20 years to this day – 17 May – since Nick Origlass (1908-1996) died. He was an inspiration to me – and others – despite his stubbornness. Trouble was he was usually right and besides he saw it as intransigence – a virtue he prized over amiability which he was also capable of. He was the alderman – as they were called then – who as Mayor of Leichhardt introduced free-wheeling public participation in Council meetings and town planning. He inspired Ted Mack among others. And he spearheaded the campaign that stopped the WestConnex of his day.
But his originality went further than this. He was from north Queensland, Italian and Irish parentage, both of which he valued, but insisted on his Australian working class status. Moved to Balmain in the late 30s and became the main union leader in the shipyards there (yes that was Balmain then – 29 shipyards around the peninsula). When the Stalinist union bureaucrats tried to remove him in 1945 the workers [some 3000 of them] struck for six weeks to reinstate him.
Later he was expelled from the union, first by the Stalinists and then by the right-wing. He was also expelled from the Communist party and the ALP (twice). He was the most expelled man in Australian history – but always he had the backing of his constituency. It was no maverick thing. As well as union delegate in Balmain he was also its alderman and councillor for 35 years.
Integral to his originality was his Trotskyism. He was expelled from the Fourth International in 1965 after 30 years as a regular Trotskyist. He belonged to a heterodox tendency (the Pabloists) that championed a version of socialism that was based on self-management and multi-partyism and which was critical of Maoism which the more orthodox were then flirting with.
It’s all in my bio of Nick (Red Hot: the Life & times of Nick Origlass). He was such a complex character, redolent of history and ideas and experience, lovable and infuriating. One of the privileges of my life is to have known him and been his comrade. And before I stop, he had other historic comrades who I met through him too – Issy Wyner, Guido Barrachi (Jeff Sparrow wrote an excellent bio-novel about him), Anatol Kagan, Alan Roberts, Bob Gould, Jack Sponberg, Gerald Murphy et al. even those Nick called renegades like ‘Diamond Jim’ McClelland. And of course there was Joan, his wife, and Daphne Gollan, his other simultaneous longtime companion.
Amazing man. Amazing life. So much to inherit and inspire. If only we had him now when they are undermining authentic local democracy.