Vale Harry van Moorst – lifelong activist for social justice

March 1, 2022
Harry van Moorst. Photo: Environmental Justice Australia

Harry van Moorst passed away on February 8, just a few days before his 75th birthday.

Harry played a critical role in the Anti-Vietnam War movement, announcing he would be a conscientious resister if he was called up to fight. He remained a committed environment and social justice campaigner throughout his life.

Harry helped form Students for a Democratic Society in 1968 and the Draft Resisters Union in 1970. He was the Vice-President of the Moratorium, interviewed in the documentary Hell No We Won't Go.

Harry opposed other unjust wars, such as the Gulf War in 1991 when Australian and United States troops invaded Iraq and the second invasion in 2003. He was also involved in other battles including the fights for on-campus childcare and for rights for unemployed workers.

Harry’s main focus over the past two decades was on helping working-class communities fight toxic waste dumps.

He played a key role in Werribee Residents against Toxic Dumps in the 1990s, which successfully halted the construction of a toxic waste dump. The group built a popular campaign including organising a rally of 15,000 people against the dump. The Victorian Trades Hall Council even set up picket lines to assist.

Through this campaign, Harry and other activists decided to set up the Western Region Environment Centre.

But Harry was never one to only worry about his backyard; he visited communities all over Victoria that were battling toxic waste dumps. He was eager to share his knowledge so that other communities could be armed with information to mobilise to defeat toxic dumps.

Harry helped the community defeat the Nowingi dump and gave support to the Terminate Tullamarine Toxic Dump Action Group.

The Fawkner community also benefited from Harry’s help after a development application was lodged to build on Nufarm’s old toxic site. Nufarm manufactured the herbicide Agent Orange as well as other toxic chemicals from the late 1950s until 1974.

Harry and the Western Region Environment Centre helped the Toxic Free Fawkner campaign. He made the trip to Fawkner to speak at our public and campaign meetings. He was always happy to give advice on the tricks of the developers and the Environmental Protection Authority.

Harry helped instil a confidence in the Fawkner community to campaign against developing a site that is still contaminated with dioxin.

Harry’s approach was to provide information, encouragement and solidarity to empower working-class communities to fight back against bureaucrats, politicians, scientific experts and companies that try to hoodwink people into believing that toxic chemicals are safe.

Harry was a founding sponsor of Green Left in 1991 and he helped Socialist Alliance launch its Climate Change Charter in the mid-2000s.

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