Dr Anthony Irwin Ashbolt, scholar, activist, unionist and educator, died suddenly on June 5, aged 67.
Anthony was a well-known and influential lecturer in politics at the University of Wollongong from 1991 until his retirement in 2020, specialising in US politics, media politics and cultural politics.
He inspired generations of students with his passionate teaching, brilliant oratory and steadfast commitment to progressive social change.
After studying History at Macquarie University where he was involved in the anti-war movement, Anthony undertook his PhD at the ANU, and won a Fulbright scholarship to travel to the University of California to study the radical protest movements of the 1960s.
He obtained his first academic position at University of New England in Armidale. By this time he had married Shelley and they were raising their four children.
Arriving at Wollongong University in 1991, his classes quickly became legendary. Anthony, or 'Ashbolt', as he was commonly known, believed deeply in the power of education to transform lives. He practiced this in his lively tutorials. No topic was off limits, and there was nowhere to hide. If you didn't agree with him, fine - but you'd better be prepared to defend your position.
Well before the digital age, multi-media was central to Anthony's teaching. Classes regularly included excerpts from avant-garde films, protest songs, radio interviews and documentaries. For Anthony, culture was central to understanding politics. Culture could reinforce the power of dominant social groups, or it could be used to challenge them.
Anthony never turned away students who wanted to discuss politics, sometimes for hours, always patiently, seriously and enthusiastically answering their questions in his small office, stacked floor-to-ceiling with books, papers, videos, postcards and posters of both Karl and Groucho Marx.
But perhaps what distinguished Ashbolt from so many others was his principled and passionate commitment to social justice and the way this inflected his teaching, research and activism.
For Anthony, intellectuals had a responsibility to speak truth to power. He was as much at home on a picket line as in a classroom. Never lacking the courage to speak his mind, to the very end he railed against the managerialism he viewed as corroding modern universities.
This politically committed approach was reflected in his research - on the power of the mass media, the assault on public education and the legacy of the radical social movements of the 1960s.
Defying convention, Ashbolt even wrote a musical No More Songs: Phil Ochs and the Sixties, performed to acclaim in 2003 at the National Folk Festival in Canberra. No-one embodied Anthony's view of the inextricable link between culture and politics better than Ochs, the sardonic folksinger who was an important figure for the anti-Vietnam War movement.
Many former students have spoken of the profound effect Ashbolt had on their lives. He treated students with respect - as peers - and never dumbed things down. His students felt seen, heard and challenged: attending Anthony's classes built an invaluable sense of academic confidence. He was the spark that fuelled further studies for many.
You taught us more than politics in the classroom, you taught us about power in the streetsArthur Rorris
Whether it was a lecture, or a speech to hundreds of protestors in Wollongong Mall, his performances were fiery and eloquent, delivered in a sonorous voice that commanded attention.
South Coast Labour Council Secretary, and former student, Arthur Rorris, recently summed up his contribution: "Anthony, you taught us more than politics in the classroom, you taught us about power in the streets."
Anthony cared deeply about his students, his colleagues, his community and, above all, his family.
He is survived by his wife Shelley, children Chloe, Roland, Martin and Bonnie, and four grandchildren.
- Damien Cahill is a former student of Dr Ashbolt's, and is NSW secretary of the National Tertiary Education Union.
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