I pay tribute to my dear comrade and friend Tom Uren AC who passed away this Australia Day.
Activist. Parliamentarian. Minister in the Whitlam and Hawke Governments. Environmentalist. Campaigner for peace and justice. Former Prisoner of War. Progressive. True believer in the cause of Labor.
Tom Uren was a giant of a man who leaves a remarkable legacy for the nation that he served and loved.
His was an extraordinary life of accomplishment, decency, passion, unwavering in the pursuit of his principles of peace and social justice.
Tom Uren was born into the depression in Balmain before moving to Manly where he led an active life playing football, surf lifesaving and as a professional boxer.
In 1941 Tom Uren enlisted in the Australian Army and was taken as a Prisoner of War on Timor by the Japanese from 1942 to 1945.
He worked on the infamous Burma-Siam Railway, and after being sent to Japan he witnessed the dropping of the second atomic bomb on Nagasaki on the horizon.
Far from producing bitterness, this experience politicised Tom and shaped his philosophy that he was to live by for the rest of his life.
As part of Weary Dunlop’s force, he lived by what he described in his first speech as “the principle of the fit looking after the sick, the young looking after the old, the rich looking after the poor”.
His philosophical approach to reconciliation was exemplified by his often used quote by Martin Luther-King:
Hate is always tragic. It disturbs the personality and scars the soul. It’s more injurious to the hater than it is to the hated.
Tom returned from the war and became a manager of Woolworths before he entered Parliament as the Member for Reid in 1958.
He had a remarkable parliamentary career over the next 32 years which included serving as a Minister in both the Whitlam and Hawke Governments.
He championed sustainability of both our natural and built environments and successfully campaigned for social justice and civil liberties.
His most recent policy achievement was championing the decision by Julia Gillard and the former Labor Government to grant proper compensation to the remaining former Japanese Prisoners of War.
His lasting impact is evident right around Australia through the National Estate, the Glebe Estate and countless heritage buildings and natural environments that were protected as a direct result of his intervention.
Tom Uren had great faith and love for people and he received their affection in return.
His passing doesn’t close so much as a chapter but an entire book on Australian history.
On this Australia Day, we are reminded that we are the modern, dynamic and progressive nation we’ve become because of the contribution and legacy of those who have come before us, in much more difficult times.
Tom Uren has been a mentor, inspiration, and father figure to me over the last 30 years.
I, and so many other Australians loved him and will dearly miss him.