Australian Biography: Tom Uren


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Known as the conscience of the Labor Party, politician Tom Uren never lost his sense of justice and fair play and left a legacy of heritage preservation.

Tom Uren is one of the best-known and most-respected Labor politicians of his generation. As a minister in two governments he knew what it was like to hold the reins of power, yet he never lost the sense of justice and fair play that has driven him through an eventful life.

Born in the working class suburb of Balmain in the 1920s, Uren encountered the poverty of the Depression first-hand with an unemployed father and a mother who worked as a barmaid. Uren's response was to fight, literally - he trained as a boxer and had hopes of pursuing a career as a professional fighter, but his plans were derailed by the outbreak of World War Two. Uren enlisted and was sent to Timor where, fighting against overwhelming odds, he and his comrades were taken prisoner.

The following dark years saw him suffer the brutality of the Burma-Thai Railway, then a spell in Japan itself. It was this later period that formed his undying belief that it was militarism and not the Japanese people who were to blame for the war and its atrocities. His wartime experiences instilled in him a lifelong opposition to militarism and fascism and a belief in socialism and peaceful co-existence.

Returning home at war's end, Uren aimed to go back into the fight game but after a decisive defeat in England, he gave up the idea. He went to work as a manager at Woolworths and at the same time joined the Australian Labor Party. His energy and commitment quickly took him to the top of the Left faction of the party.

Uren entered Federal Parliament in 1958. With the election of the Whitlam Government in 1972, he became Minister for Urban and Regional Development and initiated many reforms, saving suburbs from freeways and redevelopment and creating new national parks. In 1975 he set up the Australian Heritage Commission and the National Estate. After serving a second term of office as a minister in the Hawke Government, Uren retired from politics in 1990. He published his highly acclaimed biography Straight Left in 1994.

A Film Australia National Interest Program. © 2011 National Film and Sound Archive of Australia.

FREE Teachers' Notes - Download here

NB The Australian Biography series (1-11) are only available for sale within the territories of Australia and New Zealand.


Producer/Director: Frank Heimans

Interviewer: Robin Hughes

Year: 1997

Running Time: 26 Minutes

Classification: G

Curriculum Links: Australian History - of particular relevance for NSW History Stage 5, Topic 4 'Australia and World War 2'; International Studies; Australian Politics; SOSE/HSIE.


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SKU 199500301
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