Geoffrey Hearman, 1927 2004
Geoffrey Hearman was a Socialist Alliance member and a supporter of the refugees' rights campaign. A man with a deep sense of humanity, he was also my stepfather and a man who got me interested in politics.
Born in Melbourne into a wealthy family, Geoff was sent to prestigious Melbourne Grammar. His father was one of the city's most prominent dentists. But the pretensions of private school life, with its authoritarian and hierarchical nature were not for him. He left school early and ran his own small business for a while before living in Greece and Britain for 10 years.
Upon his return to Australia and surviving on the disability pension, Geoff became active in a variety of campaigns and committees ranging from urban planning, anti-privatisation, anti-GST, for improvement to public transport and for a humane refugee policy.
He began campaigning around open space and urban parkland, as well as to save the heritage buildings around Caulfield and St Kilda. He ran for local council in August 1988.
Geoff was opposed to the greed of property developers in Melbourne's inner city and often appeared in the Victorian Administrative Appeals Tribunal challenging these developers.
During the Kennett years, Geoff radicalised around issues of state and national significance, such as the closure of hospitals and schools, the merger of local councils, large scale privatisation and the construction of the Citylink. He opposed the monopoly over profits which was built into the contract between the government and Citylink builders and argued for a cheap, accessible rail link between the city and the airport.
As an urban environmentalist, Geoff took up the campaign to save Albert Park from the ravages of the Grand Prix — and the privatisation of public parks in general. He was also involved in the Upgrade Upfield Committee, to save and improve the Upfield line train service.
In spite of failing health, he never lost his fighting spirit. Earlier this year, he complained to Victorian transport minister Peter Batchelor, M Trams and the tramways union about the health and safety implications of not having air-conditioning on trams — for tram workers and passengers. He was prompted to do this after returning home from a chemotherapy session one hot day in December. and "almost passed out" as a result of there being no air-conditioning on the tram.
In December 2001, I returned from East Timor where I was living at the time to find a father who had been changed by the Tampa affair and the sinking of the SIEV X refugee boat. From then on, wherever he went, Geoff always wore his Free the Refugees badge and was keen to talk about the refugee issue to anyone who'd listen.
In a letter to Labor MP Julia Gillard in February 2002, he wrote: "Labor must come out with a strong policy on this issue, otherwise many loyal Labor supporters like myself will cease to support the Labor Party, which at this stage appears either GUTLESS or supportive of government policy. I mean a policy for release of all detainees, not just for the children."
Though never a member of the ALP, increasingly, he had become more and more disaffected with them. He joined the Socialist Alliance and was a keen reader of Green Left Weekly.
Geoff had little time for Mark Latham, but when Latham became Labor leader, Geoff wrote him a letter titled "Election Ammunition". It contained the Top 10 Crimes of the Howard government, ranging from the war in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Free Trade Agreement with the US, the treatment of refugees and the plight of uni students struggling with a HECS debt.
Geoff attended the huge February 2003 anti-war rally and never stopped protesting to the end. He was fearless. For me, coming from a country, Indonesia, ruled by a military dictatorship, where my family had been too frightened to get involved in politics after the anti-Communist massacres of 1965, Geoff showed me that it was important to stand up and try to make a difference to the world we live in.
His widow and my mother, Els, continues his legacy and his rage.
From Green Left Weekly, November 17, 2004.
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