OBITUARY: by Carmel and Ben HouriganNews Weekly
Vale Hugh Slattery: tireless fighter
, May 21, 2005
Hugh Slattery, a Catholic activist and businessman who spent an intense period fighting communism in Australia, died recently in Ballarat after a long illness. He leaves behind him the large extended family that he loved and was devoted to for many years.
Born in Bendigo, Hugh was the youngest of John and Lucy Slattery's four surviving children. John was an art teacher at the Bendigo School of Mines, and later, on moving to Richmond, became a government inspector of factories.
By the time Hugh was 11, both his parents had died. Their early deaths left him with an enduring sense that family bonds were extremely important.Theatre manager
On leaving school during the height of the Great Depression, Hugh was fortunate to secure a job at the Metro Theatre on Bourke Street. He shed a bell-boy's uniform when promoted to the accounts office after three weeks, and eventually rose to become the Metro's manager.
During his time there, he set new film attendance records for the theatre, and also met "his girl", Melva Blumfield, who worked in the box office and as an usherette. They were married at Saint Patrick's Cathedral in 1939.
After leaving their employment at the theatre, Hugh and Melva, now with a growing family, bought a mixed business in Richmond in 1946. They soon moved on to a milk bar in Barkly Street, St Kilda.
In the 1940s and 1950s, communist agitators within the trade unions repeatedly brought Victorian industries to a standstill. The Movement sympathised with union leaders' goal of sharing in the management of industry, but wished to keep them independent of a central communist authority in Moscow, which had as one of its goals the elimination of the Catholic faith Hugh so deeply loved.
In 1948, Hugh joined the Catholic Social Studies Movement. In 1957, its members became the National Civic Council (NCC) under the leadership of Bob Santamaria. The ALP expelled anti-communist parliamentarians aligned with the Movement in 1955, and the party they formed became known as the Democratic Labor Party.
Hugh eventually came to work full-time for the NCC, and served as Victorian state secretary, then national vice-president. He worked tirelessly to keep Australia free from the oppression and poverty that communist countries visited on their citizens.
On Sunday afternoons, Hugh and his colleagues mounted soap-boxes on the Yarra bank, debating union affairs and religious matters with communists and their fellow-travellers.
The audiences could be volatile, and Hugh once returned black-eyed from an afternoon oration, having suffered violence at the hands of his ideological opponents, despite trying to keep proceedings calm.
Hugh's dedication to his religious and political principles demanded many sacrifices. The national chaplain of the Movement, the Rev. Dr Eric D'Arcy, later Archbishop of Hobart, used Hugh as a case study. "On an average," he wrote, "he works 60 hours a week ... There are 13 nights every month on which he has commitments.
"Two Sunday mornings are taken up each month, and from time to time the whole day, ... he is often writing articles for News Weekly
or Social Survey
after getting home from night meetings ... I have known them to be completed after 2 a.m.
"Two or three times I have called at his home on Sundays and found him writing for Social Survey or News Weekly.
"This is certainly a full and wearing life ... and demands great sacrifices from his wife and family. ... his present salary leads to greater calls on his energies and time.
"The Slatterys had their sixth child this year; so Hugh has to go out in the little spare time he has and earn money to keep them. Every Friday night he pencils for a bookmaker at the trots; every Saturday afternoon for a bookmaker at the gallops ...
"So here again, just when a man should be with his family at home, he is involved in weary work."
In 1965, while still involved with the NCC, Hugh was asked to join a small and failing book company, Campion Press. As Managing Director, Hugh rebuilt the company as Campion Books, turning it into a huge textbook supplier.
While there, Hugh spent some time as president of the Educational Booksellers' Association, and on retiring from bookselling in 1986 was made a life member of the Australian Booksellers' Association in recognition of his generous service and assistance to many in the trade.
Hugh devoted his late years to private life: gardening, reading, sharing holidays with his beloved wife Melva (who died in 1991), involving himself in the affairs of his local parish, and spending time with his growing extended family.
Hugh was a gentle man of intelligence, humour, and great generosity. He faced increasing ill health with courage, gratitude for life, and a determination to enjoy each day.
He died three weeks after celebrating his 90th birthday, and is survived by his six children and their families, 28 grandchildren, and 45 great-grandchildren.