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  Issue No 14 Official Organ of LaborNet 21 May 1999  

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Review

Origlass Biographer Keeps Red Flag Flying

By Lydia Bell

The self proclaimed 'ultra-democrat', Hall Greenland, has described his relationship with the Balmain legend Nick Origlass as "Freudian".

"He was a patriarchal figure in my life whose approval I sought and whose disapproval I feared", he explains. "I couldn't write the book until after his death as there are critical points in it, and Nick didn't like criticism."

Greenland's book, Red Hot: The Life and Times of Nick Origlass 1908-1996 is shortlisted for the 1999 NSW Premier's Literary Awards.

Origlass was a champion of working-class rights whose political activism spanned 60 years, ending in 1995 with retirement from Leichhardt Council. He was one of Australia's original Trotskyists, best known for leading a

remarkable six-week strike on the Balmain docks in 1945 against the Stalinist leadership of the Ironworker's Union, and for implementing the "open council" policy as Leichhardt's mayor in 1971.

Surprised that the book he has been contemplating for 25 years has been shortlisted for such a prestigious award, Greenland says: "Apparently the reviewers found it less mind-numbingly boring than they expected. It's not for the diehard political historian; in fact Trotsky purists would probably find it superficial. It's written in a racy, colloquial, journalistic style."

Greenland met Origlass in 1965 when Origlass, then 58, had been expelled from the Trotskyists. "I was 21, and quickly became acolyte, campaign organiser, billy-warmer and chief bottle-washer for Nick," he says.

Research for the book was absorbed by osmosis over his years with Origlass. In the final writing of the book, he had access to Origlass's personal files, and the archives of Izzy Wyner, Origlass's long-standing comrade.

"I was part of the family. I knew his wife, I knew his mistress," says Greenland.

Greenland insists the book should not be seen as a history of the Australian Trotskyist movement, but as a pure biography of a fascinating character.

"Nick and Izzy (Wyner) were utopian revolutionaries right to the very end, real romantics...they were consistently principled, uncompromising, uncorruptable and dogged in their pursuit of a goal," he says.

"However, they were rational, critical and pragmatic also. They didn't let what they did day-to-day contradict their romantic vision," he adds.

Greenland has inherited a rich political legacy from his former mentor. At Origlass's funeral Izzy Wyner evoked Maxim Gorky's adage that capitalism reaps "mountains of gold out of seas of human blood", and recalled Origlass's hope for "a society that knows no bounds in human endeavour and achievement". Greenland is adamant that he will follow in Origlass's footsteps. "I already do. I approach local issues in the same way that Nick and Izzy would have," he says.

Still politically active in the Leichhardt municipality, Greenland is planning to run as an independent in the next local council elections. He has also been approached to write a biography of Jim McLelland, the Trotskyist-turned-liberal contemporary of Origlass who died in January.


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*   View entire issue - print all of the articles!

*   Issue 14 contents

In this issue
Features
*  Interview: Madame President
The new President of the NSW Legislative Council Meredith Burgmann has spent most of her life opposing authority. Now she has a chance to exercise it.
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*  Unions: The ACTU Faces the Labour Hire Challenge
The enormous growth in labour hire and contracting out employment is creating a big challenge for unions worldwide.
*
*  History: The Wartime Women’s Employment Board
During World War II policy makers were forced to embraqce a unique wage-fixing method.
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*  Labour Review: What's New from the Information Centre
View the latest issue of Labour Review, Labor Council's fortnightly newsletter for unions.
*
*  Review: Origlass Biographer Keeps Red Flag Flying
The self proclaimed 'ultra-democrat', Hall Greenland, has described his relationship with the Balmain legend Nick Origlass as "Freudian".
*
*  International: Paddy's Payback
But for the Timorese many Australian diggers, like retired wharfie Paddy Kenneally, would have died at the hands of the Japanese during WW2. Now it's time to return the favour...
*
*  Campus: Tales from the Frontline
This week's successful VSU protests seem to have killed off Kemp's ideological agenda. We go live to the protest
*

News
»  Call For IR Crisis Talks as Country Conference Looms
*
»  Workers Sacked for Body Hire
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»  British Union Secures Free Net Access
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»  Cab Charge Wars: SBS Workers Fight for Their Lives
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»  State Wage Case Smooth - Except for Brack
*
»  FOI Loopholes Could Leave Public Servants Exposed
*
»  Drug Summit Misses Tokin’ Gesture
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»  Public Will Lose Again From Rail Sackings
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»  Robin Hood Strikes Again
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»  CPSU shows it cares…
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»  Unions Take Action on Timor, Stolen Generation
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Columns
»  Guest Report
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»  Sport
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»  Trades Hall
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»  Piers Watch
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Letters to the editor
»  Faction Calls Miss Point
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»  Don't Ignore the Class Divide
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»  Timor: Look at the Map!
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»  Songs of the Revolution Feedback
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