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Vale Robert Francis Walker

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This story I’m about to tell,
About a bloke you all know well.
A Union Rep. here on the job
And known by all of us as Bob.

He fought the cause on our behalf,
With his neck stuck out like a big giraffe.
An upright man he’d stand and fight,
As he knew the cause he fought was right

— from ‘Bob Walker: The twenty-third point’ by Poet Unkown

Robert (Bob) Walker was born at Hopetown, Victoria, on the 11th October 1924. He grew up in Blackburn, in Melbourne, and was trained as a Fitter and Turner.

When he married his wife Betty he built their house with his own hands.

He was blacklisted in Victoria for his workplace union activities. His friends were not only fellow workers, but also well-educated European immigrants, and he found himself in 1960’s Melbourne immersed in a hotbed of political ideas.

His blacklisting was an important reason for his move to Queensland in 1968, although the grind of cold early morning train commutes to the “satanic mills” in the city also played a role.

crane at evans deakin shipyardIn Brisbane he became more involved in political activism as an advocate of the right of workers to have a say in running their workplace. In the Evans Deakin Shipyard in Kangaroo Point, being one of the “ringleaders” in various disputes he was ostracized and put under all kinds of pressure by the management.

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It took real courage to keep going. Ironically, as hated as he was by the shipyard bosses, he was asked to manufacture a critical pin to hold the Robert Miller in its berth, the ship that had previously been dislodged from its moorings during the 1974 Brisbane floods.

They trusted him, as a person and as a metal worker (in truth, he often came under more criticism from his fellow workers, who were more interested in getting more “overtime” than changing the world).

Robert E. Miller on the reach of Brisbane River in the background across Kangaroo Point during 1974 floods. Click to enlarge. Photo State library of Queensland digital resources.

Later he became a member of the Brisbane Workers’ Self-Management Group. Now he saw himself as an anarchist.

Workers Self Management Group at 1971 May Day march (Fortitude Valley Brisbane)Photo: Grahame Garner. See Fryer Library collection at UQ. Click to enlarge.

Reading the rigorously prepared pamphlets and articles these so-called “working class” men wrote, one is struck by the clarity of the ideas, the quality of the writing, and the coherent use of the English language. They cared about what they were doing, and it showed. Bob was interested in practical progress towards freedom and equality. Possibly inevitably, as a person imbued with such idealism, he became disillusioned with the in fighting and strategic disagreements within the political activist movements he was involved in. Nonetheless he held his beliefs all of his life, and retained contact with an anarchist group in Melbourne, a peace group, the Brisbane Disarmament Group, and an environmental group, the “Men-of-the-Trees”.

He had an artistic bent and made lovely woodcarvings. In addition, he could build or repair anything, and when he did he did it properly, with systematic planning and execution using his engineering skills. His philosophy represents the complete antithesis of the cheap plastic throw-away consumerist society in which we now live. He retired at 54 and began in earnest doing what he really loved, working with wood. His house (and those of friends) is replete with beautifully crafted wooden furniture. During the last 15 years he built musical instruments (guitars, mandolins, mandolas, dulcimers, and a harp), which are beautiful both to look at and in their sonority and playability.

He left a big mark of the world in many ways. He was scrupulously honest with people, probably overly sensitive to some extent, and overly modest. Bob didn’t believe that any human being should be put on a pedestal above anybody else for any reason. He would not accept prizes or awards for any of his achievements. On the other hand he was brought up with a “working class” mentality, and tended to be, I believe, overly deferential to legal, scientific, and medical professionals, people not in any way superior to him, simply working within a different framework. George Orwell talked about this in “The road to Wigan Pier”. Use your imagination to transpose the sentiments to a different time and context:

“In order that the city man may ride daily in the tube……., that the Pope may denounce Bolshevism, that the cricket crowds may assemble at Lord’s, that the Nancy poets may scratch one another’s backs, coal has got to be forthcoming….. It raises in you a doubt about your own status as an “intellectual’” and a superior person generally. For it is brought home to you, that it is only because miners sweat their guts out that superior persons can remain superior. You and I and the editor of the Times Literary Supplement, and the poets and the Archbishop of Canterbury and Comrade X, author of Marxism for Infants—-all of us owe the comparative decency of our lives to poor drudges underground, blackened to the eyes, with their throats full of coal dust, driving their shovels forward with arms and belly muscles of steel”.

Bob died at home in Hawthorne, Queensland, 19th August 2010, just before his 86th birthday. He died on his 60th wedding anniversary.

Graeme Walker

Bob Walker: The twenty-third point

This story I’m about to tell,
About a bloke you all know well.
A Union Rep. here on the job
And known by all of us as Bob.

He fought the cause on our behalf,
With his neck stuck out like a big giraffe.
An upright man he’d stand and fight,
As he knew the cause he fought was right.

With dedication rarely seen,
He removed the barriers in between
and brought together as best he knew,
The Boilermakers, Ironworkers, and AEU.

But a united front was not desired,
by the boss and so Bob was fired.
Of Bob they must have lived in fear
As a lesser man would still be here.

The metal Trades then took a hand,
You know them all that gallant band.
In judgement sat with wig and gown,
A decision they then handed down.

Guilty and without remission
Bob used a phone without permission.
A dreadful thing for him to do,
It serves him right, we’ll sack him too.

And if unity you are all seekin’
There’s the Metal Trades and Evans Deakin.
They worked together at this job,
Of sacking him, this man called Bob.

H.O.

[Editor’s Note: The unknown author, who worked at the Evans Deakin shipyards, Kangaroo Point, read out this poem to a group of workmates that Bob Walker had invited for a ‘barbie’ at his house … probably in 1972 … the apprentices hoisted the red flag up the flag pole … those were the days. *AEU = Amalgamated Engineering Union]

Evans Deakin Shipyards 1963

Evans Deakin Shipyards 1963

1974 flood – Robert E Miller held midstream on the New Farm reach. Evans Deakin shipyard on right.

References

Photo: Grahame Garner. See Fryer Library collection at UQ at http://espace.library.uq.edu.au/collection/UQ:3736

Robert E Miller photo at State Library of Queensland Digital Resources.

6 responses to “Vale Robert Francis Walker

  1. Graham Kirkpatrick

    I worked with EDI Design & Construction Division on the construction of Shipyards, No1 Store Ferry St in 1966. When that was finished I worked for a week in the Shipyards. Later (1967) I gained employment at EDI Rocklea where I worked for 15 yrs mainly in the Central Store. Have some pictures taken around the Rocklea workshop.

    Like

  2. I worked at this yard during these years.

    The tanker Esso Gippsland was also under construction at this time. Evans Deakin employed close to 1,000 workers at this yard.

    I remember Bob Hawke as a union official visiting during 1970.

    Sadly, due to ongoing industrial disputes, the yard finished production of ships in the early 1970’s.

    Like

    • hello fred,

      thanks for your comment about Evans Deakin shipyard in Brisbane in the 1960s and 1970s.

      here is the Esso Gippsland that was finished at Evans Deakin Shipyard in 1972.


      More details of the ship can be found at http://www.aukevisser.nl/inter-2/id320.htm

      Do you remember any workers getting asbestosis from the lagging used on the pipes while building these ships?

      ian
      editor
      wbt

      Like

  3. Pingback: A Map of the World that includes Utopia | Workers Bush Telegraph

  4. I was interested to read of this man Bob Walker as I am writing a history of the old Evans Deakin company. If there is anyone still around who could add more about this time or earlier I would love to hear from them. Thanks

    Like

  5. [Editor’s Note: The unknown author, who worked at the Evans Deakin shipyards, Kangaroo Point, read out this poem to a group of workmates that Bob Walker had invited for a ‘barbie’ at his house … probably in 1972 … the apprentices hoisted the red flag up the flag pole … those were the days. *AEU = Amalgamated Engineering Union]

    Bob Walker: The twenty-third point

    This story I’m about to tell,
    About a bloke you all know well.
    A Union Rep. here on the job
    And known by all of us as Bob.

    He fought the cause on our behalf,
    With his neck stuck out like a big giraffe.
    An upright man he’d stand and fight,
    As he knew the cause he fought was right.

    With dedication rarely seen,
    He removed the barriers in between
    and brought together as best he knew,
    The Boilermakers, Ironworkers, and AEU.

    But a united front was not desired,
    by the boss and so Bob was fired.
    Of Bob they must have lived in fear
    As a lesser man would still be here.

    The metal Trades then took a hand,
    You know them all that gallant band.
    In judgement sat with wig and gown,
    A decision they then handed down.

    Guilty and without remission
    Bob used a phone without permission.
    A dreadful thing for him to do,
    It serves him right, we’ll sack him too.

    And if unity you are all seekin’
    There’s the Metal Trades and Evans Deakin.
    They worked together at this job,
    Of sacking him, this man called Bob.

    H.O.

    Evans Deakin Shipyards 1963
    Evans Deakin Shipyard 1963

    Five years on…

    1968 Evans Deakin Shipyard Brisbane
    Evans Deakin Shipyard 1968

    Like

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