Australia, the most serious social problem we have is the employment base of the future younger and future generations in western Sydney. Now once there was employment out there because there were factories and other places of employment of some substance, that would create some employment base. But now, they've got big warehouses, what they call distributing centres. They're computerised and there are very few people working in those warehouses. It's traffic chaos from the coast out to these warehouses and I might say it's upsetting for the suburbs between east and west, but we really need to create a catalyst for employment. Now a second Sydney Airport ideally should be located at Badgery's Creek, but I argue that if it is to be built there, it has to be done in a visionary way, otherwise you will affect, even worsen, the already serious air pollution and water pollution that you've got to the Hawkesbury and Nepean system. This should be done in a visionary way. I suggested that they should send their planners and their engineers to go and see some of the international airports overseas, and the one I recommended was Frankfurt in Germany where you come out of an aircraft, you pick up your luggage, you go down on an escalator, you get on a rapid public train system. Now we don't need more freeways to Badgery's Creek, what we need is a rapid public transport system from Badgery's Creek linking up East Hills, which is going through a lot of state-owned land at present, and that would get it rapidly into the city, but you would also need a railway line from Badgery's Creek, south to link up with Canberra, and the other one going north, underground under Parramatta and linking up with a northern line maybe at Epping or somewhere, linking up the northern line. Unless they do it in a visionary way, by creating the Badgery's Creek Airport they will worsen their position. But by doing that, not only will it be good planning for the metropolis as a whole, but it will also be a catalyst for present employment and future employment because that airport creates service industries. Now I reckon that the only two policies the Hawke Government did for the people of western Sydney was to buy the land for the second Sydney airport, and to establish a second university. They're both catalysts for the employment base. Now one of the problems was that the '85 decision of the Hawke Government was that they didn't buy sufficient land to make it an international decision, but luckily the last budget of the Keating Government has made a decision to purchase sufficient land to go ahead. Now I'm not saying it should go ahead now in a piecemeal way unless they do it in a visionary way. But if they do it properly, it will be a great catalyst and will be a great stimulus for the future employment base of western Sydney. Now that's just some of the intelligent urban planning that we can do. But there are many other things, of course, in many other places [that] can be done as well.
I'm partially optimistic, because what I'm worried about is this privatisation madness. You see there's a privatisation madness that they think that the private sector will do it. I don't think they will. I think there has to be a major investment made in it, a mammoth major investment by the national government and if Keating is the visionary that I think he could be, then he could grapple with it. I'm not sure, and I'm not trying to denigrate John Howard. I'm not sure that Howard could go in the same way. Although Howard has a vested interest because he does live under the flight path at present and does know the continuing agony while that third runway exists that way it is. I don't think the Sydney Airport can ever be replaced, but I think the major traffic can be diverted to this new airport at Badgery's Creek. Now to say that it hasn't been a long-term plan ... it was being under consideration even in my time. Back in '72-'75, it was under study then, and one of the tragedies has been of course that state governments in the meantime haven't really had the vision and also the character to limit urban development in those corridors. Now the present inquiry -- there was an inquiry held -- which will have some implications on trying to emphasise that situation but it's not going to be easy to do it, but I hope that with Carr, I mean, one can have disagreements with Bob Carr, but one of the things I do like about Carr is his role, his commitment to the environment, his commitment to urban planning. Now I worked with him when he was minister, and I know his commitment, so therefore if Keating -- because in many ways Keating's got a lot of Whitlamism in him -- if Keating and Carr do really work together as a team, we can solve that problem.
Well, first of all, I think a minister must be the minister, and he must basically make the decisions. He must give leadership to his team, and leadership to the people around him. And I think that he should seek good advice before he makes his decisions. And I think that he's got to come down from his ego a bit and think that he hasn't got all the solutions himself, that if he builds a strong enough team around him and give those people encouragement to develop their thoughts and their views, then I think that he will be a fine minister. One of the things about my ministry, in my role as a minister, I had good staff that serviced me, but also I was fortunate enough to be able to create my own department, and I must say I want to place on record the greatness of that wonderful department of DURD, even though we had a very fine Head of the Department in Bob Lansdowne, the great strength of the employment selection was done by Pat Troy who was the acting deputy head of that department, who later went back to the urban research unit at the ANU. Now, I was very fortunate that I always had good people working with me all my political life. Some people used to say, Oh, Uren's not a very bright bloke, but somehow or other he seems to get good people to work for him.' [Laughs] Well, that's life.
Well, it was common-sense anyway. It's common-sense that you get good material around you, but in the end it's that decisiveness -- you make the decision and that's what I grew out of my reading of Roosevelt in those early years, that ultimately, Roosevelt would hear the arguments around him, but ultimately he'd make the decision. For instance, I'll give you an example, on the creation of the Australian Heritage Commission, my bureaucrats didn't want to give too much independence on decision-making process to the commission, but in fact retain it within the ministry. On the one hand, David Yencken argued that there should be greater independence. I supported Yencken's interpretation and guidance on that, more than some of my own people I admired by the way, but I understood Yencken's continuity of sensitivity of environmental things. It's just like the arts. I think it's another field that that there shouldn't be too much political interference, I think, you know, art and culture and planning and ...
Yes, the tenders in government, for instance, I was minister for administrative arrangements and I know the sensitivity of tenders; a minister doesn't interfere into those things. That's where corruption comes in.
Well, I'll give you an example. I bought more land than any other man in the history of Australia. I mean, nobody has spent more money purchasing land on behalf of the public than I did in both my first administration under Whitlam and secondly under Hawke, because I was Minister of Services towards the end of the Whitlam Government and having control over commonwealth properties, and again the last three years of the Hawke Government. Plus the fact that my urban plans of Albury-Wodonga and other such centres. And the land commission programs which we created throughout the country. But, a developer who came into my office, never came in alone. The permanent head or a very senior bureaucrat would be in there taking copious notes of everything that transcribed in my place. Even Bond and all those developers came into my office. I only saw Bond once because he came and saw me and used me as though I was going to do great things on his behalf. Or use his visit with me to stimulate his position. It was the last time he ever had a private one with me. But generally, if a developer saw me, I made sure that my permanent head or a senior public servant was in there taking the appropriate notes so that they couldn't in any way point the finger at me in a corrupt manner.
The balance that's needed in a ministry between the political vision, the vision of the future of whatever the subject is that the minister has to have control of, and the organisation and administrative side of things is something that's often talked about. He, a minister is called a 'good administrator'. You've described your disappointment in Cairns, who was a visionary but who wasn't a good administrator, and wasn't a good minister in that sense. How do you rate yourself, looking back now, with a very objective eye, to your two major periods of being in the ministry?
I don't rate myself at all and I wouldn't ever try to, but I think history will be kind to me in regards to me as an administrator. But, you know, one has to determine that with other objectives. I wouldn't even say that Cairns wasn't a good administrator, all I would say is that he made errors of judgement in the nepotism. In fact, in many ways he was considered a good minister because he was a great listener. And a minister is a good listener. Sometimes a good minister. So there's contradictions there and I think that in the early part of Cairns' ministry, even though I disagreed with some of his staff appointments, I think he was a very successful minister.
Yes, for instance, I wanted to bring in a capital gains tax on real estate in my time and I was not successful. First of all at the time, Jim Cairns could have been more supportive at that time, he was the Treasurer, but I think the decision of treasury and a lot of the system -- even though it was a joint submission I fought it alone. It was one of my disappointments in Jim by the way and I told him so afterwards.
Well, I want to say I don't think I've even been in power. I think I've been in government. I think you gain in real power when the real people give you that full support of their administration, and I think that's probably two short periods in our times when we had that kind of support of the people. But, no, it was an exhilarating feeling, don't get me wrong, it was really a great wonderful feeling and it was an enormous experience and the great privilege that had been given to me over the years, first by [being] given those opportunities to serve. I mean like, for instance, I was responsible for the restructuring [after] Cyclone Tracy. I mean, I know there were other ministers, for instance Patterson and later Paul Keating, but in fact I had to get it under way with the infrastructure ...
Yes, oh yes. I mean, Tony Powell was Head of my National Capital Development Commission. In fact, he put the basis of the work into it, and it was through him and the skilled workers he got round him. The guts of that foundation of rebuilding of Darwin after Cyclone Tracy was really done first of all by my input and through Tony and other people working close with me.
Oh yes, well, first of all, I think Albury-Wodonga is a great achievement, even though I think that the Fraser Government sold us out and it gradually was weakened as governments went on; ultimately the Hawke Government sold out completely. And I think that's an utterly stupid decision in such a time ... so blind with free market forces. Treasury always hated it. Anything that was a planning proposal for intervention into the marketplace, both Treasury and Finance will oppose it at every level. But there are other great interventionist programs that we did. The intervention first of all of in the saving of Woolloomooloo was one great thing and that will stand forever more. And of course, the question of the Glebe Estate. And the great thing about not only the saving of the Glebe Estate but the freeway system you now see and that new bridge, second bridge, that occurred in Sydney Harbour, again was done really through my planning process and let me tell you how. Because when we bought the Glebe Estate, I was making a statement about why we bought it. We bought it first of all because it was at that time over 120 years old. Secondly, it was a townscape, 120 years old and ... I'm sorry I'll start off on that again.
The Glebe Estate, first of all, afterwards we were having a cup of tea. I made a statement that we bought it for three major reasons. First of all, to protect the people living in it, secondly, to protect the townscape, 120 years old, and thirdly, now that it was Australian property, the Askin Government will not be able to drive a freeway through the centre of it. Now following that, about having a cup of tea, the old director, or chairman of the Main Roads Board, said to me, 'Mr Uren, I listened with interest to what you had to say, but the governments come and governments go, but the Main Roads goes on forever.' I didn't say this to his face, but I thought, 'You arrogant old bastard.' And of course, six months later my bureaucrats with Charlie Jones' bureaucrats -- because I had control, any freeways within the inner city had to get my approval if there was any money expended in the states. Even though it was the transport department that would put the money through. Well, and my bureaucrats, and Charlie's -- Charlie being the minister for transport -- bureaucrats had met with the Main Roads authorities down in Sydney and they'd come back with an agreement that they were going to bring all the freeways across the Darling Harbour, bring them down to Jones Street and go no further. And of course they thought they had a wonderful agreement and of course I wouldn't accept this. First of all, I remembered what the old chairman of the Main Roads board had said, and I just knew that it would create a bottleneck. And ultimately would create a freeway system that would be two freeways cut across Wentworth Park, 800 metres apart, and one freeway would go up cutting a swathe through the Glebe Estate, then through Annandale then through Leichhardt and Burwood and Concord, and all the way up to link it up at Concord. And of course that would have been 150 metres wide, the same as North Sydney is. And of course I wouldn't cop that at all. So we argued all night, and Charlie wouldn't give in, so in the end we had to bring Jim Cairns in as Acting Prime Minister and he concurred. He heard Charlie's arguments first and then mine. And he said, 'I think Tommy's arguments are right.' So we wiped the decision. So the following morning I had Dick Smythe, who was the head of my transport section at DURD. I said, 'Dick, have we got any spare money to do an alternative study? 'Cause that's the only way to beat them.' He said, 'I think so.' So we got this firm of Jackson, Teece, Chesterman, Willis, I think was the other crowd that was with them. I call it the Chesterman plan. And it was Chesterman who did the study because he did the original study for us to purchase the Glebe Estate. And of course, it turned it round through Pyrmont and at that time there was to be a bridge about 88-feet clearance, a grander bridge than was originally decided. And it would have gone up over the Lilyfield railway yards and then linked up with the canals. Well, that's the plan, only they've moderated it slightly, but that's the plan that ultimately was approved and what happened was it was finally finished. We did the first study up to October, and we got them to do a further study, but by this time we were struck down. The offices that were formerly in my department were now in the department in the Housing, Environment and Community Affairs, and they encouraged their minister to send it on to the new government of New South Wales of Neville Wran. I found out that this had occurred, the grapevine told me, and then I wrote to Wran and within three days he'd replied to me and said there'd been a special committee set up under the chairmanship of Jack Ferguson, Lander and Peter Cox, and it was that influence with that program that went ahead and that's the alternative. Otherwise, you know, we beat the system. Otherwise there would have been that wide swathe cut right through there, and the second one, the Northwestern Freeway, would ultimately not only go through Lilyfield, but it also would have carved right through the Lane Cove Valley and created a scar there, so I'm proud about those achievements as well. But look, you go right round Australia and we've been able to intervene into so many other places. As Minister for Local Government, for instance, not only [in] the Whitlam period, but in the Hawke period, I was able to get my foot in the door in over 850 local government authorities. I mean, I believed in the people and that, ultimately, people have got to grab a greater say over their lives and we should be encouraging local government to be given more authority, not less authority.
Well, first of all, the men: chalk and cheese. One's a visionary and one is a good chairman. Good chairman, but a petty man. The other one can be a big man. I think Hawke is the best chairman I've sat under, but in many ways he's got some petty things and sectional little things. Which really does disturb one. But Whitlam, in his bigness; on the other hand, Whitlam was more autocratic than Hawke. Whitlam would determine the agenda of cabinet, and he would determine what would be discussed in cabinet. On the other hand, Hawke would allow things to be raised by ministers in cabinet. So there's pluses and minuses on both sides, but from the point of view of a visionary, I mean, I never found Hawke a deep person at any time. I found him a fairly shallow person, but at the same time I found him an effective communicator with people. And I suppose one could say a fairly astute politician. Because after all, he won four elections for the Labor Party. On the other hand, I found Whitlam a big man in every respect, a visionary, and I find with Whitlam I agree with most issues. I find a lot of kinship with him. I have complete disagreement with him on East Timor, that policy on East Timor, which I've told him so often and he knows that, but on most issues I find Gough quite a remarkable man and even Whitlam's continued to grow as a person. Even in the question of environment, in his retirement. I mean his role, for instance, as ambassador to UNESCO, he really has grown enormously in that role and he's now a world figure in the environmental world where, as I say, in the early days it was just, you know, he just saw his environment on the ruins of Europe and so forth, but now these days he's really an eminent person in the field of UNESCO. I think one of the sad things about Hawke's retirement is that, you know, he's got a new god and money seems to dominate him and it's really sad because you know with all Hawke's weaknesses, there is a great deal of compassion in his soul. About Hawke again, I don't want to be all negative about Hawke and I just don't want to knock him.
But I suppose I'm asking you from your point of view for Tom Uren, as a minister in that all too brief Whitlam period with all the pressures and difficulties there. Did you feel more positive in what you were doing in that context than in the better managed, smoother, more confident sort of government that you had under Hawke?
Well, one's chalk and one's cheese. And I'm afraid that all that positive thing was there with Whitlam. Whitlam would encourage you to do it. Whitlam encouraged me to acquire the Glebe Estate. On the other issue, I'll give you a simple explanation. When I became Minister for Administrative Services, for instance, there was a development, a port development, to be done in Port Melbourne, and there was only one street left of residentials we'd called Swallow Street. And I had some Commonwealth land I refused to transfer it to the state unless they gave consideration to the residents of Swallow Street. Do you know that Hawke said to me, you know, we can't interfere. We can't interfere in the state affairs in such and such a way.
No it wasn't his electorate, it was his mate Clyde Holding's electorate, but he just said we couldn't interfere, 'We'll have to take it before Cabinet.' So I said to him, 'Well, Bob, do you want to do that?' So anyway, what I was able to do, was I was able to see the State Minister for Planning, it was Evan Walker, and his head of his department was my old friend David Yencken so if I couldn't kill a cat one way, I killed it another. So ultimately, there was a plan came out and the residents of Swallow Street were all to stay the same. Now the thing is that the economics of it, the site, we've never gone ahead with it. Swallow Street people are still surviving, the port development hasn't occurred, but I'm talking about the philosophical position. I mean Hawke, even on the question of -- for instance, when he transferred the Department of Admin Services to me and the Commonwealth properties, I'd been involved in the original opening up negotiations of the Sydney Harbour National Park (of the transferring of the Commonwealth land to the State) and 20 years later, the land has still not been transferred. What he does, because he's got a link with two mates of his, Beazley and John Brown, he gives me the administration power of Admin Services, but doesn't allow me to do the negotiation for Jervis Bay and the Sydney Harbour Foreshore Lands. Well, of course I negotiated and wrote a lot of letters to him saying that look this is the wrong thing and ...
Well, it was a gradual situation because, as you know, I'd given the fight game up and I'd worked at Goodyear and then from there I started looking for this job and I got a start with Woolworths and when we went to Lithgow that's where she joined the Labor Party as I did. And so she became really socially involved in many of the issues that I felt about because we would talk about social injustice. She was a woman with enormous compassion herself. And so there was that gradual evolutionary process and ultimately most of the family followed a similar pattern. But, I think she was fully supportive of me going into politics, very much so. In fact, that's one of the great things about Patricia, she was not a possessive person, and she also was very supportive of the things I did.
No. We didn't. Actually we were married quite a time and -- when I say ... we didn't have any children naturally, but because it was my fault, we had tests and it was found that I couldn't produce. I wasn't you know negative in that way, but I had all the hormonal treatment and my old POW doctors like Arthur Moon and Ewan Corlette helped me but they sent me to a Professor Telfer who looked after me and really gave me a proper course and I went through all the tests and to really examine whether or not I could produce. It was found in the end I couldn't, so Patricia and I decided we should adopt.
It's something that it took me years and years and years and I still today don't really know whether it's affected me in any way, but I love my adopted, my children, as they are my own. And not only that but even without adopting my children, my position was such that I was a part of the human family but I'm very pleased that we really ultimately adopted children because you learn so much about life from having your own children. And we adopted both children -- we picked them up, the first one in July '59. It was just after about six months after I was elected to parliament. I had to wait five years for Michael and seven years for Heather, so it was in July 1959 that we picked up Michael and then of course two years later we were able to get Heather, our second child. And they've been wonderful children and never given us an ounce of problem. Both a bit headstrong in their own way, but they're both very loving and I'm very proud of them both.
Not as much as I should have been. I think right up until about 1969 I would've spent most weekends with my children. And in fact we had a retreat at Mt Wilson and we would go up there a lot and certainly I always remember I bought my sit-on lawn mower and I think I got a lot of frustrations out of my son's life. He's very, he was very car-orientated and instead of going out driving other people's cars he drove this tractor up on our three-and-a-quarter acre property at Mt Wilson. And so, in a way there was that great rapport and relationship up 'til about '69, then from '69 when I was on the shadow ministry my time was absorbed a little bit more. Well, I think I was still fairly close to my family until I became a minister, then they didn't see much of me.
Yeah. It grew into a problem. Yes. My daughter resented it much more than anyone else. And in the long term there were a couple of years, it was late '74, early '75, that Patricia wanted to depart from me. She decided that she didn't think that I needed her anymore.
Oh I think that, well first of all, I think that I was not faithful in a few cases, and it was my fault in every regard. And one of the things in my life that I do regret, that I never fought for her enough. And she wanted to live in the country so we purchased just under 300 acres at Dorrigo and built her a home for her there. And I would visit her at least every month. Sometimes ... I'd speak to her at least daily on the phone. Sometimes twice a day. In fact we remained very close.
They were in their early teens and they were at high school. And I think Michael took it well, but certainly Heather's always resented me. It took a long time ... she was very judgemental of me. And it was only in more recent years that I think she's buried the bone. And she'd got her own children and certainly they love their grandfather and I love them, and there's a great warmth there.
Well, I think the middle '60s, from there on I really changed a great deal in my nature. I mean, if I'd had extra relationships prior to 1960, the middle of the 1960's, I'd feel extremely guilty in myself. I wasn't a promiscuous person, but if I did have other relationships after the middle '60s I looked at that, you know, you can love more than one person but I didn't, I loved her very much and she was so much a part of my life and remained a part of my life and ...
I was very lonely, I must say, I actually was practically alone from about late 1975 right through to my more recent relationship. There was very short periods where I might have shacked up with a person for a short period of time but again I found that if people were possessive of me I just couldn't cope with that. It's a strange situation. I've always been a fairly free individual in that regards. Although I'm not -- I want to stress I have never been promiscuous but I've been a loving person, and therefore as far as this is a natural warmth that you build relationships with people. I hated hurting people because I've been hurt myself. But ...
Well, I not only did it in a sexual way, I did it in a moral way and a human and in every regards. I mean, I walked across a line and I was -- I would balk on intimidatory actions of, and taking on, institutions prior to that, but from '65 onwards, or about '64-'65, I'd never really bent the knee to anyone, it wouldn't matter whether it was Packer or Fairfax or whether it was Woolworths before them or whether it's Hawke or Whitlam or the system as a whole. If I thought I was right, well that's it, and I wasn't going to bend the knee to other people. I never found it, I didn't do it in a bravado sort of way, but it was a certain moral inner strength that I had and I was able to do it, and in fact I, you know, faced the system. My own Party can be very oppressive at times, but it certainly never was for me.
A lot of people have said, and some politicians' wives very publicly, that they feel that the political life, and especially that of ministers, is set up in a way that almost inevitably puts terrible pressures on families. Do you think that's true, or do you think that in a way, when you get to Canberra, there's a whole culture that allows you or encourages you not to be as responsible towards your family as you in deed could be?
No, I think it is true. I think it's a very dehumanising family situation. I think full credit to Keating for -- I mean Keating was very courageous on the position that he took, and I think the people of Australia should support him on his love of his family and standing up to that situation. But not everybody can in fact even be in a financial position even to do what Paul has done. But, certainly, in my view ...
Yes, that's right. Yes. Well, he took his whole family and decided to live in Canberra when he became a minister. But in my case there was a difference in that, a little bit different in most cases. First of all Patricia didn't like flying. Secondly, she didn't like leaving the children, she'd made that commitment to the children, and in fact I've learnt so much. You got to face facts. Younger men, when the children comes first and the husband comes second, something kind of, kind of stiffens, and you know you hurt, kind of, and I've grown a great deal, and secondly I think I'm a better person in my second marriage for that experience itself. But the closeness, and we remain extremely close, we had so much in common, Patricia and I, and when she, in those last two years of her life when she actually got cancer and she came back, and I bought this little shack down at Granville and I was living there, and she shared that house with me the last two years of her life and I would take her in every Tuesday to have chemotherapy and I've seen what a debilitating experience dying of cancer is. It's a terrible thing. I'll never forget, I saw that film Shadowlands and the person dying of cancer, but it doesn't experience really what the ... what that human being goes through, particularly when they first of all lose their breast and then they lose their hair and then they go from being a beautiful human being to skeleton of a person and the tragedy that the people have to go through with it. And the nausea. The suffering that they have to go through and that nausea is such a ... it's such a ... such a terrible death. Any my Patricia faced up to that death as nobody did.
No. Oh no, no. Just automatic. It was just automatic. We were very close and she used to call me ... those last two years might have been hell for her but they were powerful for me because she'd call me a rock, you see.
Oh yes, still feel guilty. No argument about it. I mean, as I said ...
Oh, I could have been much more mature. Men are very, can be very, selfish and women take too many brunts.
Um. I'm not sure on that. I really feel it's whether you give love and protection to your family and you are keen on that although I mean I've never looked at another person since I've married Christine. I wouldn't be purer about people being that. I mean, many young people come and talk with me and talk through their problems. And I think that, you know, you've got to ... it's a matter of love and giving to people generally and sometimes there might be, sexual relations might come in, but that's not the be-all and end-all of a human relationship. And, so it's ...
Well, in a way, she's much younger than I am and it took her a long time to make up her mind because we've had a very long relationship. It took her a long time for her to want to marry me, but ultimately she made that decision; I didn't, because I didn't want to force anything, I wanted to be naturally free about that. And she had the job in a period, we broke -- I mean we've had a long, nearly 15 years relationship, but there was a period where she kind of slipped away for about eight months and that's when Ruby was formed, but we came back together while she was pregnant, and I mean I was her security in that pregnancy. And Ruby's; even though I didn't father Ruby, I feel I'm Ruby's father as much as any other human being and I love her and give love to her and I think in the long term, I think it was Christine found that I loved Ruby so much, that she fell in love even more with me and it's a great relationship, but again if I might say that there's a kind of overflowing situation between Patricia on the one hand Christine on the other, and they kind of interweave with one another. Their natures are so gentle and they're not possessive, either of them, not possessive, and I give her ... I mean I don't ask her, you know, where she goes every moment of the day and vice versa; she's got a little holiday home where she entertains a lot of her friends in the theatre and opera business and I'm happy about that. They often come to our place too, in at Balmain, but I think more so up at Patonga where she's got a little holiday shack.
Oh, very much, very much with Ruby and ...
Oh, even in the earlier days when she was very very young. Christine, at that time, was standing much more economically independent from me, although I would help on occasion if she needed it, but she would teach and she would go to opera rehearsals and all those things. There was a great deal of time when I was the chief babysitter and I would push Ruby in a pram, we would go on the trains and go on the ferries and we'd stroll through the city. I mean, I have to laugh, because I was about nine or 10 before I ever went to the centre of the city with my father, but here I am pushing Ruby when she was about one, even before she was about one year old or a little bit more, through the centre of the city and of course we still go about together, not as much as we used to into the centre of the city, but we certainly still go about a fair bit on ferries and buses and trains.
Yeah, my first mother-in-law was a wonderful person in my life, too. Still a part. She was quite a remarkable woman, too.
Oh yes, well, I've had some wonderful friends there. Wonderful friends. There's a remarkably strong-willed woman that does an enormous amount for me but she's also had a great influence on my life. Her name's Ann Catling, she's married to Jim Tzannes who's a solicitor, a solicitor by trade, but he's in the health department. But his brother is that famous architect Alex Tzannes, and Annie's been a great influence. Jeanette McHugh has been a great friend, we've had Delcia Kite, [who] was an old friend from so many years, but there're so many women and friends in my life, but they're friends in dialogue and discussion and they put a point a view. For instance, Annie used to always say to me, 'Tommy, you got to stop being a general and start being a private.' Because I'd been a general so long, you see? And it was a part of my training, in my administration under Woolworths, to get people to work with me or for me but I used to always use that term with me; I've always been a good delegator.
Well, I should start getting involved and doing things more myself. Which I think in the long term is a great thing, I mean, I've learnt that same thing -- where people have written for me great speeches and did other things for me in the past. When I wrote my book it was just so wonderful that I had to sit down and write those things myself, and to go through that process, and there is so much that I find now that I'm a more accomplished person by doing many things myself instead of just delegating those things. But I find in women a great deal more compassion generally than men and I've loved very few men in my life, but you know I loved Cairns, I thought he was a very special human being, I still do. Another person that really had a great impact on my life was Lloyd Rees and I had a great love for him, too. He's [got] the great depth and the giving process. I love giving people, people like you know John XXIII, Martin Luther King, Paul Robeson -- I mean the enormous influence Robeson had on my life, all through those '60s when my struggles were really enormous, fighting Packer on the one hand Fairfax on the other, six and a half long years' struggle, fighting every court in the land every time I'd feel depressed in such a way, I would get this recording that Paul Robeson made -- he came out here in 1961 and whilst he was here he made this speech or performance at the Paddington Town Hall to the peace movement. Now I had a recording of this and I would always play this recording and it was the struggle that ... the beauty of his voice. It wasn't only that of his oppression himself but the oppressed peoples of the world and I'd get up and say, 'Get up with you, get out there and fight the bastards' and so it was out of that depression that really got me up and gave me that optimism, hope, and I'd get up and fight. And I was in Vietnam in recently, I was a guest of the government for the 50th anniversary of their republic and I've read and re-read Ho Chi Minh's prison diary and the humility and compassion of that man, I mean, that great revolutionary leader you know, that people put down, well he's a communist and all that. They know very little about his background, and I had to start searching more and more and wanting to know more and more about the greatness of Ho Chi Minh because I was always -- every time I've had that feeling about Ho Chi Minh. And I don't know if you ever read, you know, things like Paulo Freire, the great Brazilian, and talking about the whole question of basis of dialogue, but if you are to have faith in the human race you've got to have love for the human race, well I mean that's what the early beginners of the struggle for the working-class was all about. You made a commitment to other human beings. And you fought for them, fought for equity and justice and freedom, and of course now environmentally. I mean they're the struggles which life's all about. It's serving other people, it's giving to the process that really gives you that enormous strength about living, and that's what I feel I've drawn, partly from my own experience about living, from those great human beings.
Well, I think the first thing you've got to recognise if you look, I think the Left in Australia has always been downrated. It's always been bogeyed. But if you look at the Left, they led many human struggles, whether it's [against] nuclear testing in the atmosphere or underground, whether it's nuclear free zones, whether it's the uranium mining struggle, whether it's Vietnam. They've fought some really remarkable human struggles. But also, we weren't one-party people, I was a part of the Left and I was the early environmentalist that grew long before it became the issue. The urban and planning question on housing, questions even on transport and those issues, I mean, we were really making a broad contribution across the board on issues. And we really always wanted at least, and you've got to recognise, a coalition of forces. And at least the forces that I represented, they really wanted to make it a more tolerant and generous and equitable world. But, if you examine our Left position from that of the British Labor Party, for instance, we were not people who were born to say we're going to remain in opposition as oppositionists, we were a part of government and we were a part of that collective team to form government and many of our ministers were great ministers. I mean, really great ministers: Doug Everingham who was Minister for Health in the Whitlam Government, Moss Cass who was the Minister for the Environment in the Whitlam Government, they were great ministers and we made our real contribution. As I said, Cairns, early on in the whole question of trade and commerce with China and particularly with the Soviet Union opening up trade, and strengthened the AICD. But the British Labour Party's Left, I think, to some extent helped to keep the Labor Party in Britain isolated. Now I don't think the leading journalists, I don't think the leading politicians, I don't think the system as a whole, has accepted the important role that we played.
Well, some of them were and they were isolated, those that wanted to be permanent oppositionists. Now don't get me wrong, I think that life is a 15-round fight, that in the political struggles, same as anywhere any other struggle, there are times when you have to clinch, there are times when you have to spar, but there's times when you have to stand up to it. Now I would say that since my retirement, there has been a weakness of the leadership of the Left in facing up to many of the important principles. I think the leadership of the Left on things like privatisation within both the Hawke and the Keating Government have been fairly negative. I think there's been in many cases that they've been in favour of subsidisation which is a transfer payment from the poor to the rich, instead of going into bricks and mortar and social and physical infrastructure owned by the public sector. I think that in the question of the Gulf War, the Left leadership, not the Left but the Left leadership, because you know that 10 people out of the Left wouldn't support the government during the Gulf War. But the leadership of the Left went along, I think it was an ill-principled thing, I think the Gulf War was over oil. I thought that it should have been over negotiations, there was no real discussion in the Australian Parliament, for instance, there was only a few individuals -- Ted Mack to his great credit stood up -- but what happened was that in the United States where there was some debate over the question of UN sanctions, wherein within the senate was only defeated by 52 votes to 47. In our parliament there was no debate for and against because they all went that way, the press of the day went that way. And what's happened? What have they changed in Saddam's name. I really believe that if they'd pressed and gone ahead with the economic sanctions, those billions and billions and billions of dollars that were spent and wasted in the Iraq war could have been used more fruitfully in the other parts of the world. It's strange that they haven't faced up to other crises in the world because there was no oil involved. But now the United States are involved there because United States, you've got to keep in mind, only represents the use of five per cent of the world's population. They consume about 25 per cent of the oil resources of the world. Now it's about time those people in the United States stop using those guzzlers of motor cars and start looking that they are part -- they're world citizens, they're part of the world and they've got a responsibility to give leadership and they've got to stop this self, individual, greed.
Well, first of all I try to explain to people, and I've tried to explain it even within my own national Left, because I was a part of the national Left leadership for near-on 20-odd years, and I try to explain particularly in my evergreen years that we, on the Labor Party as the Left of the political spectrum in Australia, that we in the Left are on the Left of the Labor Party and that there's been a media mentality, if you look at the newspapers they'll say, even today, they're always saying, 'Tom Uren, Left-wing minister of so and so', that old saying. So and so, Right-wing minister of so and so they always identify, you know, 'This Tom Uren, he's a bloody monster.' But, you think, most people love me these days. I don't know why, but they do.
So this business of compromise in order to be able to win in the long run, was something that you feel requires real judgement because sometimes it's necessary to stand up. You yourself, were you ever tempted to resign?
Only once. Only once in my parliamentary life I ever thought I would resign and that was over Northwest Radio Communications Station back in 1963. And I'd played an important role in that because I was the one that agitated against it earlier on.
Well the American base, and that's the one that I was directly involved in, was what they called the radio communications station at Northwest Base. It was a radio communications station which would receive messages from the United States at high frequency, transfer it to very low frequency which, in turn, would send it to submarines carrying Polaris missiles in the Indian Ocean, and they were directed at either China or the southern part of the Soviet Union. Missiles. And they weren't terribly accurate missiles, too, they called them second line of defence, but they were really an attack [on people]. As time went on, they got the more accurate ones and they could pinpoint the targets. Now there was 28 square miles of our territory, of our sovereign soil, given to the United States on a lease, and I opposed that because I thought it was inter-related with nuclear war, that in turn it would bring nuclear threat to Australia. And because it was a population deterrent, in other words a city deterrent. If it was good enough for us to fire onto their cities it was good enough for them to fire onto our cities. So that's what it was all about and I opposed it, and there was enormous struggle within the Labor Party over it. Ultimately we accepted it with certain amendments, but we went along with it, and it was on that basis that I found extremely difficult but the formulation of Labor's policy in the end gave me I suppose a way out. In fact, the Left didn't want to enter into the debate on it, but I certainly did, and I entered into the debate, and my speech must have been fairly powerful on that occasion, because other Leftists then followed my position in that debate. I always recall that Arthur Calwell was in Berlin (must've been in the winter recess that he was in Berlin) and he had Hansard's with him in bed, reading that, and he tells me that he just re-read my speech in the parliament and what a wonderful speech it was and I said it's funny how those old-timers like Calwell and even Whitlam go to bed with their Hansard's.
No, it certainly isn't, no.
Your convictions on the Left and some of your international activities must have, especially in the late '50s and early '60s during the period of the consequences of the Cold War, have attracted a lot of attention to you from security and so on. Were you ever in real trouble because of this?
Well, ASIO really thought I was a Soviet spy and it was revealed on 1st of January, 1993, that there'd been a memo given, that certain questions that I was asking were inspired by the Russians, that I wasn't the person of intellect to be able to formulate those decisions, those questions, myself. And so they were my judge, my jury and my executor. They really were vicious, sick people, and I'm not saying that some of them may not still be there, but certainly I fought -- and arising out of that, of course, the long litigation struggle. But they certainly, there would be a security file on me that high, you know, I'm sure of that.
Yeah, well, I made it my business that when I picked up a telephone I took it for granted that ASIO or some of their agents were listening to my telephone and I had the department (in those early days it was called the Postmaster General's Department (PMG), long before post office and Telecom were split) and I had a fairly high file of complaints there, but in the end I used common-sense. And if I wanted to go out and talk to a comrade I would go out and use a public telephone, I wouldn't use my own phone.
Yes, I really always felt that, and particularly the telephone, and as I said earlier that whenever I was on the telephone I took it for granted that ASIO was there with me, or I was being taped. And of course, I was assured by the PMG as it was in those days that it just was not possible; we know that's all nonsense of course. But so therefore if I wanted to have a discussion I went and saw the person personally or secondly I would ring them up on a public telephone and make the appointment to see them at a different place. So I just took it for granted in that way. But anybody that really wanted to see me, whether a communist or anyone else, my office was open to them. I was not going to be intimidated in any way, or my home. Make no doubt about it. I would invite them into my home or to talk with me. I never ever put barriers on people because of the fear that I might be on ASIO's files.
Oh yes. One particularly, well I really became close to both Laurie and Eric Aarons, and I admired them greatly. First of all, I met Carol, who was Laurie's wife, because she used to work on the polling booths in Reid and they lived in the Reid electorate and, later of course, I met Laurie who became a very firm family friend. In fact there was a kind of a love and affection between both Patricia and Laurie and Laurie had great admiration for Patricia.
Well, no, I wouldn't because of the position that I evolved to, a position where I got a better understanding. I suppose my admiration for the Communist Party, I didn't see the worst, I told you the only time I was really negatively anti-communist was in those '50s when I was in Lithgow. But at no other time was I negative anti-communist, I was just non-communist. Now, as I developed and got a better understanding, I really judged them on their merits of those events in the '60s and particularly after Czechoslovakia. What finished up to be the Australian Communist Party as you know, for listeners to understand it, there was a split first of all: the Marxist Leninist, which were the Chinese orientated people, went one way; then the Socialist Party of Australia which was in allegiance to the Soviet Union went another way; and then what was left was the Australian Communist Party. So it was after Czechoslovakia I had a great deal of respect for their foreign policy at that time, because I still thought that Australia was either following the British or the American line and the only one in Australia, political party, really taking at that time an independent position was in fact the Communist Party, so I had respect for some of their attitudes and I certainly had respect for people like Eric Aarons and Laurie Aarons and, particularly, a wonderful old person in the peace movement, it's sad to say it's slipped my mind at this moment, but he was a great ... he was a member of the teacher's federation, he was a headmaster at Parramatta High School.
You were the first Australian Parliamentarian to visit China, and then later in 1968 you were in Czechoslovakia during those crucial events. How did people regard you at home because of these international activities?
Well, I wasn't the first parliamentarian to visit China, there'd been a parliamentary delegation of the caucus back in 1957, which Leslie Haylen led. But in 1960, three years later, I went with the peace movement first of all to Japan for the sixth world conference against A&H bombs and then across to China for 21 days, and when I did return, the Right-wing elements of the government really played hell, and so of course the press played it up quite substantially at that time.
Well, at that time how the visit arose was this -- I was in Europe, and I was on a study tour for the Australian Government or the Australian Parliament to study the economic question and dairy questions and trade questions in Europe. And of course, they were complaining then they were under-strength greatly in Europe at that time because of the Vietnam War, particularly Americans, and also of course France, under de Gaulle, was playing a very independent position also. So NATO was in grave difficulties at that time. Now I'd arranged, before I left, I'd built up a rapport with a wonderful Czech called Dr Franc Kriegal. I first met him in 1965 at Dublin when I was at an inter-parliamentary union, then later the same year in Ottawa, the following year in April of 1966, he led the Czech delegation to the parliamentary union in Canberra. So I had these three wonderful meetings with him and he had an enormous affection for me and I with him. Now just before I went on this parliamentary trip, I'd arranged to go to the Soviet Union for ten days, they'd invited me some time earlier, and secondly, I'd also asked to see the local consul. There was no ambassador then to go to Czechoslovakia, and he said, 'Well Mr Uren, you realise that Kriegal is no longer the leader of the inter-parliamentary union delegation.' I said, 'Oh, he's not?' He said, 'No, he's now on the presidium, the [Alexander] Dubcek Presidium. What had occurred is that Kriegal was one of 300 communists in the central committee and that there'd been a struggle inside the presidium of the Czechoslovakian Government on whether Novotny should hold the position of Secretary General of the Communist Party and President of the Republic and the decision was split five/five so when it came to the central committee, Kriegal made the decision to move for a secret ballot. Of course, in doing so, they won the struggle and Novotny had to break down his position. Now, President Svoboda took his place and they then elevated Kriegal to the presidium. Now, with that background of course I was given by the consul, I then went to Czechoslovakia and I saw ...
Well, I was personally involved, so very personally involved, because of my relationship with people I knew in the leadership in the Dubcek Liberal Government of the Czechoslovakia. And, first of all, when the debate was in the parliament I was sick in bed, but as soon as I got back there was a speech on the budget and I was able to make my speech on Czechoslovakia. Probably the best speech I've ever made, parliamentary speech I've ever made, in my life. But I really tried to deal with the stupidity, if I might use the term, of the brutality of the Soviet regime of crushing the Liberal-minded and progressive government of Czechoslovakia, because they were a government that would not only try to take the nation forward, but also look at some of the crimes that they'd committed in their past and adjust the compensation to their citizens accordingly. But, at that time, the hardline mentality and the backwardness of many of the people in the leadership of the Soviet Union overruled many of the progressive people even in the Soviet Union at that time. And there were army manoeuvres after ... well they were going on whilst I was there, but when I left what happened was it was just like the showing of the flag. They came in through one end of Czechoslovakia and through Bohemia and other places and went right out through Slovakia with their army tanks and everything showing the flag [and] what they didn't like about the government, so they were trying to intimidate the Czechoslovakian people. Instead, the Czechoslovakian people were so proud that they were putting on front pages of their papers their government's argument and putting the Soviet bloc's argument on the other side of the page. So it can't get any more democratic than that. So it was really getting the citizens up in arms against -- then of course, when I went to the Soviet Union I was to be there for a week, ten days, but because of the crisis came back to Australia; particularly over redistribution of boundaries, I only spent four days there. But the whole four days I was there, I was arguing with the Soviet people, and nobody at any time admitted that they would in fact invade the Soviet Union ...
I'm sorry, invade Czechoslovakia. And so, I spelt all these things out in my speech and Australian press' comments about the invasion, but used the communiques that were coming out of the Soviet Embassy in Canberra, and I said that if anybody in the Soviet Union believes that, they are fools or liars. I mean it was just utter stupidity. And my argument was that it really would have set back, it did in fact set back, progress so many years. One of the things that -- when I was in the Soviet Union I saw some good elements, particularly amongst the arts and concerts and things like that, that gave me some hope and of course we know now that hope was broken through.
Well, the worst of all, the worst libels --they'd written an article by a journalist on the Sun Herald in February of 1963. He said that I was asking questions on behalf of the Soviet Union and now I know, of course, because of the 30-year rule that I quoted [earlier] in regards to 1st of January '93, which revealed that ASIO had written a memo and circulated that memo that Uren was asking questions about delicate matters, particularly on the Northwest radio communication station, that he didn't have the intelligence to formulate such a question, and therefore he would only be inspired by the Soviet Embassy. And of course, in this newspaper article, there'd been a person named persona non grata only a few days before called Ivan Skripov and it was inferred that Skripov had inspired me to ask these questions. Now, they didn't name me in the newspaper article, but I was clearly identifiable. I mean, I was the only person that had asked some six to eight questions over a period of two years prior to that. And also, of course, had made speeches about the matter as well. And so, I said that I would sue them. And of course, that long legal action -- I might say that the Sydney Morning Herald or the Sun Herald, with John Fairfax or someone, they knew I was going to sue them, withdrew it after their first edition. But the Daily Telegraph, who had not run it in their first edition, put it in their second edition of Sunday papers and all other editions and so Sunday morning when I got up, it had disappeared from the front page of the Sun Herald but there it was in the Sunday Daily Telegraph so I took them both to court. And it finished up that I had a jury of 12 and in the first, against Packer, they awarded me 30,000 pounds and there were two other libels that I had as well but Clive Evatt wanted me to use the question of malice. I was given 30,000 pounds, 5000 for the first one, 10,000 for the second and 15,000 pounds for the third count, which was the Skripov-inspired spy question. Now that was 30,000 pounds. Six weeks later the Herald had changed their plea only a few minutes before the jury came in, in the Packer case, and they changed it to that they were guilty of libel. And after a long trial, even with them with admitted guilt, only on the one count there was 13,000 pounds. So within six weeks there was awarded 43,000 pounds to me. Now 30,000 pounds by the way was the highest amount of litigation in those days -- it was March, 1964 -- ever given to any person, let alone a politician. Well, they fought me, Packer and both Fairfax, fought me in the full Supreme Court and said that there should be a new trial on damages only. Then the High Court after a year or so a gave a further opinion that there should be a retrial on all counts, but punitive damages should still be allowed. In the meantime, I'd settled with Fairfax, well they settled with me and apologised and settled with me, and I used their money to continue my fight with Packer, and Packer took me to the privy council in London, and the privy council decided that whether the law was good or bad, it was formulated by the Australian court and therefore it should remain, and that was a test case I might say, and there was never any overruling until of course the privy council appeals were ultimately done away with. Then they took me back to a second trial and I won that again, and Packer took me to a full Supreme Court of New South Wales, and two counts went to the High Court, and one count went back to a third trial when Packer surrendered six-and-a-half years later. So it was a long struggle and I was tenacious and, to a great extent, I must give great credit to Clive Evatt. If he had not stayed with me ... But it was very interesting, in my latter days, I used to always worry about Evatt before the High Court or before the full Supreme Court, but about halfway through my struggle, Michael McHugh became my junior barrister and he would argue. Even Clive thought he was so good that he would give way to Michael, and Michael would argue before the courts and I felt much more secure with Michael arguing. I loved Clive in front of a jury, but in front of the appellate courts I really worried a great deal. But anyway, ultimately I was successful and the apology was made, a certain agreement was made out of court with Packer.
Well, there was a part of the settlement that you couldn't declare it and in fact I don't think that one should reveal it even at this stage. But, what happened was, the great joy for me was, that Packer and I ultimately met. Because earlier on we'd tried to settle it, but Packer thought we'd agreed on something, and then I'd gone back a second time to see him, and he thought I was negotiating from ... from weakness, so I've never abused anyone personally more powerfully in my life than I did against Frank Packer, and they tell me that the more I abused him the more he liked me. In fact, Alan Reid tells the story that when the second trial was coming up, Larkin had come to him and said, 'Has Sir Frank ever seen Mr Uren?' And he said, 'Why do you ask?' He said a funny thing, he said, 'You know, when you get Uren in the box, don't be too tough on him, he's not a bad bloke, you know.' Anyways, the funny thing about it all was that within a year Packer through McNicoll, David McNicoll, had approached us to write a column in The Daily Telegraph. I thought all the shadow ministers should get it, but McNicoll said, No, Packer only wants you and Whitlam,' so I only agreed if the caucus would agree to it. The caucus did agree, and then Whitlam and I, for a year, wrote a double column, in The Daily Telegraph. Gough would do it one week and I'd do it the following week. And so, there must have been grudging respect from old Packer to me.
Well, my family, I felt that they needed a retreat and I had this land up at Mt Wilson, but no house on it, so we built this house, this shack on it, at Mt Wilson which I call Fairfax Retreat, and I bought a little holiday home down the south coast which I call Packer's Lodge. So ... and I used to call the one at Guildford 'the halfway house.'
Well, as long as you don't rent them, I've got no objections to people owning houses. I was always suspect of landlords. No, I've always been in favour of home ownership, even though I've been a great public housing advocate. I've always been in favour of private ownership because I believe that in a worker's lifetime, the major earnings of a worker is the home and residence they live in. That's a great thing in Australia and it's a pity that it's starting to dwindle now. I really believe that every worker should have the right to own his own home. And therefore they accrue some of the capital appreciation that occurs in that home and they don't pay money to landlords all their lives.
Yes, I've been to jail. My first time I went to jail was in 1971, in the September 1970 demonstration in the war in Vietnam [where] I was manhandled by a young Japanese, I'm sorry, by a young police officer ...
Yes I have. Several times actually, but the first time I went to jail was back in 1971, when there'd been a demonstration, Vietnam demonstration, in Sydney. The second moratorium it was in September. And Askin wouldn't allow them to walk on the street at that time, forced them onto the footpath, and I was a manhandled by a young policeman, so I went down. That day there were about 200 young students who'd also been booked by the police, so I went down and 'laid an information' against this police officer. I only had his number. And then I had to wait until January 1971 to hear the case. We went into a magistrate's court and argued the case, it was a criminal case because it was [an] assault case. And the police officers lied their head off, the authorities gave all the false information. Even though they didn't, they wouldn't, identify the young officer. They had six young policemen all of similar type in plain clothes and they made me identify that person out of the six which I did, which was remarkable, picking people's eyes, and I picked him. But they were all the same colours and backgrounds, making it very difficult, to confuse me. And so I did, and for three days the police just lied their heads off. And in the end the magistrate dismissed the charge because of conflicting evidence. Then the police pushed for the cost to be paid by me. Jimmy Staples was my barrister, and he argued strongly against this, and ultimately Lewer was a compromiser (the magistrate). He said, 'Look I'll only charge them two days' costs and not three, it's 80 days' cost or 40 days hard labour.' Of course I immediately picked up the political significance of this, and I got up and I said, 'I'll do the hard labour.' And Jimmy said, 'Don't do this, it'll get in the press.' I said, 'Jim, we've been sitting here for three days, the police have been lying their heads off that they ... nobody knows that it's going on, there's nothing reported in the paper at all, but certainly it will be now.' And it certainly was, and consequently Lewer couldn't get out of the court fast enough, didn't want to fine me for contempt of court in any shape or form. So I waited the three months and when the three months was up I turned up at the police court. I said, 'Here I am, you better put me in jail.' Nobody wanted me because by this time I had enough information, television, the whole caboodle with them. They were all in chaos, this is the week before Easter, so ultimately, they had a cabinet meeting and they instructed the police that they better proceed with me; they can't have a special case for Uren. So on Easter Saturday they came looking for me. I was down at the Berrima Jail. I went down to Berrima Jail and there was a young fella by the name of Mullins in there and I was visiting him this Easter Saturday and I heard the message that there somebody was looking for me so I rang back and said I'd be coming, and so I turned up and when I did I rang -- first of all rang Jack Ferguson, who was my colleague (a local who dealt with police matters), and then the person in charge of the Merrylands Police came up to my house and said, 'Mr Uren, can't we pay your costs?' And I said, 'No, don't you pay the fine, Inspector. I'll do the time.' So consequently I went down to Merrylands Police Station, they fingerprinted me, put me in a car, took me out to Long Bay. I'll never forget those clanging gates behind me at Long Bay and I said, 'Oh Christ, Uren, what have you done now?' That feeling of ... that cold feeling of ... the clanging of those gates, jail gates. Anyway, they put me in a. -- oh it was funny as a circus. My number, my uniform number, is C1204, and the chap (who's the famous black Aboriginal writer, he was a sculptor then), he's outfitting me and got everything for me but not the right size for my underwear. I said I'm finicky about my underwear, I'll keep my own underwear ... he just couldn't ... he was flabbergasted. Anyway, I go into my cell and when I get into the cell I hear on 2UE that Tom Uren has just been put into Long Bay Jail. I said, thank god, somebody knows I'm here. Well, I'll never forget the first morning that I go out to get my breakfast, the cons come up to me, 'Don't eat the meat Tom, the fridge is on the blink.' So I had the porridge, and when I got out into the yard they all lined up to put their case to me. And every one of them was in there on a wrong case. And then I asked the guards could I, in fact, could I go into my cell, stay in my cell and do some reading in the afternoon? He said, 'Well, we'll have to lock you up.' I said, 'Well that's all right, that's all right.' So all afternoon, I might tell you, I had all the guards coming to see me and right to the Deputy Governor they all wanted to talk about the superannuation problems, they all had their complaints. Anyway, on the Easter Monday, somebody had paid my fine and I was released. So that was my first experience. But I've been in jail, lockup, many times in Brisbane over the anti-march laws with Joh Bjelke-Petersen, and of course ultimately into Bogga Road. But as in '71, I was a minister in '72, and then in '78 and '79, when I was in lockup and also in jail in Brisbane. By '83 I was a minister again in the Hawke Government. So it was quite ironical. It's interesting also that the person in charge of the Brisbane Jail wanted to pay my fines also. He was a former prisoner of war with me, so it was a bit embarrassing for him.
Well, I think the thing that struck home the first time I went into jail was the kind of San Quentin kind of mentality, the type of cell and that you had. It's quite frightful and I mean I didn't get into the oldest cells, but some of the older cells at Long Bay, urination is instilled into brickwork, but it was a dehumanising effect and I thought to myself that it's a pity that more politicians don't visit these jails and understand what they're like because it was a dehumanising effect. It's an interesting point that one of the people in jail at that time was a solicitor who was in there for absconding with people's funds and after he served his time, he said, 'You know my wife,' and she worked in the parliamentary library, and he told me who she was and so when he was coming out, he lived in New South Wales, and the only way that he could get into the ACT was to get a job, so I talked to my permanent head and I said, 'Why don't you give him an interview, he's a very intelligent bloke. He's got good qualifications ... if we are to be progressive we've got to take a look at some questions of rehabilitation.' Do you know that that chap became rehabilitated? In fact he'd become a part of the regional section of my department and that was in '72-'75 and even when I came back in 1983 he was still in the regional section of my old department at DURD and I re-inherited again in 1984. So that's an interesting human story as well.
Well, my difficulty was that first of all I was Christian until I was about 45 years of age, about the middle '60s, when I walked away from my faith.
I was raised as a Anglican.
Yes, I attended Sunday School and my mother was quite a good Christian and myself, and I might say so was my wife Patricia. She was a very fine Christian and we'd go to communion together, Church of England, go to communion each Sunday. And you know, that question of guilt played an important part particularly in a certain period of my life. But, when I eventually came to the decision about moving away from my faith, I really hate hypocrisy and I wondered why I'd been so emotionally moved by reading stories about Jesus. Because my wife had given me, soon after our marriage as a present, Christmas present, a translation of the New Testament by JP Phillips, and those stories I used to read about Jesus, they were so moving that I would choke up and you know feel perhaps I'm emotionally moved, and I thought to myself, why, why, why, was I moved so much? Then I found out it's the old humanism in me. It's my compassion for other human being and that Jesus Christ was a man of goodwill and that we need more. And I've been very pro-men and women of goodwill and even though I've left my faith, I mean, there're people like John XXIII and people like Martin Luther King, you know, that really have inspired me in my own lifetime.
I wouldn't use the word strict, but I was fairly firm Christian. In my early part of my parliamentary life when they were calling me a communist, I thought I had old Jesus Christ right along side of me. So you know, he was really inside me. And in fact, I really support the concept of all young children being taught ...
Well it was a gradual ... you never move immediately into anything, it's a gradual process and ... of questioning. And I always worried about certain aspects, particularly 40 days and 40 nights of going into the wilderness, and many other things, but what I found in life is that history's written by men and women and men and women are not ... it's always like history's in the eye of the beholder. And I recognised that in the long term I didn't really want to believe in any one, or have to rely on any one, faith to win it. There was a kind of reservoir of faiths that I would draw on so I moved to a position of self-reliance in a way, not in a kind of an egotistical way, but I felt that I loved the men and women of goodwill that do really could solve the problems of our world. It's like John XXIII said, 'You know, it's men and women of goodwill can solve the problem whether they're believers or non-believers.' He's the first Pope that I know to say such a thing. And so it was this belief, and wherever I can I try to encourage people to have more ... believe in themselves more. They have more strength in themselves, don't blame other people for the problems that they create. Now having done that, even though I still believe in a collective society, that we need each other, but one has to have greater strength and greater faith in one's self to solve one's problems without looking for any Messiah that's going to come over the sea. Like for instance, I dislike immensely the charisma mentality of advertising -- a leader of charisma, that's what we really need -- it's utter nonsense. What we really need is people to have belief in themselves and to make sure that these men of so-called charisma carry out their wishes. So this is an evolving, philosophical position that I carry through at that time.
Well first of all, I was retaining the missionary zeal, the revolutionary zeal of Jesus, and so I've never really ... in fact I was never close to God. I was close to Jesus always, I mean God was never my ... close to me. But Jesus was close to me. And I just recognised that he was a man of goodwill, one of the many people in my life that has done good for other human beings and that we should, I should, strive and draw on people, of men and women, of goodwill. Now it's how I see it. And I think they're the people that I've drawn so much on [for] influence, for instance Cairns, that I thought he was the most Christ-like human being that I've ever known. With probably one exception, I think my own wife was very much that way. But Jimmy was that way too.
That's right. In fact, I said to Cairns, 'I'm not a believer anymore,' and all he said to me, 'I knew you'd get round to it like sooner or later.' That's all he said to me.
No, no, Jimmy was, is, still that decent human being today, in a way I suppose one could say, you know, that Don McLean song, Vincent (Starry Starry Night) -- you were talking about Vincent van Gogh, you are too beautiful for this world. Well, Cairns in his own way, had that certain beauty about him. Now because he fell in love and he did it so openly with this woman, they used everything -- I mean, you've got to recognise the time that they do it, in that relationship with Cairns, there was a great deal of racism in it, sexism in it, I mean I have never seen the Australian press so filthy sexually, so filthy. Do you know that one newspaper -- Gwennie Cairns, Morosi and Jimmy had breakfast together. And they waited until Gwennie had gone and they had Jimmy and Morosi having their breakfast with telescopic lens. Plastered in their newspapers in the morning. I mean how sick and low that they get but he was foolish, too, so I'm not trying to over-protect him in those ways, but no, I've never felt let down in a personal way, I think he let our class down. You see, I've said so often before he's our Fidel. When you've got a responsibility to the broader class -- I'm so much inadequate compared to Cairns, but I don't think I've got a .got a broader responsibility and now Jimmy would feel that he's got a responsibility to himself but I once said, you know, no man is an island, but in his own way Cairns was an island in himself.
Well, she liked me in a way, but I just really didn't like her. I didn't like her because -- I think she's a very strong woman, by the way, I think she's very strong, had powerful thoughts, and enormous influence on Cairns, but of course I had this lifelong association with Gwennie Cairns and where I don't interfere with my mate's relationship, I mean I've still got a loyalty to the other partner as well. So, there was a sadness there for me.
No, no, I think that she was genuine in her relationship with Cairns. People used to say to me, that we think she's a -- what's that American, you know American security services, you know, she was a part of that.
CIA. Yes. That's rubbish but Junie once said to me, 'Tom, the trouble with you Anglo-Saxons is you don't understand ... they don't understand sex, you know we Asians understand sex a lot more clearly than you Anglo-Saxons.' And of course Junie came out of a tough world in the Philippines and she was a tough lady. Cairns once said to me, after their long friendship she's not the same person she was before, well I don't know about that. I'm not sure about that.
... My long life in politics, I never had a career.
I liked Hayden, particularly in his early days. He was a compassionate young fellow, enormous courage and was very advanced on a lot of issues, played a very good role on the question of Vietnam, and certainly only social issues, White Australia. He was against White Australia, certainly on homosexuality and other such things. Particularly good. He was a very good minister in the Whitlam Government, particularly his pioneering on Medicare, but he always had a conservative strain in him in the question of economics and I think that really grew out of his schooling, and I think as he's grown older, instead of moving to a much more radical position and holding the compassion (even today I still think he's got that compassion for people) but I think he went down that conservative road, and it's very hard having taken those first steps. You find it hard to turn back, and he's got a long way down that road. I remember him telling me in 1988, 'Tommy, you seen that film Mephisto?' And I said, 'Yes, I have.' He said, 'Oh god when will you stop prostituting yourself to the system?' Now Mephisto was an actor and a producer that had been used by the Nazi machine in Germany, and at first he thought he was using them, but in the long term they used him. Now I don't want to be too cruel to Bill, but I think that really he's gone down that road and Bill may have thought he's used the system, but I think the system has used him. And that's a very sad thing, because I think Bill Hayden was really an extremely compassionate human being.
Yeah, one of the most sensitive people I've ever known in my political life, and in fact I think that sensitivity -- and I know I'm sensitive myself -- and sensitivity can be a positive and negative, and the tragedy about Hayden is that he's so sensitive that in the end it really killed his political life because he really was not a good performer in the parliament, and the more he performed badly, the more sensitive he became about that situation. And of course the white ants can really do a lot of undermining and it's now public knowledge of the New South Wales Right's position of undermining his position. Not only personally, but within the press.
Well, in the first position I argued within the Left that Hayden was performing so badly that I don't think we'll make government under his leadership and if we continue under the Fraser/Howard leadership, what will occur will be that the Labor movement itself will fragment, that the whole question of the union movement will be undermined [by] their policies, that things like the Commonwealth Bank and TAA and Qantas and Telecom will all be privatised, and I flowed on about these arguments of why we really needed to dramatically change and that on economic issues there was very little difference between Hayden and Hawke, but on the other hand probably Hayden was the more compassionate decent person. On the other hand, Hawke was the communicator and this was the big argument within the Left, and I took that position and argued that very strongly within the caucus. But early on, particularly first of all I argued it in the national Left, and then later there was strong support for it, and then practically overwhelming; only one person stood out, it was Ray Hogan. And then in the parliamentary Left it was split down the centre at first, but what happened was, in the Labor movement itself, I used the term 'the little people', the ordinary people of the Labor movement are extremely loyal to a Labor leader. In fact, they love their Labor leaders. And the Left of the trade union movement was very much supportive of staying with Hayden. In the end I changed my position and I just said that, no, I rang Hayden up and told him that I wasn't pushing for it anymore and I stuck with him right through to the end. But, others didn't. And the Left stayed with him, but unfortunately I feel that one of the things that Hayden resented about the Left was that he had to rely on the Left to survive. And I think down deep underneath it all, he resented having to rely on anyone. That's my personal view.
Oh, well, it's good. It was wonderful. Actually, with Lionel Murphy, I thought early on he was in too much of a hurry to get to a position of leadership. And I always recall the first time: he was in there about 18 months, he wanted to run for the Deputy Leadership against Pat Kennelly and I thought that it's better the devil you know than the devil you don't know and though, as I say, in those days I was really going through my court cases and I was in and out of Canberra, but the Left wasn't an organised group and we could vote how we liked. I actually voted for Kennelly in that first ballot. And I was really pro-Sam Cohen to become Leader of the Senate, not Murphy, but what changed my position with Murphy is that Sir Garfield Barwick had a paper on what we could do within the trade practices, dealing with trade practices, constitutionally what the Federal Government could do, and it was a discussion paper and so, to get our perspective from it, we got both Murphy and Cohen before us. Before the economics committee which I was a member of, of the parliamentary party, Cohen put all the conservative legal attitudes of what we could do and what we couldn't do within the constitution and most of the things we couldn't do, you know. But Murphy, when he came forward, he just talked about all of the positive things one could do within the existing constitution and never made any excuses about the impediments of the constitution. And it was this positive thinking of Murphy that really, from that day on, I was sold. And from there he was like Cairns, I served Murphy, and did everything I could to elevate Murphy to positions of influence within the party. And of course remained a friend of his 'til his dying day.
I was very angry. First of all, that decision was made without consultation with anyone else. And in fact I was angry with Cairns and I just recently asked Cairns [if anybody] had in fact discussed with him before that day? And even though he was Deputy Prime Minister at the time nobody, Whitlam even, had discussed it with Cairns. But I think Whitlam really wanted to get rid of Murphy and certainly I don't know why, but that's something you've got to ask Gough. But that appointment to the High Court, we're all in there waiting and we're all there with the exception of Whitlam, Cairns and Murphy, and then eventually Gough and Murphy and Cairns walked in, and then Gough gave his announcement and said that Mr Murphy was now going to be appointed to the High Court, and of course I was so angry and even in my anger, I control my anger, don't get me wrong, and I argued the case that if they appoint Murphy -- because in a six-year term he'd only been there for 18 months, what will occur [with] his replacement? I could see ... first of all, who's to say, big question mark, who's to say that that they'll appoint another Labor man in his place? But underneath it all what I was really also considering that, even if they did, they would appoint a Right-wing mafia bloke from the New South Wales machine. And, ultimately they did, but the first position was -- Lewis didn't appoint a Labor man, he appointed an independent, an old chap by the name of Cleaver Bunton who was the mayor of Albury, but I argued also the question of the numbers in the Senate, that if we were to get control of the Senate, because of Murphy's position (if Murphy had retired then of course), there would be six senators coming up instead of five, and that if Labor could get three of those five, then we would be making gains, but the best we can do is get three out of six, so we were in fact throwing away a seat anyway.
Well, it may not ... might not have happened. If the New South Wales Premier Tom Lewis, in appointing Bunton in the place of Murphy, then when [Bert] Milliner died soon after in Queensland, they put in a phoney Labor man by the name of Field and whatsaname may not have done that at that time (Bjelke-Petersen) and so that's what changed the whole balance of power in the Senate and also the other thing a lot of people don't realise, but even on the question of the Dismissal, the question of being struck down on November 11th, you don't realise how fertile Murphy's mind was, and how in fact he could work with diverse forces, with [Reg] Withers and others in the Liberal Party. And he had that animal instinct about him that he would find out exactly what was going on in the Liberal Party, there were no barriers between them because -- he had a great relationship with, for instance, former Prime Minister Gorton, they were great mates. Anyway, we were devoid of all these things, now. That was on one side. On the other side, if Murphy had not been on the High Court of Australia, probably the liberalisation of this move to make -- and the great judgements, even though they were minority judgements in many cases that he made, may not have developed and evolved into the great court that we have today. I think we Australians should be very proud, very proud indeed of that liberal progressive democratic court, well it's democratic in that it's fair and open and free, and I'm very proud of the present High Court and I think I told Anthony Mason the other day, when he retired, and I congratulated him on his statement in regards to Michael Kirby being appointed to that court. I'm pleased and I'm proud of the present High Court of Australia, having lived under that conservative court, reactionary court, for six-and-a-half years of my own life ... I feel wonderful that people are there to defend our freedoms.
Well, Keating is a complex character. I've seen him grow from a very narrow young man, narrow-minded young man, into a person that is still growing, but I think he's going to be one of our great Prime Ministers. Economically I had disagreements with him during the time that I was a minister and I still disagree with some of the economic aspects with him, but on the broader vision of Keating -- for instance, that speech that he made on the 10th of December 1992 at Redfern Park on the Indigenous people, in my mind, will go down as one of the great speeches by an Australian leader since Federation. And I think it's so great that one day Australians will see the greatness of it and compare it with that of President Lincoln's second inaugural speech when nearing the end of the American Civil War. He said, 'We must bind up our wounds and bring our nation together.' Now that's how courageous that was of Keating. But there are other things that I'm proud of Keating of, for instance on the question of his relationship with the Japanese. He's the only leader of Australia that said post-Second World War against Japan, 'Look, it's about time that you Japanese, the Japanese people and the Japanese government, examine the crimes they committed in the '30s and '40s and to at least let their school children know in their education system so that they understand the crimes that were committed in that period.' Now, is there anyone that's had the guts to do that? And the wisdom to do it? And the last thing that I want to say of the greatness of him, even though it's around an election time, is that he set up a commission, first of all he said he believed that nuclear weapons should be outlawed and he set up a commission to do something about it. Now I don't care what you say about Keating, Keating has got something positive and terms of greatness about him. I think that he's got that -- he and Whitlam have got that vision of greatness, and I put them in my pocket. I mean, the other bloke on the other side which I had a really great admiration for was Jack McEwen. I mean, Menzies was a great -- I recognise Menzies -- but I put Menzies and Bob Hawke in the same category. They're the same type of people. They're good captains of their ship, they keep an even keel, but they never generate the engine room, they never generate policies with visionary programs. McEwen had that, Keating had that and certainly Whitlam had that.
His tongue, at times, plenty of times. I think that he's got an enormous warmth, he's got enormous compassion for people, and he hasn't got that ability to show it enough. He really should show his compassion more, because there's an enormous warmth for feeling for people Look, I said to him many years ago, when he was only Treasurer, 'Listen, Paul, you're the top of the heap now, you don't have tongue bash lash those Liberals the way you do.' And he just smiled with that lovely smile of his and said, 'Yeah, but Tom I do hate their hypocrisy.' And that's the trouble with him, you see? He's got to learn that ... life, life is about building bridges with peoples and nations. It's not drawing them apart whether it's Liberals or Labor or anything else, that in the end we've got to find the best ... to move forward. We live on a limited planet, I mean, lots of things like Keating's position on environmental and foresting matters and the Solomon Islands is fantastic, and took him a hell of a long time to come around on the question of woodchips within his own country. Now I know that he's got problems with some of those conservative states, but he's got to give some vision. I don't think he really understands properly the question of the environment. If he understood the question and got engrossed in the problems of Mabo and the question of Aboriginal problems -- but one of the great challenges to his economic drive position is what's the future of the world in an environmental world? And I think he's still got to go a long way yet to really understand the inter-relationship that exists in the environmental world.
Well, first of all, I was sitting next to Gough, he was sitting next to me, and he said, 'The bastards sacked us ... Malcolm Fraser's now Prime Minister. I says, 'WHAT?' He said, 'But we'll beat the bastards,' and I looked at him dumbfounded 'cause I mean I looked at the situation, economically -- if Opposition could determine that the question of when an election should be held, how in hell could a government ever survive? So anyway, the first thing I tried to do was marshal the forces and about 35 of the caucus came and many of the ministry came into my office immediately after to try to talk things through, and I thought that we had to broaden the struggle and try and get the trade union movement in an organised way involved in some way, and certainly the following day, we had a cabinet meeting, unofficial cabinet meeting, in the caucus room and I can recall that day that I didn't get much support in that field of thought. Jim McClelland himself raised the question that we need a national strike like we need a hole in the head, that's what Jim said, and I said well it might be that we need that, but in fairness to Jim, his thought prevailed and mine didn't, amongst them, but then that's not unusual amongst the parliamentary elite of the party. But I tried to get my mate Dick Scott (he was on the interstate executive of the ACTU) to get Hawke to call an interstate executive of the ACTU so that at least the union movement could determine its policy and involvement in it. But the truth is that Hawke did everything but in fact to call the decision-making body of the trade union movement together, but he did everything he could to dampen down anything, so there was a lot of people getting up and expressing emotional attitudes but there was no organised base to any of the things. There was no stoppages of any description and consequently we would go to meetings where you would make speeches, and in the case of Gough, would make speeches and you know all they wanted to do was to bellow out, 'We want Gough' And I can recall many meetings, but one in particular, it was about 500 people at a dinner in Albury and I was a making a speech, I'm going along nicely, and then all of a sudden some bloke with a few drinks in him starts singing out 'we want Gough', and everybody start clamouring 'we want Gough', and I said, 'Well would you shut up? If you really want to achieve victory, then if you go on ranting that way then you will have Malcolm Fraser there, not Gough. We've got to go out and try to convince the people our arguments of democracy, that in fact a democratically elected government in the People's House has been struck down by the Queen's representative.' That's the democratic process. Now the further we got away from the November the 11th towards December the 13th, the more the newspapers of the day and the system of the day argued the case of the economic conditions of the country and not the question of the undemocratic process of striking down our national government. And the first time I could confront Hawke was immediately after the election when we went into Opposition and of course I was elected Deputy Leader, Whitlam was re-elected as Leader although there was a great deal of division about that, and at the first federal executive meeting of the party we had a post-mortem and of course Bob Hawke was in the chair, and I confronted Hawke on this whole thing about his position of really not calling the union movement together and of course his argument was he didn't want violence. I said, 'But look, the question of violence, violence is the role, and the violent action is the role, of the ruling elite, it isn't the working class, and we give the correct leadership, we could have done things like we did with the moratoriums in the Vietnam discussions, stop this city traffic for two or three hours to just sit down and talk about the discussion, bring it back to the discussion of the democratic process and the union movement themselves,' but there was no coordinated effect at all of the union movement and Hawke was the one guilty, but in fairness even to Hawke, the elite of the party including Whitlam went along with that line and they didn't trust the people. And that's my argument. That the Labor Party have really not been in favour of trusting the people enough. Now there has been some movement away from that position, thank goodness, since that time. At that period we failed the people, we failed the leadership, to really give leadership to people, to get it back on the democratic arguments of how a government should be elected ...
... And who should govern.
... At the end of a long period of Labor government, what would be your criticisms now? Are there ways in which you feel that the Hawke and then the Keating governments, given their long period of being in control of things, has let the people down in any way?
I think you've got to not look at only an isolated position. I think you've to look for the world position, you can't divorce what's occurred in Eastern Europe (about you know the failure of socialism etc), you've got to look at the movement of democratic socialists or social democratic parties in Europe and other parts of the world. There's kind of been a movement towards a free market forces philosophy to some degree and I think that one has to recognise those changes and of course that that pendulum, it will turn; have no doubt about it. If you take us back to the '20s and to the early '30s, you know in America, where there was really no government intervention. Everybody under the free market forces, they want to minimise government. They don't believe in government or collective leadership. They really believe in a madness of private enterprise. That madness went through the '20s and of course it was only the Roosevelt regime that started the concept of regulation and intervention and I'm quite sure myself that the world will move forward much more in the next couple of decades ahead of greater intervention because in many cases it's not governments that are controlling our countries, it's multinationals, multinational organisations that don't deal with trade from our country to the United States. Some multinational decision is made at some place in the world and they determine whether there's trade from point a to point b. And they're not only getting out of control economically, but we also have to control them environmentally because unless we do, then democracy itself is not moving forward, it's failing, and the one thing you have to also be fear of [is] not giving too much power to bureaucrats. And if you look at the European situation in many cases, bureaucrats are getting more and more control ...
I never really left politics, I'm still in politics. I left parliament. And that wasn't difficult. I phased ... very few people in political life have been able to plan their life like I've been. First of all, I was able to remain in the leadership until '87, and I determined when I would step down and I informed my colleagues that, and then the last three years of my parliamentary life, I had in my mind what I'd like to do, and I was even able to arrange that because I became the leader of the Australian delegation that went to the inter-parliamentary union, and the inter-parliamentary union is an organisation older than the League Of Nations and the United Nations put together. It's an international conference that meets twice a year and the issues of relationships between peoples and nations in the world was important for me to be involved in my evergreen years of my life. So, I had wonderful wonderful experiences in those last three years. I mean I knew it was coming, it was either going to be some time in 1990, but it came suddenly when it did and that was of course Hawke calling the election for March of 1990.
Yes, oh yes. Back in '87 I was well -- prior to that in '84 there was internal movement, it was something that never happened in the Left before, but there was an undermining of my position within the Left, not within the Left so much, within the press. Rumours that Uren would not be standing again, and he would be replaced as a minister. And of course I knew that I had the numbers internally to get there, but they certainly tried to replace me, but ...
Well, I prefer to call it 'a Victorian group', but certainly a Victorian element that really progressively came to the leadership later, but they certainly were the ones that fundamentally tried to undermine my position. In fact, I was asked on one occasion would I stand down, and I told them why I wouldn't stand down. I just thought that both Arthur Gietzelt and I had the grit and determination to meet decisions, which the others didn't have. And in fact I think history has proven us pretty right, that after Arthur and I left the leadership in '87, I think the leadership of the Left never faced up to many of those important decisions. It should have. The rank and file still continued to struggle within the parliamentary party, but the leadership, to a great extent, let them down.
I have always felt that Gerry Hand should have been tougher. I had great hopes for Hand because I thought that Gerry was the best element amongst the young Leftists coming through from '75 and he had a certain grit, but he also had a complex about his own ability, and I think that the other people, for instance Nick Bolkus, I think that Gerry gave them too much leeway instead of standing up for that basic philosophical gutsy feeling about the working class that he had. And that's, to me, it was a disappointment.
Yes. In '87 while I was still a minister, Martin Ferguson had proposed to me that I should step aside for his brother Laurie to take the position, and we had words about that, and it goes into a lengthy discussion, but in the end what really jarred on me was that Martin said, 'Well, we'll do what the family decides.' And I was so angry when he was talking about the family, I thought he was talking about some Mafia concept, and I couldn't understand that my comrade Jack Ferguson would be a part of it' I'm sure he wasn't by the way. But anyway, young Turks are young Turks. I threw the gauntlet down to them and they never ever challenged me.
Well, no it didn't really, because even though I was concerned and I never really made the bridge which should have gone out, but if you war with one Ferguson, particularly Mrs Ferguson, Mary (who's a lovable character) I mean you're at war with the lot, as far as Mary's concerned, but that's not Jack's basis. Jack and I were comrades from way back, in fact we were brothers in so many ways and still are. I hadn't seen Jack for years and it was in Jack Cambourne's fifth -- he was retiring, he'd been a former communist official and he'd also been a great trade union leader and he was leader of the lift driver's union. Anyway, at this conference, Martin had come up -- by this time he was president of the ACTU and he'd come up to make the tribute for Melbourne on behalf of the whole of the trade union movement. But Jack came through with his younger son Andrew and I said to Andrew, 'How are you Andrew?' Not noticing Jack at all, because then I couldn't speak ... 'Goodness me, is that you Jack?' He was so gaunt and so, so thin and I was so shocked and anyway he put out his hand to shake, and I said 'don't be silly, give me a hug' so we both hugged each other. So I didn't do anything more during that night because I know Jack pretty well, he doesn't open up too easily, but if he's had a few drinks then he'll tell you exactly what he thinks and it relaxes him greatly. So I waited until the night was nearly over and I went over to him and he was talking about and complaining about the elite of the Labor Party and I just said, 'Joe Stalin was an elitist, too.' And he said, 'Sit down, Tom!' And then he started telling the young fellas there that Tom Uren was one of his greatest mates. So as we got talking through, I tried to talk to him about my experience with Martin and he wouldn't listen to me. I tried to explain why I hadn't come to see him, he said, 'Tom, we don't need to, we've been mates and we'll be mates for the rest of our lives,' you know. He was so spontaneous, he didn't really want to get down to the nitty gritty of the differences that had occurred between Martin and myself and anyway, when I left him that night, I felt that I may never see him again because about a week later I knew I was going to Japan, but luckily his health has improved quite considerably and he's doing quite well these days. He should be very proud of his whole family including Martin, the three of those boys [and] his two daughters ... particularly the three boys, they've made a great contribution to the Labor movement. I mean, Laurie succeeded me in the electorate of Reid, he's drawn his father's great avid reading and thinking and involvement in international affairs, and I'm quite sure that Laurie in the long-term will prove a very, very great parliamentarian. And Martin, of course, has made his mark in the trade union movement and to become the president of the ACTU, it's something of real distinction. And I think that as the years go on and he mellows more, I think he'll also be a great people's representative and as for the one that is the favourite of my heart, Andrew, who's the youngest of the three. And he is presently secretary of the building union and forestry unions of New South Wales. I see more of Andrew in old Jack than I do the others, but be as it may they're a great three boys and both Mary and Jack Ferguson should be extremely proud of them.
Well, there's one thing about the fight game, if you're winning, everybody wants to pat you on the back and everybody wants to know you. And somehow or other if you've had a loss at all, they don't seem to notice you quite so much. And the same thing occurs within politics, and in fact it's a good training in that regard. You've got to keep your feet on the ground whether it's in the fight game or whether it's in politics. And don't really be -- worry about flattery, worry about your commitment, what you feel for people and what you want to do for yourself and for people.
But the early part of your life you were, in fact, a professional fighter. You trained as a boxer and then you went away as a fighting soldier. But you've been so associated with the notion of peace. Are you a pacifist?
No, I'm not a pacifist. No, I'm not. I really believe that the people of Australia, every person first of all, must feel secure within themselves, and I think that even we in Australia must feel secure and therefore I've never really been anti a defence policy. I think that Australia should have a defence policy and we should play an independent role. I'm not in favour of entering into treaty with other countries. I believe that we should try to build bridges with all peoples and all nations of the world and really keep our powder dry in the protection and defence of our homeland. So therefore I am not a pacifist, but I am against violence. I don't think that military violence or personal violence is a solution to problems and I certainly do not think that war is a solution to international conflict. I believe that political dialogue in the end has got to solve those problems.
I think the most important is of course the environmental question of Australia because we are such an arid continent and I think we have to be sensible of what population we absorb. I'm in favour of family reunion and of migration of refugees, whether they're from the Left or the Right, but I think that we really have to determine in the long term a sensible approach to the development of our nation and we must be doing much more to try to protect the scars we've created in the past. For instance, we've got the desalinisation and all those problems, the Murray/Darling system, and most of our water systems. Even the question of the sewerage on our offshore islands, excuse me, we really have got to stop just pouring the sewer into the sea. I mean, it's not a solution to the problem, it's going to aggravate the problem, so I find environmentally, we're an extremely sensitive environmental world, and we really need massive tree planting programs particularly of hardwoods and we should be reforesting our river systems in the inlands, particularly by Australian native trees and shrubs and other things. And we shouldn't over-try to over-industrialise it, whether it's an agriculture or otherwise. I think [that's] the major challenge to the future of our nation. Now, I'm not saying that there are not other problems in the world. I don't think that we can solve problems militarily, I think that we really should be great peace brokers, we should be brokers of goodwill between peoples and nations of the world and I think that we've been in some ways both -- in fairness to Hayden in his early years, I thought he did quite a good job in building bridges with peoples, particularly to our north. And I think in many cases Gareth Evans has done some good work, but where I think the failure for our government and all governments, has been that [of] human rights -- take our relationship with Indonesia and particularly our relationship to the people of East Timor. I think that we also turned a blind eye to the real problem of Bougainville and I think that in the long term there can be real problems for us in Irian Jaya, with the Indonesians, and particularly the conflict on the New Guinea border. So I see regional problems there, and so that's why I feel that we have to have a sensible defence policy and I'm supportive of that.
Central to your own economic philosophy has always been a notion of public ownership of certain key things. You spoke eloquently and passionately against actions that might lead the conservatives to get into power because they would privatise industries. And yet, it was a government in which you served that started that process, a Labor government. How did you feel about that?
Well, I think it's a disgraceful situation, and I said quite clearly [that] economically there weren't so many sales of public assets in the period that I was minister, but there certainly was after that period. I said that I thought that the Hawke Government was a bloody awful government and I stayed and stick by that. I don't think they've ever, the Labor Party, really analysed correctly why the people deserted us on the December 1984 election. There's a lot of excuses about Bob Hawke, and his daughter was ill and so many other things, but that's hogwash. The policies that we carried out those first few years, we didn't really feel any compassion or understanding for our people, we were more or less looking after the others. Now, even in the second government of '84, you might recall that there was a victory within the Labor movement against the VAT, the 12.5 per cent across the board VAT that the leadership at that time wanted to bring forward, and the trade union movement and particularly the Left played a very important role there. Now rising out of that, they set up a sub-committee, a sub-committee on taxation. And that sub-committee really was dominated by Keating, there's no ifs or buts about it, and Keating's got a remarkable personality; you can knock him down, you can keep him down but he'll get up off the canvas and win in the end. But there were four things that they did on that occasion. One was a tax cut of 1.6 billion dollars, secondly a capital gains tax, thirdly a fringe benefit tax and lastly, of course, the imputation tax. Now, the capital gains tax and the fringe benefit tax we in the Left supported, and what we didn't accept was the redistribution of the way that 1.6 billion dollars was made, because that was a thimble and pea trick, and in fact I often used to tell the ACTU leadership this, that the bottom 54 per cent or 56 per cent of tax payers got 800 million out of that 1.6 billion, but the -- I'm sorry, 4.6 billion, not 1.6 billion, 4.6 billion -- 800 million they got out of that 4.6 billion. Now, the top six per cent got nearly a billion dollars and as the years went on they accrued out of all proportion. Now, but where I thought was the worst decision any Labor government made on an economic issue, was the question of imputation. Now, to understand that, that imputation -- when we came into government, people who got dividends, income from dividends from their shares, and were in the top income bracket, would pay 60 cents on the dollars. Now, when we came into government there was 46 cents on the dollars in company taxation. Now what they would do, they lifted the company tax to 49 cents on the dollar and if the input, if a company paid its company tax, those people receiving dividends would pay no income tax at all. Do you know, they said it was going to cost about 250 million dollars and Keating and others argued it was a revolutionary thing and I said, of course, it was a reactionary thing. Instead of it costing about 250 million a year, it cost 11.6 billion dollars in the first five years of its administration. It's the greatest transfer of wealth away from our people across to the very wealthy people. It's the only way you can earn income without paying any income tax in Australia now, and that's by getting dividends or investing in big companies, and getting the dividends from it. Now as far as I'm concerned, that was not in the working-class interest, so I had very strong disagreements with the government on those issues, but I might say I didn't get too much support from my so-called 'new Left' people. I put 'new Left' in inverted commas.
Yes, it is a problem, and it's a problem the world over and really that's where I think there's got to be a greater intervention. There's got to be greater pressure and it's got to come from the grassroots up. In many ways -- I mean the Democrats are, they're a very small part in this stage and as they get a bigger part in it they'll find it a bit more difficult. The Democrats as I find it are mouthing some very good principles in that regard and I suppose in a way, in a democratic process in our nation, it's a healthy development because at least it's not a swing. That minority group is not to the Right like it used to be in the '50s when it was the DLP that used to have the balance of power. And that's why I think that it's a healthy situation, it seems to me, the way the political spectrum is at present. For instance, we're talking now well before a federal election, now it's my personal view that a lot of people want to get rid of the Labor Party but they really feel that the alternative is not the answer and therefore a lot of people who are voting for the Democrats, you know who are voting for the Greens and independents, ultimately will come back with their preferences to the Labor Party like they did in '87, like they did in 1990, like they did in 1993. And I don't think that the alternative leadership from the Liberal Party is really enough. Particularly on issues, not only economic issues but on issues where in fact we have to make these decisions as a nation. Such things as Aboriginal Affairs, I mean, can you imagine the states, the conservative states giving Howard the power to make decisions on that? On the question of environmental questions, on the question of human rights questions, on the question of social issues, homosexuality, how can you ever see it? Without the question about the industrial matters. These are the big issues which I think that thinking capacity of people that I think will still come back and vote for the Labor Party. Now I think it will probably be a very close election, but I'm speaking well before the election as a prophet.
Yes I do.
Well, I would encourage every young person to get a very healthy base that's really -- to maximise the base education when they're at school and from there, that base education, then they can start to grow from that, but ...
Well, first of all, for a long time in communication and articulation, I can remember -- I tell you -- I remember even in doing internal memos in Woolworths, writing those internal memos, and how many I screwed up and put in the wastepaper basket, and I'll never forget my great and beloved friend, Jack Ferguson, when he said to me when he became an organiser of the building workers' industrial union, he said, 'Tom, I can't write these internal memos.' And I just told him about my own experiences as Woolworths manager, writing internal memos. I said, 'It's a matter of usage. Keep on doing it and keep on doing it and keep on doing it and keep on doing it and in the long term you'll perfect that position,' and, look, he finished up as Deputy Premier of the State, magnificent. But, I should have gone in and understood so many things in a much deeper way and of course when you go to school only 'til first year in intermediate high school, and leaving school at 13, there is a lot of basic education that you didn't receive.
No, I've never made up for it, I'm still battling along to make up for it, I'm trying to learn again every day. I'm learning from people, I'm a sponge still today, drawing from people, listening to radio programs, listening to experts talk on the ABC and other programs. Listening and watching the SBS from time to time. For instance, last night I watched an important program on oil. It's all education. I look at things that I kind of can draw from. And of course the books I read, books are a great educator for people. I'm a slow reader, but I read thoroughly and sometimes I argue, as I read too, sometimes.
Did you feel hurt when people criticised you on the grounds of your intellect. Everybody from ASIO to people in the press had a go and, as you said, said things like, 'Tom Uren's not too bright but he gets bright people around him', What did you feel when you heard those sorts of comments?
Early on I was a little sensitive, now it just runs off my back like water running off a duck's back. Because, you know, I just feel they don't look at me as a whole, see, and I think when you look at people -- I've learnt in life to not judge a person on the narrow concept but look at a person more as a whole, whether it's a woman or man, and even a statesman. Like for instance I've got plenty of things I could criticise Whitlam for in his life's span, but I think he's one of the greatest men that ever went into politics in Australia, and he's a great person. I'm very proud of him. Yet there are some things I feel he's been very, very poor on and I could criticise him very strongly.
Oh, first of all, I like them as a positive person. I like a person to have a broader vision. I don't like people to be self-centred. I like a little bit of compassion if it's possible. In a person. I like a giving person, a sharing person. And particularly people who are givers of knowledge or a sharer of information. I mean it really does worry me, some of our educators are some of the great people of the world, and thinkers, that we have, that are so giving in their thoughts and that, and their renumeration [sic] is so small but they're giving so much to the world, where in fact some car salesman or some other real estate salesman, or some TV bloke or commentator, gets large sums of money. And in a way, as I said earlier, it's the way people treat you, that's the wealth of the world. As I finished up writing my book I said, 'You can't buy it with all Packer's millions.' It's the givers of the world that I love.
Well, I think I fell short in relationship to my own first wife, and in fact I regret that I didn't fight to hold her and go, you know, stay with her. But generally, as I've got older, I kind of tend to, I want to, be more self-critical about myself. At the one time I'm proud of some of the achievements I do, and sometimes one has to explain what has occurred in history, and then you say, well stop blowing your bugle, Uren. You know. And so there's a kind of humility, and as I mentioned, I think earlier, the question of particularly the people of humility, particularly the more recent ones -- I'm not saying that Ho Chi Minh is the only great leader of human ... I think that people like Mahatma Gandhi certainly had that certain evolutionary process to a position of great humility, he wasn't always that way, but he evolved to that situation. I think that if Martin Luther King had survived he would have probably evolved to that even though I think he was an enormously great man as it was, and his statement 'injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere' is immortally in my heart. He put it right in my heart. That's everywhere.
No, not really. I think, I'm probably a little more emotional now than I was as a younger -- I show more emotions now than I did as a younger person although I would say it was more a commitment then, than emotion. But I find now in my evergreen years or eventide years it's a kind of more emotions as well. I find my emotions work on me a bit more. Even Whitlam, I mean, I find when Gough and I get together we show our emotions to one another. Which we never always did.
Well, it was always the two sides of my nature. There was always that tough side of me. But I think as I've got older the gentler side has tended to take over. Even though from time to time I've still got a short fuse but then I'll stand back and laugh at myself about that. But, no, I think as I've got older the gentler side has taken over much more than my young brash aggressive side.
I just don't know, it's just something that evolved there. I just love, I love, I love, well art is in the eye of the beholder, it's, what you feel, what touches you. I mean, nature itself, I look at my country. [My knowledge of] art evolved first through the northern hemisphere but then gradually I moved into my understanding of my own art. But I mean there's so much about Sydney. I suppose I try to think back on that because even as a youngster, starting school at 13 and then work at thirteen and going on the Manly ferry every day to and from five days a week, you know, what an opportunity for a young man to be able to do that, and to absorb that beautiful Sydney Harbour. I had a love affair ... I've had a love affair with Sydney, but particularly Sydney Harbour, and you know, the concept of Nielsen and of the green belt round Sydney Harbour and its trees and its backdrops and everything, I mean it just, that captures you and the more you look at Sydney the more I love Sydney. It's national parks on the south and the west and the north and the beautiful angophora trees. I opened recently the Sydney Vista 1788 through to 1995 and I told them [about] the beautiful park that I still love: you'll go on a ferry from Palm Beach up to Bobbin Head, there's that lower part of the island where you should go in January when those angophoras peel their bark and they show that lovely salmon bark trunks. There's something about the beauty of our city and the beauty of Australia, and the east coast of Australia is a paradise and really we should be very, very careful that we don't over-exploit it, that we really do feel, all of us should say, it belongs to all of us, it just doesn't belong to any individual, and we should be very protective of our beaches and our mountains. It's such a beautiful serene environment and we should do something about -- make sure that we do protect it properly.
Well, I suppose, to a great extent, two people had a great influence on me there, I firstly Clifton Pugh. It was in the very early '70s, late '60s, that I first met Clifton, and we've become very close, and through Clifton, I got to know people like Fred Williams and Bert Tucker and Percival, even though he was very sick at the time when I knew him, and Frank Hodgkinson. You know, quite a number, and through Frank Hodgkinson I met Lloyd Rees but Clifton had a great influence on me there and we would argue to some degree about it because, in many ways, Clifton would talk about survival of the fittest, you know, if you look at some of his landscape shots about the viciousness, the dog, the dingo, over a carcass, and he would talk about survival of the fittest, and I would argue, you know, about the collective society, but there was another side of Clifton. And I've got a beautiful painting of his called Early Spring, and it's because I'd been in the bush with him, and when you go into the bush with him his eyes observe things that you never see. And he'll just pick that up and talks about life through a little flower there or something, and it was this Early Spring, this beautiful piece of abstract painting he did, that I couldn't help but buy it even though it stretched me for every penny I had at that time, but it was on exhibition once ...
Well, I think it's life itself and it's strange, though, you know, that you fight and struggle for freedom, but if you go into public life, sometimes that freedom is restricted, freedom in a way that there were things that you would really like to do and just kind of contract out. Now, for instance, I'm not running away from life, but I'm nearly 75 years of age, but I've always wanted to travel like a hippie, and see certain parts of the world and to sit and talk with those people involved, and I've never had that time to do those things in my 75 years and next March I'm going to do it, I mean that's what I intend to do. And that's a freedom that I've been yearning for. So, you fight for individual freedom, not to be intimidated, and there's other aspects, whether or not you are intimidated within the system you're in. And certainly, I think, from about 1964 onwards, I think I was free in the Labor Party, but you had to live under the old autocracy of the Labor system and the Labor machine that they really, particularly being Left, would try to intimidate you and to orientate you, like for instance there were times when I wanted to talk about peace. Even in my own electorate, and Bill Coleburn wouldn't allow me to talk, because I was a Member of Parliament, because I would have been talking with a member of the Communist Party, who was Pat Clancy, who was also a trade union leader. But Jim Kenny, who was also a member of the Upper House in New South Wales, and also secretary of the Trades and Labour Council of New South Wales, he was allowed and couldn't be stopped and Coleburn's explanation was, 'But he's a trade union leader, and therefore we can't influence him or discipline him, but we can you.' And therefore I was stopped, in those early '60s, from doing that. But I got to a stage in my life where I said, 'To hell with you people, if you want to discipline me, you discipline me,' but I've done that and it has been-- freedom of that kind of breakthrough. I told you round about '64 that I walked across that line and nobody has ever really influenced me or tried to intimidate me in any way since that day.
It wasn't so much my freedom, it was to serve those people who elected me to the ministry. And therefore, first of all, I got the concurrence of Whitlam in the first place, that if in fact we did want to oppose a cabinet decision we would notify cabinet, that we would raise the question in the caucus or vote against a certain subject within the caucus. And we got that agreement, but in the question of dogma, under Hawke, Hawke insisted that his cabinet be bound by solidarity. Now I wasn't in the cabinet, I was in the ministry, and I just said that I would not be bound by solidarity because those people in the ministry didn't elect me to the ministry, the caucus elected me to the ministry and I owe my loyalty to the caucus, answerable to the people of the caucus, and that's always been my parliamentary position and I wouldn't move away from it.
Well, I talk about an experience when I was a fairly young man and parliamentarian, and I was in Japan and I was at this peace conference against A and H bombs, and I always remember this beautiful Viennese woman, blonde Viennese woman, who'd been married to a black Nigerian and when you met them and fraternised with them in the conference, you didn't take any notice whatsoever. But I can recall getting up one morning early in August, and it was a very oppressive night and we were staying in this guest house and, no air conditioning and the doors were wide open to get fresh air through, and this woman was stark naked on the bed and he was too, lying on the top of the bed ,and as I looked in and saw it something jarred on me and I thought to myself, 'You're a redneck or something, a bit of racism in you, you'll have to work on that.' Now, as I've evolved I've tried to examine and re-examine my position on racism, sexism and male chauvinism, you know, all my life, so I'm still trying to learn and work towards that situation. But I think we're making progress slowly on the question of racism. It's a slow process, but I think where good is winning over evil. I'm a believer that good will ultimately defeat evil and that's my whole philosophical position of life. Maybe romantic, that's what I'm fighting for.
Looking back over your life, from your mother onwards, various people have influenced you strongly and helped shape and reshape your attitudes. Who would you say had been the one that influenced you most fundamentally?
I wouldn't like to pinpoint any individual. A young person, who interviewed me not so very long ago, said I kind of went round the supermarket store picking off the shelf all those things that in fact would help to nourish my life, and I think that's what I'd prefer to say, I wouldn't like to isolate any one individual. I think they are inter-related, those people, some of them that I've mentioned in my book, some of them mentioned today, but there are other people, even little people, I don't want to say little, but just ordinary people, that have had such an influence on my life and, and so I just wouldn't specifically say any one individual.
Well, I'd say that she was the seed, she's the basis of my compassion, my love, and commitment to other people. She had a very strong influence, my mother, but also Patricia, my first wife, was certainly a remarkable influence in my life. And in fact if I had to say who was the nicest person I've ever known in my life it was Patricia Stella Palmer.
Oh, a beautiful human being, wise, diplomatic, skilful, artistic, loving, beautiful nature. Just, just beautiful ...
Well, at moments like this when you try to talk about it. But, because I'm married to a woman with similar qualities, they blend into one another so much, a living love ...
You're someone ... one of the things that really strikes one about you, Tom, is that you've always gone about what you've done with a great air of confidence and certainty, and that's been a very big part of your strength, that you've worked through things in a very confident way. Where does this confidence come from?
Oh, I think that comes from Maggie, Agnes Uren. Yeah, I think that that confidence really grew out of that love and affection that I got right from my very beginning. There's places where I'm not confident, don't get me wrong, I'm not that confident, but it's what Annie said to me, you had to be more a private than a general. And then start doing things and I feel I'm more confident now that I do more things myself than when I get other people to do it, particularly these last six years that I've been retired.
I think the whole question of the Iraq question was important. I'm glad ...
Well, first of all, I spoke out about Australia committing itself to the war which I didn't think we should have done. We should have supported the UN sanction position but not a military excursion. And I'm very grateful that no-one was killed in that war. But it was going over to try and get the hostages back from Saddam Hussein and his thugs. But I wouldn't have gone, I didn't put my name forward. I thought that a person like Whitlam or Fraser or Jimmy Cairns or somebody of that description should have been, the more eminent person should have gone, but the Arab community came to me and that's why I went and I'm glad I did. It was a hell of a time and I don't want to go through that experience again. I was there for three weeks and I think I averaged about three hours a night sleep. And it was a lot of tension on me at that time, but I'm glad that we got out of it and I'm glad that ultimately all our people got out. But they're a pretty devious, not very honest or honourable people. There are honourable ones amongst them, don't get me wrong, but I mean I wouldn't trust that Saddam Hussein or the officers or people around him. They talk one way and act another way.
You went back with a group to visit Hellfire Pass with Weary Dunlop and another group of prisoners. What was that like as an experience to go back after all that time with your mates to that place of torture?
Yes, well, I went back with John Carrick at that time. We, John and I, represented the Australian Parliament and it was an experience I don't want to go through again. I walked into that cutting and I completely lost control, every control of my muscles for several minutes, and I just didn't know what was happening to me. Something psychological -- I just don't know to this day because I wasn't exerted physically in any way. But it was also the atmosphere of the area because I still visualise the beautiful teak forests that surrounded that area. And there's not one teak tree left. They've been all exploited and that's a scar in my mind that I just can't wipe away. And of course, the hell of the experience going back to what you went through. I suppose the great thing about being there on that occasion was that we were with Weary again and Weary unveiled the plaque, so I was proud of that and he kind of said some kind words about me at that time. Weary always said that 'Tom Uren was one of his boys' and I was one of his boys. I'm very proud of it.
When we talked about that time the other day there was one part of it that I didn't ask you about and I'd just like to go over it again. When you were in prison camp, were you ever beaten by the Japanese in charge of you?
Yes, well, I've been beaten brutally, from time to time. I mean they've hit me with open hands with wooden clogs, and one occasion with a four-foot-by-about-two-inches-diameter solid green bamboo. But they'd always go out of their way of picking me because I was a bit taller than most people, and also because somebody had said that I was a fighter, and so I've had plenty of bashings from the Japs. And also there were times when I went to my mates' aid. A mate of mine said, you know, on a recent television program that I in fact helped to save his life. And I really can't remember that experience because I'd done it so often, I'd try to intervene in front of my own mates and the Japs that were bashing, and then they'd kind of turn on me, so I always felt it was a responsibility because I was a bit stronger and physically and I suppose internally within me there was a bit of moral strength, and so things just come automatic to you, kind of instant. And you don't fear. I've never feared anyone. The only thing I've ever feared was that Japanese ... was cholera in the prison camp. But I've never been fearful of any individual in the whole of my life. Now you might think that's a funny experience, but I'm talking about from a physical point of view. I've never been about confronting a person.
I don't know, I just don't know.
No, I'm not. I'm not afraid of death at all, I just don't want to be a burden on my family or my friends, and when I go, I want to go with courage.
Well, I didn't say a good death, he died a courageous death. He died a hell of a death. He actually had a tumour on the brain. And they didn't know what it was because he'd been a painter, a house painter and industrial painter. And they thought he might have had lead poisoning because he was all paralysed down one side, but ultimately they found out that he'd had a tumour on the brain and it was the courage in which he faced up to that, I mean, I had enormous respect for my father.
Yes. My father was a hero, I want to be a hero, too.
Well, I think I'll be cremated and I'd like my ashes to be thrown around under an oak tree up at Mt Wilson where Patricia is.
No, I don't really think that.
No, no, none at all. I just hope that some of what I stood for, a sprinkling, that some people might say, 'Oh, but he was a person of goodwill, he was a good human being, we need more good human beings in the world to make the world a better world.' That's what it's all about. That's my feeling and philosophy.
Mmm. As a giver. One of the givers. And fighters, by the way. Fighters for peace. Not for anything else.
No, no, that's all right. Isn't it alright the way it is?
Oh, as a person who was a person of goodwill, a giver, a fighter for peace.
Going right back now to when you went to Lithgow or when you joined Woolworths, can you tell me what it was out of your period in Woolworths and your development in that managerial side of things that stood you in good stead later on?
Well, I think it was the administration. I think it was the strength and character of a person in the name of Bill Maiden who really had great influence on me in my planning and administrative ability, and that stayed with me right through my Woolworths years and of course later in my parliamentary years. I was always a good -- I mean on the one hand I would delegate, but I would also make sure that I checked on that delegation. I mean, I would give people responsibilities, it's only when those people who I'd given responsibilities and I'd met my commitment that I would question it. But if they faced up [to] their responsibilities then I'd give them that strength. And I think that stayed with me right from my Woolworths days. And one of the great things I suppose is the young people that worked with me through my life that had their visions, I would bring their vision to life. I mean, you know, creating a national park, for instance. I had a great young bloke by the name of Frank Miller who worked with me and he had a vision that one day the Namadgi National Park which we created in Canberra would link with the Mt Kosciusko National Park and the Victorian Alpine Park, into a great national park, and of course we created that, that Namadgi National Park, against the bureaucracy in Canberra at the time we were there. There were so many things that one could do [with] wonderful young people who were working around you, that gives them so much inspiration, that you could go in and carry out their work, or their thoughts and their views.
That's right, really, you've got to be a part of a team. I'm the ball carrier, kind of, you know. But only a part of the team. That's what life's about.
Oh yes, it was a real challenge and in fact we lifted the store quite remarkably, and that's why we did so well with Woolworths, and Woolworths responded quite remarkably to me as well. But ...
Team spirit. The staff who were working there, we'd talk about talk about our issues. Even if a person was sick, you know, whether or not we'd pay her. I mean, I even put to the staff from time to time ... I remember one person had appendicitis and I said, 'Look, she'll have to be off for at least two weeks. Now what will we do, will we get a casual in to take her place or do we carry her that two weeks so that she can be paid for and covered during that period of time?' And they made the decision and then they worked accordingly. It was the whole basis, I found everywhere where I've worked, where I can get the team working together. It was just like DURD, when I was the minister. I had a group which ran a program called Area Improvement Program, which dealt with local communities and local councils, and they used to need direction, so I'd get them over and they'd sit round the floor of my office and I would talk about my political and environmental and human aspirations of our programs that we seek to do, and they would get up, they'd want to go out, and they'd work, you know, because they were a part of a team. And I found that public servants, if you gave public servants leadership, they would respond in a positive way, and that's what I found with my people. Or with our people.
Well, I don't know that it was, but it was me, and it was just the feeling of me. For instance, I'll give you an example: I wrote a letter once to the Sydney Morning Herald where there'd been a lot of land exploited and knocked down at Kurrajong Heights. It's the north of Kurrajong Heights as you go up through the Blue Mountains. And I wrote this letter and complained about these trees being destroyed, particularly the angophoras, and I asked whether the bellbirds at Bellbird Hills will ever sing again. Well, in my last budget, one of the people working on the Area Improvement Program spoke with the people at Colo Shire (which later became the Hawkesbury Shire) and said, 'Look, we've got enough money here, would you like to buy that land as the lookout land that looks over the whole of the valley of the Cumberland Plain?' And they bought it and it's been reforestated again and it was just that normal letter of mine that the staff, the public servants, made the decision, not me, in inter-relationship with the local government. But this is what you call team spirit. It was a kind of flowing through. It's wonderful to work with people who respond so positively to you.
Now, you'd worked with Jim Cairns in the great Vietnam moratorium marches and people will always remember you leading some of those marches, and you set up the Heritage Commission which survived the government that followed you, and has survived through to this day. There are a number of physical monuments around the country to you in various places where the urban environment and the natural environment have been saved. What are some of the other achievements that you managed to do with the help of these teams that you got around you while you were in government?
Well, of course Gough's a part of this too. You know, the national sewerage program, like to link and pick up the backlog of the sewerage systems within all our major capital cities. I mean, you look at also the introduction of Land Commission programs; LANDCOM or urban land councils never existed until we came into being. Many of the public housing projects like the experimental ones of Glebe and the Woolloomooloo in Sydney, and Emerald Hill and Richmond in Melbourne, and not only that but a lot of people don't realise until Whitlam came along (and I was a part of that, a part of this) that we made untied grants, local grants to local government and about 15 per cent of urban councils, up to 30 per cent of rural councils, funds come directly from the Federal Government to the local government. Well, when we made the first contribution it was 56 million in 1974, now it's over 700 million dollars a year, and if you put in the untied grants it even doubles and trebles that. So local government played a very important role and I certainly had a foot in the door in every local government authority throughout Australia and regional authorities. Programs like the Albury-Wodonga development corporation just wonderful projects which gave you great enthusiasm, I mean you could go on and on, and particularly even the involvement of Canberra. I was responsible for the planning of Canberra for five years as minister and I think the catchment area. I stopped the development across the western side of the Murrumbidgee and made the whole of the Murrumbidgee Valley there at Canberra a conservation zone. As I said, created the national park there at Namadgi, at Canberra, and so many other ... look, it really embarrasses me to talk about these things, because really I feel so humble, that I've been given the responsibility first by Whitlam and even by Hawke. Hawke was very kind to me in many ways as Minister for Local Government, and in the early days we weren't good friends, but at the end we worked very well together. So even with Hawke, I want to pay tribute to his contribution to what I could do for people.
Yes, you get more patient, you get more tolerant, and you look back at what an awful bugger you were when you were younger, particularly for instance raising children. I'm a part of raising Ruby much more than I was of Michael and of Heather, and that gives me a greater joy about being old, older, and I see the beauty and joy in seeing a child grow and develop and being smarter than you are.
I hope we grow more tolerant as time goes on. I think we've got a fairly happy basis to this multicultural society, we are a great experiment for the world. I think that on the whole we've got a great deal of tolerance to one another and we've got to make sure that we retain that. If you don't know about something and you're kind of questioning, don't get sectarian against it, try and find out a bit more about it and then you'll find that it's not such a bad organisation or such a bad body. I think that we should support the question of tolerance and unity of purpose. What I object to, what I object to more than anything else is public figures playing to the gallery to play off one section of the community against the other. Even though I am what I am, and I will seek equity and justice and freedom and a more sensitive environmental world, but having said that, I still feel if that if you are going to play it, then stop getting off this sectional position. I think there are some very, very sick people in politics at present.
I'll not name people in particular, but I think that both sides can look at their situation in that regards.
Well, they're trying to advance their own personal position instead of looking at the more objective society as a whole.
Well, society is less collective today in some ways than it was 30, 35 to 40 years ago in my early beginnings, but then there are certain things which I've seen people come together in a collective way. I can remember, for instance, in the middle '80s something like 170 thousand people in one day in Sydney alone came out to march against nuclear weapons and nuclear war, and that is a beautiful collectivisation of people and could have never been done before in earlier years. Now, I find that even in our own day and age that when the crisis issues arise the response of people is just wonderful and I find that people live in the commercial world. For instance, I've got a lot of personal respect for say a person like Ray Martin; I think he's a human being of goodwill. Now, he's on the commercial side, on the other hand I'm an ABC viewer normally, but you've got to give credit to people when you see them doing something of goodwill.
Does Tom Uren the optimist imagine that Ruby will inherit a world, to use your phrase, more collectivised than it is now, or do you think that the trend that's gone so strongly in the other direction even under a Labor government is going to continue?
I think that it's the world -- I'm not talking sectionally about Australia but the world has moved away from the 'greed is good' mentality of the '80s. And I think that they're starting to re-examine things about [how] they can make it a better world in the '90s and into the new century. That's my own view and I think that progressively we've got to move towards that position. It's not going to be an easy track towards that, it's going to be a very difficult one, but all I've done with Ruby is that we give her love and we'll give her books around her and culture and art around her. We hope that she'll learn other languages so that she can communicate with other peoples, so that's Ruby.