In Tom O’Lincoln’s (recently republished) Into the Mainstream: The Decline of Australian Communism, he quotes, at one point, from an interview with party stalwart Vic Williams, discussing the CPA’s work in the fifties:

It didn’t matter what happened, if some school committee hit the headlines, you could bet your life, there’d be some Communist Party member at the school, and he’d [sic[ be organising. I used to pick up the paper when I was a Communist Party member organiser and I’d be amazed; I’d see all these issues and I knew someone who’d be running them.

I was thinking about that when reading of the arrest of Peter Cundall at a protest over the Gunns’ pulp mill. Cundall’s best known, of course, as the avuncular former host of the ABC’s gardening show. He was also, however, at one time a member of the CPA. Indeed, he stood as a communist senate candidate in 1961, in a campaign that, he proudly boasts, drew the least number of votes in a parliamentary election.

I’m not suggesting that’s the only reason he’s still an activist at age 82 (his profile on Wiki records a pretty amazing life). But I suspect it has something to do with it. Certainly, I’ve met many similar people who, even years after they left the CPA, still found political organising as necessary as breathing, wherever it was they ended up.

Jeff Sparrow

Jeff Sparrow is a Walkley Award-winning writer, broadcaster and former editor of Overland.

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