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Issue # 1417      1 July 2009

Celebrating 95th birthday of Vic Williams, commemorating the life of Joan Williams

A function was held in the Willagee Community Centre in the southern suburbs of Perth where Vic and Joan Williams had spent many of the last 40 years of their socially and politically active lives. Their friends, family and comrades came to share this milestone in the life of this special poet, Communist, writer, political activist and occasional wood turner, and to commemorate the life of his partner and fellow writer, poet, activist and feminist – Joan (Justina) Williams.

MC at the proceedings was long time friend to them both, the indefatigable Sheila Suttner, who introduced the first speaker, Edith Cowan University Associate Professor Glenn Phillips who had met Joan and Vic as members of the Fellowship of Australian Writers in the late 1960’s. “In those days Victor would sometimes read from one of his earlier published books of poetry such as, Harvest Time and Other Poems, (1946) (recently reprinted) or Hammers and Seagulls (1966).” Glenn recalled that he would write or make contributions to a number of other works including the editing of Eureka and Beyond: Monty Miller, His Own Story (1988).

Many of the things which characterised Victor Williams’ greatest loves can be found in a few lines of the following poem, “I will Make a Bowl” from an anthology of Western Australian poetry, Margins:

I will make a bowl for my love of the warm brown wood,
chiselling the heart with care so the strength endures,
stroking the curve of grain till it flows in silk…
I will make a bowl for my son of the strong red earth,
Knuckled by hands hardened by hammer and forge…
A bowl is the sign of plenty, the pledge of peace…

When Victor met Joan he met someone very special with which both shared much in common including a Welsh heritage. They had met in the early 1940’s while Vic was in the army and Joan was a journalist for The West Australian newspaper.

“Joan’s achievement as a fiction writer was celebrated by the publication of her fine collection of short stories White River (1979) which echoed her rural upbringing and her social conscience for the downtrodden, especially the politically oppressed”, Glenn recalled of Joan. He continued, “I rate Joan highly as a literary figure for her undoubted success as a poet, especially a poet of ‘causes’, like Vic. Her alignment with the left-wing brought to her (and subsequently to her readers) the suffering of the victims of both fascist and capitalist societies.

“She wrote compassionately about children and family life, for she also took those duties seriously as she raised a family in what were often hard times following World War II.

“No better record can be found of the deeply idealistic yet warm, pragmatic and human thoughts and ideas of Joan Williams than her autobiography, Anger and Love (1993), which is also one of the most remarkable records of left-wing activism – especially of the Communist Party of Australia. It is a standard reference work.

“Together Joan and Vic Williams are among the really meritorious contributors to writing in Western Australia in the second half of the twentieth century,” concluded Glenn.

The next speaker was former Nuclear Disarmament and Greens senator Jo Vallentine who recalled that journalists during World War II were required to comply with the National Security Act which forbade any criticism of the government or any dissemination of information about the Soviet government to which Joan Williams was required to comply as a journalist for the West Australian.

“Where stories had been edited out they would not leave blank spaces, but fill them with gardening notes during the war.” Jo read from Joan’s seminal work on left activism in Australia, reminding the 60 people who had come to share in the celebration that the so called War on Terror and preoccupation with national security had produced a similar disingenuous avoidance of the truth by the corporate media today.

She also recalled Joan’s many other social and political activist issues which Joan had participated in, from the Ribbons for Peace project involving the creation of a ribbon for Palm Sunday peace rallies which would stretch messages of peace around a large area of the city of Perth, recalling a similar ribbon which was used to promote the vote for women in the late 1890’s. Joan also campaigned against the presence of the US military base on North West Cape near Exmouth in the 1970’s and much later the first Iraq war in 1991, in which her poem, “Not in my name” is an internationally recognised anti-war clarion for peace activists to this day, from which Jo read:

Not in my name,
My woman’s name,
Not one drop of blood be shed for oil
That makes some billionaires and sets the Middle East aflame…
But in my name,
In every women’s name send home great armies
Of the black and dispossessed,
Warships and bombers turn around.
Peace in my name.

Vic had also contributed much to the establishment of the policies for the then budding Greens WA party in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s for which he was rewarded in their constitution with a Grandfather Clause by being allowed to be a member of both the Greens and the Communist Party.

Margo Boettcher from the Women’s Electoral Lobby also spoke of Joan’s contribution to the WEL as one of the dozen or so women who helped to found the organisation in the 1960s. Joan was a feminist who fought against violence against women, for the right to have a legal abortion and for equal opportunity. Of the right to abortion Margo recalled Joan, “standing up in front of several thousand people to describe in some detail her own abortion which was very brave.” Vic became a feminist recalled Margo “once Joan had explained the origins of the oppression of women in a capitalist society”. It had stuck with Vic ever since.

Vic Williams addressed the celebration by acknowledging “the struggle for peace is a vital and essential one”– especially today where peace must not only be with man but also this planet.”

Other friends read Joan’s poetry and renown local poet Don Wignall concluded proceedings by reading a poem, “Working class hero” and singing a robust socialist song.

WA CPA president Dave Fox acknowledged Vic’s continued contribution as an educator.

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