Monday, January 26, 2015


On  Australia Day comes  news of  the death  at 93 of  a true national hero, big in physique , vision  and  heart , Tom Uren . The  great ALP  figure , who  took part in  boxing matches in  Darwin before  going to  Timor  and   being  captured there  by  the Japanese , was  regarded as  a hero  by   Darwin resident  and  longtime  East  Timor campaigner , Rob Wesley-Smith, founder of the NT  Civil  Liberties  Council who, like Uren, opposed the Vietnam War .

Wes  met  Uren several times  when he was a  politician and welcomed his support  in  parliament  calling for  an  act of self determination  for East Timor  . Australia, said  Uren , had a  moral debt to the Timorese  for  their  assistance given  to  Australian  soldiers  in 1942. 

Wes   had  other  dealings  with  Uren . In his capacity  as  an agronomist ,he   attended a  dry range  farming conference in Russia and  was mightily impressed  by  the  layout of the city of Frunze in the southern province of  Kirgizia, with numerous roads, canals, grass verges . At  a reception there  Wes  made a speech ,  drank  the powerful local  brew, and  was  branded  a  son of  the city, who would  come  back  one day. 

On  returning to Australia , Wes made  contact  with Uren , then  responsible for  better  cities  through  decentralisation  in  the  Whitlam Government , one of those listed for attention being Townsville , and  urged  him to   go  to Frunze  to  get  ideas  for  urban Australia. Furthermore , Wes  said  he would be  only too happy to come along with Tom as his  guide , if  the  government paid his  fare  .  It   did  not  happen . Nice try though,Wes.

The  two met again in Sydney when Uren was courting  his second wife , a music student, who lived  up the road  from  Martin  Wesley–Smith , a lecturer at  the  Conservatorium  of  Music.  

In his autobiography, Straight Left , Uren described boxing matches in Darwin before being  shipped to Timor, capture by  the Japanese , work on the Burma-Thailand railway, brutal life in POW camps, working under  Weary Dunlop  and  being in Japan when the atomic bomb was  dropped on Nagasaki, only 80 kilometres   away,  the  war coming  to a  sudden  end.  

Other points of interest  from the book relevant  to the present day: 

*In supporting the Fidel Casto victory over the “cruel and ruthless criminal Juan Batisa”, Uren wrote that  Cuba and  Vietnam had become the Achilles  heel of the United States  and it  was  long overdue to normalise relationships  with  both .  President  Obama  is attempting  to  do  this right now in respect of Cuba  .   

*Hatred of  the Japanese, during the war, he wrote had been great, the propaganda  excessive. Now the same people who sent us off to  war were  trying to sell  off part of Australia to the Japanese ... “ Partriotism is  a  terrible thing.  You know what I mean – a band  marches down the street playing  patriotic songs and men follow it and respond  to  the  call to arms.  It  takes real courage  to stand up to this type of manipulation , but we really must  make sure  that we don’t  allow politicians and ‘statesmen’  to lead  Australian people  into  any  further wars.”