It is with great sadness that the MUA reports the passing of Kevin Cook (Cookie as he was affectionately known), who passed away peacefully on Saturday morning at the nursing home in Summer Hill where he has lived since the passing of his partner Judy a couple of years ago.
|Kevin Cook at his 70th birthday with former SUA Secretary Pat Geraghty|
Cookie was a proud and much admired member of the Wandandian mob from the South Coast of NSW, and was one of the giants of the Australian and international labour movement and Indigenous movement. His brother Ron, a seafarer is a longstanding member of our union from the WA Branch.
Cookie is probably best known in more recent times as the long time leader of Tranby Aboriginal Cooperative College in Glebe in Sydney, but he had a long history as an Indigenous activist spanning many of the great pioneering struggles of the late 20th century including land rights, legal services and indigenous education and training as the basis of indigenous self determination for which he had a great passion.
Cookie was one of the leaders of the NSW BLF, along with Joe Owens, Jack Mundy and Bobby Pringle, at a time when it was at the cutting edge of innovation in trade union organising and led many of the great social struggles of the 1970sand 80s that have shaped Australian society and the left since that time – the urban environmental movement, trade union democracy and workers control, support for the culture of the working class, the peace movement, the anti-uranium mining movement, woman in non-traditional work and a host of other progressive and radical initiatives.
Cookie had a long association with the MUA and its leaders in the WWF and the SUA, particularly through the Reverend Alf Clint going back to Elliot V Elliot, Pat Geraghty and Jim Healy. A number of MUA leaders have served as Directors on the Tranby College Board, including Taffy Sweetenson, Laurie Steen, Paddy Crumlin and Robert Coombes. Cookie had a close personal relationship with many MUA officials, officers and members, and he loved the MUA, just as we loved him.
Cookies life story and his relationship with all the people, movements and causes he was associated with is contained in the book that Cookie and Heather Goodall wrote called “Making Change Happen”, published in 2013. The book contains interviews with MUA leaders and its production and launch was supported by the union. The book is essentially a manual for organising and networking for which there was no better participant and advocate than Cookie.
|National Secretary Paddy Crumlin at the 'Making Change Happen' book launch in 2013|
Cookie was a compassionate and much respected elder who attracted, encouraged and inspired so many people in his indigenous and trade union work in Australia and in the international movement for self determination and liberation of indigenous people. He will greatly be missed by his family, his clan, his friends and all those whose life he has touched.
We will never forget you Cookie. We will miss you comrade. Rest in peace after a wonderful life of humanity and humility.The world is a better place for your presence.
Cookie’s funeral will take place at 11.00 am on Saturday 1 August at 634 Northcliffe Drive, Kembla Grange, NSW (Hanson and Cole). A memorial function is being organised by Tranby in Sydney in the near future. Details will follow.
MUA Activist Terry O'Shane's Thoughts on Kevin Cook
Kevin Cook passed away on July 25, 2015, on that day we lost a Working Class hero, Cookie, as he was affectionately known, had suffered for many years with emphysema which confined him to bed and eventually took his life. Kevin was a Wandandian Man, born in 1939 and grew up in Wollongong.
It is not possible to speak about Cookie without mention of his Soul Mate and life’s partner, Judy Chester and their Children, they complemented each other in every way, Judy, like Cookie, was a tireless worker around issues of Social Justice. Cookie was a lifelong member and friend of the Unions, his basic tenant was working class from which he never strayed, he lived his life in accordance with this tenancy, he was always accessible to everyone, possibly to a fault from an outsiders view, but at the end of each day he gave clarity to the chaos.
Visiting Cookie in hospital he was just so proud to show off the photos of the Grandchildren and speak about their personalities, their achievements and progress in life, his eyes used to light up in any of these conversations.
| Cookie with long-term MUA activist Terry O'Shane
Being bed ridden didn’t affect his thinking, Cookie was lucid until the end, he was a person who always promoted those around him, he was a master organizer and had his finger on the pulse at the local, regional, national and international level of politics, he was a great one for giving people opportunities to advance, he was the word of caution for those amongst us who may have been a little impatient, he would identify where support should go to achieve the best outcome for the majority and was never burdened down with self promotion.
In passing on the sad news, one response was, ‘Cookie was an institution’ him and Tranby were there for us before there was anything else. Another response from one of the original dance members of NAISDA, ‘I will call that mob in Sydney to attend his funeral on behalf of all of us, our first performance was at Tranby in recognition of all the work and support Cookie and Tranby had given to the dance theater’.
Paddy Crumlin from the Maritime Union of Australia, when notified of Cookie’s passing responded, ‘Oh no! Beautiful man and lifelong Comrade’, Kevin Tory, Cookies forever Comrade, called up to make sure we had received the sad news said, ‘I have to hang up now I am shattered’. And so it was with Dr. Paul Torzillo, Geoff Clark, Jack AhKit, Pat O’Shane, Mike O’Shane and from all of those who knew him and with whom we have spoken, diverse responses, every one endorsing the character of and love for our Comrade, Kevin Cook.
Cookie was a one off, I had the good fortune in life to enjoy his company on many occasions, Joe McGinness, another great man, and great friend of Cookie’s introduced me to Cookie, different generations, different personalities, both in the same mould. From his small office in Tranby, Cookie worked with the organizing committee under the National Coalition of Aboriginal Organisations to organize the 1988 march, the biggest gathering of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander People at any time in Australian history, then marching from Redfern Park to Hyde Park we were met by thousands of supporters at Belmore Park, Trade Unionists, Political Activists, Migrant Groups, Conservationists and all manner of supporters who joined in and finished off in Hyde park, a day we will remember for the rest of our lives.
Cookie organized representation from us to attend 10 years of the United Nations Working Group in Geneva developing the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. He organized our participation at the World Council of Indigenous Peoples while ever it remained relevant. Our inclusion in the ACTU delegation in attendance at the International Labor Organisations two-year revision process of Convention 107. Ensured Indigenous People welcomed Nelson Mandela to Australia, linked ourselves into the Kanaky struggle, developed relationships across the Pacific Rim, welcomed and hosted South African Trade Union Delegations before the barriers of ‘apartheid’ were pulled down.
Sent delegations from the World Council of Churches to visit some of the most impoverished communities in Australia to bring attention to the plight of Aboriginal people in Australia back in the -70s, there is a whole lot more that Cookie done which I am sure will be mentioned by other commentators in the coming days. Tranby was the cross roads for all the political activists traveling to Canberra or Sydney for street marches, demonstrations, overseas delegations or all manner of things during the -70s, -80s and -90s. Visiting Tranby you would never know who you were likely to meet there, Bruce McGinness, Gary Foley, Helen Corbett, Jacki Katona, Chris Kristofferson, Patrick Dodson, John AhKit, Geoff Clarke, David Ross, Josie Crawshaw, Mick Miller, Clarrie Grogan, Michael Mansell, Rob Riley, Bishop Tutu, Joe McGinniss, Warren Mundine, the list just goes on and on, everyone from everywhere would drop into Tranby to see Cookie, this was the meeting place, this was where the struggle was given focus, where the peripheral material was stripped away and the focus was on the nuts and bolts, this was the measure of the man, small in statue a giant in the struggle.
Cookie was a very humble man, it is virtually impossible to know the extent of his influence and networks unless you were working alongside of him at Tranby, most of those who worked with and were involved with Cookie and Judy were beneficiaries of their collective knowledge and experience and charity, as there was always a bed at Cookie’s place if needed.
Friendships that will last a lifetime started with an introduction at Tranby, people like Doolan, Torzillo, Heather, Jody and Janet, it would be impossible to name them here, suffice to say we are, all of us, better persons for having known Cookie, the legacy he left us was, as he done all his life, to make the world a better place than the one we inherited. Vale Kevin Cook.
A memorial service for Cookie will be held at Tranby on August 22. Full details here.