We have lost a friend, comrade and fighter for social justice.
Trevor Grant, who died on 5 March after battling mesothelioma, was best known as an accomplished journalist. He wrote for many publications in a career spanning 40 years. A former colleague, the Herald Sun’s John Anderson, described him as “one of Australia’s finest sportswriters of his time”.
And he was more than that; he was one of the finest people you could know.
I first met Trevor in 2012, at 3CR Community Radio on Smith Street. He was undertaking programmers’ training in anticipation of hosting a new show, What’s the $core Sport? Trevor was a sports enthusiast, an avid golfer and a member of the Collingwood Football Club to the end. But he cringed at the profiteering so frequently visible at the highest levels of professional sport. He believed that human values, and the lives of athletes, too often were sacrificed on the altar of success – and, ultimately, the altar of profit.
Trevor’s world view had been shaped by his father, who was a member of the Communist Party. “Accumulation of wealth on one end”, Trevor often said, “is equal to accumulation of misery on the other end”. He grew more radical with age, rather than more conservative. In retirement, most settle down and smell the roses; Trevor joined the socialists and paid dues to the CFMEU.
The Australian government’s treatment of refugees he found particularly detestable. He dedicated himself to the fight for refugee rights, regularly visiting the Broadmeadows detention centre and becoming involved in Melbourne’s Tamil community. He was tireless in the work of drawing greater attention to the plight of Tamil Eelam, and became spokesperson for the Tamil Refugee Council.
In late 2012, Trevor floated the idea of a boycott campaign against the Sri Lankan cricket team. I was sceptical. Two years earlier, I had tried this avenue of public relations. I felt that 20 of us standing outside the MCG as tens of thousands walked right by us to watch the game did not make for particularly effective campaigning.
But Trevor told us about his media and sporting connections; he had networks, he said. It wasn’t long before we were making the front pages of the Age and the Sydney Morning Herald. Support started coming in from various organisations and individuals. Tamils in the diaspora – still reeling from the Rajapaksa regime’s brutalities in 2009 and the international community’s ongoing support for the Sri Lankan government – all of a sudden were full of hope.
Trevor built on this work, highlighting the plight of individual refugees as the Department of Immigration deported hundreds of Tamils back to danger in Sri Lanka. In early 2013, he led the Tamil Freedom Ride to Adelaide. It was a great example of how, despite being few in number, you can still have an effective campaign. His journalist friends had always poked fun at his short stature, but Trevor knew the art of punching above your weight.
He was always involved in the hands-on work, writing press releases, organising protests, making speeches, visiting people here and overseas and founding Refugee Radio, again at 3CR.
In 2013, refugees released into the community were being denied settlement support. We found people in houses around the city sleeping on floors. A dozen refugees in Mill Park were surviving on biscuits because they couldn’t afford a trip to the supermarket. Trevor would drive an old van around town, dropping off furniture. We found a woman, Hanel Akbari, and her husband Luhru, refugees from Iran, sleeping on the floor of a rental property in the south-east. Hanel was seven months pregnant. Trevor bought her a bed, baby items and a pram.
Again he used his media contacts to draw attention to the situation. This led to Tamil Refugee Council being flooded with donations. Trevor and Bill Deller, a well-known trade unionist and activist, along with others, founded a new organisation, Friends of Refugees, to handle the support from the community and help refugees with their welfare needs.
Trevor met a Tamil refugee in Sydney who had a USB stick containing more than 700 photos documenting the genocide being carried out in Tamil Eelam. This led to the book Sri Lanka’s Secrets: How the Rajapaksa Regime gets away with murder. While in hospital, Trevor told me that he “nearly fell off the chair” when researching the work.
Trevor’s contributions to the refugee rights campaign in Australia are too numerous to document. But his activism was not confined to this area. For many years, he took part in the run for Palestine. He contributed to the campaign for West Papuan self-determination. Trevor was heartbroken by the treatment of Aboriginal people, and buoyed by the growth in recent years of Invasion Day protests, led by the Warriors of Aboriginal Resistance. He was passionate about workers’ rights and gave me ideas about how to organise workplaces in my role as an organiser for the Finance Sector Union. “Aran, how many people did you recruit today?”, he frequently asked.
Late last year, Trevor told a friend, “I accept that I am dying so I can go on living”. He never threw in the towel. In his final days, he loved talking to his daughter about politics. Ultimately, he yearned for revolution.
The last time I saw Trevor, he was happy. I bought fruit, picked up his laundry and laid it out. He said he had a month left to live. As I was walking out the door, headed for Geneva to continue the advocacy work of which he was so vital a part, he asked, “When will I see you next?”
“Soon”, I said. But the month he estimated turned out to be days.
Trevor was the most important person in my life, someone who opened my eyes to the root causes of oppression and how to fight them. We had known each other less than three years when he travelled to Chennai, Tamil Nadu, to be best man at my wedding in January 2015.
He loved his children Caroline and Matthew and his grandson Oliver, who is just four months old. They have lost a father and grandfather. I have lost a great friend and comrade.
And the cause for a better world has lost one of its true champions.
[A memorial celebration of Trevor Grant will be held at Melbourne Trades Hall on Saturday 18 March. See event page for details.]