Vale John (Jack) Rice: a well-loved teacher and activist

June 1, 2023
John (Jack) Rice at a Repower Port Augusta reunion in 2017. Photo: Michael Kuble
John (Jack) Rice (left) at a Repower Port Augusta reunion in 2017. Photo: Michael Kuble

We said goodbye to John (Jack) Rice in Adelaide, on May 17, who died suddenly of a heart attack on May 3, at just 64. The room was filled with family, friends, union and political activists, and comrades.

I first met John when he joined the Socialist Workers Party in about 1983. John was active in the anti-apartheid campaign and the campaign in solidarity with Nicaragua where the Sandinista government was under attack from the United States-funded contras.

He showed solidarity to the peoples of El Salvador and Guatemala, struggling against repressive regimes and to the people of Cuba, whose revolutionary government was resisting the US blockade.

Jenny Burford, John’s partner, told us at his farewell that she had found it difficult to explain to her parents that he was her new partner when he appeared on TV burning the US flag outside their Consulate. They made a trip to Central America at that time.

We both left the Democratic Socialist Party in 1990s and continued to show solidarity with the struggles in Latin America.

I joined the Greens in 1996 and John joined a few years later. We battled to make the party more democratic and left-wing. We pushed Kris Hanna MP and the Greens leadership to secure more resources for Brian Noone, the lead candidate for the 2004 Senate campaign.

With John at the helm of a group of about 30 Greens, a significant proportion of the active membership, we won most of the positions at the AGM. But the right-wing eventually gained the upper hand.

I resigned as South Australian Greens secretary in 2005 and became inactive: other left-wing members either became inactive or left the party.

John formed an ecosocialist discussion group which often met at his house. That group helped form the Climate Emergency Action Network (CLEAN) of which John was a prime mover.

John and I were members of the Australian Education Union (AEU) and, thanks to John, CLEAN organised an environment conference in conjunction with the AEU.

CLEAN organised meetings in Port Augusta and, in 2009, a protest at the power station. John was there as we presented a notice of closure to the power station — but they took a few years to act on it!

He told me he was very pleased that we had been able to build the campaign that led to the formation of Repower Port Augusta, which had widespread support in the town.

I sought pre-selection for the SA Greens in the Legislative Council in 2009 and John became, in effect, my campaign manager. I had no chance of winning but we recognised the importance of prosecuting the arguments through the campaign.

When the SA Greens Council and MPs decided they couldn’t have me number two on the ticket to (including throwing out the ballots), John organised a campaign for me staying on. We lost, but John’s support was important.

John and I left the Greens around 2011. He helped organise Left Unity, showing his skills to bring people from different backgrounds together.

John played an important role in many organisations. He recognised the critical relationship between theory and activism. We need to constantly examine our theory and John was always doing that — hence the discussion groups he started in 2005 and, later, the Capital and Karl Marx reading groups.

TAFE offered us packages in 2017 and we both took them. We continued to have politics and philosophical discussions over the years. John joined the Socialist Alliance 4 years ago and I joined last year.

John spoke several languages and insisted we speak English correctly. He played the piano and, at times, a variety of other instruments. He was funny, serious, knowledgeable and well read. I felt he could be a point of reference. He was a great support at critical times. He always had interesting and, often, challenging views. He had a huge influence on so many people and there are so many who will miss him greatly.

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