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Peter Thomas
Peter Thomas [U;gU;2gU] died 11 August 1988 aged 74 years, in Mt Victoria, NSW. Pete was an active member of the Australian Journalists Association for 55 years, and a devoted member of the Communist Party for 49 years. During that time he recorded the experiences of workers in struggle in a series of books and pamphlets which have now entered Australian publishing history.
Born of conservative parents in Perth in 1914. Pete traveled to Europe on a tramp steamer in 1938. During the long voyage he read two books which, he claimed, changed his life. They were Bernard Shaw's The Intelligent Woman's Guide to Socialism and a conventional economics textbook which, as he described, had a beguiling habit of quoting from Alice in Wonderland at the head of each chapter.
After experiencing pre-war Europe at first hand, he joined the Communist Party in 1939 shortly after returning to Australia.
Pete worked on the West Australian until joining the army in January 1942. He was sent to Darwin and later to Sydney as an Artillery Instructor. While in Sydney he was involved in producing the newspaper that journalists put out during the 1945 journalists' strike.
After the war he worked on the Perth Daily News until J B Miles recruited him to work on the Queensland CPA newspaper The Guardian. By 1949 he had become its editor and, except for a brief stint in Sydney on Tribune, he stayed with the Guardian until 1955 when it folded.
In 1954 he wrote the first of his many booklets on aspects of Australian class struggle. This was "Who Owns Queensland?" which became a roaring best seller and quickly went into a second edition. This was quickly followed by "Petrov Stunt Backfires" and "Buried Treasure".
This latter pamphlet, produced in 1964, detailed how Mt Isa Mines was exploiting its workers; and many believe it was the catalyst for the historic Mt Isa strike of 1964-65 which Peter later recorded in his popular work "Storm in the Tropics" which sold out twice.
By 1956 he was working in Sydney for Tribune and remained there until 1972. He continued to produce his books, "The Big Crush on CSR", "The Beef Rustlers", "They Dig Queensland", "Australia Undermined", "Nymboida", "Up for Grabs" and many others.
After leaving Tribune, Pete worked for the NSW branch of the BLF for a short while, producing a history of the Green Bans called "Taming the Concrete Jungle" in 1973. This book is still incredibly popular and is one of the most borrowed books in university and college libraries.
In 1973 Pete went to work for the Miners Federation editing their weekly newspaper Common Cause for the next twelve years. During this time he also produced a number of other publications for the federation, including an enormous and well-researched history of the union. He was working on the history of the Queensland branch when he died.
When I asked Pete what he was proudest of in his life he replied that it was his work with the Miners Federation.
His enormous contribution to the socialist cause in Australia will continue to be important but it was his personality that was the most remarkable thing about him.
Pete was the most modest man I have ever met. He always downplayed his voluminous output which would have gained him a professorial chair had he chosen another calling.
He tried to find the best in everyone and saw his role as a conciliator and healer in those, regrettably too frequent, disagreements within the left. However, he wasn't a Pollyanna and when he did disagree with someone it was with such scathing wit that you never forgot his descriptions.
Pete perennially saw the funny side of everything and was always keen to share his ideas. He was a loyal and lovable friend.
Pete leaves behind many who loved him but particularly Stella Nord and his children Tony and Sian. Tribune extends extends its deepest sympathies to Stella, Tony and Sian.
A memorial gathering will be held in the Journalists Club, Sydney, on Friday, August 26 1988 at 6pm.
-Meredith Burgmann ( Tribune 24/8/1988 )
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