Saturday, March 11, 2017

In memory of Trevor Grant: a real Australian journalist

"But all I feel is sadness; sadness not just that I'm going to die prematurely, but sadness that I live in a society that, so often and so easily, still writes off human lives as collateral damage in the pursuit of profit."
Trevor Grant

"Sport is another commodity to be bought and consumed these days, and a roll-over, puppy-dog media, which often has financial relationships with the biggest sports, ensures this process goes unchallenged."
Trevor Grant

"With Trevor’s passing, Tamils, refugees and everyone concerned about truth and justice have lost a great friend and committed fighter. His commitment - which never wavered during his illness - should inspire us to continue the search for truth and justice.  Trevor was a good and courageous man. We will miss him."
Callum Macrae, director of documentary, 'No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka.'

Trevor Grant died a week ago. He was just 65, another Australian victim of mesothelioma, asbestos cancer,  a disease caused by the callous pursuit of corporate profit.

I never met Trevor Grant, but I admired and respected his writing as a journalist, particularly his exposure of the corrupt links between sport and corporate interests and the influence of corporate thinking, and his campaigning, research and advocacy work on behalf of the Tamil people.

Grant spent 40 years as a journalist  much of that time as a sports journalist and broadcaster in the mainstream media, writing about Australian rules football and cricket. 

After he left mainstream journalism, Grant started driving a truck as a volunteer, distributing food and furniture to Tamil refugees.  Martin Flanagan tells how Grant came to become involved on behalf of the Tamil people:

"Being an affable character, he engaged them in conversation and kept hearing stories he'd never heard before, stories about rape, torture, abduction and killings. Then he met a young Tamil man who had smuggled out photos of what went on during the final days of the country's civil war between the Tamils and the Rajapaksa government, the same government the Australian government is now working with to repatriate Tamil boat people ever more quickly."

Grant ran a sports program What's the score sport? on Melbourne community radio 3CRR in which he explored how sport was captured and controlled by corporate and business interests. He continued to write articles for the Age newspaper, but most of his writing appeared in leftist publications, including Green Left Weekly,  Red Flag and Independent Australia.

For Independent Australia, he wrote about what he called 'enlightened racism' in Australian Rules Football. His articles for Red Flag, mainly on the genocide and destruction of the Tamil people by the Sri Lankan government, are here.

His articles for Green Left Weekly are here.

Grant exposed the hypocrisy of the AFL on issues of racism, homophobia and misogyny and the fear and ignorance of the unconventional and critical thinking that dominated mainstream sport.  In a 2013 article in the Melbourne Age he wrote:

"The boofhead culture that has defined male professional sport, and its mostly male media, for aeons has gone through a makeover in recent times, with the AFL putting itself at the head of social justice campaigns. But the truth is that racism, sexism and homophobia still exist in footy clubs and their big support bases. And, inevitably, a man who feels so strongly about these cruel, destructive prejudices is going to struggle to cope in an environment that gives them so much oxygen.

"The highly paid image-makers project the AFL as a broad, enlightened church, free of the bigotry of the past. But, really, it is like any other corporate environment in pursuit of a singular aim, and therefore unable to accommodate anyone who dares to step outside its rigid parameters. So often there is a difference between the public face and the private reality."


In an article about cyclist Lance Armstrong, Grant wrote about the capture and corruption of professional cycling by corporate capitalism:

"The corporatisation of cycling has been a long and arduous process but capitalism has dug in its poisonous claws and isn’t about to let go. Along the way, it has produced many victims, including Tom Simpson and the 1998 Tour de France winner Marco Pantani, a serial drug cheat who died of a cocaine overdose in 2004. Now the reputation of the greatest cyclist of all time, Lance Armstrong, whose recovery from cancer inspired so many people around the world, is in tatters."

Grant continued:

"Let us be clear about one thing. International professional cycling is first and foremost a business and run by some of the world’s biggest capitalists. The cyclists are merely workers acting under instructions from their profit-hungry bosses. Indeed, as the entire sports world pours scorn on Armstrong, it studiously avoids the real culprits – blood-sucking corporations that earn huge profits on the backs, legs, and hearts, of the riders, most of whom are paid a relative pittance. The Tour de France is the flagship of a billion dollar industry, with the capacity to catch drug cheats any time it wants. All it needs is the will. It has the money to finance revolutionary testing regimes and it has a very good idea about who is using drugs. They are their workers and this business, through the Tour owners and the sponsors, is closely involved in their workers’ performance"

Grant was a high-profile activist and campaigner against social, political and economic injustice. He worked on behalf of refugees and asylum seekers, especially from Sri Lanka, and wrote a book on atrocities in their homeland, Sri Lanka's Secrets – How the Rajapaksa regime gets away with Murder. The book provided a detailed account of war crimes committed against the Tamils by the Sri Lanka government and its foreign allies.

In 2012-2013, he campaigned for a boycott of the Sri Lankan cricket team in Australia and led protests outside cricketing venues. 

In an article in the Melbourne Age he described the direct links between the Sri Lankan Government's policy of murder and genocide targeting the Tamil people and the Sri Lankan cricket team:

"But what will be forgotten in the excitement is the dark side to this team. It's not so much the individual players but, what and who, they really represent. In other words, the rich and powerful in the Sri Lankan nation and an elected government that is alleged to be engaging in genocide against the poorest of its own people, many of whom are seeking refuge here. The Sri Lankan President is part of this elite and a man who loves to align himself with sport, especially cricket. He has openly influenced selection, made sure the new national stadium in Colombo was named after him, and rarely misses a photo opportunity with a star in creams. Brutal oppressors love to use sport to launder their image. But Rajapaksa can't fool anybody who reads about world affairs......

The links between this regime and the cricket team are there for all to see. The recently retired captain, Sanath Jayasuriya, is now an elected representative of the Rajapaksa government. Spinner Ajantha Mendis, named on stand-by for the Tests but likely to play in the one-day series, is a second-lieutenant and gunner in the Sri Lankan Army who saw active service in the civil war. Rajapaksa was guest of honour at his wedding last year.

The former captain, Arjuna Ranatunga, is a politician who was in the government camp before switching further to the right in recent times. He described General Sarath Fonseka, the military commander of the Tamil massacre, as a wonderful man who can "save" Sri Lankan politics."

Grant  co-founded the Tamil Refugee Council  and served as its Convener. He founded  Refugee Radio at 3CR Community Radio and organised vigils and protests to highlight ongoing human rights violations in Sri Lanka.

Grant was highly respected amongst refugee campaigners for his principled stand and campaigning for the rights of Tamil asylum seekers and refugees. One activist colleague of mine wrote about Trevor:

"I very quickly friended Trevor on Facebook, would immediately devour every article he wrote for the magazine, and was thrilled to bits to finally meet him when we protested at the MCG against Sri Lankan human rights abuse. He was a hero, a lovely man, a great writer, and he will be sorely missed for years to come by everybody with a social conscience".

In 2015, aged 63, Grant was diagnosed with mesothelioma, the result of decades of working in newspaper offices containing asbestos. He wrote about his diagnosis in this ABC article.

'What I discovered through the process of a Supreme Court action I launched in September last year shocked me to the core. Thanks to the work of an industrial hygienist whose files can pinpoint asbestos in buildings throughout the Melbourne CBD, I discovered I had been working close to the dangers of asbestos for decades, both at The Age building at 250 Spencer Street, where I worked from 1969-1970 and 1978-1989, and the Herald office on 44-74 Flinders Street, where I worked from 1970-74 and 1989-1996. Records showed workers in both these buildings, mostly printers and tradesmen working with insulation, had contracted mesothelioma during these times. I worked on separate floors from these people, but I'd had a lot of regular contact with many on the printing and composing room floors, especially as a young sub-editor. 

My first question was, how come I didn't know that I'd been working for decades in an environment that had killed people? Why isn't it compulsory for those responsible for these death-traps to notify potential victims?"

Grant concluded with these powerful words:

"I expected to be angry about all this; angry about a cynical corporation (Hardie) risking so many thousands of lives, including my own, for the sake of its bottom line; angry every time I saw the foreign minister Julie Bishop on television and was reminded she was paid handsomely as a lawyer to represent one of these vulture corporations; angry that nobody warns potential victims that they had worked in places where others had contracted the disease."

Grant was a committed trade unionist, a member of the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance and was actively involved with the Australian Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), until his death. He was a committed supporter of Palestine, West Papua, and Indigenous peoples around the world.

Richard Flanagan has written this fine piece about Trevor Grant in the Melbourne Age. Sri Lankan and Tamil spokesperson acknowledge the contribution of Trevor Grant in this articleOther pieces  in memory of Trevor Grant are hereherehere and here.

1 comment:

Ciaran Lynch said...

Great work Colin. Thanks for that.