Page 228 - Week 01 - Thursday, 12 February 2015

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Tom volunteered for the Second Australian Imperial Force and was deployed to Timor. He was subsequently captured by Japanese forces during their advance towards Australia. As a prisoner of the Japanese, Tom was forced to labour on the Thai-Burma railway, serving alongside Edward “Weary” Dunlop in truly deplorable tropical conditions. Towards the end of the war he was transferred to the smelting plants in Japan where, remarkably, on 9 August 1945 he witnessed the crimson skies over Nagasaki after the explosion of “Fat Man”, the second atomic bomb to be dropped on Japan, bringing an end to the war. The memory of that day stayed with him for life.

Despite having been a prisoner of the Japanese and surviving being held for years in their camp, Tom held no hatred for the Japanese—but he did hold a deep opposition to militarism.

After the war, Tom made a brief attempt to revive his boxing career in England before returning home to work as a labourer and in retail. He married his first wife, Patricia, in 1947. Four years later, he attended Ben Chifley’s funeral and became inspired to join the Australian Labor Party.

Tom was a true grassroots campaigner who argued persuasively, passionately and fearlessly for social justice and civil liberties. He opposed the Vietnam War, he opposed conscription and he opposed nuclear testing. He was also prominent in advocating for Indigenous land rights and the protection of our urban and natural environment.

He was a ferocious opponent but a loyal ally. He had a generous spirit and was willing to work with anyone of goodwill to achieve practical outcomes. Tom’s anti-war activities included a visit to Japan, soon after entering federal parliament, as part of a peace initiative. He urged increased trade with Asia, arguing that “trade and goodwill are our frontline of defence”. He also led a delegation to Iraq, prior to the first Gulf War, to seek the release of hostages held by Saddam Hussein.

Tom campaigned long and hard for a supplementary payment to Australia’s surviving prisoners from World War II and from the Korean War, and lived to see this dream fulfilled when, on Anzac Day 2011, near his 90th birthday, he returned to the Burma-Thailand railway the same day that then Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced that the government would make the supplementary payment to prisoners of war.

Tom was a man of strong principles but described himself as a “collectivist”. He understood that leadership is not about imposing your principles on others but about persuading them and bringing them along with you. He was aligned with the Labor left but he focused more on his passion for the environment and for human rights than on ideological labels. After his retirement from parliament, he said, “I want to help build an environmentally sensitive, beautiful and more tolerant world.”

Tom entered parliament without the benefit of the educational opportunities that we all take for granted today, but he worked tirelessly to absorb knowledge from his colleagues and books, teaching himself the principles of economics and mastering the fine detail of commonwealth legislation.

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