Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Barry Lee on the red underground

Last July Paul Janman and I talked with Radio New Zealand's Justin Gregory about the communists who printed their proscribed newspaper The Peope's Voice on a secret press in a South Auckland cave in 1940. Paul and I discovered the communist underground during our research into the history of Auckland's Great South Road.

Since then Paul and I been contacted by a veteran Auckland speleologist, who reckons that we got most of the facts in our story right, but led Justin Gregory to the wrong cave. There are dozens of grottoes of varying shapes and sizes in South Auckland's lavafields, and the speleologist has promised to read us to the forgotten cave where he thinks the communists had their printery. I'm looking forward to that expedition.

Paul and I have also heard from Barry Lee, a veteran of Auckland's left-wing scene. Like Richard Taylor, Barry was an activist in the Progressive Youth Movement in the early 1970s; later he was a member of the Communist Party of New Zealand, and an editor of The People's Voice. More recently Barry has been researching, and intermittently blogging about, the radical history of his hometown.

Here's the very interesting message that Barry Lee left on this blog:

I was very interested in the Radio NZ item “Communists in caves”. I had not heard of that particular site. However there were a few comments I have, having spent a lot of time talking to people from that era. The illegal paper was produced in at least 3 centres – Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. I think there was a means of sending articles or statements around.

Later in Auckland it was printed by Dick Wolf, a plasterer, who carried a duplicator in a luggage box at the back of his car and went to a room or shed behind a house in Waikowhai where he printed it (others had typed the stencils). This lasted until the occupants of the house must have got cold feet and he arrived one night to find himself locked out. I am not sure where they went after this.

In Wellington it was produced by Arthur Jackson-Thomas, his wife Fi and Fi’s sister (I think here name was Bessie, who later became Sid Scott’s secretary). They had rented a house on farmland up the Hutt Valley from a minister, on the grounds that Bessie was recovering from a breakdown, where they produced the paper and then delivered it to Wellington. Kerry Taylor’s thesis says it was up the Kapiti Coast but Arthur and Fi always talked about being well up the Hutt Valley.

In Christchurch it was produced for a time by Alec Ostler, son of a Judge. He was jailed for about a year after someone took the typewriter, which had a bent key, in for repair.

I am surprised you say there is only one copy existing. I know Bert Roth and Jack Locke (father of Keith) spent a lot of time looking for copies. There may be some in University of Auckland special collections or the Turnbull. Finally, the People’s Voice was produced under that name into the late 1980s, when it became the Workers’ Voice and later Socialist Worker. 

Barry Lee

[Posted by Scott Hamilton]


Anonymous Scott Hamilton said...

Bit of background on the Ostler case here:

Ostler sr was still sitting in judgment at the time: his son's arrest and trial must have been quite a scandals in Christchurch...

11:30 am  
Blogger Richard said...

Barry Lee was at my school, as was his brother Bill Lee who was head of the PYM. Bill Lee organised action at the Railway workshops in the 60s where he was doing an apprenticeship. I saw Barry recently at the memorial for his mother in law Cecil Fowler, and extraordinary woman, very active in politics and charitable actions also. I intend to Blog about her and her funeral etc
It was at her place that I found the book about Chu Teh 'The Great Road' by Agnes Smedley. Smedley was a socialist who was in China but she also wrote at least one novel 'Daughter of Earth' (I have a copy of that) centred on her life in Missouri and later (she was from a poor farmer family)...she wrote a lot of other mainly political and historical work. 'The Great Road' is a classic which absorbed me for hours when I was 21 I think it was...

It is interesting to see this (Barry Lee is writing a history of the PYM and I suppose the radical movements of those times up to relatively more recent times): and the ironical thing was that Barry's political "career" accelerated when he was sacked from the Police Force for distributing, nothing less than - "The People's Voice"!

It took courage to distribute such material as, although it wasn't illegal as such in the 60s, there was a lot of hostility to alternative views of history and the opposition to the Vietnam War, and other imperialist wars, Apartheid and so on. Obviously it was the last thing the Police wanted to see in those days though.

The PYM organised a lot of the radical action that opposed the Vietnam War and worked for 'progressive' issues. It was a diverse group of young people and had a large membership when I was in it in 1969 - 70 and so on.

11:21 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Whether one supports this or that political or "progressive" group or action it is to be seen that such idealists, in many cases, are those who help in fighting various unjust causes. Minto is an example of another who almost literally put his life on the line to oppose the Springbok tour. He was taken out of his own house and beaten up by Rugby supporters and right wingers but kept on fighting and organising for justice. He simply kept on fighting in that sense.

Perhaps naive it might seem in these rather dispirited times: but certainly admirable in many ways.

11:27 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Richard are you aware of the attempts of US-NZ far right activist Trevor Loudon to hunt down ex-members of the PYM including Lee?

Loudon considers them dangerous.

6:15 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Above text was by Trevor Loudon


6:17 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'Barry's political "career" accelerated when he was sacked from the Police Force for distributing, nothing less than - "The People's Voice"


8:17 am  
Blogger Richard said...

Loudon could always buy a teddy bear to cuddle at night, if he's frightened of communists and spiders etc.

My personal plan is World Domination and complete extermination of anyone like Loudon so he better watch out. We are discussing (in code of course) who to "knock off" first. As someone informed me, in camera I may add, that Hitler has been dead since 1945*, we then mooted the idea of assassinating Loudon. The stumbling block (or is that 'startling blocks'?) is that none of us could a) aggree on the ekkxactt spellink of assassinatte, and b) most of our pro Albanian comrades are insane or dead c) we've all forgotten what the question was....

* I was deeply upset by this as he was such a vibrant an dynamic fellow, but I was told he was a bit naughty so, as he was an SPIWH (significant person in world history): I was conflicted, much as I admired the man, an in particular, his moustache, I also felt that we would be duty bound to, as they say, "knock him off"...

2:43 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

The other problem was, that of our membership of (I think there are three of us but my memory is bad), none had the faintest idea who Loudon was. Then I mentioned I'd seen it on Scott Hamilton's deeply dangerous political blog Reading the Maps. We thought of reading who he was etc but we felt that his name, being a bit weird, rather like some kind of Wog name, meant that, yes, he was the man we should target...

2:46 pm  

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