One hundred people gathered on March 17 at the Wollongong City Diggers Club to celebrate the life of NSW Public Service Association (PSA) activist Anne Meehan who passed away on March 12 after a long illness.
Anne was a librarian at the Wollongong College of TAFE for the major part of 1975-2001, at which point, as her illness progressed, she took medical retirement.
Anne, a unionist, feminist and, above all, a socialist, became synonymous with the PSA at Wollongong College, and across the entire TAFE Illawarra Institute, throughout the many years of her extensive contribution to the union. Interestingly, many left-wing PSA activists have emerged from the ranks of its highly unionised librarians.
Anne's deep support for, and participation in, progressive social movements, organisations and committees was noted during the evening, especially her participation on the South Coast May Day Committee and assistance to the local progressive Chilean community during the long years of struggle against the Augusto Pinochet dictatorship.
Those asked to reflect on Anne's life included ex-PSA general secretary Maurie O'Sullivan, South Coast Labor Council secretary Arthur Rorris, left ALP figures, Chile Solidarity's Patrick Vasquez, PSA delegates, organisers and friends.
Anne had a strong Irish-Australian temperament and, when circumstances required, she could be a fierce adversary. It was fitting that participants were treated to an excellent performance of Irish political folk music from a highly talented ensemble of musicians.
PSA South Coast regional organiser Felix Bronneberg outlined the central role Anne had played in a left-wing caucus of job delegates from the Illawarra. From the mid to late 1970s, these activists struggled to build a statewide team capable of defeating an entrenched and undemocratic right wing, whose conservatism was suffocating the union. This initiative eventually triumphed when the PSA adopted extensive and democratic rule changes and restructured the union. After this, Anne served on the PSA state executive for four years.
Anne's contributions to the PSA were many: she had been active for many years on the union's central council and women's council, as well as being secretary for her TAFE workplace group for decades. She was also the chairperson of the Illawarra's PSA district branch.
In addition, Anne was the PSA delegate to the South Coast Labor Council for many years and later became SCLC vice president. She was eventually bestowed the honour of life membership.
Anne shared some stormy experiences at SCLC, including the major split in the 1990s after which rival labour councils co-existed for several years. Her approach in council was always to assist members of other unions, as well as progressive campaigns.
Anne was an exemplary member of the PSA, giving it much of her time and energy. On her retirement in 2001, she commented to the Illawarra Mercury that her trade union commitments formed part of her "other job". She will be greatly missed.