Wollongong activists and unionists were shocked to hear of the sudden passing of Anthony Ashbolt, a lifelong fighter against injustice, at the age of 67.
As a socialist activist studying at the University of Wollongong, it didn’t take me long to meet Anthony. He was a politics lecturer and union stalwart who wasn’t afraid to be outspoken inside or outside the classroom. He was never shy about taking up the fight to university management’s agenda of corporatisation and he was a refreshingly argumentative politics lecturer, equally unafraid to ruffle the feathers and challenge the preconceived notions of his students.
Anthony was profoundly shaped by the struggles of the late 1960s and early 1970s. As a high schooler, he had thrown himself into the struggle against the war in Vietnam. This early rebelliousness stuck for life. Later, as a student at Macquarie University, Anthony was one of the activists who campaigned to defend Gay Liberation activist Jeremy Fisher after he was thrown out of his university accommodation for his sexuality and his politics. That campaign succeeded by appealing to the Builders Labourers Federation to strike against the injustice. That connection between the class struggle and broader questions of political and social justice was something Anthony never forgot.
As an academic, Anthony was always keen to preserve the lessons of past struggles. In particular, his writing on the Berkeley Free Speech Movement of the 1960s was a defence of the radical left’s support for free speech. As a labour historian, Anthony took care to record working-class radicalism in Australia that might otherwise be forgotten, including the longest teachers strike in Australian history at Warilla in 1976.
Anthony was always the first person a student activist thought of when setting up a campaign group—whether it was for marriage equality, against the university’s connections to military research or against the right-wing Ramsay Centre’s push to introduce a Bachelor of Western Civilisation. He helped to elbow out a space for radical discussion and organising against the hostile terrain of the corporate university.
I had the pleasure of speaking alongside Rowan Cahill and Wendy Bacon among others at a symposium, which Anthony organised to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1968 rebellion. I always got the sense talking to him that his interest in those years of struggle wasn’t just nostalgia; rather, he looked to them as a guide to the struggles of the future. He was pleased as punch, for example, that I was late to the symposium because I was rushing back from what would be the first of many mass student climate strikes.
Anthony will be sorely missed by his friends, colleagues and comrades at the University of Wollongong and in the local union movement. Vale, Anthony Ashbolt.