Key role in ending whites-only policy





1-8-1930 7-4-2012


TONY Harold, who as Victorian chairman of the Immigration Reform Group in the 1950s and '60s was a leader in the process that consigned the White Australia policy to history, has died of a heart attack in Cabrini Hospital, Malvern. He was 81.

A lawyer, satirist, and passionate campaigner for humane causes, Harold helped to change the human face of the country.

He and his fellow reformers began their campaign in an era when White Australia had been a bipartisan article of faith since before Federation. Former Labor immigration minister Arthur Calwell, certainly not a racist, could quip in defence of the White Australia policy that "two Wongs don't make a white", relying on the populist "common sense" view that any influx of non-whites would jeopardise racial harmony.

The lay journal Catholic Worker, to which Harold contributed a biting monthly column, devoted its issue of March 1960 to the cause of immigration reform, and tentatively suggested that 50,000 Asians a year, in an average total intake of 100,000, should be a long-term objective.

The Immigration Reform Group launched a national campaign featuring a cartoon by the late WEG (William Green) showing a multi-wired visitor from Mars, confronting in a puzzled way two earthlings, one white and one black, and asking them to please explain what was the difference between them. Harold loved the cartoon and the Catholic Worker featured it.

The White Australia policy was formally abolished in 1967 by Harold Holt's Coalition government, with Labor support.

Harold, along with his two brothers and sister, were orphans. Relatives undertook their care and education after their mother, and then their father, died. He was a boarder at Assumption College, Kilmore, and went on to Melbourne University to study law. There he developed his literary skills and taste for controversy as editor, with Geoffrey Blainey, of the student newspaper Farrago.

Separating his personal politics from his professional legal work, on graduation he joined Rylah and Rylah, the family legal firm of Sir Arthur Rylah, who became deputy premier of Victoria in the Bolte government.

In time, he became the senior partner in Rylah and Rylah, which in later years merged with Mahonys, where he worked until retirement. He made his early reputation in the law by acting for the Engineers Association of Australia in a case that became a benchmark in arbitration proceedings. He was also noted for his instruction skills acting for State Motor Insurance and for the Association of Co-operative Housing Societies.

To needy clients, particularly refugees and other migrants, he gave his services pro bono.

Harold's gifts as a satirist were on display in the Catholic Worker, an independent laymen's journal which, among other controversies, opposed the secret church-sponsored Movement, led by B. A. Santamaria in the 1950s and '60s. The paper featured Harold's column, Current Comment, under the byline Marum, a family name. His targets were clericalism, whether authoritarian or naive, illiberalism and racism, and in the years following the 1968 papal ban on artificial contraception, his satirical eye focused repeatedly on sexual issues.

Reporting in 1973 that the Melbourne archdiocese's recently formed Marriage Education Council, all male, comprised a bishop, five priests, three doctors, a lawyer, a psychologist and another unnamed member, Marum noted that as the psychologist was known to be unmarried, the council would have a clear celibate majority.

He commented: "We understand that the archbishop is thinking of adding a couple of nuns to make the body more representative."

On another occasion, the same bachelor psychologist declared that, although he was not a biological father, he was godfather eight times. To which Marum commented: "If his spiritual fecundity becomes a problem, it is to be hoped that he relies on self-restraint and does not resort to any artificial means of controlling it."

Underlying Harold's idealism, compassion and moral steadfastness was his irrational passion for the St Kilda Football Club. Soon after we met in 1959, a few years after I had arrived from Sydney, he counselled me: "Now that you have settled in Melbourne, let me advise you: don't form your friendships here on the basis of living in the same suburb, or working at the same place, or having the same religion or the same politics. These things are all ephemeral. Form your friendships on the basis of having the same football team and you'll have friendships for a lifetime." It was a pure Melbourne thought.

He was so right. I've been a St Kilda FC member for almost 40 years and watched a match with him at his home only two weeks before he died.

Harold is survived by his son Richard, daughters Kate, Andrea and Antonia, nine grandchildren, one great-grandchild, his brother, Brian, and sister, Marie.

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