Marie Gollan was a secondary school teacher, feminist and peace activist, and a member of the CPA for 48 years, from 1937 until her death in 1985.
Marie Gollan was born in Goulburn in 1904, the youngest of two children. Her father was an accountant on the local paper. Her mother had been denied the chance to be a teacher and was determined that her children would have a decent education. Her brother fought in World War I and, when he returned from the war, he supported Marie through university. She subsequently became a secondary teacher in the public education system.
Marie’s first teaching position was at Goulburn where she met Bill Gollan. They were married on 8 March 1936. However, she would never wear an engagement or wedding ring as she regarded them as symbols of bondage. Marie was then sacked under the Married Women (Lecturers and Teachers) Act, which was instituted during the Great Depression to free up jobs for male teachers.
Bill transferred to Cessnock, where they had many happy years among the mining community. Marie joined the CPA in 1937, a year after Bill “because I wasn’t going to join simply because he did”. Marie joined the Co-operative Women’s Guild, consisting mostly of wives of miners, and was also active in the Miners’ Women’s Auxiliary. Bill started Workers’ Educational Association lectures, where Marie had to train herself by sheer determination to speak and make herself heard.
World War II started while they were in Cessnock. The CPA was declared illegal and the police raided their home. In the middle of the war Bill transferred to Sydney and Marie continued to work for the CPA, which was now engaged in the war against fascism. There was a women’s committee in Sydney which got its directions from the central committee; those being, generally, “that we ought to organise women”.
In 1944 Bill transferred to Newcastle and Marie was told she was now the secretary of the Newcastle women’s committee. She said the Party leadership was very high- handed in its approach. Women were expected to work hard for the Party, but it was men who were chosen for leadership positions.
Marie and other Party women worked with the Housewives Association and also organised International Women’s Day (IWD), filling the Newcastle Town Hall for three years running. Marie was secretary of the IWD Committee. Speakers included Katharine Susannah Prichard, the wife of the Chinese ambassador and a woman partisan from Yugoslavia.
In 1945, Bill transferred to Albury where Marie and he worked to build up the local CPA branch. Post-war and during the Cold War, Marie and Bill worked tirelessly for peace and Bill represented the Party in international forums. In 1947 the Married Women (Lecturers and Teachers) Act was repealed and Marie was able to apply for a permanent teaching job again. After they returned to Sydney in 1950, Marie was appointed to the Correspondence School which she liked very much and Bill was appointed Principal of Macquarie Boys High School.
In 1965 Marie and Bill both retired from teaching. Bill was appointed a delegate to the World Peace Council in Helsinki and he and Marie also took a well-earned holiday in Europe and the Soviet Union.
Marie was always a feminist and peace activist so, when the second wave of the women’s movement coincided with the Vietnam Moratoriums in 1970, she was in her element. She regularly attended the CPA women’s collective, which was established in the early 1970s. The key issue under discussion was how class and women’s rights intersected.
I joined the CPA in 1982 and I remember Marie at the women’s collective meetings. She was active until shortly before her death. I also remember that, at her memorial service, someone said that she had told her doctor in hospital that this was supposed to be the time she would lie back in the arms of Jesus, but she was far too old for that.
Two years after Marie’s death, Bill Gollan wrote this dedication in his book Bond or Free, The Peace and Disarmament Movement and an Independent Australian Foreign Policy for Peace and Security:
This book is dedicated to the memory of my dear wife, Marie, for 50 years of love and comradeship in our work together for a world without war.
Marie commenced her lifelong activism in 1933 when she began writing a regular column for children in War! What For? the journal of the Movement Against War and Fascism. In the late 1930s she became secretary, in the Northern Coalfields where we then lived, of the Spanish and Chinese Relief Committees, supporting the Republican governments of Spain and China against the Franco fascist forces and Japanese military fascism.
In the post-war years she worked continuously in the contemporary peace and disarmament movement, with special interest in the women’s sector until the eve of her death in 1985.
From her early years in the 1930s, Marie opposed social injustice, inequality and discrimination in all their forms and was an articulate supporter of equal rights and opportunities for women in the teaching service.
She welcomed and participated in the women’s liberation movement, with the objective of acquiring equal rights and opportunity for women in society.
She was a rare person, moved by deep compassion and human sympathy to put the struggle for a better world ahead of comfort, convenience or the acquisition of personal possessions.
Diane Hague is a retired official from the NSW Teachers Federation. Prior to being a union official she was a TAFE Teacher of Communications in Business Studies. Diane joined the CPA in 1982 and left in 1989. She worked with Joyce Stevens and others on the collective of Scarlet Woman, a socialist feminist magazine, and was President of the Women's Employment Action Centre in the 1980s.
Stevens, Joyce, Taking the Revolution Home: Work Among Women in the Communist Party of Australia 1920-1945 (Melbourne: Sybylla Press, 1987).
Stevens, Joyce, A History of International Women’s Day in words and images (Sydney: IWD Press, 1985).
Bill Gollan, corrected transcript of interview by Laurie Aarons for the Communist Party of Australia’s Oral History Project, State Library of NSW, MLMSS 6436, c.1980.
Gollan, Bill, Bond or Free, The Peace and Disarmament Movement and an Independent Australian Foreign Policy for Peace and Security (Sydney: NSW Teachers Federation 1987).