Margaret Holmes - 1909 - 2009
On October 31 2009 there was a Service of Thanksgiving for the life of Margaret Holmes. It took place at a packed St Luke's Anglican Church, Mosman, NSW (where Margaret and her late husband "Tag" had been active members).
I was among the speakers who were asked to say a few words about her. I spoke on her involvement in the peace and social justice movements. I had reviewed her biography on Radio 2GB when she turned a 100 earlier this year and I spoke at an event to mark her 100th birthday at the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), which she had helped establish in Australia half a century before.
I recalled the characteristics that made Margaret such an effective campaigner: she was well read, she was well travelled and she was a good networker. (She was one of the first people I met when I arrived in Australia in 1973 - British peace and social justice campaigners had advised me to contact her because they said she would provide all sorts of good ideas and contacts: they were right!)
An advantage of her living for so long was that she was around to be proved right. It is worth noting how she has been vindicated with the passage of time:
Margaret was an early campaigner against nuclear weapons: President Reagan said in the late 1980s that a nuclear war could never won and should never be fought; Margaret was saying that decades before the president realized it
Margaret opposed apartheid in South Africa: Australia was the last Western country to defend South Africa at the United Nations because it feared that once the UN had finished with South Africa it could then start to look at Australia's own Indigenous Peoples
Margaret campaigned for Australia's Indigenous Peoples, including voluntary work at the pioneering University of Sydney Settlement at Redfern Margaret campaigned for an independent East Timor: she criticized the 1975 Indonesian takeover and was she vindicated a decade ago when the Indonesians were driven out and a new country finally created
Finally (but not the least important) was her opposition to the Vietnam War: this caused her some problems at the time but of course it is now very difficult to find people who still support the US-Australian military operation.
Another speaker was the Revd Clive H Norton, another long-term colleague of Margaret's. He reminded the congregation of the letter that Margaret and Kath Harvey (who was at the service) had sent on May 28 1966 to all the Anglican clergy in the Sydney diocese opposing the Vietnam War. This is now a collector's item! On April 5 1966 the Bishops of Sydney had sent a letter to all the clergy supporting the war - and Margaret and Kath were new daring to reply to the bishops!
Clive also has a copy of the original April 5 1966 circular from the bishops. In a sense, this, too, is a collector's item - but I think for another reason. In their opening paragraph, the bishops remind their clergy "We are bound to recognize that the decisions of the Federal Government are based on knowledge and information to which ordinary citizens have no access".
Well, we now know that Margaret (and Kath Harvey) were better informed than the Australian Government and the Sydney bishops! The government files are open and we can now see the "knowledge and information" on which Cabinet made its decisions. Cabinet was not so smart after all (Margaret would be saying something similar in 2003 after the invasion of Iraq in search of "weapons of mass destruction"). Margaret was better informed in 1966 than the bishops.
The bishops had forgotten the advice of the Psalmist: don't put your faith in princes and chariots!
Change always begins at the margins. It begins among people with persistence, vision and dreams of a better society. The people in the corridors of power are usually among the last to learn. Margaret therefore helped educate several generations of Australian leaders
Margaret was proof that the individual can make a difference.
Posted by: Webeditor at 5:23 PM