Poet, socialist activist and ‘darling man’
Tim Thorne, a leading Australian poet, a lifelong socialist activist, and a former President of the SEARCH Foundation, died in Launceston on Thursday 16 September, aged 77.
Tim’s passing was reported on the front page of the Hobart Mercury, which noted that he was ‘one of Tasmania’s most revered poets … remembered as a master of his craft who leaves behind an “almost immeasurable legacy”.’ The report also noted that Tim was ‘a key figure in the Australian poetry scene’ and a former columnist for the Mercury itself.
Tim Thorne was born in 1944 in Launceston, Tasmania, and lived there most of his life, apart from short periods in Sydney, NSW and Palo Alto, California. He married Stephanie Lyne in 1969 and they have two daughters, Clare, a social worker, and Lucienne (Lucie), a highly gifted singer-songwriter who performs around the country. Tim and Stephanie also have two granddaughters.
During his rich life, Tim’s writing and political activism were intertwined, his poetry expressing and reflecting his political views and social activism, and his gift with words often serving the progressive social movements in which he was active.
Tim was fluent in French and for years was a French, German and Japanese teacher as his ‘day job’. In a tribute just after Tim died, his friend Robert Adamson recalled that: ‘He was the first person to recite Rimbaud, Verlaine, and even Mallarme to me in French from memory.’
Tim began writing poetry at an early age and published around 15 collections of poetry, the first in 1969 and the last one not long before his death. They included: Tense Mood and Voice (1969), A Nickel in My Mouth (1979), Red Dirt (1990), The Streets Aren’t for Dreamers (1995), Taking Queen Victoria to Inveresk (1997), A Letter to Egon Kisch (2007); and I Con: New and Selected Poems (2008).
While he was often loosely associated with the so-called Generation of ’68 poets, his work transcended the often-rigid sectarianism of Australian poetry and he was one of those rare poets whose work was read widely among readers who normally wouldn’t read poetry. His poems appeared in most major Australian literary journals as well as many international ones. He also edited four anthologies.
In 1985, Tim inaugurated the Tasmanian Poetry Festival, which he directed until 2001 and which incorporates his invention, the Launceston Poetry Cup, a performance poetry concept now imitated all over Australia and internationally.
He was writer-in-residence with several organisations, including the Miscellaneous Workers Union and the Queen Victoria Museum and Art Gallery, and worked as a poet in schools, universities and prisons.
Tim was awarded prizes such as the Stanford Writing Scholarship, 1971; New Poetry Award, 1973; Marten Bequest Travelling Scholarship for poetry, 1978; and the Gleebooks Poetry Sprint, 1995. He won the Launceston Poetry Cup in 2006 and 2008 and was a finalist in the Australian National Poetry Slam in 2009 and 2010. He was awarded the William Baylebridge award for A Letter to Egon Kisch in 2007, the Christopher Brennan Award in 2013 and the Gwen Harwood Poetry Prize in 2014. He also received grants and fellowships from the Australia Council, Arts Tasmania and the Eleanor Dark Foundation.
Robert Adamson noted that ‘Tim was also a much needed critic and editor – Poetry Magazine, New Poetry and many others.’
Tim was also an activist in the poetry world, with an abiding interest in creating opportunities for poets and other artists with disabilities. From 1998 to 2000 he was National Secretary of DADAA (Disability and the Arts, Disadvantage and the Arts Australia). In 1999–2000, he was the writer|coordinator for a national project for writers with cerebral palsy, conducted through Arts 'R' Access.
In 2002, he was editor of the Launceston Longpoem, a web-based community-writing project funded through Tasmanian Regional Arts.
A major selection of Tim’s poetry can be found on-line at The Australian Poetry Library: https://www.poetrylibrary.edu.au/poets/thorne-tim
Throughout his life, Tim was involved in many campaigns and movements for social justice, peace, and environmental conservation and sustainability. In the late 1960s and early 1970s he was a leading activist in the movement to end conscription and Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War, establishing the Vietnam Moratorium movement in Launceston in 1969.
Later he helped establish the Northern Tasmanian Unemployed Workers' Union (1978), Now We the People (Tasmania) in 2000, and the Campaign for a Clean Tamar Valley in 2006.
He was a member of the Labor Party until he resigned in 1980, and twice was a Tasmanian delegate to the ALP national conference.
From 2001, Tim was the main organiser of the Tasmanian ‘Now We the People’ group that included leading labour movement and Greens activists. He helped to organise NWTP Tasmania’s ‘A Future for Life’ in February 2007, a weekend seminar focussing on the effects of global warming, and including uranium and nuclear issues.
In 2014 he was elected President of TAP into a Better Tasmania (formerly Tasmanians Against a Pulp Mill).
Tim was elected to the SEARCH Committee in 2008 and later became Vice President and then President (2014).
Tim was likeable and highly thought of by all those who knew and worked with him. His friend Robert Adamson summed it up: ‘Tim was also a great teacher. We will miss him, his voice, such a generous spirit, his endless puns and love of music, his poetry and his active life.’
The last word can be left to his daughter Lucienne who describes him as ‘a darling man’. Those who knew him would agree with that.
The SEARCH Foundation expresses its deep condolences to Tim’s wife Stephanie, his daughters Clare and Lucienne, his granddaughters, and his many friends, colleagues and comrades.
[This tribute to Tim Thorne draws on several sources, including reminiscences and tributes from friends, colleagues and comrades.]