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Betty Oke, champion of the people – A tribute

Written by: Nick on

Betty Oke, champion of the people – A tribute
by Alice M.
(from Vanguard October 2012)

On September 6, Betty Oke, a longtime member of the CPA (M-L) who dedicated her life and work to the interests of ordinary people and building the Communist Party, passed away at the age of 93.

For nearly 80 years Betty worked tirelessly in many workplace and community struggles. She never wavered in her commitment and confidence in the working class, the Communist Party and the power of people’s mass movements for an anti-imperialist revolutionary change.

In some of the more difficult periods in the history of the Communist Party and working class struggles, Betty never abandoned her commitment to the CPA (M-L) and the working class movement. Her contribution to ordinary people and the revolutionary struggle for Australian independence and socialism was enormous. She was a truly inspirational daughter of Australia’s working class.

It was during the 1930s great depression that Betty as a teenager was thrown into the upheavals of revolutionary class struggle. And she never left that struggle. Passionate and riling against exploitation, oppression and the march of fascism, Betty joined the Communist Party in the late 1930s, where she met her late husband Rick. Both became deeply immersed in the many working class political and trade union struggles.

Betty and Rick had many responsibilities in their work in the CPA (M-L) and were among its leading members. They kept deep connections with ordinary people, always involved in and led many grass roots struggles in their communities and workplaces.

Betty was particularly active in local community struggles, her children’s schools, environment issues and community services.

For several years Betty was one of 3 vice-chairpersons in the CPA (M-L). She never imposed her views on the people with whom she was involved in struggles, and always respected other points of view. It was Betty’s study of Marx, Lenin, Engels and Mao and the collective of the CPA (M-L) that guided and enriched her practical work in building a revolutionary movement in Australian conditions. It was the study of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Mao and Ted Hill and the collective analysis by the CPA (M-L) of Australian conditions
and practice that guided and enriched Betty’s work and helped her in difficult situations.

Betty regularly wrote for Vanguard and in the last few years of her life she was frustrated that she was not able to contribute more. Betty was a kind, generous person who respected and genuinely cared for the lives of ordinary people.

She led many struggles and played a pivotal role in winning an important community struggle to save the Mullum Mullum Creek from environmental vandalism by the Myer-Coles monopoly. Betty, nominated by the local community, received the Order of Australia for her immense contribution to protecting the environment and stopping the plunder of big business. She embodied mass work and the mass line in all her work as a communist.

More than 200 people came to pay their respects to Betty at the celebration of her life. Warm tributes were made by her friends from many social, political and environmental struggles, her dancing club and the over 55s retirees.

The following tribute to Betty was given on behalf of her friends and comrades in the CPA (M-L):

“Firstly I’d like to thank Betty’s family for inviting me to pay respects to her enormous contribution to make the world a better place for people and the environment.

“Betty loved life, her family and the ordinary people, and she worked hard to make the world a better place. Betty was immensely proud of her family, her three daughters and their husbands and partners, and all her grandchildren and great-grandchildren. She was a loving
mother and grandmother who cared deeply and wanted the best for her family.

“Betty was courageous, feisty and deeply passionate about social justice, the rights of working people, democratic rights, the environment, equality and a peaceful and decent world. Her lifelong and selfless commitment of nearly 80 years for a world free of suffering,

“For Betty, her convictions were not abstract or academic ideas, but grounded in the real world. She always listened to others and respected different points of view, always striving to learn more. She read widely and always kept herself informed and engaged with what was happening in the local community, Australia and the world.

“Betty had an unshakeable confidence in the wisdom and strength of ordinary working people. She deeply believed that when the people are united, presented with facts and the truth, their judgement and capacity to change the world for a better place is unstoppable.

“It was the suffering, hardship and injustices of the depression of 1930s that grounded Betty in the real world of workers’ struggle. Her experiences during the depression, the rise of fascism in Europe and the devastation of the Second World War led Betty, like tens of thousands of others in Australia, to join the Communist Party, where she met her husband Rick with whom she shared deep and rich involvement in struggles for a better world.

“During the Second World War Betty worked in the munitions factory in Footscray, where she was a very active union delegate, organising and empowering workers to improve their working conditions and instilling in them an understanding of the world and their part in it. With thousands of others during the Second World War, Betty was deeply involved in the struggles against fascism, racism and the devastation of wars. Betty worked tirelessly in the broadly based campaign for democratic rights during the Cold War, and against Australian involvement in the Vietnam War in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

“It was her deep involvement with ordinary people at the grass roots of struggle that gave Betty her deepest satisfaction and an eternally optimistic outlook on the future for working people. Betty knew that’s where real change would come from. She fought to protect the environment, for decent community, social and health services and proper funding of education for all children. She led many community campaigns and was widely respected by many.

“Betty never placed her personal interests above the interests of ordinary people. Her life and work embodied that famous saying “serve the people”.

“It was in these circumstances that Betty met her partner Neil. They were both active in the pensioners’ rights and local community campaigns and struck a close friendship and partnership on that famous protest bus trip to Canberra.

“Betty had an understanding of the many contradictions in life and society and applied this dialectical approach to work out many problems in struggle and campaigns and in her day to day dealings with people. This enabled her to work out the essence, or the main issue, in struggle and unite with many. The cold war of McCarthyism in the 1950s was a shameful period in our history. Progressive people, liberal thinkers, peace activists, trade unionists, progressive church leaders, academics, lawyers, judges and communists were
demonised and vilified by the media and the government.

“Extraordinary lies were spread about many good people, some people lost their jobs, children and families were victimised, ostracised and discriminated against. This period took its toll on many decent people and their families. Betty was not intimidated and did not waver in the slightest in the face of extraordinary difficulties during these attacks on democratic rights. It only strengthened her conviction, making her more determined to fight for people’s democratic rights and to change the world.

“Betty’s life will not be forgotten and is an inspiration to all of us.”


Betty Oke, champion of the people – A tribute
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Betty Oke, champion of the people – A tribute
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