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March 25 , 2011

Giants Leap


A violent childhood of poverty, Catholic Church hypocrisy and alienating experiences in institutions, low paid jobs and family tragedies catapulted me towards left wing political causes and a quest for social justice, placing me squarely in the middle of the social movements of the sixties and seventies. My experiences, which centered on trade union and Communist Party activism in the industrial city of Newcastle and the Hunter Valley region, are the topic of this memoir. I was born in 1942. As a young boy I recall looking out from the cliff called Giants Leap, overlooking our shack in Sandy Hollow and day-dreaming of escape to another world. Like that mythical giant, I leapt into the world with unfettered enthusiasm and in this book I record my various measures of success. My story-telling ability is partly inherited, as I have a strong dose of Irish in my blood, and partly acquired. In my lifetime I often found it necessary to spin a yarn to get me out of a sticky situation or else to occupy myself through hours of boredom when incarcerated in institutions. At Mt Penang Training School for Boys, we boys would sit around and ‘tell a movie’ as a form of entertainment. I have tried to relate the stories in this book with a humorous tone, highlighting the many ironies and hypocrisies that I see have punctuated my life. I have endeavoured to show the worldly development of a boy who suffers violence and family break-up, a juvenile who joins gangs and steals cars, a self-educated young man who eventually becomes the secretary of a large trade union organisation, who joins the Communist Party, is gaoled for inciting opposition to the Vietnam War, who as a mature adult, travels the world and works at dozens of different manual jobs, finally becoming an environmental educator. This is my intellectual journey; through blind rebellion to the embracing of left wing ideology, to the eventual rejection of rigid dogma and the growing philosophy centred on human compassion and environmental concern. My story is punctuated with twenty two songs and poems I have written along the way as well as sprinklings from my ASIO files which almost play the role of Greek chorus behind the narrative. The accelerating destruction of the Hunter Valley by coal mining giants remains my primary contemporary concern in this first serious foray into prose. While my life’s experiences have been particular, if somewhat unusual, I feel the message of the book is universal. With opportunity and education and a compassionate disposition, the world could be a better place.
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