communist, activist and film critic
In 1975 he began working with actor and film distributor Edmund (Eddie) Allison who had been part of the cast of Call Indonesia. Eddie’s company, Quality Films, has distributed dozens of foreign film masterpieces, mostly from socialist countries, which Hollywood-oriented Australian movie chains have refused to show.
They included many Soviet films, including Eisenstein’s groundbreaking film noir masterpieces. Battleship Potemkin and Ivan the Terrible, the exquisite (although severely damaged) Bezhin meadow, a filmed performance of Borodin’s opera Prince igor, much of which was filmed in spectacular outdoor locations, and Cuban choreographer Alberto Alonso’s ballet Carmen, after Rodion Shchedrin Carmen Suite, adapted from the opera by George Bizet Carmen.
The films also included the film by Japanese director Akira Kurosawa Dersu Uzula, filmed in Siberia, and Cuban historical dramas Memories of underdevelopment and Lucy, the latter with stunning scenes depicting the Cuban War of Independence, in which naked Cuban horsemen fought and defeated a company of fully armored Spanish soldiers.
Films with a direct link to the literary history of Australia included the Czechoslovak version of Allan Marshall’s novel I can jump puddles and almost certainly (although the archives are unclear) the early 1960s Soviet interpretation of Henry Lawson’s comedy The loaded dog.
The company has screened numerous films at the former Mandolin Cinema on Elizabeth Street, Sydney. It was once known as the Mandarin Cinema and is now the Australian Hall. Eventually, it outclassed Valhalla Cinema in Glebe as Sydney’s premier âarthouseâ cinema, a feat largely attributable to Gowland’s marketing skills.
By 1990 Gowland had joined the SPA and the old CPA had been dissolved. In 1996, the SPA reverted to the name âCommunist Party of Australiaâ. Gowland became a member of the party’s central committee, a position he held until his death. As secretary of the party’s central branch in Sydney, he organized participation in annual marches, demonstrations and celebrations, including May 1, International Women’s Day, Hiroshima Day, Sunday of the Palm Sunday and even on Bastille Day. He organized courses and branch meetings in which discussions focused on political economy, dialectical and historical materialism, politically important events (including the September 11 attacks) and political aspects of architecture. and art. He also organized walking tours regarding the history and political significance of Sydney landmarks, including the Rocks and Sydney Harbor Bridge.
Gowland failed his freshman exams after vigorously challenging the faculty’s interpretation of the story.
Gowland stressed the need for compassion in party activities. In 1994 he wrote: âThe human animalâ¦ has developed unparalleled communication skills andâ¦ a capacity for imagination and compassion. The ability to feel compassion is surely one of the meanings of the word humanity. Are the Communists not totally concerned with humanity? With the end of inhumanity? With the liberation of humanity to develop fully – physically, intellectually and culturally? “
He also underlined the importance of imagination and culture in political work, saying:
ââ¦ The revolution we want has a cultural dimension. â¦ Art does not exist isolated from society or isolated from reality. Art reflects, interprets and comments on realityâ¦ it is part of the struggle of ideas.
Gowland was calm by nature but could deliver a rousing political speech, and as one of his comrades noted, he was “clear and unwavering about the need for revolutionary change.” He also hated hypocrisy and political expediency, as evidenced by his biting review of the 1994 film. We never never, based on the novel of the same name by Mrs. Aeneas Gunn. The novel’s first edition referred quite candidly to the horrific hunts in which Indigenous people accused of crimes against backcountry ranchers were hunted down and slaughtered, but the film and subsequent editions of the book removed any reference to massacres. Gowland observed caustically: “This tidying up of a true story may keep the image of Mrs. Gunn sparkling, but the film portrays a false image of both the author and her time … of beautiful scenery, a secure period atmosphere, bland relationships and – to satisfy modern attitudes – a heroine whose perception of Indigenous culture was suddenly far ahead of her time.
Gowland wrote articles for the party press until 2020, and Communist parties in other countries often reprinted his articles. The morning star, the British Communist Party newspaper, and The people’s voice, the newspaper of the Communist Party of the United States, regularly publishes its work.
Later in life, the distraction caused difficulty for Gowland, and illness prevented him from attending marches or meetings. But the flame of commitment still burned brightly, and until a few months before his death he was still writing articles on his laptop, propped up in his hospital bed, receiving treatment three days a week.
He holds a special place in the history of the CPA, not least because of his insightful articles and his analysis of the critical role of culture in political activity. He was a longtime activist and his party membership was continuous for over thirty years until his death.
His life has been characterized by commitment, determination, creativity and compassion for workers. He was also part of a historic national movement to encourage the cultural development of film and other media with a view to enriching the lives of ordinary Australian citizens.
He is survived by his wife Pat, his sons Max, Rohan and Evan, his stepdaughter Magarly and his granddaughter Grace.