I have been asked by John’s family to say a few words today. I spoke at the funeral of John’s beloved son, Robert, and now I speak at the funeral of the father. I have lost a good friend, and his family have lost a good father and a good grandfather. We are all grieving and I have no words to ease that grief, especially that of his family. Grief and death are part of the human condition. We all live and we all die and there is nothing to be done about that. What is important is how we live. And I can say that John led a good life. That is what we must hold onto now. He lived and died a generous, warm hearted man. I personally could always rely upon him for love and friendship and understanding. Just before he died I told him that he was one of the very few people in this world that I could talk to about anything with an absolute sense of trust, and he thanked me for that.
I first met John in 1980 when he joined the International Socialists after he moved from Mt Isa to Brisbane. This was during the reign of Bjelke-Petersen, the far right premier of Qld. There had been strong civil liberty struggles against Petersen’s attempt to ban the right to march. John led the movement against the ban on street marches in Mt Isa. Those of you who have been to Mt Isa will know how incredible an achievement it was to create a radical movement in that town. John played a key role in two struggles during his time in Mt Isa. He was prominent in the anti-uranium movement and also fought for the rights of Indigenous Australians. He played a key role in the founding of provision of Aboriginal Housing. Mt Isa was and remains a deeply racist town. Taking up the cause of the First Australians was a brave and generous thing to do and it was typical of John.
During our time in the International Socialists we took up a range of struggles. These led to direct confrontation with Bjelke-Petersen’s police force. One of my favourite stories about John was of his arrest during a march in support of women’s right to access abortion. Petersen had threatened a bill which would make abortion illegal for all reasons including rape and incest. During the rally and the March that followed John was responsible for carrying an effigy of Bjelke-Petersen. I cannot recall if we were to hang or burn the effigy. In any case, John was intercepted and arrested and the effigy was confiscated, and we never saw it again.
John duly turned up in court to face a ridiculous range of charges which would have cost him thousands. Just as the trial was about to begin the prosecuting officer got up and advised the court that the police were dropping the matter owing to the sudden death of the arresting officer. There was a silence which was almost broken by John’s laughter, but he managed to repress the urge. The magistrate looked at him and said “It seems, you are a very lucky man, Mr Boyd.” John got up grinning and said, “Not so, your honour, I am confident I had a very adequate defence prepared”. The magistrate replied to that, “Well, we will see you again, Mr Boyd, I have no doubt”.
He was right about that, because John continued to take up many causes on behalf of those who were the victims of power. One of these causes that I know he would want me to mention was that of the Palestinians. John did great work in the Palestinian solidarity campaign in the early 80s. I still remember his outrage at the massacre of the thousands of Palestinian refugees in the camps of Sabra and Shatila in 1982.
Even though John dropped out of active leftist politics when his health began to break down, he remained to the very end a man deeply committed to the emancipation of all oppressed people everywhere. He spent a life time on the side of the people and he never wavered from that.
Towards the last years of his life John moved into a flat not far from me down the Ipswich Road. I used to visit him on Sundays and we would read, chat, laugh and drink together. Those were very good moments and I will remember them to the end of my own days. We read everything together – poetry, classic short stories, novels and Shakespeare. John, though, especially loved Charles Dickens’ work and so we read Hard Times, Great Expectations and had started on David Copperfield. One of John’s favourite books by Dickens was A Tale of Two Cities. It is as you know set in the French Revolution, which John had made a special study of when he studied at university.
I will finish with a quotation from that book. The hero Sydney Carton has given up his life for others and he goes to his death saying
“… it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”
John is at rest now. And for those of us who remain, our task is to grieve for our loss and also to give thanks for having had the privilege of having known this good man.
8th August 2014