(by Chris W)
I arrived in Sydney the other night and asked after Bob Gould, only to find out that he'd died in May of 2011 and I'd missed the news. He was one of yr archetypical larger than life figures, a leftist activist whose lifelong commitment to liberation never left him stranded in sub-atomica. This was probably because Bob Gould the Trot was also Bob Gould the bookseller, and, as is the way with successful (or failing that, enduring) booksellers, he kept an open mind. The Sydney Morning Herald seemed to want to split up the halves of his life, with one obit focusing on Gould the bookseller, while the other went into more detail about his politics. While the former noticed that:
He was also one of the three people who pursued and restrained the man who tried to kill the Labor leader, Arthur Calwell, after an anti-conscription rally at Mosman Town Hall in 1966.
we have to go to the latter for the following classic:
He was a Socialist Left delegate to the 1971 federal Labor conference in Hobart, where he successfully moved for the abolition of ASIO (a success overturned soon after when delegates realised what they had done).
Such a division is pretty artificial, though: he was the politics guy he was, because he was the books guy he was, and vice versa, I reckon.
Another obit, a personal memory written by a habitué of the bookshop, sums him up nicely:
Bob was like the embodiment of those small victories and big defeats experienced in the social struggles that preceded my generation. Yet unlike many others of his milieu, he neither traded in the politics of defeat and compromise that presently characterises much of the left (e.g. the Australian Labor Party, about which Bob had plenty to say!), nor that flaccid form of cynicism masquerading as critique that is pervasive amongst those who have been so scarred by defeat that they are intent on dousing the fires of those who might pick up the mantle anew.
Green Left - the organ of the Democratic Socialist Party (which occupies a very similar position in the Aussie ultraleft ecology to that held by the SWP in the UK) – was big enough to offer him an obit, though small enough to make sure that right next to noting his opposition to The Line, they repeated The Line itself for slower and/or more impressionable readers. More lack of class on Green Left's part is demonstrated by the implicit instruction here; "He argued tirelessly against the DSP and SA over recent decades … You might have disagree[d] with him (and most likely did)". That kind of small-minded Trot commentary was the polar opposite of Gould's own writing, some of which is now on the Marxists Internet Archive at http://www.marxists.org/archive/gould/index.htm.
There's a lovely piece here where he sticks it to the decents, in this case in the shape of his ex-comrades Keith and Liz Windschuttle. The man's polemics had style and panache on their side: here's a book review dealing with the experience of Chinese in Australia, and how he came to learn about it:
ASIO obviously regarded the affairs of the Australia-China Society as being of enormous importance, because they had this industrious little agent taking massively detailed notes and my ASIO file contains about 50 pages recording every detail of the chop-chop at the interminable meetings of the China Society, in this titanic struggle [over the Sino-Soviet split].
As it happens the side I was on ultimately won, and there it all is in my file. Maybe the informant bloke was paid by the word! Anyway, as a result of all this industry, this protracted year-long war is recorded for posterity. I may even use some of this material as part of a novel.
The Australian Commonwealth, in fact, inflicted on the Chinese who emigrated to Australia between 1900 and 1960 the same sort of atrocity that the British government inflicted on the 168,000 convicts who were deported to Australia before the end of transportation in 1867, of whom only about 28,000 were women.
In both cases the overwhelming majority of these men either died without wives or children, or went back for female companionship and children either to the British Isles or China, in the relevant instance. Thus, probably the most atrocious feature of our own awful convict origins was reproduced by the obsessively race-conscious British-Australian Commonwealth government against our unlucky Chinese migrants 100 years later.
The bookshop's still there, on King Street in Newtown, and Bob Gould's daughter Natalie is still running it, and maintaining the tradition of engaging the punters in interesting conversations. The books are not piled quite so dangerously, but there are still around two hundred thousand more that the building can hold. If you're in the area, check it out. I suspect that about 60% of the B&T reading list (including books that we don't yet know are on it) is in there somewhere, perhaps nestling behind 1950s Penguins in the rear stack of a bookshelf, or three feet above your head, or snug in a box behind the old girlie mags, or maybe lodged in the ceiling-high drifts of books at the edge of the shop which grind slowly towards the light, like Antarctic ice-sheets bearing the icebound traces of heroic explorers.