Ruth Coleman: last of a generation


Ruth Coleman, veteran ALP senator and feisty leftist died peacefully of cancer in her home in Bassendean, Perth, on March 27. She was the last of a generation of left-wing ALP members whose example shames the current neoliberal crop of Laborites.

A friend of staunch leftist senator George Georges, Coleman fostered many activist causes in Perth from beneath the wing of her Senate office. She could always be relied upon to help with a mail-out for a struggling committee that had no friends among the ALP hierarchy.

In particular she fostered the Nicaragua solidarity movement in WA, which grew into the Committee in Solidarity with Central America and the Caribbean. She was pleased to sign on to petitions and letters that needed a prestigious name to kick-start them.

In 1980 she took to the streets of Perth in civil disobedience against the Charles Court Liberal government's use of Section 54B of the Police Act, which banned meetings of more than three people in a public place without police permission. She spoke out alongside Rob Riley and others at a famous event initiated by the Communist Party in Forrest Place where she and 41 others were arrested.

Ruth refused to pay the $20 fine, risking imprisonment. It was paid "anonymously"; someone in high places needed to avoid embarrassment.

Ruth also campaigned actively against uranium mining and in support of Aboriginal land rights, most notably around the Noonkanbah dispute, when Court mobilised a scab truck convoy to break a union ban on drilling on sacred land. Ruth was always at International Women's Day events and participated in the 1980 women's peace camp at Pine Gap.

A stalwart peace campaigner and social activist, throwing herself into the front line, unafraid of what the right-wing press might say, her stature is all the more imposing because of the shadowy creatures inhabiting today's ALP.