Val Macarow, a lifelong activist for many causes, most notably the Movement Against Uranium Mining (MAUM) and the anti-nuclear movement, died on 9 March at the age of 87.

Val’s Jewish grandparents had escaped from pogroms in Russia, and she grew up in a working class family in Carlton. “The women in Val’s family were courageous and strong, and this certainly would have informed her commitment to equality, human rights and the rights of women”, her daughter Keely said.

Val became an activist during the Vietnam War, when she was active in the Congress for International Co-operation and Disarmament and the Moorabbin Peace Group, in the Melbourne suburb where she lived. This set her on a decades-long path of activism in her local area.

When the women’s liberation movement started in the 1970s, she embraced it wholeheartedly.

She was pivotal, along with others, in setting up and running women’s refuges (then called halfway houses) in Caulfield and Albert Park to support and provide temporary housing for women and children escaping violent men. She stood up to the police and men who came to the house, refusing to let them in and ensuring the safety of the women.

Val’s main contribution was to environmental issues, particularly through MAUM during the 1980s.

She played a pivotal role in the Moorabbin MAUM group, which worked with residents and had a very good relationship with several local workplaces. Under MAUM’s influence, metal workers at Johns and Waygood declared that they would refuse to build anything connected with uranium mines in their factory. 

Workers at the Philip Morris tobacco factory were also supporters of the MAUM group, which returned the favour and supported a picket that lasted over Christmas time one year.

Sandra Bloodworth, who worked closely with Val in those years, said: “This was a great example for me as a new socialist activist of how solidarity builds networks and actions”.

Val influenced local resident Noel Toumbourou, who remembers Val telling him why she spent her time working for causes rather than pursuing money: “She realised that capitalism was a flawed system and we were all harming the environment in our pursuit of wealth”.

Val also engaged in many national activities, events and demonstrations to raise awareness of the dangers of Australian uranium in the nuclear cycle. She helped organise and participated in blockades of the Roxby Downs uranium mine in South Australia, and in Melbourne marches against uranium mining.

In more recent years, Val was active in campaigns against GM food and with other grandmothers protesting against the detention of refugees. She was recognised in the media including in local papers and the Age. 

She influenced many people in her own locality, but also internationally as she forged ties and worked with the German Greens, US activist sister Rosalie Bertell and Chinese and Japanese anti-nuclear activists, among others.

Val Macarow was a tireless worker for the rights of people and the environment and a fighter against injustice. It is out of such grassroots activists that socialist movements are created.