Sixtieth birthday remarks

[Remarks made at a dinner in Melbourne to celebrate my 60th birthday, August 2006]

The card Andrea gave me for my birthday said that now I'm 60 I should make lists and offered one for today — first, check my zipper; two, make a wish; three, blow out candles; four, eat cake; and five, wipe my face. Well, I checked my zipper before I got up and I'll practice the rest later. But I did want to write down what I wanted to say tonight so it comes out right.

First of all, I'd like to thank everyone for coming. It's very much appreciated.

In the diary that he kept in his period of exile, Trotsky remarked that growing old was one of the most unexpected things to happen to someone. I can certainly subscribe to that! For a long time, year after year I have simply been getting slightly older and now — all of a sudden — I’m 60!

I'm not going to inflict my life story on you but at this point two big things stand out for me. One major event happened about 17 years ago in Adelaide when I first met up with Andrea. We've been together ever since and I think it has been a wonderfully close and happy relationship. I've always felt her unstinting love and enthusiasm and warm and generous spirit. I hope I've been able to return something of what she has given to me all this time.

The other thing for me, of course, has been revolutionary politics. I discovered socialism and Marxism at the age of 19 — thanks to my friend Jim [McIlroy], currently in Venezuela — and my life changed forever. And at the end of 1970 — when I was 24 — I joined the precursor of our party. So this December will make it 36 years.

I don't really think I deserve any credit for reaching 60. My active and long-lived parents are probably largely responsible in that regard. But my time in the party has been my decision and I am proud of that.

There have been a few challenging moments — when it was clear that the Soviet Union was finished and then when our long-time leader Jim Percy died in 1992. But I don't regret my political choices or any of my time in the movement — not for a minute. Yes, I wish I was smarter and better able to apply myself and sometimes things get a bit stressful — but fundamentally I consider I've been incredibly fortunate.

The party has provided a rational framework for me and I've given it all I've got. In this sick society I think that working with others to build a better world is the best possible thing one can do. And while we undoubtedly have our problems, I think that in the party we're very lucky — we see people at their best, all striving towards a common, freely chosen goal.

For my part, I hope I can keep going as long as possible, even if as time goes by I have to pace myself a little more carefully. 'Retirement' is not a concept that should have any place in revolutionary politics — nor in a truly rational society, for that matter. One should be able to keep making a contribution to the collective, however modest, right until the end.

At this point I would also like to mention two of my closest collaborators in Melbourne. One is Comrade Sue [Bolton] who had to visit her sister in Brisbane or she would be here tonight. We got properly acquainted in the mid-nineties when I was the branch secretary and she was the hands-on organiser. Over the years I think we have grown to respect each other's abilities and appreciate each other's foibles and peculiarities (not that I'm admitting to any).

It was also around this period or a little earlier that Comrade Margie [Windisch] joined the party. And now, 10 or 12 years later, she is the inspirational leader of the Melbourne DSP and has definitely made her mark on the wider left movement in the city. Her intelligence, charm and drive are one of the most attractive features of life in our branch and help create that precious environment where everyone can give of their very best.

Well, I certainly hope we can meet again like this in 10 years time and that I'm still in forward motion and able to make a contribution. And then again in a further 10 years — although by then, like Fidel, I may be receiving you in a horizontal position!

So, thanks once again for coming. I hope the cake isn't far away!