Light and dark

Amused by this clutch of letters in today’s Sydney Morning Herald.

I don’t think that says what you think it does

I always wondered why Paul Simon’s ‘‘Boxer’’ would ‘‘come home from the ‘wharves’ on Seventh Avenue’’ (Letters, January 8).

Delia Dowsett Point Frederick

I have often wondered if the AC/DC lyrics, ‘‘It’s a long way to the shop if you want a sausage roll’’, were a mistake by someone or just good old Aussie humour.

Glenn Holmes Katoomba

At the risk of being a little irreverent, my  dear departed mum always wondered why the local priest each Sunday said ‘‘God bless the Father, the Son and into the hole he goes’’.

Heather Harman Forster

I always wondered why Paul McCartney sang about Mulligan’s tyres.

Petah Armitstead Kiama

As a child I thought the Sutherland Presbyterian Minister Cam Williamson, in one of my rare visits before the age of 15, was rather rude about the pennies I had put in the collection plate. He was accepting our “feeble offerings”, or so I heard it.  In case you didn’t know the phrase was “freewill offerings”.

Speaking of The Shire, I see Shire stalwart Arthur Gietzelt dies at 93. Or, as The Australian chooses to phrase it: Influential Labor man and alleged communist Arthur Gietzelt dies.

Gietzelt served in the armed forces in New Guinea from 1941 to 1945 along with his younger brother, union leader Ray Gietzelt, who died in 2012.

The influential Labor left faction leader was also, it was later alleged, a communist.

A series of Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation files first published in 2010 also revealed Mr Gietzelt was believed to be an active communist and dealt extensively with the Communist Party of Australia, as The Australian revealed at the time.

From the 40s until at least the 80s, ASIO (and its forerunner) monitored Gietzelt, believing him to be a leading figure in the CPA who was also working in the Labor Party and the Federated Clerks Union as a communist organiser. He denied ever having been a member of, or an agent for, the CPA.

An ASIO report, marked secret, during the 1983 election in which Bob Hawke thumped Malcolm Fraser says: “Gietzelt has been, and possibly remains, a secret member of the Communist Party.” Another note said it was possible that Gietzelt “is under some form of control by the Soviets”.

See also Arthur Gietzelt, Labor Senator And Hawke Minister, Dies, 93.

The Herald funeral notice summarises:

During WW2 served with the Royal Australian Engineers, 11th Division, 9th Field Co. for 5 years, with 3 years in New Guinea; Councillor for Caringbah on Sutherland Shire Council for 15 years; Mayor of Sutherland Shire for 9 terms; Senator for New South Wales for 18 years; Minister for Veterans Affairs in the Hawke Labor Government for 4 years; joint Father of the Australian Senate for 2 years; Senior Vice President on the National Executive of the ALP. 

Very apt that SBS is now running Persons of Interest, which provides a bit of context for all that. There is no doubt that despite the reputation for conservatism The Shire has – Scott “Mushroom Farmer” Morrison represents the Cronulla end nowadays after all – in the 1950s through the 1970s the place was actually quite a left-wing zone!

My only contact with Arthur Gietzelt was in the late 1960s when I looked like this:

I was coaching the Cronulla High debating team who won the Sutherland Shire competition. Arthur Gietzelt as Shire President presented the trophy.

There is another Obituary of considerable interest in today’s Herald. Not someone I ever met, but well worth reflecting on such a life: Gordon Butler: Compassionate hero who loved nature.

In 1940, after a short period working on dairy farms, he enlisted in the army. He took part in the campaign against the Japanese in Malaya, and was part of the retreat into Singapore. Here he was captured and, 70 years later, recounted vivid details of that day, especially the shame of surrender. He described the 30 kilometre march to the Changi camp and the early optimism that waned as the years of captivity dragged on.

He toiled on the Thai-Burma railway and Hellfire Pass and then was taken on a perilous sea journey, dodging typhoons and Allied submarines, to the Japanese island of Shikoku to work in the copper mines. Here, as the war neared its end, he saw the residue of the drifting cloud from the bombing of Hiroshima. The prisoners were slowly starving to death and Butler told an extraordinary story of camaraderie when his mate shared a ball of rice. “He could have eaten the lot and I’d never have known.”

After the war officially ended, Butler contracted pneumonia and it seemed that his life might end just as he was about to be rescued. Fortunately the Americans had begun dropping supplies to the camp and he was saved by a penicillin injection administered by a camp doctor who, until then, had been unaware of this new wonder drug.

Back in Australia, Butler resumed his agricultural career and attributed his rapid recovery to his outdoor life and his love of his job…

When [ABC Radio’s Richard] Glover asked Butler how he had got over seeing humanity at its worst. Butler said, “I had a good draw. I could have been sent to Sandakan.” “Did you ever feel that life had given you a pretty bad serve?” asked Glover. “Never,” he replied…