Vale the Hon. Tom Uren AC
With the passing of the Hon. Tom Uren (1921-2015), Australia has a lost a remarkable and dedicated political figure. The Museum pays tribute to Mr. Uren and his long, extraordinary life and career.
Born in Balmain, Uren was a boxer, a soldier and a shopkeeper before his political career. In 1940 he contested the Australian heavyweight boxing championship, losing to Billy Britt in the seventh round. He remained a tough and dedicated fighter of another kind for the next 75 years. During the Second World War, Uren was a prisoner of the Japanese, worked on the Burma Railroad, and for a time was in the same camp as Edward ‘Weary’ Dunlop. Uren was in Japan as a POW when the atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki, and remembered the event for the rest of his life. “We didn’t hear any noise, just witnessed that vivid crimson sky,” he later recalled. Uren would become a strong opponent of nuclear arms. When he entered Parliament in 1958, Tom Uren was only 37 yet had already amassed enough experience for a lifetime.
A key member of the Labor Party’s Socialist Left faction, Uren took strong stands against conscription, the Vietnam War and nuclear testing, and was a passionate advocate for environmentalism, human rights, social justice and public infrastructure. As Minister for Urban and Regional Development under Gough Whitlam, it was Tom Uren who opened Australia’s first dedicated bike path, declared the Namadgi National Park, and introduced new sewerage and transportation to the ailing western suburbs of Sydney. He is also remembered in Sydney for his efforts to preserve the local heritage of the city, protecting important sites from demolition. In 1976 he was elected Deputy Leader of the Labor Party, and became a respected party elder.
In 1993 Uren was made an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) in in 2013 a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC), at that time Australia’s highest civilian honour. His death at the age of 93 marks the end of a long, fruitful and passionate life fighting for his beliefs. He was twice jailed in 1971 for making principled stands; he refused to pay a fine for attending a march against the Vietnam War, and protested against the Queensland government’s ban on street marches.
Tom Uren served at Old Parliament House for thirty years, from 1958 until Parliament moved to the new building in 1988. Uren was Father of the House, the longest serving MP, from 1984 to 1990. His spirit will always be part of this building, as a key mover-and-shaker of his time and as one of its most enduring occupants.
If you would like to learn more about Tom Uren’s extraordinary life, the Sydney Morning Herald has published a detailed obituary.