Lazy Luddite Log


The Don

I attended the funeral of Don Chipp on Saturday 2 September at Saint Paul's Cathedral. I had only met him a few times and knew him more by reputation than anything. However I felt compelled to attend. Funerals have a very personal function but they also have a more community-oriented aspect and I am part of a community for which Don Chipp was a monumental figure. Naturally there were many Australian Democrats past and present in attendance and I had a chance to spend some time with friends and colleagues following the service. But the state funeral was much more than just an event for ADs. There was a host of members of the community from all political persuasions and all walks of life. Don Chipp had a significant role in so many aspects of community life and this became evident during the course of the service.

Andrew Denton (who had interviewed Don on 'Enough Rope' and subsequently became his friend) penned and presented a poem at the 80th birthday of Don which is very much in the larakin tradition of Australian poetry. Idun (widow of Don) asked that he recite it once more for the service. It was a fantastic and funny set of verses which encapsulated the spirit of Don as a determined and driven person but also as a fun and loving one. I was reminded of an era in Australian politics that is fast fading. Debate was more heartfelt while now it is dominated by polish and packaging. Expressions of political rivalry were conducted with sparkling wit while now they are characterised by puerile abuse. Politicians engaged the electorate in packed townhall meetings while now they simply feed us sanitised and sterile five-second audio-visual bites. We have slowly been losing something over past decades and with the passing of Don it is that bit further away.

Senator Natasha Stott Despoja spoke movingly on the ability of Don to cut across generation gaps and be a mentor and friend to someone much younger than himself. Her sense of gratitude to him, for having started the party which has been her political home all her adult life, reminded me of my own. Technically the ADs were formed by many activists (including members of then-existing parties like the Australia Party) but it was Don who was instrumental in giving that party a kick-start like none ever seen in Australian political history. Following that he did much to steer the course of his new party to ensure it was much more than just a passing fad. And even in retirement he still monitored the progress of things and helped in times of need. The Chipps were in my branch till they moved recently and even at the last Federal Election I remember allocating Don & Idun to staff a polling place all day long. In history few things are guaranteed and the fact that the ADs ever came into existence owes a lot to the ability and reputation of just one person. My own involvement in the ADs has enriched my life and so I too owe something to this man who drew form and function from the ebb and flow of dumb historical forces.

The event was an historical one and a political one. But it was also a personal one at which I was simply an observer. The cathedral had over a thousand in attendance and many of those would have been family and friends of Don Chipp. The family members who shared anecdotes of the life they had spent together were moving. The presentations they made gave such a sense of the loss felt by a sibling or parent or spouse that at times it was almost too much for me. One of the clergy officiating told those gathered that grief only exists because of love. It was hardly surprising then that someone who had always championed actions motivated by love would be sorely missed by so many.

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