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Wendy Katherin Lowenstein (June 25, 1927 - October 16, 2006)

Video Tribute to Wendy (part 1) (Part 2) (Richard Lowenstein 11 November 2006)

Tribute by Richard Lowenstein
(26 October 2006 - this article was published the Age and in a shorter version in the Sydney Morning Herald)

wendy lowensteinIn the early seventies, the headmaster of my secondary school, called my father in for a serious meeting. Presenting him with an exercise book filled with pornographic children's rhymes, he asked my father if he was aware of the 'filth' I was filling my head with. Dad blithely replied, "Of course.. My wife is a writer. She has the whole family out collecting these things."

Wendy Lowenstein was an indomitable force, single-minded, opinionated and forthright. Over the years she was called many things by many people; "a force of nature", "a wonderful original", "one hell of a woman", "inspiring", "infuriating", "combative", "militant", "impossible", "quite a lady", "a force to behold", and "like a kid on an adventure" are but a few.

A prominent oral historian and author, Wendy was driven by her belief in the power and importance of the story of the individual and their direct experiences. Always an activist, Wendy kept constant watch over the shifting fortunes of the working class. Passionate about her politics, worker's rights and working class history, she was a fierce campaigner against the capitalist classes, bureaucracies and governments of all persuasions. "I know I'm not impartial", she would retort, "Impartiality is crap. It's like saying I'm not political."

I remember being taken to my first demonstration. An all night vigil outside Pentridge Jail at the age of seven, a sandwich board round my neck and holding a candle, we protested the execution of Ronald Ryan, the last man to hang in Australia. From then on it was a blur of marches, meetings and picket lines; May Day, Hiroshima Day, Vietnam Moratoriums, Save Our Sons, People For Nuclear Disarmament, International Year of Peace, Arts Action For Peace, Palm Sunday, Miscellaneous Workers Union marches, Save Our Schools (Kennet years), Save Albert Park (Kennet again), Hands Off Our Libraries (still more Kennet), wharf strikes, miner's strikes, teachers strikes and dental mechanic strikes. We drowned in buttons, banners, stickers, pamphlets and posters. The Union Movement's slogan of 'Solidarity Forever' ran deep within her veins.

Whilst teaching at a high school in the seventies, Wendy caught a group of school girls fighting over the selling of their favours to passing businessmen (One of the girls was charging fifty cents to do what the others were getting two dollars for). Instead of admonishing them, she lectured them on the values of unionism, agreeing on a base rate and never undercutting their fellow worker because that was tantamount to "scabbing" and as we all knew, there was no lower form of life than a "scab".
Werner, her husband and soul mate of over fifty years, was a refugee of Nazi Germany and teenage deportee of England to the internment camps of Australia on the prison ship, the 'Dunera'. His calm demeanor, love of music, his own rich history and first hand knowledge of man's inhumanity to man, made them ideal partners and their marriage became a dedication to life built on humanist principles. In the Wendy driven household, Werner was the warm, quiet fountain at which everyone could replenish their hearts and minds.

The prodigious amount of work, books, letters, papers, ventures, activism, relationships, ideas and achievements throughout her life was simply astounding by today's standards. At the same time as raising a family, she was involved with The New Theatre, The Eureka Youth League, The Victorian Folk Music Society, Australian Tradition, The Australian Folklore Expedition, The Boree Log Folk Club, Colonial Bush Dance Society, Pram Factory Flea Market, Brinsley Road Alternative School, Ardoch Community School, Friends of the Earth, Arts Action For Peace, The Palm Sunday Committee, Victorian Secondary Teachers Association, Collingwood and Richmond Community Centres, National Oral History Association, MacRobertsons Girls High, Richmond Girls School, and Collingwood High School amongst others.

Throughout her long career, Wendy was tireless in her fight against social injustice and a passionate defender of the 'ordinary' Australian through her writings, articles for literary journals, magazines and newspapers. She was a writer-in-residence at Victorian and interstate universities, conducted workshops and was a guest speaker at numerous conferences and events until 2002. Her motto, handed down to her by her brother John, was to become, 'Nix Illigitamus Carborundum' or 'Never let the bastards grind you down'.

What she achieved is an incredible legacy, bringing a truth to history in giving voice to those who live it. The working class men and women whose lives and stories are recorded in her work will go on touching people and urging others to maintain the fight to keep Australia decent and humane.
Her books include, Weevils in the Flour, The Immigrants (with Morag Loh), Cinderella Dressed in Yella (with June Factor & Professor Ian Turner), Shocking, Shocking, Shocking, Under the Hook (with Tom Hills) and Weevils at Work, screenplays include Weevils in the Flour and the film, Strikebound. Her vast collection of oral history resides at the National Library in Canberra.

Wendy Lowenstein died October 16th, 2006 from the complications of Alzheimer's Disease at the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne.

The Age film critic, Keith Connolly used to say there were only three women in his life that he was afraid of.. His wife.. his daughter.. and Wendy Lowenstein…

Wendy is survived by her husband, Werner, three children, and five grandchildren..

Richard Lowenstein
Film Director

There will be a gathering to celebrate Wendy Lowenstein's life at the Victorian Trades Hall on November 11.

Video Tribute to Wendy (part 1) (Part 2) (Richard Lowenstein 11 November 2006)

Tribute to Wendy Lowenstein (Mark Gregory October 2006)

The Australian Obituary (June Factor 27 October 2006)

australian traditional songs . . . a selection by mark gregory