On Sunday August 27 at Sydney’s Tom Nelson Hall, after songs, poems and a short humorous talk by Ted Wheelwright (yes, believe it or not, a left function without any dull, long-winded speeches!), Len Fox made these remarks on the occasion of an Exhibition of Paintings held to celebrate his ninetieth birthday:
What I want to say today is that to me this is not merely a personal ninetieth anniversary. It is the sixtieth anniversary of a point the middle of the 1930s when quite a number of young Australians were forced to realise that there was a need for something new in our thinking and our acting. That there was something wrong with a world that had produced a World War and a worldwide Depression, and that was now heading towards an even more disastrous Second World War whose flames were being fanned by a poisonous racist doctrine called fascism that was coldly planning the mass slaughter of millions of men, women and children.
We did what little we could in co-operation with men and women in other countries who felt as we did, and there were among us people who stressed the need for broad human values, and for unity of all people of beliefs – Labor, Communist, Liberal, Christian or any other creed or doctrine. We were in a minority at first, but because of our unity we finally defeated fascism.
And in the course of the struggle we learned something else. We learned that our problems were not only economic ones and antifascist ones. We learned that we had to ask ourselves the question: ‘What does it mean be an Australian?’ We learned that for too long we had been colonials, content to let our thinking be done for us by someone overseas; that Australians had to grow up, to stand on our own feet, learning to understand and develop our own cultural identity, our own humanist and democratic tradition. To have equal and peaceful relations with other people in every part of the world, particularly with our own Aboriginal people and the people of the Asian and Pacific nations.
Sixty years on – from 1935 to 1995 – we can look back and see that there have been far more problems than we ever imagined. We have had many setbacks, we have made serious mistakes. The world today is a grim place. But we have seen the development of new progressive organisations like Greenpeace and Amnesty International, of a new and broader movement against nuclear testing and nuclear war; we have see the power of democratic unity in South Africa, in the land of Nelson Mandela.
A grim world – and also a world of dreams, of hope. Clearly the need for unity, for breadth and tolerance, for the warm human cultural values, and for friendship and understanding between men and women of different nations, of different cultural backgrounds, is greater than ever. Looking forward, we can have hope. Looking back, it has been good to have been part of this movement for a broader, more human, more democratic, more peaceful world. I’ve been a lucky person.
Since I’m a writer rather than an artist, I’ll conclude with a poem that came into my head the other night about the Greenpeace ship, the Rainbow Warrior:
She was born of the dreams of men and women
Who love the green earth and the blue of the sea
And the joy of the life of their myriad creatures
As a gift to be saved for the new world to be.
So she bears on her side the gleam of the rainbow,
The promise of hope on the dark clouds above,
And she carries the symbol of peace to the nations
The olive leaf borne on the wings of a dove.
There are those who would poison the earth
and its oceans,
There are those who’d bring toxin
and plague to our breath,
Would cut down the forests, turn earth to a desert
And sentence our planet to nuclear death.
But hers is the strength of the many, the millions,
The hope for our children with eyes still a gleam.
There are those round the world
who are plotting to sink her,
But you can’t sink a rainbow,
you can’t kill a dream.
(As a result of the Exhibition, which was attended by more than a hundred people, a sum of over $2,300 was raised for the funds of Greenpeace.)