- A Force in Australian Labor -
One of the most influential men in Australian politics died recently at 93. Who was he, and what did he do? Thomas "Tom" Uren AC was a Deputy Leader of the Australian Labor Party. Uren helped establish the heritage and conservation movement in Australia and, in particular, worked to preserve the heritage of inner Sydney.
Tom Uren, "the conscience of Parliament", is one of the best-known and most-respected Labor politicians of his generation. As a minister in two governments he knew what it was like to hold the reins of power, yet he never lost the sense of justice and fair play that has driven him through an eventful life.
Born in the working class suburb of Balmain in the 1920s, Uren encountered the poverty of the Depression first-hand with an unemployed father and a mother who worked as a barmaid.
Uren's response was to fight, literally-he trained as a boxer and had hopes of pursuing a career as a professional fighter, but his plans were derailed by the outbreak of World War Two. Uren enlisted and was sent to Timor where, fighting against overwhelming odds, he and his comrades were taken prisoner.
The following dark years saw him suffer the brutality of the Burma-Thai Railway, then a spell in Japan itself. It was this later period that formed his undying belief that it was militarism and not the Japanese people who were to blame for the war and its terrible atrocities. His wartime experiences instilled in him a lifelong opposition to militarism and fascism and a belief in socialism and peaceful co-existence.
Returning home at war's end, Uren aimed to go back into the fight game but after a decisive defeat in England, he gave up the idea. He went to work as a manager at Woolworths and at the same time joined the Australian Labor Party. His energy and commitment quickly took him to the top of the Left faction of the party. Uren entered Federal Parliament in 1958.
With the election of the Whitlam Government in 1972, he became Minister for Urban and Regional Development and initiated many reforms, saving suburbs from freeways and redevelopment and creating new national parks. In 1975 he set up the Australian Heritage Commission and the National Estate.
After serving a second term of office as a minister in the Hawke Government, Uren retired from politics in 1990. He published his highly acclaimed biography Straight Left in 1994.
He was an aspiring boxer and outstanding athlete who joined the army at the age of 20 and deployed to Timor.
He spent his 21st birthday – and the following three – as a prisoner of war.
He suffered the brutality of the Burma-Thai Railway and he witnessed from afar the atomic bomb on Nagasaki.
Despite these experiences, he rejected hatred.
Tom Uren devoted his life to serving what he called ‘the human family’.
He taught a generation of Australians to forgive and to forge new friendships with our former enemy.
In 1958, he entered the Federal Parliament as the Member for Reid and represented the electorate for 31 years.
He became Minister for Urban and Regional Development in the Whitlam Government, and pioneered the protection of Australia’s historic and natural heritage.
He also served as a minister in the first two Hawke Governments.
When Mr Uren retired from Parliament in 1990, he was the Father of the House.
He remained an active conservationist after leaving parliament and was a strong supporter of the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust established by the Howard Government.
Clancy's comment: A mountain of a man.
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