On a hot summer’s evening, family, friends and comrades gathered at the home of Delia Maxwell, who had died from breast cancer, to pay tribute to a remarkable woman. It was December 21, and this would have been her 70th birthday. As a member of Radical Women, Delia had turned her house, with her lovingly tended gardens, into a vibrant and welcoming venue for many events. This occasion was a memorial for Delia, hosted by her family, Radical Women and the Freedom Socialist Party. It didn’t take long for her backyard to fill up with more than 100 people.
We all knew Delia in many different ways — as a mother, a grandmother, a teacher, a sister, a unionist, a cook, a socialist feminist, an appreciator of fine music and wine, a cousin, a dog lover, a protester, a writer, a gardener, a bush walker and a very dear friend.
Messages came from the United States, El Salvador (see page 21) and around Australia, sharing particular memories of Delia and honouring her as a woman warrior who inspired others to join the struggle for a better world. Speakers told their stories. Aboriginal leader Ray Jackson said that Delia stood out as someone who identified with the most downtrodden. Susan Manton recalled the rich experience of working with Delia in the No More Intimidation of Teacher Unionists campaign against the thuggish management of Northern Melbourne Institute of TAFE. Joy Carberry also told of Delia’s leadership in a groundbreaking battle that won better pay and conditions for VCE exam markers. Maria Dawson, who had been a student in Delia’s History of Western Ideas class, told how Delia opened up her eyes. Having faced racism and sexism as a migrant from Italy in the 1950s, Maria attributed her strong feminism to Delia. As a mother-in-law Delia was just as inspirational, and Andrew David said how much he learned from being around her. The tribute from Delia’s sister, Camilla, told us how Delia’s struggles as a woman made her radical. Jackie Lynch, member of Socialist Alliance, honoured Delia’s contribution to building the Alliance which was formed in the last year of her life. Speaking for Radical Women and the Freedom Socialist Party, Alison Thorne paid tribute to Delia as a Marxist feminist thinker — who studied, wrote, educated and connected with people — and her commitment to RW as a women’s leadership organisation.
Delia generously gave Radical Women the benefit of her many professional skills. Her “Public Speaking for Feminists” classes, which trained working class women and men to be powerful activist speakers, were very popular. Her educational talks on topical issues — whether about a campaign to free Heather Osland from prison for killing her violent husband, outworkers’ fight for decent conditions or the repressive nature of the police under capitalism — always aroused lively discussion at RW meetings.
Delia was a tireless fundraiser. She was a champ at selling raffle tickets and asking for donations. Her Proletarian Preserves brought in a steady stream of much-needed funds to help RW sustain Solidarity Salon, our beautiful organising centre. And being a talented cook, she presented many a fine dish for our events and meetings.
As Delia battled cancer, she was able to do less. But her commitment to create a world free from sexism, racism, homophobia, environmental degradation, and global inequality never diminished. Until the cancer and chemotherapy forced her to slow down, Delia was always full of energy. She’d often out-dance and out-demonstrate younger comrades! She thrived on getting out and about in the movements. Who could forget Delia dancing at the blockade on the last day of the hugely successful S11 anti-corporate protests where, with many thousands of others, we stopped a meeting of the World Economic Forum. We’ll always remember the tenacious Delia who, despite her recent surgery, made sure she was a part of the May Day protest in 2001 which surrounded the Stock Exchange to shut down corporate Melbourne. And Delia holding a placard that said “Lock Up Ruddock, the Ministry for Misery,” as we all headed out for a protest at the Maribyrnong Detention Centre.
Delia’s fight for socialism was spurred by her belief that nothing’s too good for the working class. Dog walking, concerts, camping at Howqa, occasional overseas trips, spending time with family and friends, movies, eating out and gardening were big in her life. Enjoying what she loved kept her grounded: revolution is about freeing everyone from boredom and drudgery.
Goodbye Delia. Your comrades will miss you more than we can ever say. But we’ll do you proud as we continue what you valued most and we got such joy in sharing with you — the battle for our socialist feminist future.
Tributes from around the world
Delia Maxwell was truly a woman of all seasons. No matter the fight, she never caved in and took the easy road nor left her comrades holding the bag while she went off in search of the meaning of life. She already had the answer: she knew that life was to be lived communally and its struggles and joys shared. Optimistic, defiant, and incorrigibly radical, Delia set a high standard for the rest of us. Youthful rebellion is taken for granted but the contributions of lifelong rebels like Delia Maxwell should be studied, treasured, and emulated. If only we could bottle whatever it was that Delia had that kept her on the front lines of freedom until the very end, we’d be well on our way to world socialism by now.
We in the U.S. Section of the Freedom Socialist Party raise our glasses in a toast to our fallen Australian comrade and sister. Long may she be loved and remembered! Joe Hill, a union songwriter who was hung by the bosses, wrote a beautiful song for rebel organizer Anna Strong shortly before he died. It was called “Rebel Girl” and its soulful words and lovely melody remind us of Delia. The song’s refrain goes “She’s a rebel girl, a rebel girl, to the working class she’s a precious pearl.” That is how we will remember Delia Maxwell.
Henry Noble, National Secretary
Freedom Socialist Party, U.S. Section
I remember meeting Delia at the 1997 Freedom Socialist Party convention that was held in Oakland, California. We were on a food crew together and it was our team’s responsibility to cook a beautiful Cuban dinner to kick off the convention. It was a joy working with her as she joked and peeled dozens of chayote squash which, after awhile, made our fingers tingle.
Delia was a big-hearted woman who knew that being a revolutionary feminist is supposed to be fun. As a rabble rousing activist from early on, ready to take on injustice head-on and able to inspire others to do likewise, she helped build the Melbourne branch, working alongside her comrades in agitating and organizing against bigots, bosses and bureaucrats.
Delia didn’t sweat over the little things. She rejoiced in the collective accomplishments that she was able to participate in, even while she was going through chemotherapy, like attending the opening of the new Solidarity Salon and seeing the founding of Socialist Alliance and the Geelong Radical Women chapter.
Delia taught us about living. I kept an e-mail thank you note she sent the U.S. comrades on June 10, 2001. I was moved by how she was dealing with her illness. She did it with humor, with tenacity, with love, and with an appreciation that she was not alone in her struggle against cancer. She wrote, “If time is short, at least it’s good, and if it’s long, so much the better. And I refuse to listen to the kind of advice that says think of everything you enjoy — and cut it out. I believe in champagne and crayfish therapy.”
Indeed, Delia has made us all better people for having known and loved her. Her sisters in Radical Women miss her, but continue to be inspired by what she has given us — revolutionary optimism, determination and a love for the bubbly!
Nancy Reiko Kato, National Organizer
Radical Women, U.S. Section