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.”