An appreciation by Mary Compton*

It was with great sadness that I learned last week of the death of Rob Durbridge, a past leader of the Australian Education Union. Rob was a great champion not only for teachers but also for trade unionism and for social justice. He believed passionately in public education and fought the project to turn education into a commodity with all his might.

Rob was one of the first to understand the importance of community involvement in the fight against neo-liberal 'reform'. He also understood the unique position of teaching unions. As he says:

Education unions attract the anger and revenge of governments precisely because they have credibility in the community, due to their members' daily contact with millions of students and their families in communities in which they themselves live and work.

It was with both analytical skill and real optimism about the possibilities for resistance and the building of a different world, that Rob both led the AEU and continued to speak and advocate after his retirement.

He was an internationalist, cutting his teeth on the struggle against the Vietnam war. I first met him in South Africa at a conference of SADTU, a country where he is still remembered. I owe him a personal debt since he encouraged me to look at the global project of privatisation and education 'reform' and through him started a chain of events which gave birth to this website. He engaged critically with Education International, especially on the issue of the underrepresentation of the global South in its decision making

I couldn't express the feelings of so many teachers and others whose lives Rob has touched better than this obituary notice in the Age: 'May the Angels be ready for you to fight their cause… For surely they need you as we did. Lead on.'

*Mary Compton is the editor of Teachersolidarity