Friends, family and comrades who loved him were saddened by the June 12 death of Ronald William Bailey. He was buried on June 17 at Wingham after a memorial service at St John’s Anglican church in Taree. His long-time friend, Reverend Canon Keith Dean-Jones, gave the eulogy in tribute to Ron’s active political commitment to the masses of workers, small farmers, welfare recipients, Indigenous people and the less fortunate and oppressed.
Ron was proud of his birth into a working-class family in Balmain, where he worked, and was an active unionist alongside his socialist, shop steward father, Milton, at the Austral Bronze foundry. Ron was also proud of Milton’s military service against fascism during World War II. He was just as proud of his mother, Ester, who took her strong socialist views into various jobs.
After the widowed Ester moved from Sydney to Wingham in 1991 (with Ron and his siblings Valmai and Norman), Ron’s grassroots organising in the Taree-Manning and Port Macquarie-Hastings areas built a good basis for the Socialist Alliance presence on the NSW mid-North coast.
Ron’s memoirs, transcribed by his Wingham neighbour, friend and comrade, Shirley Ormond, note that he ran as the first Socialist Alliance (SA) candidate in this region, for the Greater Taree-Manning Shire Council. Shirley also noted that Ron went on to stand as the SA candidate for the federal electorate of Lyne in 2004.
Failing health later led Ron to “step back” from his pioneering frontline role as SA regional convenor and candidate. SA members then opted not to run in Lyne in the 2007 elections, in which progressive independent Rob Oakeshott (with ALP and Green preferences), took the seat from then-Deputy PM Mark Vaille (National Party).
Lyne had “belonged to the Nationals” since the electorate was created in 1949 and Ron was very happy about how the SA effort had fed into our local result, as a highlight in ending the nightmare Howard years.
Keith Dean-Jones’ eulogy rightly told how Ron loved life and people. As Ron put it in his 2002 council election flyer, besides interest in the “serious stuff” (the political issues), he liked the outdoor life, including camping, fishing, snorkeling and bushwalking. He enjoyed wrestling and loved to brew and share a few good ales.
A favourite yarn always got a good laugh: Ron told how his Dad, as shop steward chairing a stop work meeting had lined up Ron to move a resolution for a walk-out. The strike vote was carried and after the strikers had planned follow-up strategy in the pub, Ron and Milton arrived home early. When Ester asked how come they were so early home, Milton looked at Ron and said, “Don’t blame me, love. He moved the strike motion.”
Ron had two children with his partner Tokerau Mana-Birch before they seperated. Until late 2009, Ron lived in Katoomba, so he could visit Tokerau at a care facility. But by then, Ron got so sick that his family brought him to Wingham where he could be close while receiving good palliative care. As his cancer spread, Ron got professional pain relief and constant friendly kindness from medical and care workers.
They all new him as a straight out socialist who insisted that his “coffin be draped in red cloth”. Ron got that wish and a red SA placard “For the millions, not the millionaires” carried along to the graveside. He was fortunate in also getting his wish to die peacefully in his sleep, knowing that Valmai and Norman remain with Ester, now in her 90s. The struggle continues, Ron — we Reds all swear by it.