Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Clyde Holding - a true Labor guy'

National Archives
BENEATH the brilliantly coloured stained-glass ceiling, a galaxy of Labor and Aboriginal leaders past and present gathered yesterday in the Great Hall of the National Gallery of Victoria to farewell their quick-witted, combative, arts-loving larrikin mate, Clyde Holding.

Victoria's Labor leader from 1967 to 1977, then a federal minister in the Hawke government from 1983 to 1990, Mr Holding died aged 80 on July 31 in a Castlemaine nursing home. Yesterday, he was honoured with a state memorial service, where Premier Ted Baillieu sat stoically as former prime minister Paul Keating and others poured praise on a man remembered as "a true Labor guy".

Aboriginal leaders Mick Dodson and Marcia Langton paid tribute to the former minister for Aboriginal affairs who first put forward a national land rights act and handed Uluru back to its traditional owners.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard recalled that while Mr Holding's push for a land rights act was blocked by his boss, Bob Hawke, Mr Holding responded with typical cheek and courage by funding Eddie Mabo's ground-breaking native title claim in the courts  although the Commonwealth was the defendant.

Mr Keating led the mourners, recalling his old friend's elation when the High Court eventually upheld the Mabo claim and the Federal Parliament finally recognised native land title in law.

"He was a character, but a character with a heart and a soul and a sense of mission," Mr Keating said.

"He was funny, he was a raconteur, he was a showy man, but he was always a very serious man . . . He had the fight in him, he had integrity of purpose and he had compassion and understanding.

"He had imagination. Everyone imagines things, but Clyde was one of those who develop their own model of how the world could be made better and had the courage to follow it through thick and thin."

Professor Dodson said he had crossed swords with Mr Holding during his four years as minister for Aboriginal affairs, but found him "a thoroughly decent man, a man of his word . . . He gave us hope, he gave us some vision that the future might be different for us."

Former foreign minister Gareth Evans recalled other sides of Clyde Holding, such as the night they first met at a vigil outside Pentridge on the night before Ronald Ryan was hanged in 1967.

A video of Mr Holding's life ends with an image that sums him up. After the speeches at the Uluru handover  from which Mr Hawke, fearful of the white backlash, stayed away  a plane flies overhead trailing a hostile banner: "Ayers Rock for all Australians."

Mr Holding stayed watching it, his eyes squinting into the sun, his jaw jutting out in defiance.