The Guardian May 24, 2000


John Godschall Johnson

by Phyllis Johnson

This is the history of Johnno. It is his history of more than 60 years as a 
Communist, and especially his work for the Communist newspapers.

As a young man in the '30s, his apprenticeship papers were cancelled when 
the engineering firm of Dick Rye closed its doors forever, when the 
Depression hit.

John joined the Communist Party in Townsville in 1934. Albert Robinson was 
then the Secretary of the North Queensland District Committee, later the 
State leader in Brisbane.

The Party produced the North Queensland Guardian, with Fred Paterson 
as its editor. John became the manager of the Guardian which was 
read by workers from Rockhampton to Cairns, by seamen and workers in coal, 
sugar, rail. It was sold in the streets, factories and farms in Ingham, 
Innesfail and the North.

He worked for the election of Fred Paterson, the first and only Communist 
elected to an Australian Parliament, as the member for Bowen.

In 1938, John was seconded to Sydney to work with Jack Simpson for the 
national paper, the Workers' Weekly, as its manager.

He became one of the Communist speakers in the Domain, and at street 
meetings in Kings Cross, Darlinghurst, Balmain, Paddington, Newtown and 
Bankstown.

John made sure that the communist newspapers, leaflets, posters and 
literature were available to an audience long before the advent of 
televisions and talkback radio kept people behind closed doors.

He saw the communist press as important in winning people to understand 
their role in the struggle for the socialist goal.

In his youth John painted portraiture, landscapes, and became very good at 
photography. Many of his photographs showed his concern and compassion of 
the plight of the Aboriginal fringe dwellers, and today these prints 
highlight our age of shame, not yet over.

John's photographs also showed the thin and gaunt faces of the unemployed, 
queued up outside soup kitchens and food handouts, for hand-me-downs of 
warm clothing and blankets.

Many of those photographs were used to illustrate articles in the communist 
press, and the demand for work by the jobless.

John also organised the first booklet on the plans, hopes and aspirations 
of the Torres Strait Islander people.

As a member of the Seamen's Union he joined the crew of the Elsana, which 
run between Brisbane and Thursday Island.

John wrote in his diary, "Each trip I sat with the leaders, and they told 
me the problems of life as indigenous people. I wrote this up in simple 
language and when it was approved, the pamphlet Let the Sun Shine 
was printed by the communist press in 1954 in English and translated into 
two Island languages."

Now in his 88th year, John is widely known as a member of the Communist 
Party and a maker of violins, violas, cellos and bows. He is a legend of 
his own time.

He has written in the belly of these instruments "Never to be bought or 
sold". They are now played by young talented musicians.

His violin, No 29 has been played in the great orchestras in Russia, 
Australia, Berlin, London and the United States.

This is the life and work of John Godschall Johnson, artist, sculptor, 
photographer, woodworker, chemist, acoustical engineer, and Communist 
activist.

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