A tribute to Jill Brassell

Jill Brassell, who died on November 30, was a stalwart of the Wellington left for many decades, a fine musician, a militant, a Woman’s Liberationist, an understated wit and a friend. We’re going to miss her and we’re so sad to learn of her death. On behalf of the International Socialist Organisation we send condolences to Jill’s partner, Don, her family and all her friends and comrades. Our side has lost a fighter and an inspiration.

We first got to know Jill during the great anti-war movement in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq. She was a quiet presence at campaign meetings but, when she spoke, her words was considered and penetrating. She was a constant presence on demonstrations – large and small – and her music gave a vitality and spirit to many Wellington protests. We still have the single of ‘Take the Guns Out of their Hands’, a CD Jill and Don recorded as a contribution to the anti-war movement. Our memories of Jill mix music and militancy together: small groups of us picketing the US Embassy following the massacre at Fallujah; larger groups marching behind musicians Jill was playing alongside; groups getting out fundraising for striking workers or solidarity campaigns abroad.

We remember fun times too listening to songs at Jill’s place when we lived on Holloway Road. A shared love of country and western helped, and we discovered many new artists and traditions thanks to Jill’s suggestions.

She was a quiet person, but sharp in her observations, and some well-chosen few words could cut through bullshit and pretension, our own included in that from time to time. But, even though she was thirty years our senior, Jill always talked and debated with us as equals. We drew on her experience of earlier battles – in Women’s Liberation especially – and enjoyed her open-minded debates.

Jill loved the written word and had an editor’s passion for accuracy, hating both jargon in left writing and errors left uncorrected. One campaign of hers restored Polhill Reserve to its correct spelling on official signs. That reflects too her commitment to some important locations – the Valley, Wellington, and, more recently, Porirua’s harbour. We’ll remember her in those places.

Goodbye, Jill. We’re glad to have known you, and we’re going to miss you. We add your memory to the list of inspirations that sustain us in the struggle for socialism.

Will there be any freight trains in heaven

Any boxcars in which we might ride

Will there be any tough cops or brakemen

Will they tell us that we cannot ride.

Will the hobo chum with the rich man

Will we always have money to spare

Will they have respect for the hobo

In that land which lies hidden up there…