Anatol Kagan, 1913-2009

Damien Stapleton

Comrades, True Believers and Friends, let us acknowledge that we assemble on the lands of the traditional owners and original habitants. Let us pay our respects to their Elders past and present and thank them for preserving these lands for us. Let us always tread these treasured lands gently and in peace.

We are summoned today to farewell ‘a loving and loved father, husband, grandfather, a comrade and dear friend, someone with whom all of us shared something, somebody who it was the privilege of all of us to know and love and from whom to learn, a man of the finest ideals and principles and ambitions for his civilisation.

When Anatol Kagan was born on 4 October 1913 in St Petersburg, he was destined to a youth of conflict, escape, confusion and misery. The ominous clouds of the Great War hovered over- Europe as did those of Revolution over his native Russia.

At age four he witnessed an intolerable regime living decadently during wartime: the people went hungry, medicine ran out and exploitation was rampant. The war was soon followed by the Great Depression and the Second World War. These events scarred Anatol, shaping his long remarkable lite.As he later recalled:

  • Looking down [upon] the street from a window of his family’s apartment and seeing an old horse – worn out from pulling a cart – drop dead outside on the road. Instantly, starving people appeared brandishing knives, and in a flash they had hacked the horse completely to pieces for food – leaving only the bones!
  • [I) then [turned to) the sight of a group of angry starving housewives in his street who were begging for bread, finally turning on a policeman who was trying to stop them. These women ultimately put that policeman to flight!

I shall always remember Anatol as the humble educator wishing to ensure that the world would never again see or know the evil which it was his misfortune to witness in his early lifetime, that we all may benefit from the great inventions of mankind in so many fields and use them for humanity’s benefit and not its destruction.

Anatol escaped Russia with his family when he was nine. They made  their way to Germany where Anatol obtained his Degree in Architecture but as a Jewish man, he soon faced the evils of Nazism and was on the run again. He migrated to Australia, to Melbourne and an opportunity to seriously commence his architectural career.

In 1957, he submitted an entry to the International Competition to select a design for a Sydney Opera House at Bennelong Point only to be beaten by Joern Utzon. His drawings from his entry were exhibited at the Opera House in 2007, as part of an exhibition to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the competition.

I knew Anatol through his membership of the Australian Labor Party which he joined in 1946, the year I was born.  He first joined the Balwyn Branch in Victoria in 1946 and since was a member of the Box Hill/Taronga and Prahran Branches and in NSW the Mosman, Ben Boyd, Hornsby and Harbord Branches and since 1998, once again the Mosman Branch.

My first meeting with him was when I was detailed to relieve him at 11am at a small garage at Clifton Gardens on that great day which my generation can never forget, 2 December 1972. The voting traffic was light and even lighter for ALP votes in that area. Then the age I am now, he would not be relieved, so we served out the day together and I enjoyed his company until polling closed.

Anatol and his ilk were what kept -the ALP relevant in the drought years 1949-1972.  He took principled instead of expedient stands on the issues of the day such as the right to free association, conscription and the invasion of Vietnam, perhaps at the cost of Government.  They stood by their party and the ALP became a richer identity because of them.

Anatol and Dawn were always available to assist during election campaigns, spending many arduous and appreciated hours distributing voting material even in seats such as Warringah where the outcome was preordained. However I was not to see Anatol again after polling day 1972 until he arrived unexpectedly at a Mosman Branch meeting in 1998 and I am grateful that he and Dawn continued to grace us with their presence at virtually every meeting every month since.

Anatol was a delegate ‘to various ALP State and Federal Electorate councils for forty years and a delegate to Annual Conference a number f times. Only his diminishing health caused him to be less involved but his ideas, ideals and hope for change and a world where peace, freedom and justice would reign supreme, dominated his ambitions for our civilisation .

In 1994 Anatol was made a Life Member of the ALP; the only honour the ALP then awarded its members, on the resolution of the Harbord Branch moved by Hon Dorothy Isaaksen, then a member of the New South Wales Legislative Council.  I attended the July monthly meeting of the Harbord Branch last Monday which paid tribute to Anatol and observed one minute of silence to honour their former beloved member and Comrade.

Anatol attended his last meeting of the Mosman Branch with Dawn in November 2008.  Shortly after that he moved to the Sir Moses Montefiore Nursing Home at Hunter’s Hill.  His positive and productive contribution to meetings always benefited our branch. Dawn has continued to regularly attend meetings and bring the branch up to date on Anatol’s condition.

There was much interest inALP ranks in the progress of Anatol’s condition and I have received the following tributes to him. Former Labor Prime Minister Hon Bob Hawke prepared the following tribute:

  • As the longest serving Australian Labor Prime Minister, I pay tribute to Anatol Kagan for his devotion and dedication to our great Party.A member of the Party for the last sixty three years, of which the last fifteen have been as a Life Member.Anatol will be remembered as someone who was totally committed to his ideas and ideals for a peaceful, free-and just world. Through this philosophy, he lived a rich and rewarding life, fulfilled in the hope and knowledge that his efforts were directed to fairness and equality of opportunity for all. I thank him for his efforts and send my condolences to his family. Vale a True Believer.

Comrades, True Believers and Friends, our dear friend has departed us but his mission lives on.

Anatol, I thank you for the privilege of knowing you and of sharing the earth you walked.

We shall not forget you and we hope to always learn from your example. I wish us all strength and courage at this sad time.

Damiert Stapleton is President of the Mosman Branch of the Australian Labor Party and was the federal secretary of the Australian Theatrical and Amusement Employees ‘Association, 19701984.