A tireless fighter against a rotten system

Ray Jackson 1941-2015

How sad it is to learn that our comrade and friend, Uncle Ray Jackson, has died.

A Wiradjuri fighter for Koori justice (“fkj”, as he always signed his fascinating emails), Ray will be best known for his tireless work against Aboriginal deaths in custody, the countless hours investigating cases, supporting families of victims, and organising rally after rally to back that up and make it clear to the authorities that without justice there would be no peace.

The breadth of Ray’s fighting spirit meant he stood against all injustice. He was a socialist.

Ray had been in the Communist Party when younger, and later the Freedom Socialist Party and the Socialist Alliance. When I was revising a pamphlet on Aboriginal struggles that I’d written for Socialist Alternative in 1997, it was Ray who read the draft and gave me his uncompromising feedback.

As a young man he’d been a rigger, working on an oil platform off the coast of WA. He was a militant union delegate. When the Communist Party supported the Accord deal between the ACTU and the Hawke government in the 1980s, Ray opposed it and argued against the CP union officials that it would strangle the working class struggle.

Those class politics never left him. The same sharp perspective lay behind his denunciation of the emergence of a new stolen generation in recent years: “Some of what's happening now beggars belief. A FACS worker wanted to take a boy because he didn't have any shoes. Give him some shoes! Don't take him from his family!” 

Ray himself was part of the Stolen Generations, taken as a two-year-old during World War II and, without even a name to go by, never able to find his family.

His experience gives the lie to the current Anzac mythology. “All I know is that my father was a soldier and he went up to Papua New Guinea. He was killed on the Kokoda Track and instead of giving his wife a war widow's pension, the bloody government came and took his children away. Because of my mother's Aboriginality.”

Despite all his numerous health issues, Ray had a tireless spirit. (And a wicked sense of humour. No-one who visited him in his Housing Commission flat in Waterloo would have escaped Ray pointing out the name of the building he lived in: Captain Cook!)

If you were to make a list of every demo in Sydney this (or any other) year, Ray would have been at most of them.

When Brazilian student Roberto Laudisio Curti was tasered to death by NSW police in 2012, the Indigenous Social Justice Association (ISJA) that Ray founded in 1997 took up his cause. While Labor and Liberal governments tortured refugees, Ray organised ceremonies to present Aboriginal passports to them.

Most recently, Ray had thrown himself into the campaign against the closure of remote Aboriginal communities, only missing his place as a speaker at the last big rally on 10 April because he was hospitalised with pneumonia.

Condolences to Ray’s family, friends and comrades. He leaves a huge gap for us all.

[A memorial for Ray Jackson will be held on Friday 1 May at 11am at Redfern Community Centre, followed by a march to Belmore Park for a rally against the closure of Aboriginal homelands.]