FIGHTING PREJUDICE: RUTH BARNETT’S STORY

I thought Ruth Bernett’ story is a very interesting story, and this is why I copy here the whole article. Ruth was born in 1935 and was originally recognised as a German citizen, like her parents, but the Nuremburg Laws came along eight months later to change that. Ruth’s father, Robert Michaelis, was born Jewish, which meant that his baby daughter had no official nationality. When you go to my other post from today, yo find out that there is a docmentary about the Michaelis family available. This is the link to the documentary:

https://www.zdf.de/dokumentation/dokumentation-sonstige/landgericht-106.html

“Die Geschichte des Berliner Richters Kornitzer und seiner Familie, die das Fernsehspiel “Landgericht” erzählt, beruht auf wahren Erlebnissen: Es ist die Geschichte der Familie Michaelis.”

Beitragslänge:35 min Datum:30.01.2017 Sprachoptionen: UT
Verfügbarkeit:
Video verfügbar bis 30.01.2022

 

Fighting Prejudice: Ruth Barnett’s Story

Ruth BarnettIN June 1989, 1000 men and women crammed into a sports hall in Harrow. They had one thing in common: they had all been rescued by the British government when war broke out in 1939. Ten thousand Jewish children were sent on trains over to England from Germany and Austria in what was referred to as the “Kindertransport”. One of these children, Ruth Barnett (neé Michaelis), was four years old when she travelled with her older brother to England.

In 1989, a friend told Ruth about a 50th anniversary reunion of all the adults who had been part of the “Kinderstransport” scheme.

“Up until then, I knew nothing about the Kindertransport”, says Ruth, “I thought that only my brother and I had come from Germany.”

Without realising it, Ruth had avoided anything to do with her past; whenever people mentioned anything to do with the war, or her husband watched a war film, she would find some excuse to leave.

“You’re not a whole person if you cut off your roots.” she says.

Ruth was born in 1935 and was originally recognised as a German citizen, like her parents, but the Nuremburg Laws came along eight months later to change that. Ruth’s father, Robert Michaelis, was born Jewish, which meant that his baby daughter had no official nationality.

During her four years in Berlin, Ruth’s parents tried to protect her and to give her as normal a childhood as possible. The few flashes of memory that she still has of those years growing up in Germany are mostly happy, interspersed with strange moments which, in retrospect, Ruth knows were caused by the fear surrounding the Nazis. Her father once hid in a broom cupboard because the Gestapo were after him; Ruth’s aunt, ‘Tante Ella’, tried to tell her niece that her father was shaking with laughter (rather than fear) because it was all a joke, but Ruth was old enough to know this wasn’t true.

When Hitler came to power, many Jewish families had already left to escape to other countries, but many more stayed, including Ruth’s parents. They thought that the situation in Germany would calm down.

On November 9th, 1938, ‘Kristallnacht’ or ‘Night of the Broken Glass’ brought the Nazis’ actions to the attention of the rest of the world. It was after this blatant display of violence and hatred towards the Jews that the English government organised for children from Germany and Austria to be sent over (without their parents) to England.

“Parents had to make heart-rending decisions in sending their children to safety. Many rightly feared that they might never see their children again.” said Ruth in her autobiography Person of No Nationality.

Ruth Barnett

At four years old, Ruth didn’t understand what was happening or where their mother had gone when she left them at a foster home in England. Ruth describes sitting around a table with Martin, their mother and Reverend Stead and his wife, eating tea.

“It was just like another outing for me. After tea, my mother put us to bed and tucked us up with a story,” said Ruth in her book, “It all seemed like an adventure. That is, until I discovered in the morning that my mother was no longer there.”

Whenever Ruth asked her new foster family questions about her mother, or cried because she missed her parents, she was met with anger. So she eventually decided she must be inherently bad, to be sent away to England. When her mother didn’t return to bring them home, she started telling people that her mother was dead.

This conviction that she was a bad child, deserving of punishment, followed Ruth around for many years. Her first foster home, Merston Rectory, only served to reinforce this, as her memories of living there are described in Person of No Nationality as “a nightmare of confusion, fear and pain.”

Reverend Stead treated the children with kindness, but he didn’t spend much time with them; the majority of the care was given over to his wife, Mrs Stead, and her companion, Miss Wright. They made a habit of refusing to give Ruth food at the dinner table until she could ask for it using ‘proper’ English, which meant that she often went without. Miss Wright also enforced specific times for going to the toilet, causing Ruth to wet the bed later on.

A bright spot in the horizon for Ruth and Martin came in the form of their boarding school, ‘The Friends School’, run by Quakers. So when they were told, at the end of the school year, that they were not to return to Merston Rectory because Reverend Stead was ill, they were delighted.

Ruth Barnett

From the peace of The Friends School, Ruth and her brother were thrust into a world of complete chaos. They were sent to a hostel in Richmond, full of other children, which was relatively unsupervised. The chapter in Ruth’s book, Person of No Nationality, which talks about her next foster home (the Goodrickes) is titled: “A Real Family at Last”. After being wrenched away from everything that was familiar at such a young age, Ruth and Martin had not experienced any kind of security for a while. Living with the Goodrickes changed this.

Ruth felt so at home as part of the family that she started calling Mrs Goodricke “Mummy”. But she was told, gently, that Mrs Goodricke was not her mother, so not to call her that. Coupled with other events, this caused Ruth to withdraw into herself.

“I really didn’t know who I was.” said Ruth in her book, “The way depression was treated at that time was to tell the sufferer to ‘snap out of it’. When you are depressed, that is just what you can’t do – even if you want to.”

Ruth wasn’t the only one to suffer with the effects of the war. Her brother Martin, always such a source of strength to his sister, struggled to fit in with the Goodricke family and they agreed it would be best for him to move away and live with another family. They went to live with the Halting family on their farm in the South Downs. Ruth fell in love with the farming lifestyle and the beauty of the South Downs.

Four years after first moving there, Ruth’s mother contacted her and later visited her, with a desire to bring her ‘home’ to Germany.

Ruth Barnett“[For] ten years we were brainwashed with British propaganda against Germany in the war.” says Ruth, “As a small child, I believed it all. Most 14 year olds in England today are much more capable of thinking and questioning. I was very sheltered, so that the experience of being made to go to Germany was terribly shocking. That shattered my trust.

“It was the Kindertransport in reverse. Suddenly, a second time, my whole world had gone and I was in a frightening world gone mad.”

Ruth’s parents wanted her to slot straight in to her new life in Germany, but for her, it was overwhelming. After years of trying to adjust to every change in her life, struggling to fit into her foster families and find a sense of home, while thinking the whole time that her mother was dead, Ruth decided to give up. No longer would she be the obedient, docile child that everyone wanted her to be. She went for long walks and stayed in bed for hours, avoiding spending time with her mother during the day. On one occasion, she ran away from her parents’ house for 24 hours and ended up sleeping in a barn.

After this, Ruth’s parents resigned themselves to the idea that their daughter was not settling in, and they made an agreement with her. She would be able to go back to England, as long as she visited them during her school holidays.

“If I hadn’t [rebelled], I don’t know what my story would have been.” she says, “I might well be a mentally ill depressive, as I doubt I would have ever worked through my trauma.”

After university, Ruth was persuaded by her fiancée, Bernard to try and restore her relationship with her parents.

Ruth BarnettI thought I’d go to Germany and try to really get to know my parents.” she says, “I honestly wanted to give it a chance, because I knew that I hadn’t been able to when I was repatriated at 14. But it didn’t work.”

In 1958, Ruth and Bernard were married in a Jewish ceremony and Bernard received a grant, which allowed Ruth some freedom. She was employed in a small grammar school, where she was in charge of biology for the whole school. For the next 17 years, Ruth continued teaching, but knew that it was time to leave when the racial tension in a particular school in Acton grew too strong for the staff to deal with.

She re-trained as a psychotherapist, something that allowed her to look into some of her childhood behaviour and gain greater understanding. Three years after leaving Greenford High School, Ruth had built up her own private psychotherapy practice. It was during that third year of working as a psychotherapist that Ruth attended the reunion of the Kindertransport children.

“Now, there are plenty of good therapists, so I have retired.” says Ruth, “In order to talk, mainly in schools, but to any group that invites me. I’m very pleased to go and raise awareness of stereotypes that lead to racism.”

Ruth’s particular passion is for Roma-Traveller Gypsies, a people group that she looks upon as one of the most badly treated in Europe. She has written a second book, called Jews and Gypsies: Myths and Realities, which is self-published (“[my publisher] didn’t trust me that I would sell enough in schools” she smiles.)

“We have to learn and commemorate what’s happened in the past in order to be able to build a future.”

In Jews and Gypsies, it talks about Ruth’s conviction that she cannot stand up against anti-Semitism unless she also speaks up for other people groups who are being maligned.

“Real, convinced, Nazis were a small crowd.” she says, “The majority were bystanders and a small number who disagreed, were prepared to be active resistors and rescuers. That’s what I’m trying to challenge – people to take action and to think, before it’s too late.

Ruth Barnett

Ruth works with the Holocaust Educational Trust and goes into schools to talk about her experience, but she emphasizes how long it took her to get to that point. For her it was 50 years before she was even able to look into her past, let alone speak to others about it.

“Self-confidence and trust have to be restored before you can speak in public.”

Ruth describes her husband’s “endless patience and encouragement” as the only reason she managed to gain enough confidence to speak about her experiences.

“I completely lost my trust in human people. That is what surviving genocide does to people. I have listened to [a survivor of the] Rwandan genocide, who was persuaded to speak before I would consider she was nearly ready, and it’s re-traumatising if you’re not ready.”

“I would never put pressure on anybody to face their past, if it’s a traumatic past. You can’t see trauma, like if a person has a rash or a broken arm or a broken leg.”

This is why Ruth knows she must continue to speak out against injustice. “Education to counter racism must go on. I think this is important. There are not that many people who speak out.”

 

Ruth Barnett has published several books, including her autobiography Person of No NationalityJews and Gypsies: Myths and Realities and her newest book is called “Love, Hate and Indifference: the slide into Genocide” and will be available through the National Holocaust Centre.
Published 24th April 2015 with tags: stories of hope testimony
Here is another interesting link: Ruth Barnett, born Michaelis in Berlin 1935
Chiffre 215104
What Ruth Barnett tells about her life starts like this:
“The most personal and moving part of my week in Berlin was an event in honour of my father in the court in which he was a judge for five years until the Nazis chased him out, literally at the point of a gun, in 1933. I knew very little about my parents’ pre-war life until this event, as I came to England on the Kindertransport at age four with my sevenyear- old brother in 1939, while my father escaped to Shanghai and my non-Jewish mother stayed in Germany through the war. . . .”

Ursula Knechel’s ‘Landgericht’, review by David Vickrey

http://www.dialoginternational.com/dialog_international/2018/01/review-ursula-krechels-landgericht.html

Landgericht

This is what David Vickrey writes:

“I’ve always been interested in Exilliteratur – books by or about writers and artists forced to flee Germany during the Nazi era.  Much, of course, has been written about the exile community in Southern California – including Michael Lentz’s terrific Pazific Exil (2007). Anna Seghers wrote about her exile in Mexico in Ausflug der toten Mädchen, and many of Hilde Domin’s poems deal with her exile years in the Dominican Republic.  But very little has been written about the German exile experience in Cuba – which is one reason I was keen on reading Ursula Krechel’s Landgericht (literally “District Court”), which won the German Book Prize in 2012.  The central figure in the novel, the Jewish barrister Richard Kornitzer, is forced to flee the Nazis and finds sanctuary in Havana for ten years.

But Landgericht is also about homecoming – returning to the “scene of the crime”, to the country that cast Kornitzer out and wrecked his family forever.

Life was good for Kornitzer and his wife Claire in the Weimar Republic.  He was a talented young lawyer and judge with a brilliant career ahead of him, while Claire was a successful businesswoman, with her own advertising agency that created and placed ads in the booming German cinema.  Together they lived in a chic apartment in central Berlin and had two children.  But things quickly went downhill once the Nazi’s came to power: Kornitzer was forced out of his job and could no longer practice law, Claire, although of Aryan background, had her business stolen from her because of her marriage to a Jew (which she refused to renounce).  Soon it was clear that Richard and the children (Halbjuden) were in mortal danger.  The children were sent to England via the Kindertransport  while Richard was able to secure safe passage to Cuba – without his wife Claire.

Ursula Krechel takes the reader back and forth in time.  The book opens with Kornitzer’s return to a ruined Germany after 10 years in exile, hoping to resume his career where it had been suspended by the Nazis.  He is given a post in the provincial civil court in Mainz – a city that had been 95% destroyed by the allied firebombing.  And the descriptions of the deprivations of those early postwar years are well done.  Kornitzer quickly learns that the Third Reich never really ended: his colleagues on the bench in Mainz are all either former members of the NSDAP or Mitläufer.  Kornitzer is treated as an outsider – both as a Jew and because of his special status an Opfer des Faschismus.  And he is not alone as an outsider in new “democratic” West Germany.  Krechel often brings real historical events and figures into the novel.  Such as Philipp Auerbach, a Jew and former chemist who survived Auschwitz and who after the war worked tirelessly for restitution to the victims of Nazi crimes.  Kornitzer watches with great interest as Auerbach is persecuted by former Nazis in Bavaria.  Eventually he is unjustly convicted and imprisoned by a court comprised of ex-Nazis, and commits suicide.  Kornitzer cynically sees what is necessary to succeed as a Jew in postwar Germany:

“Am besten war es, man verhielt sich mucksmäuschenstill. man tut seine Arbeit, man fiel nicht auf, gab sich nicht als ehemaliges Mitglied einer Spruchkammer, als Jude, als Trauernder um Philipp Auerbach zu erkennen, gab keinen Anlass, antisemitische Äusserungen, Taktlosigkeiten, Nadelstiche auf sich zu ziehen. Am besten, man war wortkarg, sah nicht nach links und nicht nach rechts und tat seine Arbeit.  Am besten, man war tot.”

I very much enjoyed the middle part of Landgericht, which deals with Kornitzer’s exile in Havana. Life for the German/Austrian exiles in Cuba was hardly a tropical vacation.  Many ended up in a jungle detention camp where conditions were deplorable.  Kornitzer is able to find work as a secretary for a corrupt attorney and fares somewhat better than his compatriots.  Ursula Krechel obviously conducted quite a bit of research on Cuba in the 1940s and its treatment of European refugees.  Eventually Kornitzer meets and falls in love with a young school teacher.  The affair produces a daughter – Amanda – who Kornitzer never has a chance to see before the war ends he returns to Germany.

Kornitzer becomes frustrated and embittered by his inability to get ahead in the “new” postwar order.  His children are now more English than German and are estranged from their parents.  Claire’s health was ruined after her business was confiscated and she was forced to work in a dairy during the war.  Kornitzer pursues every legal and bureaucratic channel to recover the life that was stolen from him  – the back and forth with the various courts and agencies becomes somewhat tiresome to the reader.  But Ursula Krechel makes one brilliant move towards the end of the novel: Kornitzer is bitter that he was passed over for a promotion and in a public court hearing reads out Article 3 of the German constitution (Grundgesetz):

Niemand darf wegen seines Geschlechtes, seiner Abstammung, seiner Rasse, seiner Sprache, seiner Heimat und Herkunft, seines Glaubens, seiner religiösen oder politischen Anschauungen benachteiligt oder bevorzugt werden.

(No person shall be favoured or disfavoured because of sex, parentage, race, language, homeland and origin, faith, or religious or political opinions.)

That simple act of reading out loud a passage from the constitution is viewed as scandalous, and Kornitzer is forced into early retirement.  He spends his retirement relentlessly seeking restitution and – despite an appearance by Amanda – dies embittered man.

This novel would have benefited from a good editor – it is about 150 pages too long.  Nevertheless, Landgericht  is an important novel and deserves an English translation.  Landgericht was a recently made into a two-part film for television, which hopefully will be available to American audiences at some point.”

https://auntielive.wordpress.com/2018/09/16/ursula-knechels-landgericht/comment-page-1/#comment-306

2 thoughts on “Ursula Knechel’s ‘Landgericht’, review by David Vickrey”

  1. Thanks for the review of this very interesting story. I was quite interested in the book after watching the two-part (3-hour) video entitled ‘Redemption Road’ via streaming on MHZ Networks in German with English subtitles.

    Like

    1. Hi Bill, I thank you for mentioning this video. I found it here:

      https://mhzchoiceblog.com/first-look-redemption-road/

      Now Streaming

      It says: “Redemption Road, a two-episode limited series based on the novel Landgericht by Ursula Krechel (which was translated into English as State Justice, so as not to be confused with Redemption Road, a 2016 thriller novel by John Hart, nor with Redemption Road, a 2010 limited release feature film …The two episodes are beautifully directed by Matthias Glasner (Blochin), and star German fave Ronald Zehrfeld (The Weissensee Saga, In the Face of Crime) and the fantastic Johanna Wokalek as a married German couple, Richard and Claire, dealing with the trauma and subsequent fallout of Nazi persecution. He’s Jewish, she’s not, and – good news! – neither of them die in the war! Neither do their children! No one ends up in a concentration camp! Sounds great, except… well, agony is relative, but it’s still agony.”

      In the review something interesting is mentioned about the German constitution!

      Article 3 of the German constitution (Grundgesetz) says:

      “No person shall be favoured or disfavoured because of sex, parentage, race, language, homeland and origin, faith, or religious or political opinions.”

      Vickrey says: “The central figure in the novel, the Jewish barrister Richard Kornitzer, is forced to flee the Nazis and finds sanctuary in Havana for ten years. . . .”

      After his return during the postwar years “Kornitzer is treated as an outsider – both as a Jew and because of his special status an Opfer des Faschismus. And he is not alone as an outsider in new “democratic” West Germany . . .”

      “That simple act of reading out loud a passage from the constitution is viewed as scandalous, and Kornitzer is forced into early retirement. . .”

      Yes, so much about how people may be treated in the new “democratic” West Germany!

      This is what it says further on about the movie:

      Redemption Road presents something of a unique perspective of the life of German Jews in WWII. By now, we’ve absorbed accounts of the Holocaust, historical and fictional, delving into Nazi atrocities of imprisonment, starvation, unfathomable physical abuse, and murder in the camps. Less often told are the stories of the people who, through foresight or luck, managed to get out, to escape their homeland as their citizenship was revoked, and their livelihoods taken away. Richard, a district judge who has devoted his life to the rule of law, sees the writing on the wall and, just in time, sends his little children to England as part of the kindertransport.

      With subtle horror, the show captures the utter nightmare and surreality of what it must be like for a parent to see their children taken from them, not knowing what will happen to them, not knowing if they’ll ever be together again. How could anyone survive the distress? For a person such as Richard, devoted to logic and order, the lost decade and mental toll in the face of the injustice of it all, is severe. His family stays alive, but at what cost? If you were obsessed with A French Villagehere’s a look at the war’s aftermath from another angle.

      The road back
      Having outlasted the war, Richard makes a return to Germany that was just as painful as his exit, and is reunited with Claire. Will putting the pieces back together prove futile? Is there any hope that justice will be served for the millions of fortunes destroyed, families torn apart and innocent lives lost in the name of war? Is there any point in seeking acknowledgment of the decimation done to so many? What does it take to make a life worth living after you have merely survived evil inflicted on you by your own country? These are but a few of the questions asked by Redemption Road as its characters go on with their lives, separately and together, seeking answers.”

       

Donald Trump’s administration is after Julian Assange and it serves as a warning to us all

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-07-29/trump-administration-after-assange-and-it-serves-as-a-warning/11350854

“WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is being aggressively pursued by the Trump administration, despite Donald Trump’s enthusiastic embrace during the 2016 election campaign.

Mr Trump famously declared “I love WikiLeaks” during the campaign as WikiLeaks began rolling out a series of leaks damaging to Hillary Clinton.

Mr Assange — an Australian citizen — is now charged with 17 counts of espionage and one count of hacking and faces a possible 175 years in jail if he is eventually extradited to the United States and found guilty.

The Obama administration also looked at the possibility of charging Mr Assange with espionage but eventually decided that a prosecution under the espionage act would be too problematic.

They concluded that if the US courts could charge WikiLeaks with publishing the classified information, they could also charge The New York Times.

The Trump administration obviously doesn’t feel The New York Times problem is so acute.  .  .  . ”

 

Aged Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant

We have all the information about nuclear plants. What I know about them, especially those that are not well maintained, really scares the shits out of me. Well, there are obviously other people that are as scared and concerned as I am. To what avail? Why isn’t the shutting down of these dangerous plants a priority?

http://solartopia.org/

Hollywood Stars, Grassroots Activists, State Senator, Mayor & Major Organizations Ask Gov. Newsom to Fully Inspect Aged Diablo Canyon Nuclear Unit One Before it Re-Fuels

 

High Speed Rail?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sydney%E2%80%93Melbourne_rail_corridor

The following I found in Wikipedia. So, to this day ‘High Speed Rail’ does not exist yet in Australia!

High-speed rail[edit]

Based on the definition of a minimum top speed of 200 km/h in passenger service, High-speed rail in Australia does not yet exist, but there are proposals for high-speed rail (HSR) infrastructure in Australia (also known as very fast train projects) – several proposals have been investigated since the early 1980s.[7]

Various combinations of the route between MelbourneCanberraGoulburnSydneyNewcastleCoffs HarbourGold Coastand Brisbane have been the subject of detailed investigation by prospective operators, government departments and advocacy groups.

Phase 1 of the A$20m HSR study was released on 4 August 2011.[8] It proposed a corridor similar to the 2001 study, with prospective stations located in Melbourne, Tullamarine, Albury, Canberra, Goulburn, Sydney, Newcastle, the Mid—North Coast, Gold Coast and Brisbane. The cost for this route was estimated at A$61 billion, but the adoption of more difficult alignments or cost blowouts could raise the cost to over A$100 billion.[8] The report urged the authorities to acquire land on the corridor now to avoid further price escalations.[8]

Work on phase 2 of the study started in late 2011 and culminated in the release of the High speed rail study phase 2 report[9]on 11 April 2013. Building on the work of phase 1, it was more comprehensive in objectives and scope, and refined many of the phase 1 estimates, particularly demand and cost estimates.

Other proposals[edit]

Less ambitious proposals have included a minor 9.2-kilometre (5.7 mi) Jindalee Deviation mentioned in a 2006 Ernst and Young Report. Naturally a slow evolution consisting of many short deviations which can provide benefits sooner will not be equivalent to a few large deviations which could provide bigger bypasses and greater benefit. However more ambitious proposals come with greater risk of projects being delayed or cancelled.

Over the years a number of deviations have been proposed for the track between Junee and Sydney, including between Glenlee and Aylmerton (known as the Wentworth Deviation), Werai and Penrose, Goulburn and Yass (Centennial Deviation), Bowning and Frampton including a bypass of Cootamundra (Hoare Deviation), and Frampton and Bethungra (removal of the Bethungra Spiral).[10] The proposals would replace 260 kilometres (160 mi) of winding track with 200 kilometres (120 mi) of straighter, higher-speed track, saving travel time, fuel, brake wear and track maintenance. However the Australian Rail Track Corporation have only documented plans for a handful of minor deviations to be completed by 2014.[11]

Bob Brown: Hawke was our environmental prime minister

Bob Brown with Bob Hawke in February 1983
 Tea for two in one of Hobart’s parks: Bob Brown with Bob Hawke in February 1983, the month Hawke became Australia’s 23rd prime minister. Photograph: Fairfax Media via Getty Images

Bob Hawke was the environmental prime minister of Australia. His legacy includes Landcare and the listing of the Queensland’s Daintree wet tropics, Shark Bay in Western Australia, Uluru-Kata Tjuta in the Northern Territory, the Gondwana rainforests of the New South Wales-Queensland border region and large extensions to both the Northern Territory’s Kakadu and the Tasmanian wilderness world heritage areas.

The latter was in contention in 1989 after the “Whispering Bulldozer”, the Tasmanian Liberal premier Robin Gray, lost office to Labor’s Michael Field and myself, leading the five Greens holding the balance of power. We Greens negotiated the expansion of the Tasmanian wilderness world heritage area by more than 600,000 hectares to include such iconic wilderness as the Walls of Jerusalem, Central Plateau, Denison River Valley. At the end, Field had had enough and called a press conference to announce the outcome. I did not go.

Bob and Hazel Hawke with Karen Alexander and Bob Hawke at the Franklin River protest in Melbourne
Pinterest
 Bob and Hazel Hawke with Karen Alexander and Bob Hawke at the Franklin River protest in Melbourne. Photograph: Ross Scott

Instead, I was on the phone to Hawke’s office arguing that the eastern end of Macquarie Harbour – some 40,000 hectares – should also be included. Hawke agreed so that most magnificent part of the harbour, including Kellys Basin, the mouth of the Gordon River and the convict ruins on Sarah Island, is, these days, a natural delight free of otherwise inevitable industrial fish farming, for hundreds of thousands of people catching cruises out of Strahan.

After taking over leadership of the Labor party before the election in 1983, Hawke committed to saving the Franklin River. The Wilderness Society’s peaceful blockade of Gray’s dam works threatening the river had seen thousands of people come to Strahan and more than 500 go to Risdon jail. In Melbourne, at a rally of 15,000 people, Hazel Hawke famously put on “No Dams” earrings and Bob made an ironclad commitment to stop the dam. On election night, 5 March, he made just one specific commitment: the dam would not go ahead but those affected would be duly compensated. He carried through on both promises.

One US outdoors company recently put the Franklin at the top of the world’s 10 most desirable whitewater rafting adventures. Had Hawke and Labor not won that election the river would now, instead, be a series of dead impoundments.

Hawke’s next masterstroke for the environment was to replace Barry Cohen, his first minister for the environment, with Graham Richardson. Never before or since has such a powerful figure on Australia’s political landscape held this portfolio. There could not be a greater contrast with the present minister, who has been absent from the 2019 election campaign.

The Melbourne rally
Pinterest
 ‘Hear the crowd roar’: the Melbourne rally. Photograph: Ross Scott

Richardson told environmentalists that if he was going to take action he needed to “hear the crowd roar”. So the late 1980s and early 1990s were perhaps the greatest period of public involvement and environmental advance in Australia. This was not without contention. Richardson faced a jeering anti-environmental mob at Ravenshoe in northern Queensland on the way to the Hawke government having the rainforests given world heritage status and protection.

In Tasmania, Richardson, working with Hawke’s office, made repeated visits to back that 1989 extension of the Tasmania wilderness world heritage area against mounting opposition from loggers and miners and the state government. They stopped the polluting Wesley Vale pulp mill project after a huge campaign led by a farmers’ daughter, Christine Milne.

Of course, Hawke did not please us all the time. He backed uranium mining and flirted with Ronald Reagan’s proposal to test MX missiles over the Pacific Ocean. He backed off on a treaty with Australia’s First Nations when the proposal came under fire from the Western Australia Labor premier Brian Burke.

A Hawke masterstroke was to accept the proposal of the Australian Conservation Foundation’s Phillip Toyne and the National Farmers’ Federation’s Rick Farley to set up Landcare. This became a beacon of global interest in government-funded repair of rural lands and rivers. That Landcare and general environment spending has been gutted in recent years highlights the loss of vision in Canberra since the great environmental innovation era Hawke ushered in.

Key to Hawke’s environmental success was his listening ear. He knew the Australian public was keen on protecting nature and he made himself open to direct liaison with environmental leaders. He was a tough negotiator but he and his staff opened an ear to the environment, which has been finally closed altogether by the Morrison government.

Richardson was the first environment minister to alert cabinet to the onrush of climate change. Decades later, at the 25th anniversary of the saving of the Franklin in Hobart in 2008, Hawke lambasted the Coalition’s lack of concern for the heating planet:

And as you look at the arguments and the positions of political parties today you see a complete replication of what we experienced back there in 1983. The conservatives: they never change, they never learn. What was their argument back then? You can’t do this, it will cost jobs. It will cost economic growth. You can’t do it, you mustn’t do it.

Hawke did it and, were he prime minster in 2019, I reckon the very unpopular Adani coalmine proposal would be headed for the bin.

With Paul Keating in the fray, Hawke joined the French government in leading the world – against Bush administration misgivings – to formulating the Madrid protocol which protects Antarctica from mining industrialisation.

Perhaps Thursday night’s Southern Aurora, visible across southern Tasmania, was nature’s accolade for the life of a natural champion.

 Our wide brown land: ‘We’ve hit rock bottom’ – video