Subject: Ken Fry - Politician on a mission for Timor

Sydney Morning Herald

16 October 2007

Politician on a mission for Timor

Rob Wesley-Smith

Ken Fry, 1920-2007

Ken Fry, a friend of ordinary folk and of presidents, veteran of left politics and fighter for the rights of the East Timorese people, was pragmatic to the end. When his daughter asked if he would like an email read at his funeral, he said: "You can say what you like - I won't give a stuff then."

A day later he acknowledged the news that Jose Ramos-Horta, Nobel laureate and the President of East Timor, had rung his old friend and promised that his ambassador would represent him at the service.

Fry, the member for Fraser in the Australian Parliament for 10 years from 1974, died at his home at Broulee, on the NSW South Coast, where his funeral was held yesterday, with the wake at Broulee Surf Club.

Fry was a tall, impressive looking figure, yet was a practical and principled down-to-earth member for Fraser, a seat that extends from Canberra city down to Jervis Bay.

He increased his majority at every election, even when the trend for other Labor Party members was down. As convener of the Left faction for eight years he was in line for a ministerial position, but was not too bothered at missing out. He had plenty to do in his sprawling electorate, with six party branches.

Ken Fry was the youngest of seven children who grew up during the Depression, mainly around Bathurst. His father, Bill Fry, had come from England, where he hated the class divisions, an attitude Ken adopted.

Bill worked with the NSW Department of Agriculture and most of the family were involved in rural pursuits. His mother, formerly Marguerite Longford, was a music teacher and sister of Raymond Longford, the film pioneer who produced C. J. Dennis's The Sentimental Bloke.

Fry graduated from Hawkesbury Agricultural College in 1938 and became a rural valuer. In 1940 he joined an army intelligence section, celebrating his 21st birthday in Darwin, where he met Tom Uren, the army boxing champion who was to become a leader of the Labor Left and a close friend.

Fry was sent with the 2/21 Battalion to Ambon, where he suffered a knee wound. However, he served at Tarakan and in Papua New Guinea and was sent back to Ambon after the war to collect evidence; for example, that 71 per cent of the prisoners of the Japanese died.

The hopelessness of the Ambon mission might have been a spur to his later heroic role in nearby East Timor. He understood that the people wanted self-determination.

He met Audrey Clibbens, an army signaller, during the war and, although she was unimpressed with his dancing in army boots, they married in 1946. He bred chickens and developed a poultry business, which folded in the wake of the big Inghams poultry company.

Fry also worked as a lands inspector and was elected to the ACT Advisory Council. He was arrested at an anti-apartheid action, enjoyed the Whitlam government's election in 1972, and defended the Aboriginal tent embassy at old Parliament House before becoming the member for Fraser. He challenged some regressive attitudes in the RSL, but became a board member of the Australian War Memorial.

For many, his finest moments were in support of self-determination and independence for the East Timorese people. He travelled to East Timor twice in 1975 and, after the Indonesian invasion that December, spoke at the UN Security Council in April 1976, helping to achieve a 12-0 vote against Indonesia.

He helped ensure that East Timor was not removed from the United Nations agenda and never gave up on the issue. He spoke on the so-called illegal Radio Maubere to the resistance, gave hope to Timorese living in Darwin and attended various international conferences. President Jose Ramos-Horta said that Fry had taught him about friendship, solidarity and compassion.

Ken and Audrey Fry became inveterate travellers, a practice that informed their politics and compassion. They went to Nicaragua, where their son Warwick worked as a volunteer and published a book by poets of the revolution, and to Africa.

Fry completed a PhD in political history, published in 1993 as Beyond the Barrier, Class Formation in a Pastoral Society, Bathurst 1818-1848. In 2002 he published his memoirs, A Humble Backbencher, an important addition to Australian political history. He increasingly enjoyed beachcombing at Broulee and chatting to locals and visitors. Tributes at his death were about his achievements and his sheer humanity.

Ken Fry is survived by Audrey, children, Warwick, Kerry and Paula, and their families. A memorial service in Canberra is being planned.



Back to October menu
World Leaders Contact List
Main Postings Menu