Vale John Ellis

July 11, 2019
John speaking out against Australia's training of Indonesia's elite and brutal Kopassus forces.

Friend and comrade John Ellis died suddenly on June 15.

An activist and photographer, John was passionate about social justice. He worked for The Herald and Weekly Times (HWT), where he was an active member of the Printing and Kindred Industries Union.

He was known for his letters to the editor. Former HWT chairperson Sir Keith MacPherson knew him by reputation.

In retirement, his letters were compiled in a volume called Letters to the Editor. The first dated from 1968 and related to the Vietnam War. One extract states: “I will continue to demonstrate, peacefully or violently if necessary, to prevent our sons being sent to fight in wars of intervention.”

That sums up the sort of person John was. For example, he was locked up during a Jabiluka uranium mine protest in 1998.

He also took up local issues, including the destruction of wetlands by greedy developers, the training of Indonesian officers at Queenscliff Fort and the sale of public land for private development.

All these protests and demonstrations were documented in photos taken by John over a period of more than 50 years. These are now in a collection in the Melbourne University Archives.

He never missed a May Day March, where he sang in the Victorian Trade Union Choir and played the cornet, classical guitar and recorder.

He also had a fondness for protest and political music, once running a hugely successful tribute to Pete Seeger as a fundraiser for Green Left Weekly in Geelong. He always sang The Internationale with much gusto and enthusiasm. I can see him now — fist clenched above his head in full voice.

John was also an avid birder and involved in the protection of Swan Bay, a Ramsar-listed wetland, within walking distance of his house.

He never stopped documenting social events. The day before he died, he and his partner Dianne completed the second part of a project based on his life in Queenscliff.

He was ever the social observer and activist. He was a gentle, generous and compassionate person who was always pleased to see you, whether at a May Day dinner, a protest or a fundraising get together.

For all the comrades who will miss John, we are holding a celebration of his life on August 11, 2pm at Geelong Trades Hall, 127 Myers St, Geelong. All friends and comrades are welcome.

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