The Guardian • Issue #1952


Pauline Mitchell – 60 years a working class and peace activist

I first met comrade Pauline Mitchell in late 1980s or early 1990s at Palm Sunday rallies and the Socialist Party of Australia, later the Communist Party of Australia, meetings.

I got to know her better when I joined the Campaign for International Cooperation and Disarmament (CICD) in mid/late 2011.

Pauline told me how she became politically involved with the Party and the peace movement when she moved to Melbourne from Alice Springs in the 1950s.

She also spoke about this on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the CICD, in 1999.

Pauline is recognised as the person who first alerted Australians to the establishment of the United States secret military intelligence base at Pine Gap.

In the 1950s, Pauline lived in Alice Springs, working for the local paper, the Centralian Advocate. She noticed the arrival of US Air Force engineers who brought a large caravan bristling with electronic equipment, a caravan that was out of bounds to Australian government employees. US planes were landing at Alice Springs airport with high-ranking military personnel and heavy equipment, tractors, and cranes on them. A friend told Pauline he was blindfolded one day and taken out to the US base to fix some equipment, then blindfolded and brought back to town again.

She realised that her taxes were funding armaments, and she was particularly concerned as she witnessed the establishment of this secret US military intelligence base at Pine Gap.

When Pauline moved to Melbourne in the late 1950s, she could not find any reference in any local papers about the presence of an American military base in Australia. However, she got the story out through the Melbourne Unitarian Peace Memorial Church and so became perhaps the first person to alert the Australian public to the establishment of the secret US base at Pine Gap.

Pauline, at this time, became active in the peace movement, Union of Australian Women (UAW), and the Melbourne Unitarian Peace Memorial Church. She was involved in the organisation of the founding conference of CICD and became a long-time peace activist and organiser of this organisation.

The Australian and New Zealand Congress for International Co-operation and Disarmament (ANZCICD), later known as the Congress for International Co-operation and Disarmament (CICD) was established at an International Peace Congress staged in Melbourne in 1959. It was set up to support the ideals of the World Congress for Disarmament and International Co-operation held in Stockholm in 1958.

The ANZCICD of 1959 was the broadest based peace congress up to that time and laid the foundation for an ongoing organisation tapping new avenues of support. Victoria had a long history of peace movements, from the actions against conscription during the First World War, to the Council against War and Fascism before the Second World War. One such organisation, the Victorian Peace Council, was instrumental in setting up CICD in 1959. It was disbanded soon after, leaving only its VPC Research and Information Centre in existence until 1964.

Since its inception in 1959, the CICD has actively campaigned for peace and disarmament, acting most notably as a co-ordinating facility for anti-Vietnam war protests, and rallies including the Vietnam Moratorium (1970-1972), Palm Sunday Peace Rallies, opposition to French Nuclear Testing (1990s), and for No Gulf Wars. Its members have also been active in campaigns against US bases in Australia including Pine Gap, Nurrungar, Omega, North West Cape, and anti-nuclear test protests.

CICD has played a leading role in Australian campaigns for peace and reconciliation of nations and many other notable campaigns over many years. CICD also supports Abolition 2000, an international anti-nuclear movement campaigning for the abolition and banning of nuclear weapons.

CICD continues to be active around various campaigns, including opposition to nuclear proliferation and weapons of mass destruction, support for humanitarian disarmament, the protection of free speech against surveillance and intimidation, and the promotion of democratic, sustainable trade policy.

Pauline co-presented the Alternative News each week on ABC Access Radio 3ZZ, together with Bruce McPhie, another dedicated CICD member and peace activist from about 1973 until the station was forcibly closed down by the new conservative government in 1975, and then the program transferred to Community Radio 3CR. Bruce left in 1978, but Pauline continued the 15-minute program almost every single week for 37 years. Her radio program was popular because she could distil and convey often-complex political issues simply and from the people’s perspective.

She produced a politically charged insightful radio program that detailed developments in the peace movement, community struggles, and international conflicts with a clear anti-imperialist perspective.

Listeners were presented with an up-to-date, clear explanation of the role of the military, human rights abuses, our foreign affairs acquiescence, US dictates and viciousness with her own form of satire.

Her love of the people drove a life of struggle against the war machine and the leaders who used it to subjugate them and destroy life, security, and freedom. She had the ability to link war and conquest to its imperialist agenda clearly. Such was her exceptional commitment and dedication. Through articles in the Peace 2000 magazine of the Campaign for International Cooperation and Disarmament (CICD), she also produced for very many years.

The Alternative News was re-launched in December 2013 and was dedicated to Pauline’s memory. The program has been presented every week by Romina Beitseen and Andrew Irving, and more recently, with a number of new younger team members.

For over 50 years, Pauline was a leading Party member, worker, peace organiser and for 16 years was secretary of CICD. Established in 1959, CICD is one of Australia’s longest-serving peace organisations. Pauline was an influential leader and activist in the peace movement as well as being a political leader, maintaining the CICD’s strong working-class connections and anti-imperialist political line.

Pauline was a member of the old CPA and became a foundation member of the Socialist Party of Australia, now the current CPA.

Pauline was one of those Communists who dedicated herself 100 per cent to the people’s cause for peace and social justice despite the many struggles and strains.

She continued to work in the CICD office three or four days a week up until the age of 81. From mid to late 2011, she no longer was able to climb the stairs at Trades Hall in Melbourne. But even then, she continued to come into meetings and she always did the radio program.

Pauline’s final contribution was that she nominated to donate her body to Melbourne University.

For those of us who were fortunate to know her, we will always remember what a unique and special person Pauline was, a selfless and tireless activist who always worked for the good of all. Her commitment was admirable, inspiring, and unforgettable. Her passion for change was clear and she was a great communicator.

Pauline remained committed all her life, and so should we, to a world of peace and social justice.

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