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Issue #1717      February 3, 2016

Robert Dampf as I knew him

I first met Robert at meetings of the Communist Party in Surry Hills about 20 years ago. My first impression was of a very articulate, elderly gentleman with a soft voice and light Canadian accent, a great sense of humour and some charming eccentricities, like the flowers he would wear in his hatband. When asked once why he camped in a tent on a trip to Europe, he is said to have replied that if he stayed in hotels he couldn’t see the butterflies.

Robert with Amador Navidi (left) at the International Women’s Day March in 2014. (Photo: Anna Pha)

I also used to encounter Robert on the evening ferry to Manly, and while we passed the Harbour’s beautiful bays and islands, bounced over the waves as we crossed the Heads and finally slipped in quietly to moor at Manly wharf, he would entertain me with amusing accounts of colourful adventures during his latest overseas trip.

But as I got to know him I also became aware of the depth of his feelings about many crucial political issues, including the worldwide struggle for peace, the threat posed by climate change and the Australian government’s treatment of asylum seekers, to mention just a few.

Robert cared deeply about all these issues. He was born in Hungary, spent his childhood in Canada, and then migrated to Australia. For years he distributed copies of the Party paper the Guardian to libraries in Sydney’s northern beaches suburbs. He attended marches and participated vigorously in discussions about all these issues at Party meetings and classes, and in “Politics in the Pub”, until the physical struggle became too much for him.

A true stalwart, he held his beliefs right to the end, never wavering, despite the many setbacks and difficulties that the movement for peace and socialism has encountered both here and overseas. In this respect he seemed to personify the words of the Russian poet Nikolai Ostrovsky, who wrote:

“Man’s greatest possession is life. It is given to him but once, and he must live it so as to feel no torturing regrets for wasted years, never know the burning shame of a mean and petty past; so live that, dying he might say: all my life, all my strength were given to the finest cause in all the world – the fight for the liberation of mankind.”

That was how I knew Robert Dampf.

Comrade Robert passed away in December.

Next article – Hospital violence

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