Monday, November 1, 2010

For the Feast of All Saints: Remembering John McCulloch

Today is All Saints Day. Here in Australia we've had a bit of a sensation over the recent canonisation of Mary McKillop last month (on 17 October), the first Australian to get into the calendar of saints of the Roman Church and probably of any of the sacramental liturgical Churches. The usual practice is to observe the saint's day on the anniversary of their death. Mary McKillop's feast day is 8 August.

All Saints Day has a long history which you can read here at Wikipedia but the principle behind it is that there are many more saints than simply those who get into the calendar (and while, over the last 40 years, a lot more saints have been added to that calendar, quite a few have sadly also been removed). This is the day to honour them all.

Of course the reality is that we are all saints if we but knew it. I look back on my life and think what an extraordinary, amazing mixture of people I've had the privilege of knowing and loving. All of us are extraordinary in the dreams we dream, the moments of awe and wonder, the acts of kindness, generosity and love. In Christian terms a saint is simply a friend of God and God is friend to all, God offers friendship to all. It is my belief that the whole of creation will be joined together in divine friendship or maybe more correctly the whole of creation is joined together in divine friendship; it's simply a matter of us opening our eyes and recognising it.

Friends. In my previous post I wrote about a friendship ruptured in depression and my hope that one day that rupture will be healed and all will be well. But I began that post referring to another friendship just last week ruptured by death, the death of John McCulloch. John had a long connection to University of Qld including a significant part in UQ's history of Queer or LGBT organising. He was part of the first group, Campus Camp, which was formed back in 1973 beginning a continuing history of organised LGBT and Queer community and activism at University of Qld. It was because of that fact that I sent a message via Facebook to the current members of the Queer Collective. And so for All Saints Day I'm going to post that message here with maybe just a little bit of tweaking here and there to fit the blog format.

To the Members UQ Queer Collective (2010)

I'm writing to let you know about the recent death of someone who is actually quite important to the history UQ's organised queer history and activism and who was a friend of mine. I refer to John McCulloch (1938-2010) who died of pancreatic cancer a week ago (24 October). His funeral was on Thursday (28 October).

I got to know John 14 years ago through the informal queer postgrad and friends lunch group here at UQ which we called Munchkins. Back then John was tutoring at QUT but I found out from him that he was involved in Campus Camp, the first gay (as was the terminology back then) group at UQ and which kicked off in 1973. John told me he was the secretary, he was always a very unassuming person and I think he might have been the first secretary and he held the position in 73 and 74, I believe. Back then Campus Camp was politically and socially active, staging demos, writing a detailed submission to the Commission on Human Relationships set up by the Whitlam govt, and working to build a queer community at UQ and in Brisbane. The old Campus Camp dances held in the Refec were legend; live bands including Railroad Gin with lesbian lead singer, Carol Lloyd.

John finished his BA and worked in the Arts Faculty as a tutor. Back then full time continuing tutoring jobs were quite the norm, unlike today. Even more extraordinary from today's perspective was that John was elected by his colleagues in Arts as sub-dean of the faculty, a position he held for several years.

I'm not going into all the details of John's life. Anna Bligh issued a ministerial statement on Thursday in tribute to John, the text of which I'm pasting below plus the link to Hansard. John was a longtime active member of the ALP and a strong supporter of women's rights and women's representation in Parliament. He has written a book on women in politics, From Suffragists to Legislators, to mark the 100th anniversary of womens suffrage in Qld. Here's a link to the National Library holding for it

For the last few years John was doing PhD here at UQ in EMSAH in Women's Studies with Carol Ferrier. His was writing on a woman who was an activist for women's suffrage in Qld in the 1890s and early last century. I'm happy to say that the thesis was submitted shortly before John's death. Even more importantly he also had the text edited for publication (it even includes an index) so I hope to see it published at some stage in the future.

It had been my hope that John could have made the UQ Queers reunion I organised a year ago but he wasn't able to. It was my hope then to organise something once he'd submitted his PhD but alas that was not to be. I'm sure he would have loved to have been able to meet you all. He was a man who enjoyed people

His funeral went off well. It was at the St Lucia Anglican church; the local vicar there is a woman. While John's background was Anglican, I don't think he was all that religious but I'm sure he would have liked the idea of being sent off by a woman priest. There was a big turnout of people to remember John and support his partner Gary. John and Gary met at UQ many years ago but they didn't start their relationship until much later in the 90s.

The history of marginalised communities is easily lost, only the powerful can ensure their history is preserved. I'd also hoped to interview for the LGBT Oral History project, again after he'd finished the PhD. Alas that too is not to be. But what I can do is make sure you all know about him and how important he was for all of us, for the work he did here at UQ all those years ago. I'll miss his friendship - it was a privilege to have known him


the achievements of Mr John McCulloch are also extraordinary. John was known to many on both sides of the chamber. He was a senior parliamentary research officer, joining the Parliamentary Library in 1984 and remaining there for 10 years. John was an excellent research officer and he wrote several research background publications for general distribution to members and also to a wider audience. His Parliamentary Library background papers stood out, particularly his paper Women members of the Queensland Parliament 1929-1994, published in 1994 by the Parliamentary Library. The library produced an exhibition in association with this publication and at its opening all women members to that date were present, apart from the two who had passed away. I believe the Leader of the House would have been present at the exhibition in 1994. That was the year before I was elected. John’s paper was a very important record of the political history of the House and the chamber to date.

John was born in London in 1938 and moved to Australia with his parents when he was 12 years old. As a young man he worked at Bayards—and some of us will remember Bayards—as a shop assistant and managed to complete his senior through night school. John was a researcher with a
special interest in the advancement of gender equity in politics and as part of his research into women in politics John identified the original petitions in Queensland that called for women to get the vote. It was an important piece of research. John was awarded an Order of Australia Medal in January 2000 for service to youth, especially his 17 years of voluntary work for the Queensland and Australian Youth Hostels Association. In addition to his work on women and politics, John served as convenor of the Homelessness Taskforce 99. He was also a part-time researcher for St Vincent de Paul.

John co-convened with Mary Crawford the International Women in Politics conferences for many years in association with QUT and, as the Speaker outlined yesterday, he was scheduled to give the welcome address at the next conference to be held on 5 November as part of the Queensland parliament’s 150th celebrations. The word ‘progressive’ is bandied about constantly in political circles and its definition is widely argued, but to my mind John McCulloch was a true political progressive. He was a deep thinker, an activist and a doer. I extend my condolences and those of the government to the family of John.

It's worth noting that Anna Bligh's statement paid tribute to both John and a union official, Austin Vaughan, whose funeral was also held that day. In her statement, the Premier acknowledged and named the partner and children and grandchildren of Vaughan, But nowhere did she name let alone acknowledge John's partner, Gary.

Nevertheless today is a day for celebrating all the saints so I ask you to celebrate John McCulloch, thanks to whom life for all of us made a little bit better. His life is a reminder how we all are, how we all can be saints. It is customary in Judaism to say of a dead person, may their memory be for blessing, and so I say for John, may his memory be for blessing.

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