The 2022 Alan Whittaker commemoration

If you get invited to speak at an event that also features Thomas Mayor, the MUA official who is campaigning full-time for the Voice referendum, the author’s advice is – just decline.

A charismatic speaker, tall, imposing and the person you would probably choose if you thought about who you most wanted as our first Indigenous Prime Minister.

Nevertheless, you just have to try to do your best. This was the author’s at the annual Alan Whittaker Memorial event on Princes Pier Port Melbourne on 3 November 2022. The event commemorates the 1928 fatal shooting by police of Alan Whittaker a waterside worker and Gallipoli veteran. He was wounded on the first day he landed at Gallipoli, was repatriated and died from his 1928 wounds on Australia Day 1929.

Thomas Mayor’s speech was filmed and recorded for a documentary about Whittaker and the 1928 strike which will be released next year. In the meantime, this is what the author said at the event.

“I want to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land we are on and the bay we are beside, the Boon Worrong people, and their elders past, present and future.

I know Martin Foley (retiring Albert Park MLA and Cabinet Minister) is going to say something about two members of the MUA who are no longer with us – Perce White (MUA official and former Port Melbourne Mayor) and Bunna Walsh (MUA official and former Albert Park MLA and Cabinet Minister.).

But can I just say that the Whittaker Memorial events were inspired by Perce and this year and future commemorations are a tribute to his political and historical commitments and all the contributions he has made to Port.

And speaking of Martin – what a magnificent local member he has been. He and his staff have always been responsive and their work has been extremely important to so many people and organisations in our community.

His support for Mungo and the Port Phillip Citizens for Reconciliation is just one example of that.

Thank you, Martin for all the help and support you have given the Whittaker Memorial Committee.

Others will talk about the events of 1928 today and I would like to put in context both those events and the campaign Thomas Mayor and other First Nations people have been conducting.

…and I turn to a very unusual source – Archbishop Daniel Mannix. Now many of you will wonder why a confirmed atheist is quoting a priest let alone a supporter of Bob Santamaria, but something he said is apposite to what we are commemorating today.

It is apposite because 1928 was only one part of the long struggle the MUA and its predecessors have been engaged in over many decades.

In 1919 waterside workers were striking and being attacked by employers.

Mannix backed the strikers and said:

‘Would any of the sneering critics undertake to balance the family budget on the strikers’ wages and at the present cost of living?

Would they live in the conditions, in the holds, or in the slums, on sea and land, in which the strikers have been living?

The sooner the people realise that the worker must get, not merely a living wage but a fair share of the wealth he produces the better,

The sooner people realise that men and women and children count for more, and are more sacred, than property, the better it will be for the community.’

In 1938 Mannix also spoke of our First Nations calling for ‘reparation for all the wrongs wittingly or unwittingly or unwillingly that the white settlers had inflicted on them.’  In 1938 few Australians were saying sorry.

In Perce’s memory and Irish identity I should also mention that Mannix was a strong supporter of Irish independence and the Easter Rebellion martyrs.

Finally, speaking of history, the MUA has not only supported Thomas’ magnificent work on the Uluru Statement and the Voice to Parliament but has always been in the forefront of the fight for First Nations rights and against racism throughout the world.

To give just one example – when Menzies couldn’t prevent the great African American baritone Paul Robeson from entering Australia he tried to prevent him from appearing anywhere but in a limited number of concert halls.

But the WWF organised a concert for Robeson on the docks – as did workers at the Sydney Opera construction works – in defiance of Menzies edicts.

So, when we commemorate Whittaker and 1928 we are commemorating much more – a long tradition of struggle and achievement whether for working conditions, the battle against racism, the battle for First Nations rights – Voice, Treaty, Truth Telling and, the comprehensive recognition in the Australian War Memorial of the Frontier Wars and the warriors who died defending their country.”

On the evening of November 3 Thomas Mayor also addressed a packed St Kilda Town Hall meeting on the Voice organised by the Port Phillip Citizens for Reconciliation and will be available on the PPCR’s website in the near future.

The author is the Whittaker Memorial Committee’s honorary secretary.