From an article by Alan Ramsey, Sydney Morning Herald, August 17, 2005:
BOB Gollan was a schoolteacher. Then World War II engulfed Australia and in September 1942 Flight Lieutenant Robin Allenby Gollan became an RAAF navigator in Beaufort reconnaissance bombers. In early 1944, while based near Sydney, Gollan and Ivan Barber, his closest friend, were due a weekend's leave before again being sent north. And because Barber, a West Australian, had no family close by, Gollan, with a young wife and baby son, invited him home in Sydney.
But Gollan's leave was cancelled at the last minute and he was ordered on a weekend operation. Barber offered to take his place. The RAAF agreed. Gollan went home to his wife and baby. Barber went off on flying operations. Over the weekend two of the Beauforts collided, killing both four-man crews. Flying Officer Cedric Ivan Barber, 29, was among the dead.
Bob Gollan, then 26, never forget it should have been him. He said yesterday: "Ivan and I were a bit older than most of the kids in No. 1 squadron, so we'd become close friends. We'd already collected our week's grog at the time - two bottles of beer each - when the order came down for me to replace someone.
"I remember us looking at each other, and him saying, 'Look, you've got your family to see. I'll go in your place.' And he did. Obviously I remember him - vividly. We lost a lot of mates, but if he'd not taken my place I'd have been the one who died that weekend."
The date was February 2, 1944.
After the war Gollan lectured at Sydney Teachers College until, in 1953, he began a distinguished career of almost 30 years at the new Australian National University in Canberra. Among his appointments was as Manning Clark professor of history until 1982, the year he retired as emeritus professor. It was the year I met him. Bob Gollan loved the Australian bush - "the bush" was the only recreation ever listed in his Who's Who entry - and he and Anne bought an isolated, unspoiled lump of bush and beach near Bermagui, on the South Coast, where camping out was the closest thing I knew to paradise.
Last week Gollan, now 87, got a letter. It came with a commemorative medallion marking the 60th anniversary of the end of his war. The letter rekindled memories of his dead friend. It fired up a lot else, too. "I've been boiling for so long," Gollan said yesterday. So he sat down and wrote a letter of his own.
This is what he wrote.
A few days ago, like thousands of other old men and women, I received a shiny medallion and a letter signed by John Howard and De-Anne Kelly. They thanked me for my part in protecting 'the Australian way of life in times of conflict' and for helping to build 'our community in times of peace'. It made me think of Ivan Barber, a West Australian wheat farmer who substituted for me on an operation, so I could take a few days' leave, and who died in my place.
I wondered what he and the more than 40,000 men and boys who died defending our country in World War II would feel about John Howard's Australia. Certainly most people are materially better off. We have shared in the bounty of the one-fifth of the world which has become rich. But we have become a country governed by lies and fear.
John Howard has surrendered the self-reliance, for which we fought, to curry favour with the most dangerous military power in history. He has stoked the fear of terrorists who may target us because of his fawning subservience to US President George Bush. He boasts he stands for mateship and egalitarianism at the same time he attempts, by his industrial relations 'reforms', to destroy the institutions on which those qualities have been nurtured.
The chief law officer [Philip Ruddock] seems not to understand the principles of the rule of law and calls those who do 'armchair critics'. He and Howard undermine the very principles of democracy in the name of defending them. The Foreign Minister rails against those who don't accept his opinion as fools. He supports his stand by some weird interpretations of history.
Yes. We would not have survived without the American alliance. But the Americans I served with believed, correctly, we were defending a great democracy. Today the alliance, for which Howard and his coterie are prepared to sell our soul, is a militaristic plutocracy.
I'm sorry, Ivan.
Robin Gollan, Scullin, ACT.
He sent his letter to his local paper, The Canberra Times, which, to its immense credit, published it prominently at the weekend. It deserves to be read by the entire country. Bob Gollan will never write anything so powerful as his very personal defence of the Australia John Howard is killing.