Sunday, December 21, 2008

Chapter 7 - Politics in the Family

After the move to No: 10 Gillon Court, Oakleigh, a neighbour who we got to know asked us whether we were interested in becoming members of the Oakleigh Branch of the Labor Party. It may have been the discussions that I heard between Grand-father and Dad about an Australian Planter who in 1936 created an uproar among the British Planters when he supported an increase in the working conditions of the tea plantation workers and after joining the Socialist Party of Ceylon was deported by the Government of the day. As Grand-father was a major shareholder in a company that owned several Tea Estates he was most concerned about the effects on the productivity of the workers and their working conditions as well, but had no say in the matter as the British controlled the economy and the tea industry. This interesting story is reproduced below:-
Obituary - Mark Bracegirdle
“A polymath who stood against imperialism”.

Wesley S MuthiahThe Guardian, Friday 16 July 1999 01.28 BSTArticle history.

In 1936, Mark Bracegirdle, who has died of a stroke aged 86, arrived in Ceylon from Australia, and for seven months worked on the Reluges Estate, Madulkelle, as an apprentice tea planter. The workforce was Indian Tamil; their hours were long, their wages low, their living conditions shocking - and they were illiterate.Bracegirdle was openly sympathetic to the workers. So his employers booked him on a return steamer to Australia; but Bracegirdle would not go. Instead, he joined the Lanka Sama Samaja party (equal society party) and denounced conditions on the plantations.The governor, Sir Reginald Stubbs, responded by invoking an order-in-council to force Bracegirdle to quit the island. Again, he would not go. So the governor ordered his arrest, pending deportation. A storm of protest ensued and Bracegirdle went underground. In May 1937, he addressed a 50,000-strong protest meeting in Colombo, although soon afterwards the police detained him.Meanwhile, the state council pointed out that the governor had acted unconstitutionally and the colonial supreme court ruled that Bracegirdle had been illegally detained and must be released.Thus did he become a key figure in the anti-imperialist movement, focusing attention within the country's educated classes on the need to end colonial rule. The case highlighted such issues as freedom of the individual, the role of the judiciary, the power of the governor and the rights of workers.

Bracegirdle came from a family of artists. His mother, Ina, was a suffragette, who had studied at the Slade school of art and was a member of the Independent Labour party. In 1928 Bracegirdle emigrated to Australia with his mother and brother. He joined the young Communist league in Sydney and during the depression worked on outback sheep farms, where he developed what became a lifelong friendship with Cynthia Reed, who later married the artist Sidney Nolan.After the conclusion of the Bracegirdle case, he returned to England, and in 1939 married Mary Vinden, a young nurse and member of the Communist party. A wartime conscientious objector, he was involved in clandestine refugee work, helping to smuggle Jewish women out of Berlin. After the war, he qualified as an engineer and settled in Gloucestershire, where he developed friendships with Rutland Boughton, the composer, and Wogan Phillips, later Lord Phillips. A committed Labour party member, he was also an Aldermaston marcher.In the 1970s, Bracegirdle worked as transport manager for the Zambian flying doctor service. He ended his career lecturing in engineering at North London polytechnic.Bracegirdle knew about fungi, the history of Chinese script, Darwinism, the history of science, Marxism, Roman glass, ornithology, farming, art, design, aviation, beekeeping, Aboriginal history - and cookery. In retirement, he worked voluntarily for the extra-mural department of archaeology at London university.His sharp, inquiring mind and sense of humour never deserted him. Days before he died, rendered speechless by a stroke, he was still writing down ideas for inventions, inquiring about the war in Kosovo and checking how his grandchildren had done in their exams.He leaves three daughters, a son and five grandchildren.• Mark Anthony Lyster Bracegirdle, anti-colonialist, born September 10, 1912; died June 22, 1999

Sri Lanka’s Independence and Mark Anthony Lyster Bracegirdle - Vinod MOONESINGHE, 30 April 2011

As the working people of Sri Lanka prepare to celebrate another May Day to defend our hard-won freedom, it behoves us to go back 74 years, to May Day 1937 which was a crucial one in the struggle of Sri Lanka for independence from the British Empire.

On May 1, 1937, thousands of workers paraded through the streets of Colombo demanding the deportation of Governor Sir Reginald Stubbs and the sacking of Inspector General of Police Banks. The prestige of the colonial regime was in tatters and the Empire looked vulnerable in this country for the first time since 1815.A May Day rally in the past. Although it is fashionable in certain circles to be nostalgic for ‘The Good old Days’ when Sri Lanka was a colony, the country was in fact in the grip of an evil empire based on racism. Sri Lanka had one of the poorest indigenous populations in the world, with mortality indices lower than those of India. Here, as in other colonies the indigenous inhabitants were treated like second-class citizens in their own land. As late as 1942, the British Commander-in-Chief, Admiral Layton, was able with impunity to call Oliver Ernest Goonetilleke, the Commissioner of Civil Defence a ‘black bastard’.

Second World War:- Before the Second World War, the British Raj was considered impregnable and independence for this island seemed like a dream. It was in this situation that, in 1936 Mark Anthony Lyster Bracegirdle, a 24-year old Anglo-Australian came to Sri Lanka to become a ‘creeper’ on Relugas tea estate in Madulkelle.

The planters were almost all white in those days and formed a privileged minority in the estate areas, living in bungalows with many servants and with their own ‘whites only’ clubs. It was in this atmosphere that Bracegirdle began taking an active part in the independence movement. He was soon sacked, but remained in the island as an agitator.

On April 3, 1937, a meeting was held in Nawalapitiya, addressed by Mrs Kamaladevi Chattopadhyaya of the Indian Congress Socialist Party, who was touring the island. Bracegirdle rose to address the gathering and was greeted with loud applause and shouts of ‘Samy, Samy’. The effect of a white man speaking out against the White Raj was electric - it spelled ruin for the imperialist system on the island.The planters got Stubbs to deport Bracegirdle. On April 22, Bracegirdle was given 48 hours to leave Sri Lanka. He went into hiding and the Colonial authorities were unable to find him - which did nothing for its prestige.The vaunted Police force created by the notorious IGP Dowbiggin scoured the countryside, but was unable to apprehend Bracegirdle.

Robert Gunawardena, later to become MP for Kotte, was responsible for hiding Bracegirdle, taking him from Colombo to Lunugala and thence to a cave behind Relugas Estate. A week later Robert picked Bracegirdle up from Relugas and took him back to a house near the Grandpass Police Station. A few days later, on getting a tip-off, Robert moved Bracegirdle again, to a plantation bungalow in Koratota, Kaduwela (now a boutique hotel). Here, Bracegirdle gave an interview to a reporter for the Daily News, who had been driven there blindfolded.

On May Day, placards were carried which said ‘We want Bracegirdle - Deport Stubbs’, ‘Banks Out’ and ‘Withdraw the slave proclamation’ (the deportation order).On May 5 a motion was debated in the State Council to censure Governor Stubbs for having made the deportation order. A resolution was passed which demanded the removal of Stubbs and the withdrawal of the deportation order on Bracegirdle.

Habeas Corpus:- The motion was passed by 34 votes to 7. Later that day a rally took place on Galle Face in support of Bracegirdle, which was attended by 50,000 people. Among the speakers were SWRD Bandaranaike and DM Rajapaksa, the uncle of our current President. Robert Gunawardena went to Koratota and drove Bracegirdle to Galle Face. The latter bounded out of the car, ran to the platform and proceeded to make a speech. The Police were powerless to arrest him amidst the massive crowd. By this time a writ of Habeas Corpus had been prepared. The case was called before a bench of three Supreme Court judges and on May 18 the court ruled that Bracegirdle could not be deported for exercising his right to free speech.

Bracegirdle later returned to Britain of his own accord. However the effects of his actions were to last long after he had gone. The seeming invincibility of the colonial regime was shown up. Furthermore, as Philip Gunawardena, one of the masterminds behind the State Council motion said, all the nation’s political forces were united on this issue against the colonial authorities.

Dominion status:- The Bracegirdle issue had set the ball rolling in the process that was to culminate in the complete independence of Sri Lanka. In 1943, the Ceylon National Congress called for complete independence and in 1945 the State Council passed the Free Lanka Bill. In 1948 the British granted us Dominion status. In 1957 all the British military bases were removed and in 1972 Parliament passed a Constitution that broke all the previous servile ties to Britain. Bracegirdle, who made such a large contribution to the initiation of this process, died in England on June 22, 1999. Sadly, he never did return to this island.

After the move to No: 10 Gillon Court, Oakleigh, a neighbour who we got to know asked us whether we were interested in becoming members of the Oakleigh Branch of the Labor Party. We had always been supporters of the Labor Party, but this was the first time that we got involved in politics. We were the youngest members of the branch and soon, Joan was the Secretary of the Branch and I later became President of the Branch. Thereafter, we became involved in both Federal and State political campaigns. We were in the Federal Seat of Henty and the State Seat of Waverley.

During the year that I was President and Joan the secretary of the Oakleigh Branch, Joan Child became the endorsed candidate for the seat of Henty and we joined her campaign committee, that at that time involved Mr Robert Ray and others whose names I cannot recall. In the 1972 Federal Election, we were involved in handing out “How to Vote” cards and then when the polls closed, were scrutineers during the vote count. The Labor Candidate would finish first on the preliminary vote, but after the distribution of Democratic Labour Party votes, Joan Child would loose to the Federal Liberal Candidate, Mr Max Fox. A similar situation existed in the State Elections.

I remember during the 1974 campaign when Bob Hawke spoke at the Box Hill Town Hall and it looked like the influence of the DLP was diminishing fast and Gough Whitlam had a good chance of winning the election. We door knocked throughout Oakleigh, Hughesdale, Murrumbeena and Chadstone, handing out pamphlets in support of our candidate, Joan Child and were very involved in the campaign and the meetings that were held at her office or her home, as we finally felt that after many years of frustrating work we looked like we would get over the line. One day Bob Hawke came to the campaign headquarters to encourage everyone to keep up the momentum and it was a pleasure to meet him. We also went to the ALP Rally at the Box Hill Town Hall to hear Gough Witlam, Bob Hawk and others speak and were confident of the Labor Government being re-elected.

The Election Day was one of great excitement, we took turns to hand out “How to Vote” cards and at the close of the poll waited with waited breath until the boxes of votes were opened at counting began. Fore the first time since we became involved in the campaign, Joan Child finished first on the primary vote and distribution of DLP preferences were insufficient to get the liberal candidate ahead of Joan. We were jubilant when we phoned in the results to the campaign headquarters. Mr & Mrs Freer had arrived to look after the children and we rushed off to the campaign headquarters to find the results of the other booths. When the results of all the booths were tabulated and it was obvious that Joan child had won. The news papers were there that night and a great time was had by all present.

Thereafter, we would occasionally visit Joan Child at her residence or office, but as her commitments increased and she had to spend more time in Canberra, these visits became less frequent and we kept in touch by phone. We were also involved in the next 1975 Federal Campaign where Joan Child lost her seat. After our marriage broke up and I shifted to Tecoma, I lost contact with her, but on occasions met Robert Ray who by that time had been elected as a Victorian Senator to the Federal Senate.

When I qualified as an Accountant, I was promoted to the position of Assistant Expenditure Accountant at Head office with a “C2” Classification.

Freddie & Dianne with their son Richard, Ed with Jacqueline and Marie with Christopher

As Joan Child had such a great influence on my wife Joan and on my life, I include an extract of her parliamentary life.

An extract from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The Honourable Joan Child AO
Member of the
Australian Parliamentfor Henty
In office18 May 1974 – 13 December 1975
Speaker of the Australian House of Representatives
In office11 February 1986 – 28 August 1989
3 August 1921 (1921-08-03) (age 89)
Political party
Australian Labor Party
Gloria Joan Liles Child
AO (born 3 August 1921) is a former Australian politician. She was the first, and so far only, woman to be Speaker of the Australian House of Representatives.
A member of the
Australian Labor Party, Child was elected to the House for the seat of Henty, in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, in 1974. She was the first female Labor member of the House, and only the fourth woman elected to the House in its history. She had also stood for Henty in 1972 but had narrowly failed to win it. After less than two years in the House she was defeated in the landslide Liberal victory in 1975. After unsuccessfully contesting the seat in 1977, she regained it in 1980 and served until her retirement in 1990. Child became Speaker on 11 February 1986 as the unanimous nominee of the ALP, and was not opposed by the Liberal Opposition. She was liked and respected by MPs from both sides of the Chamber, but she found the notorious rowdyism of Australian parliamentary conduct difficult to deal with, and her health suffered under the strain. She resigned as Speaker in August 1989. Child was Speaker when the Provisional Parliament House was closed and the Parliament moved to the new Parliament House in June 1988. There was some discussion of the old Speaker's Chair, which had been a gift from the Parliament of the United Kingdom, moving with the Parliament, but Child, as Speaker, refused to move the chair. Child retired from Parliament at the 1990 election, when the seat of Henty was abolished.
She was appointed an Officer of the
Order of Australia in the Queen's Birthday Honours of June 1990.
She has remained active in Labor Party affairs in her retirement.
When Joan Child was appointed as Speaker of the House of Representatives, our joy was complete. Unfortunately, the happiness did not last long as, the Liberal and Country Party had a majority in the Senate and Malcolm Frazer refused to pass the budget because of perceived shortcomings within the Labor Government ranks, resulting in the Governor Sir John Kerr dismissing Gough Whitlam’s Government in November 1975. We again became involved in the 1975 campaign, but it was a disaster for the Labor Party.

This is a colour photograph of Joan Child, the Speaker of the House of Representatives from 1986 to 1989. She is sitting in the Speaker's Chair in the House of Representatives at Old Parliament House in Canberra. In one hand she is holding a slim volume. The green leather and ornate wooden carving of the Speaker's Chair are clearly visible. The green hangings of the House of Representatives can be glimpsed on the left.
Joan Child in Speaker’s Chair

Joan Child an Australian Labor Party (ALP) Member of Parliament until 1990, was the first woman to hold the important office of Speaker of the House of Representatives. In this role she presided over meetings of the House and enforced the rules of debate. She also represented the House when dealing with government and other authorities and, in conjunction with the President of the Senate, oversaw the administration of the parliament of Australia. Joan Child was the first woman to be elected to the House of Representatives for the ALP when she won the Melbourne seat of Henty in 1974, and only the fourth woman to be elected to the House by any party. A member of the ALP since 1964, Child had earlier unsuccessfully contested the seat of Henty in 1972. She lost her seat in 1975, along with many other Labor politicians, but regained it in 1980 and held it until her retirement in 1990.

As the first female Speaker of the House of Representatives, Child faced the challenge of maintaining authority over her male colleagues, particularly during the often aggressive Question Time. As Speaker she had to ensure that elected members had the opportunities guaranteed by the rules of debate. Many have suggested that male colleagues thought they could question her authority as Speaker, and it is believed her health suffered under the strain.
Child resigned from the Speaker's position in August 1989 and in the years that followed she received numerous honours for her work. In 1990 she was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in recognition of her service to the Australian parliament. In 2001 her achievements were recognised again and she received the Centenary Medal, an award which commemorated Australia's 100 years of federation.

The ornate Speaker's Chair seen in the photograph symbolises the Australian parliament's links with the British Parliament at Westminster and with British history. It was a gift from the UK branch of the Empire Parliamentary Association and includes pieces of timber from Admiral Nelson's flagship, HMS Victory, and also from Westminster Hall. It was Child's request that the Chair remain in its original location at Old Parliament House.

In 1972, my good mate, Ian Thomas got married and I was asked to be his groomsman. Joan was heavily pregnant with Christopher, but came to the wedding and reception at the Southern Golf Club.

On 29th March 1972, we had a joyous occasion when our son Christopher Edouard Rowlands was born at the Jessie McPherson Hospital in Melbourne.

Our friends, Freddie and Dianne de Silva who had children of their own, namely Richard and Clair and the neighbours, Brian and Barbara Anthony who also had two children, Amanda and Claudine together with Stewart and Kaye Anderson who had three children the about same ages as Jacqueline and Christopher, formed a close knit group who supported each other.

Santa Clause handing out presents at Ferny Creek Reserve

We attended each others Christenings, birthday parties and dinners and life was good. I became the President of the Housing Commission Social Club and was very involved in the running of social events for the staff of the Commission.

The Housing Commission used to have an Annual Christmas Party for the children of it’s staff at Head office, Branches and the Concrete House Project. It was held at the “Ferny Creek Reserve” in the Dandenongs. Christmas Presents were presented to all children before the arrival of Father Christmas, who over the years, arrived in a Helicopter, Fire Engine or some other transport.

There were merry-go-rounds, ferris wheels, trains and all other types of entertainment to keep the children happy. A BBQ was run by volunteers to feed the hundreds of staff and children who attended. I was privileged to be part of this during my time as President of the Social Club.

Christopher enjoying himself at Ferny Creek Christmas Party

At 10 Gillon Court, Oakleigh

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