Vale Ted D’Urso

We post these tributes from friends and comrades of Ted D’Urso who died in the Wesley Hospital in the very early hours of Thursday the 16th of June. People are welcome to add anything else in the comments section down below. – Ian Curr, Ed., 19 June 2022.


From Ken Mansell:

I am so saddened to hear that Ted has passed.  Over several years I had formed a valued and enriching friendship with him. The friendship was restricted to telephone conversations, Brisbane to Mount Franklin in central Victoria.  Every so often I would receive a call from Ted and listen as he expounded, with extraordinary lucidity for a man in his nineties, his most recent philosophical and political theories about the state of the world.  My most recent phone conversation with him came soon after the May 21 Federal election when he called and declared triumphantly in a frail and croaky voice – ‘Ken, I’m living in a Green seat’.  It was great at that moment to hear the pleasure in his voice.  For some years Ted had struggled defiantly with physical affliction and loneliness.  He had wrestled with the demons of pessimism.  He never refrained however from expressing his long-held attitude of disgust with the workings of the capitalist system.  Though physically confined to his flat in Indooroopilly, his intelligence was undiminished. All his life Ted was a strong and determined individual who refused to be cowed by adversity.  He remained so until the end.   I never ever met Ted but knew him well and I am so glad I did.  I will miss him. Rest in peace, old comrade.

Ken Mansell,
18 Jun 2022

I am here extracting from a piece I wrote some time ago for Recorder : official organ of the Melbourne Branch of the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History.:  

‘Salvatore (Ted) D’Urso was born in Sicily (1928) and grew up in ethnically-diverse Innisfail (North Queensland) where his family settled in 1931.  The family endured hardship and prejudice.  Ted’s father Alfio, who cut cane and ran a billiard saloon, was arrested and interned in 1942, leaving young Ted carrying partial responsibility for managing the saloon. Ted attended primary schools in Innisfail and Charters Towers, secondary school in Cairns, and earned a scholarship to study commerce at the University of Queensland in 1947’.     

‘An introduction in his course to Marxism combined with resentment at the injustices inflicted on himself and his family ‘kindled the seed of youthful idealism.’  In his second year Ted joined the Radical Club and frequented the lively student newspaper (Semper Floreat) office.   In September 1948 he joined the Communist Party and its University of Queensland cell.  Ted was appalled when the CPA leadership proclaimed the 1949 coal strike defeat as a victory for the Australian working class. Increasingly critical, he was threatened with expulsion but refused to recant. Ted resigned from the CPA mid-1950 but never ‘ratted’ and continued to adhere strongly to classical Marxism’. 

‘In 1957 Ted became the Brisbane representative of the recently-launched ‘New Left’ journal Outlook and was involved with the Brisbane Outlook discussion circle until it folded in 1962.  By then he had been drawn into the orbit of Trotskyist groups emerging in Brisbane and Sydney. (Ted’s memories of Nick Origlass, Izzy Wyner, Wal Suchting, Bob Gould, Alan Roberts, and George Petersen are brief but intriguing).  In late 1962 Ted’s wife Janet Lewis launched a CND branch in Brisbane.  The members were interrogated by Federal Police when a reprint of the British ‘Spies for Peace’ pamphlet (an exposure of how Britain would be administered in the event of a nuclear attack) appeared in Brisbane.  Brisbane CND had declined by early 1965 and attention shifted to the Vietnam war’.   

‘Ted and Janet relocated to Armidale in late 1965 when he was appointed to a lectureship in Education at the University of New England.  There the couple joined a small band of campus anti-war activists. They returned to Brisbane in 1970 when Ted took up a senior lectureship (Education) at the University of Queensland.   It is not surprising, given Ted’s own experience of victimisation (for example his virtual banishment in 1951 to the most isolated school on the Atherton Tableland), that he would strive to diminish the power of the bureaucratic administration of education in Queensland and reform secondary schooling, with a particular emphasis on the rights (and responsibilities) of students.   Ted, labelled a ‘dangerous agitator’, was the driving force behind the Council for Democracy in Schools (CDS), an influential watch dog against abuse of regulations by school authorities until its demise in 1975…….Ted in his last years remained an unrepentant and an outspoken critic of ‘the ecological unsustainability of industrial capitalism’s growth imperative.’ ‘

Vale Ted.

The following is an interview Joanne Watson did with Ted for Radical Brisbane:

The Radical Club
I first became aware of the Radical Club in 1948. The University of Queensland, the only one in Brisbane then, was still at the end of George Street and the faculties of Arts and Commerce used to hold lectures in Old Government House, in the front of which was the Kidney Lawn. I was a fresher at the beginning of 1947, and in Orientation Week we were assembled there on the lawn, where various speakers addressed newcomers to the university.

In 1947 I took no interest in university politics because I had been warned that one could easily go astray because of all the enticements. So I made up my mind to study very hard and I was a pure and total swat. In 1948, having got the measure of the university, I started to relax and I took an interest in student activities. And I became an active radical. There were two major clubs on campus. The Labor Club, run by an ex-serviceman called Copeman, whose father was subsequently Principal of Bris­bane State High School, was large. Then there was the Radical Club, which was really a front for the Communist Party. It didn’t have the numbers of the Labor Club, but through Alan Roberts it did have control of Semper, the student newspaper. The headquarters of Semper was in an ex-army building in the Domain, behind Old Government House.

I was attracted to this site because there were dirty coffee cups, books and news­papers scattered everywhere and it was just the atmosphere I was looking for at my stage of development. I found it almost irresistible, since it offered a lot of the free­thinking that was going on, which was unusual for that time. That was where I met Ian Roberts, Owen Edge, Charlie Cameron and Joy Roggenkamp. Joy was a bohemian and she was the cartoonist for Semper. Another friend was Wallis Suchting, an extraordinarily brilliant intellectual.

The big event in 1948 was the Rail Strike, during which Ted Englart, Max Julius and Mick Healy were gaoled. The university was highly politicised at this time. People tend to think of the radical student movement as beginning in the 1960s, but in the late 1940s the university was a hive of political activity. For example, an invitation was issued to Mick O’Brien, Secretary of the ARU, to address the students.
We met in the main lecture theatre, at ground level in Old Government House. When, in the midst of his presentation, a medical student near the front by the name of Peter Rowland jumped up, interrupted proceedings and moved a motion of loyalty to His Majesty King George the Sixth, and also moved that the Communists should be sent back to Russia, mayhem broke out. Professor Schindler who taught French was sitting behind me, and I heard him call out: ‘Gentlemen, gentlemen please! This is not the Trades Hall!’

The second row was full of medical students and they had come with the deliberate intention of destroying the meeting. A Courier-Mail photographer leapt into action and took a photograph. Old Murdoch ran the paper then, and the next day the Courier Mail headline was: ‘Uni Club Seeks Ban of Communist Party’. This was a complete travesty of what actually happened. Yet when Malcolm Thornis wrote a commemorative volume on the 75th anniversary of the university, he noted how political the University was in the 1940s and that a meeting of students had called for the banning of the Communist Party. I wrote to him as an eyewitness, to point out that it would be unusual for a club that was a front for the party to call for it to be banned!

The Rail Strike lasted several months and culminated in a rally in King George Square. This was during the years of the Hanlon Labor government. I can recall the police, including some called in from country areas, lined up in Adelaide Street, blocking any attempt to march into Queen Street. Thousands attended the rally and people were perched up on the lion statues outside City Hall. Meanwhile Fred Paterson was at a march from Trades Hall towards the square, when he was attacked and struck across the head from behind by one of the police.

Paterson was a very charismatic figure. I first heard him speak when I was about twelve years of age. He came to Innisfail where the Communists had strong support within the sugar fields. And I was living then just across the road from the theatre where he spoke. I can still remember what a great orator he was, and when he spoke he would sway back and forth on the podium.

A former member of the Communist Party was Tom Truman, who taught Constitutional History and Political Science in 1948. I recall one lecture on how the Hanlon Labor government had instituted an electoral gerrymander. One student in the class was Hanlon’s son, and he took extreme exception to this!

Truman was a colleague of Ian Turneri they had been in the same Honours class.Turner was a brilliant historian, another Communist. He became Professor of History at Monash University. Politics at the university was like a hothouse in 1948, but when we moved out to St Lucia in 1949 the Radical Club no longer existed and control of Semper moved to other people, with the election of a new leadership of the Student Union. These were people of Christian persuasion and I still had some contact with them as I continued to write book reviews for Semper.

The people on the Left then were Alan Roberts who completed a PhD in science, Barbara Patterson, Winnie Cowin, Betty Shanks and Marion Wilson. Three of these four women came to tragic ends.

In 1948 I first encountered the Ballad Bookshop and the Miya group. Joy Roggenkamp invited me to a Miya party in the attic of the School of Arts building in Ann Street. I took along Wallis Suchting and it really blew my mind. I was only 19 or 20 and I had no knowledge of these bohemian circles. But Barrie Reid, Laurence Collinson and Cecil Knopke were there, and we were all drinking wine. They were
all very arty and I found it very exciting.

But in 1949 the big Coal Strike broke out and I was in the Communist Party at the time. In September 1948 we were down at George Street and I approached Vince Englart and asked: ‘How does one join the Communist Party?’ I was only making tentative enquiries, but the week after Vince came along and presented me with a card and said: ‘Here, you’re a member now!’ So in 1949 I was assigned the job of
contacting some of the miners out at Ipswich and bringing them to St Lucia to speak to the students. But by 1949 things started to fizzle out. Most of my colleagues were ex-servicemen. Those of us who had graduated through high schools were a minority.

Most of the students had returned from the war; they went to the Trocadero across the river, and did their Senior at night as part of the rehabilitation scheme.

But with the Coal Strike defeated there was a slackening of political activity. And I became disenchanted with the Communist Party. It seemed to me that the working class suffered a terrible defeat in that strike, yet the Guardian declared the strike had been a great victory for the party. I couldn’t see that, when the Communist leaders had been gaoled and their bank accounts frozen, and when the state had crushed that union. And I believed you should never tell lies to the workers – one of Lenin’s injunctions. In other words, your most precious asset was your moral credibility. But this was the Stalinist nature of the party. I grumbled a lot about this deceit, and it led to my leaving the Communist Party, under threat of expulsion, in 1950. I was called before the District Committee up in Heindorff House in Queen Street. I was in Teachers’ College then, at Kelvin Grove, and a lot of my friends were in the Communist Party. That was where I met Paul Thomas, Geoff Watson and Eddie Clark. That was the time, too, when Tito had broken from Moscow to establish the independence of Yugoslavia. So I was accused by the party of right-wing deviationism and Titoism! So I had to explain how Tito had got to me! And then my expulsion was printed in the Guardian.

A couple of weeks later, I was living with Wallis Suchting’s grandmother at Annerley, and there was a knock at the door. It was two big blokes from ASIO, or the state security police, I’m not sure which. And they said they had noticed that I had been expelled from the Communist Party. I said: ‘How do you know that?’ and they said: ‘Well, we read it in the Guardian’. They wanted to know if I would ‘help Australia’ by
telling them everything I knew about the Communist Party. The Cold War was a very ferocious time. So I explained that I certainly wasn’t about to rat on the Communist Party and that I had nothing to tell them anyway.

There were also victimisations at the Teachers’ College. I was organising with Ted Baldwin in 1950 to increase student allowances. We went around speaking to other, younger students about this, and the lecturers accused us all of being Communists!

Towards the end of the year, I was the only graduate not offered teaching practice at a secondary school. So I asked for an interview with the Director General of Education, and I met with him and was offered a place at the Commercial High School in George Street.

A similar thing happened when I applied for the Commonwealth Public Service in 1949. One of my lecturers was at the interview, and I was quizzed as to what I had written in the university newspapers, Galmahra and Semper. Given that Menzies came into office in 1949 with a platform of routing Communists from the public service, I had no chance.

Once the 1950s set in, things changed noticeably. When I went back to university in 1952 to complete an arts degree, the place was quite different. The clubs that survived were the Evangelical Movement, the Student Christian Movement and the Catholic group. The Cold War was in full swing. And it was feverish. Politicians spoke of the need to ‘put knuckle-dusters on to take on the Communist menace’. A lot of people left Brisbane and politics had virtually disappeared on campus by then.

Ted D’Urso interviewed by Joanne Watson

2 thoughts on “Vale Ted D’Urso

  1. Thanks Ian. I am very sad to hear this news. Ted was a really lovely person, a friend to my Dad at Teachers College, but also of my mother via Barjai connection. And for sure I’m happy for you to print my interview transcript. Attaching here a photo of the Teachers College class. My Dad is on the far left, second row from the front. Not sure where/if Ted is in this picture. We are inevitably losing many good people and it’s great to see a tribute to this special man. So thanks.

  2. The D’Urso family will be having a simple service for Ted at 11am on Monday 4th July at Alex Gow funerals 56 Breakfast Creek Road Newstead.

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