Australian Society for the Study of Labour History member, Jack Meredith, died on 8 July 1987. He had retired on the grounds of ill health just a few months previously. I first met Jack as his academic adviser when he presented himself at Sydney Teachers College with the best secondary school academic record in his year. As I recall it he achieved first class honours in English, History and Economics, corning first in the state in Economics in the old Leaving Certificate Examination. To our utter surprise he flunked first year at Sydney University, the reason being that he involved himself so enthusiastically in extra-curricular activities, including student politics, that he neglected his academic studies. In a way that was a metaphor for his whose academic career. Blest with a high intelligence, unbounded enthusiasm and strong leadership qualities, he gave of himself so unstintingly to others that he prejudiced his own professional career. Back to College, then, as a “Returned (euphemism for failed) University” student he responded positively from advice by lecturers like Eric Scott (who as chief examiner had read his Leaving Certificate Economics paper) and achieved up to his true potential graduating top of the College and winning the coveted Jonos Medal. He also involved himself actively in student politics as a member of the Students Representative Council and in cultural activities – for example he was one of two student editors of the College literary Journal, ‘Daylight’, which I had then resurrected after a period of non publication.
As his English lecturer I was pleased that on return to University as an evening student he chose to major in English and History, but disappointed that when the Heads of both these departments at Sydney Teachers College invited him to join their staffs he chose History. He later left to lecture at Macquarie and “Newcastle Universities for some years, but when he was offered back his position at Sydney Teachers College, accepted – because, he said, it was his favourite place and he was appreciative of how it had rehabilitated him as a student.
At the College, as one would expect, Jack quickly became a leading member of the Staff Association and with his sharp intelligence, wit, articulateness and strong commitment to the underdog, became the bane of his and our masters both within and without the College. Instead of proceeding to take his doctorate and furthering his academic career as colleagues counselled, he spent such countless hours working on committees, preparing reports, arguing before Boards and enquiries – all on behalf of those colleagues that there was little time or energy for higher studies. In fact, he had a serious heart attack at a young age, a bypass operation and medical advice to slow down. Of course he didn’t (couldn’t?, wouldn’t) – and that, I believe, is why he died so young.
I write this tribute as one of the colleagues for whom he gave so much and as a mentor who became his friend and admirer. My sincere sympathy goes to his wife, Mary. We share with her a sense of loss at the passing of such a generous-spirited and talented man. An anecdote to exemplify this. My son, Robert, who also ignored his father’s example to become an historian, received a phone call from Jack late last year asking him to drop into his study. On doing so Robert was presented with the priceless files of journals to which, ever the reader and student, Jack had widely subscribed. Handing on the torch, so to speak.
Editor’s note: Jack Meredith was not the only member of our society and branch to pass away recently. So too did Lloyd Ross. A tribute to Dr Ross will appear in the next issue of the Hummer. Indeed the obituaries column of Tribune has become distinctly depressing of late. Clearly an Australian equivalent of the British Dictionary of Labour Biography is needed. But where is the historian, sufficiently highly placed to attract research funding and support, not to mention sufficiently energetic to follow through this worthy objective?