By Peter Love
On Sunday 3 April the Campaign for International Co-operation and Disarmament (CICD) arranged a special occasion where it paid tribute to the work of John Ellis as campaign activist and photographer in the cause of peace. CICD expressed that special regard by conferring Life Membership on him.
When guests entered the Unitarian Peace Memorial Church in Grey Street, East Melbourne they noted that three walls were covered with photographs that John had taken since the early 1970s. Many were of prominent or simple rank-and-file activists in numerous progressive causes over the years. One of the most remarkable things about the faces of those who are still alive was how young they looked when John captured them! The themes that link them are for us and future generations to contemplate.
John Speight, Executive Chair of CICD welcomed guests and introduced the speakers, beginning with Romina Beitseen, Secretary of CICD, who thanked John for his stalwart work for peace since the 1970s. She had both enjoyed working with him and been very impressed with his capacity to be effectively active in the cause. Peter Love reminded people that John’s photography was not only a window onto the past but one that served the same fundamental purpose as more famous photographers such as those in the Magnum agency. He has provided links of visual continuity that invite us to contemplate enduring questions about peace and justice.
The Victorian Trade Union Choir, of which John was a long-term member, sang two brackets of three songs; Banks of Marble, Bring Out the Banners, I Have a Million Nightingales, Power in a Union, Solidarity Forever, and, as everybody stood up in the customary manner, the Internationale.
Sarah Brown, librarian, fellow activist and long-term friend of John spoke very fondly of his qualities as a campaigner, organiser, photographer and utterly engaging comrade. Sue Fairbanks, Deputy Archivist at the University of Melbourne Archives, spoke about the huge collection of John’s photographs located in the Archives. She acknowledged his prodigious labours in cataloguing them all and the constructively congenial spirit he brought to the daunting task. Sue had arranged the impressive display of photos that lined three sides of the Church hall.
To honour John’s work Lila Heimann, a member of the Melbourne Ukulele Kollective and longstanding friend, sang a song for John that she had composed about refugees. Shane Houstein, John’s stepson, launched the website that displays several of John’s photography and links visitors to the University of Melbourne Archives page where so many of his photos are accessible. It is at: http://johnbrantellis.weebly.com
Unlike some honoured guests, John did not speak at length when he was given the ‘right of reply’ to the tributes. He skipped lightly over many of the significant times in his long life a deeply engaged activism and paid generous tribute to those who were his comrades and especially to Dianne. His partner.
The event ended with the Choir singing the second bracket of songs, concluding with the Internationale. In the usual way, comrades and friends then set about the drinks and snacks in the side room to round off a thoroughly satisfactory day with congenial chatting and friendly catching-up.
[Photos by Peter Love]