Jeff Goldhar: socialist whose legacy continues

When life long socialist Jeff Goldhar died in 1997, he left a bequest. Set up at the end of 1998, the Jeff Goldhar Project is now celebrating 10 years of activities.Jeff Goldhar became politically active in the 1960s, attending demonstrations against the Vietnam war and as an active member of the Labour Club at Melbourne University. While in the UK in the early 1970s he joined the International Socialists (now Socialist Workers Party), and on his return to Melbourne, became a member of the fledgling Australian organisation, Socialist Workers Action Group.

Jeff was diagnosed with a terminal illness in the mid 1990s. He wanted to leave a bequest, to “allow us to bring our history, ideas to those receptive to it.”

“When I was told that there was nothing that could be done for me, that there were no proven remedies left in the medicine cabinet, the future – well, there was none – no dreams, no plans, just life for the today – even hour by hour.”

“I could think about the past and how our history was disappearing. We have a proud history… I’d like our history to be remembered. I’d like our ideas to be available”. Jeff hoped that his bequest would contribute to this by producing an income to help with cost of research and publication.

“Well, it’s a bit of a dream, but it could work”.

Jeff’s dream has been realised. In 10 years we have published 7 books and 3 other publications, provided funding for 4 Australian and 8 international speakers and an anti-militarism conference, and assisted with several activities promoting activism in Indonesia.

The first activity of the Project in 1998 was to publish Rebel Women which has sold steadily over 10 years and been reprinted twice. Focussing on women as militants, activists in their own right, the book covers a range of times and places, from Broken Hill, to women’s struggles during the depression, through world war 1, equal pay in the 1970s to the famous 1986 Victorian nurses strike.

This book was very much in the spirit of the purpose of Jeff’s bequest. Labour history tends to emphasise official structures of the unions and the ALP. On the other hand, feminist histories tend to focus on the divisions between men and women. Rebel Women provides an inspirational account of action from below.

“They called us brazen hussies… it was unheard of… the coalfields women didn’t take long to cotton on… basically they were fighters”.

The Project has also published books on the BLF, Iraq, class struggle in colonial Australia and the Eureka rebellion.

Socialism is internationalist by nature, so international solidarity has been an important part of our work. At the time the Project began operating an important struggle was nearing its peak, as the Indonesian people set about overthrowing the Suharto dictatorship. In the aftermath, many new people were drawn to left wing ideas. The Project supported translation of basic socialist materials into Indonesian, involvement in a leftwing conference near Jakarta, and some modest computer facilities to help left activists get their ideas out to a wider audience.

Given Australia’s geograph isolation, visits by international speakers are also crucial. Speakers came from many countries, including Thailand, Korea, South Africa, USA, Italy and France. For me personally hearing Hanan Aruri, a Palestinian woman activist in 2007, was a highlight.

Because many of the books have sold satisfactorally, the Project has been able to continue for longer than originally anticipated. Several new publication projects are under consideration, including the history of gay liberation in Australia, world war two and the upturn of the 1960s. Jeff’s dream of helping our history be remembered continues.

By Janey Stone on behalf of Jeff Goldhar Project trustees (Janey Stone, Tom O’Lincoln, Liz Ross)

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