Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Comrade Frank Mulheron

Francis Edward Mulheron, known to all his friends as Frank, was born on the 19th March 1938, the second oldest of six children. He died on the 23rd November 2016.

His father was a railway worker and his mother was a home maker and talented pianist. Frank was very musical so presumably he inherited this talent from his mother.  The family lived at Moree and then later moved to Sydney. 

When Frank left home, he moved to a small family cottage in Moonan Flat, east of Scone and one of the smallest villages in the Upper Hunter Region. Driving to Frank’s Moonan Flat home was a wonderful experience as one passed a mini rain forest, then over a rickety, wooden bridge, with a combined shop that was a General Store, Post Office & Pub. Moonan Flat, in the late twentieth century, comprised only a couple of hundred residents including some race horse owners and other millionaires, of which, Frank was keen to tell you, he was not one.

Indeed, far from being a millionaire, Frank became a security guard for Telstra, which job he held for 23 years, after which he was given a not-so-golden handshake. Frank was broad-shouldered, heavy and tall so his appearance would have been quite intimidating to anyone with an idea of robbing the premises. Frank was actually a pussycat, a true gentle man, but he was quite capable of defending himself for all that.

I first met Frank in the middle 1970s: he was around 37 at the time, and I was around 33. Frank & I soon found we shared an abhorrence of foreign control & ownership of Australian resources and a heartfelt desire to work for an Australia that could stand on its own feet, and would serve the ordinary working people not the mighty American dollar. 

Together we started a bush band, Eureka Rebels, which at its peak had 12 members. The band had all sorts of instruments including a wash board, a lagerphone, a few guitars, a xylophone, a piano accordion and even a Chinese Urhu, a two-stringed predecessor of the violin. Frank was the lead singer. 

Frank had a beautifully modulated, resonant tenor-to-baritone voice, and an excellent sense of rhythm. His dulcet tones held the band together as he boomed out the words of Australian folk songs and songs of struggle from the Builders Labourer’s Songbook. And he simultaneously played the tea-chest bass, which he made from a tea-chest acquired in Haymarket, a piece of string and a piece of pliable wood.

I was a member of the Chinese Youth League and the Australia China Friendship Society, both of which Frank also later joined. We were both interested in China, not only because of its long history, culture and traditions but even more because under the leadership of Mao Zedong, it was starting along the socialist path to build a new society.

The Chinese Youth League was to perform a 1977 anniversary concert at the Conservatorium of Music. Before we knew it, Eureka Rebels and the Chinese Youth League choir joined forces to practise Australian folk songs in English and Chinese Revolutionary songs in Chinese.  Later that year our hard work culminated in a performance before a packed house including Al Grasby, the then Minister for Immigration.

Frank joined several organisations that worked for a more self-reliant and fairer Australia, including the Campaign Against Foreign Military Bases in Australia, Australian Independence Movement (AIM), Aboriginal Deaths in Custody Watch Committee and Citizens for Democracy. The latter promoted the concept of an Australian republic, but unlike Malcolm Turnbull’s outfit, comprised mainly working class folk and students, not the super-wealthy.

The Aboriginal Deaths in Custody Watch Committee worked to end the commonly-occurring deaths of Aboriginal men and women in gaol due to neglect and murder by gaol warders, staff and police officers. This committee was founded by Arthur & Leila Murray, whose son, Eddie, had been murdered in the Balmain Police Station. He often visited Aboriginal prisoners in gaol. The Committee’s work improved conditions for many, both black & white. Until he left Sydney in his later years, Frank continued his work for Aboriginal peoples in Indigenous Social Justice Action, alongside renowned Wiradjuri leader, Ray Jackson, who died in 2015. There is still much unfinished business.

2SER-FM, the Sydney Educational Radio station, had started broadcasting in the early 1970s. In the later seventies, Frank and I, both of whom had been working as unpaid volunteers there, applied for and were awarded two one-hour radio programmes “Australian Independence” and “China Today”.  When Frank did the announcing, I would look after the programming controls and vice versa. 

“China Today” was run on behalf of the Australia China Friendship Society, and in it, Frank and I talked about New China and played Chinese folk music whilst “Australian Independence” played Australian folk and rebel songs and put forward AIM’s goal for genuine Australian sovereignty and freedom from US hegemony. At that time, Frank also wrote the popular AIM song Betty Windsor, which targeted links between British royalty and mining multinationals. Frank’s dedication, thoughtfulness and vocal clarity, helped to make our two radio programmes a success.

Frank wasn’t university educated. Instead he was self-educated through the school of hard knocks. He was well-read and for many years sent many short articles and clippings from the daily papers together with his analytical comments for most issues of Vanguard.

Frank was a very compassionate person, exemplified not only in his political work but also in his family relations. He had a strong sense of justice and injustice. When his nephew, Vince, was accused of patricide, Frank left no stone unturned and spent a lot of money to ensure Vince was not thrown to the dogs but given genuine justice and a fair hearing.

In the last years of his life, Frank was diagnosed with dementia, moved into BaptistCare Mid Richmond Centre at Coraki, and had the support of a wonderful companion, who sold her home and moved to Coraki to be near him.

Frank was a communist and a patriot. He was a valued member of the NSW branch of the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist). 

All who knew Frank were enriched. He was honest, forthright, good humoured and compassionate, a person of value and with values, diligent and determined as a bulldog. He was proud to have kept away from alcohol & smoking.

His was a full life well-lived and dedicated to helping friends & family and the great cause of Australian independence and socialism, with the goal of communism always in his mind.

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