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Fowler, Jack Radnald (Mick) (1927–1979)

by Richard Morris

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Jack Radnald (Mick) Fowler (1927-1979), seaman, jazz musician and green ban activist, was born on 12 October 1927 at Auckland, New Zealand, son of Felix John Gordon Fowler, waterside worker, and his wife Cecilia Mary Kathleen, née Gollop, both New Zealand-born. Brought to Sydney as a child, he was employed in turn as a newsboy, a fruit-picker and a hairdresser. When he enlisted in the Australian Military Forces on 4 March 1946 he was described as being 5 ft 10 ins (178 cm) tall, with hazel eyes and dark hair. Following his training, he embarked in August 1947 for service with the British Commonwealth Occupation Force, Japan, and next month was attached to the 67th Battalion (later the 3rd Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment) at Kure. He returned to Sydney in August 1949 and was discharged on 8 September.

Joining the Seamen's Union of Australia and the Communist Party of Australia, Fowler (generally known as 'Mick') entertained shipmates and comrades with the ukulele, drums and bazooka, playing traditional songs of working-class struggle. As drummer in the Southern Cross Jazz Band, he visited Moscow in 1957 for the sixth World Festival of Youth and Students for Peace and Friendship. Back in Sydney, the band took part in May Day marches. Fowler performed his repertoire at picket lines, and pioneered jazz sessions at factory gates and in hotels. He played the drums and ukulele when he recorded with 'Three Strings and a Dash' (1970) and his own group, 'The Fowlhouse Five & One' (1972-73).

Returning from a voyage in April 1973, he reached his rented flat at 115A Victoria Street, Potts Point, to find the premises boarded up and sold to F. W. Theeman's Victoria Point Pty Ltd. Fowler's plight became a cause célèbre for the green ban movement when, with the help of some fifty comrades, he repossessed and barricaded the property. Supported by residents' action groups and trade unionists opposed to the redevelopment of Victoria Street, Fowler announced that the aim of this ad hoc coalition was 'to preserve a place in the inner city for low income earners'. He formed 'The Green Ban'd' and recorded Green Bans Forever (1975). 'The Battle of Victoria Street' lasted for three years, and involved court challenges, harassment and confrontations between green ban militants and security personnel retained by Theeman. With his moustache, 'boxer's nose, rasping, confidential voice and energetic eyes', Fowler became a prominent figure in Sydney. He was eventually evicted from his home after a legal judgement against him in May 1976. Although ostensibly a victory for Theeman and his associates, the campaign imposed pyrrhic costs on the developers and served as a beacon for green ban mobilization.

Fowler continued to go to sea, but the events had gradually affected his health. He remained depressed over the sinister disappearance in July 1975 of his close friend and fellow activist, Juanita Nielsen, and urged that further investigations be conducted into the case. While working as a greaser in the Australian Pioneer, he died of a coronary occlusion on 11 August 1979 at Dampier, Western Australia. Over seven hundred mourners in Sydney heard tributes from former comrades as the cortège, accompanied by a jazz band, stopped outside his old address in Victoria Street en route to Eastern Suburbs crematorium.

Select Bibliography

  • Seamen's Journal, Apr 1957, p 1, May 1959, p 119, Sept-Oct 1979, p 180
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 4 May 1973, 19 Feb, 6 May 1976, 16, 18 Aug 1979
  • Sun-Herald (Sydney), 19 Aug 1979.

Citation details

Richard Morris, 'Fowler, Jack Radnald (Mick) (1927–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/fowler-jack-radnald-mick-10229/text17943, published in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 25 July 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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