By Max Watts
SYDNEY — Janet Sheila Wakefield, a communist, was born in Patras, Greece, in 1915 and died in Sydney on September 18.
Her family moved to New Zealand in 1925. In 1936, Janet came to Australia. Ten years ago, when I first met her, she was living in a large four bedroom house in Balmain.
Janet took university entrance exams at 15, and later went to a teachers' college, from which she was expelled for "communism" — bringing a lecturer to a left-wing discussion group.
She came to Australia on her way to Spain, hoping to fight for the republic against Franco. Without enough money, she stayed here and worked for the Communist Party of Australia.
During the second world war, Janet joined the land army. Eventually she used her contacts in the bush to hide Indonesian seamen from the Labor government. The sailors had jumped ship — refusing to sail Dutch ships to reconquer Indonesia — and were helped by wharfies, seamen and people like Janet Wakefield.
In Wagga Wagga in those years there was a Communist bookshop. There in 1946 Janet met Stan Wakefield, a bushie who had come from England many years before. He was also a musician. With Janet, Stan founded the Bush Music Club, of which Janet remained a lifelong member.
Janet and Stan married. He worked on the railways, and they lived for some years in a tent. In 1962 Stan died.
Janet began work as a teacher in a business college first because her New Zealand degree was not recognised. Later, she repeated her Dip Ed and taught at Easthill Girls and other high schools around Sydney.
More than 20 years ago she helped found the Bankstown Women's Health Centre, the Women's Refuge and the Bankstown Women's and Child Care Centre. Ten years ago, at the age of 70, Janet provided a home to many people in Balmain. The Sydney Peace Squadron stored its gear in her shed and garden.
The house became a commune. Strangers from many countries passed through, staying for days, weeks, months and sometimes years. Many were broke and paid little for food or rent.
Janet always remained a communist. She was distressed by the collapse of the CPA but continued to actively support all groups "who would continue our struggles, fight the good fight, from whatever side". As she often said, "We should unite against the common enemy, not fight each other".