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Vincent James Englart (1923–2000)

by John Englart

A fighter for social justice for more than 60 years, Vince Englart, who has died in Brisbane at the age of 76, could cause a stir even in death.

The family had long called him, in cheerful endearment, "the decrepit old bastard'' and wanted to include the phrase in his death notice but this was too much for the local paper and the phrase was forthwith rejected.

Englart would not have been surprised; his was a long life of blacklisting and discrimination. He was, for 60 years, a model communist and social activist.

At the height of the Cold War, despite exemplary war service and a willingness to work, Englart couldn't hold a job. It's hard to know whether sackings were due to company blacklists, government policy or because of the intervention of the Queensland security police or the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO).

Documents held in the National Archives clearly show political discrimination. As did his younger brother Kevin, Englart applied to the Queensland Education Department to be trained as a science teacher under an emergency teacher recruitment program.

He had better than the minimum requirements but was rejected with a note on his file "Never to be employed''.

In 1965 Englart passed an exam for a clerk's job in the Commonwealth Public Service; he was told he'd be notified when a post was available but despite a severe shortage of clerks the notice never came. Archive files indicate that ASIO had assessed him as an employment and personal risk. On February 14, 1966, the Public Service Board agreed, in a letter to ASIO's director-general, "that the appointment of Mr Englart as clerk should not proceed''.

All this flowed from his active role in a legal political party, the Communist Party of Australia. Desperate to support a young family and pay off his war service loan, he worked during the 1960s and '70s as a builder's labourer.

Vincent James Englart was born in South Brisbane; his father a wharf labourer and a prominent Queensland communist who was secretary of the Waterside Workers Federation.

The family could not afford high school so young Vince left school at 15; he joined the Communist Party at 16, the year before the Menzies government banned it in June 1940.

Englart was present when the family home was raided by Federal police looking for arms: they found only communist and religious books and pamphlets.

From June 1941 he became active in the Friends of the Soviet Union (FOSU), publicly selling literature and establishing an illegal CPA branch at his workplace in Woolloongabba.

Englart was a founding member of the Eureka Youth League (to which he gave support for 20 years) in 1942.

In December 1942 he joined the Army and served first with the engineers in New Guinea and then with the education service, in which he was made sergeant.

After the war he spent two years studying at Queensland University. At the same time he was demonstrating for striking miners and railwaymen and being arrested twice while selling the Communist Party newspapers, the Guardian and the Tribune, in the streets of Brisbane and Toowoomba.

With the Menzies government from 1949 moving again to ban the CPA, Englart became part of a necessarily conspiratorial body, parallel to the legal CPA organisation, to meet the threatened ban.

In June 1951, one month after marriage to Shirley Millar, Englart and his wife were sent by the CPA to an international Communist Party school in China; they spent 3 1/2 years there and returned in 1955 with Englart working for two years for the CPA as Queensland editor of Tribune, then as an organiser for the Brisbane district.

Englart was active in many social movements Vietnam, Aboriginal affairs, uranium exports and apartheid. During the rule of Joh Bjelke-Petersen, he was prosecuted for selling The Little Red School Book and Portnoy's Complaint and, in 1970, narrowly escaped injury when the CPA building was bombed by neo-Nazi extremists.

Englart worked as a builder's labourer until his retirement on a Veterans' Affairs pension at age 60. One of his last jobs was building the giant sundial at the Brisbane planetarium. Using his self-taught maths Englart identified errors in the plans, saving Brisbane City Council thousands of dollars.

Many workers might have said nothing; Englart observed: "We must correct others, even if not rewarded, because of a natural revulsion at people doing wrong; especially when it involves a public good. Besides, who hasn't made mistakes?''

At his death he was an Australian Democrat and a member of, or subscriber to, some 60 organisations or newsletters. All who knew him will miss his passion for debate and knowledge and his concern for humanity.

He is survived by his former wife, Shirley, sons Rod, Steven and Brett, brother Leo and sisters Imelda and Betty.

Original publication

Additional Resources

Citation details

John Englart, 'Englart, Vincent James (1923–2000)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/englart-vincent-james-33602/text42032, accessed 4 March 2024.

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