I acknowledge the traditional owners of the land on which we meet and pay tribute to their history, their culture and their ongoing fight for justice.
Saying this acknowledgement of country meant a great deal to Merv. He was deeply committed to the struggles of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. He was an active member of ANTaR. With Barbara, Merv helped set up the famous sea of hands reconciliation action at Redfern and Canberra.
I do wish to add a few apologies from people who Merv worked closely with. Jack and Judy Mundey, Brian Aarons and Richard Walsham cannot be with us today. They send their apologies and their condolences to Merv’s family and friends.
Merv Murchie lead an active life of caring, giving and sharing. These were constants in his life and they manifested in his deep commitment to working for a fair, just, peaceful world. For Merv his was an active commitment – making a contribution, encouraging others to get involved, then taking collective action together.
Merv’s first politically act was handing out leaflets on housing with communists. He was 15 years of age. Gorbals was a notorious tenement slum district in Glasgow. Families lived in tiny rooms. Dozens of people shared one outside toilet. Merv did not live in the Gorbals but as a young teenager he knew this type of housing was exploitative and inhuman. He worked with members of the Gorbals Communist Party branch campaigning for decent housing for Gorbals tenants and later joined the Communist Party of Scotland.
Merv’s father, an engineer in the British merchant navy, was killed by a Nazi torpedo in the Second World War – a tragic loss for this young Glaswegian boy. For the rest of his life Merv was committed to world peace. From the British Ban the Bomb marches, to the movements in Australia against uranium mining, for nuclear disarmament and the closure of Pine Gap and other US war bases Merv was active.
At the age of 17 Merv joined the British Labour Party – this is around 1944. The turmoil of the end of the Second World War, the defeat of fascism and the growth of the number of socialist nations are highly significant in moulding Merv’s political outlook.
In 1947 Merv, now 20 years old, heads to Australia. He enrols at Sydney University where he became involved in the rough and tumble of the university Labour Club. In time he became the Club’s President which put him at the centre of this melting pot of diverse left wing views.
In 1954 Merv attended the Youth Carnival for Peace and Friendship in Warsaw that brought together thousands of young people committed to end the horrors of fascism and war. It was on this trip that he went to Auschwitz – a profound visit for Merv.
In the early 1950s Merv starts his teaching career and his political life blossoms even further. He joins the Communist Party of Australia. I think Merv would find it comical that today we have a record of his diverse political activities thanks to the NSW secret police who in 1957 started spying and recording Merv’s activities.
What characterised Merv’s political work was that he did not just turn up at events and rallies. Merv was always a doer, an organiser. Wherever he lived and worked Merv was engaging and educating work mates and neighbours on the key issues. Merv’s delightful, welcoming style was an asset for every campaign.
Merv was an active member of the Committee of Sutherland Shire Peace and Disarmament Organisation. The campaign against the Vietnam war he took to his workplace – critical work that helped bring hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets to end conscription and the war against the Vietnamese people. Merv was involved in the anti-apartheid struggle. He protested outside the Soviet Consulate when the USSR invaded Czechoslovakia.
Another strong theme to Merv’s politics was support for public education. Much of this work was through the NSW Teachers Federation and the Sutherland Teachers Association. Merv was an active and valued member of the teachers union as they battled with successive governments about the need for more funding for public schools.
When the Primary School Headmistresses were campaigning for equal conditions Merv gave them solid, public backing unlike some male teacher colleagues. Merv’s years of dedication to public education was recognised when Merv was made a Life Member of the Sutherland Branch of Teachers Federation. Years later in the 2000s the Greens NSW took the funding fight and the Save TAFE campaign into the NSW parliament. Merv, by then a Greens member, was proud to be part of this work.
Merv was a communist during the tough Cold War years. He campaigned against the Menzies government’s attempt to ban the Communist Party. In the 1960s he was elected to the Sydney District Committee and was a street seller of the famous communist paper, Tribune, which he also periodically wrote for about peace and education issues.
For a few years in the 1980s Merv was a member of the ALP where he was active in the Clovelly Branch but by the 1990s he had joined the new left party – the Greens NSW. Merv ran for the seat of North Shore winning just over ten per cent of the votes, which helped the Greens secure their first parliamentary win in NSW with Ian Cohen taking an Upper House seat.
For Merv politics was not just about about turning up. He believed we should also make a contribution. They are Merv’s words. Merv made a mighty contribution.
Thank you Merv. We will remember and honour your contributions.
The photo above was taken abound 1942. Merv can be seen at the back of the march under the banner that reads “Resist the warmongers”. He is under the “r” in “warmongers”.