Vale Peter Gray 1980-2011

Posted: 10/05/2011 in peter gray newcastle activist, peter gray newcastle archivist

Vale Peter Gray
10 May 1980 – 30 April 2011

It was with great sadness that we learned of the death of our former colleague and friend Peter Gray. Peter was a wonderful guy, and very passionate about the environmental and societal problems that we all face as a community. He cared about the world he lived in and was committed to non violent action through activism, primarily targeted against war, the expansion of the Australian Fossil Fuel Industry and the ongoing destruction of old growth forests.

Days prior,  for some reason, I had again become fascinated with the poetry of Shelley, and was transfixed by the melancholy introductions written by his wife for the years leading up to his death in 1822. Peter, for me, was such a romantic poet.

My wife and I found ourselves in the beautiful Hunter Valley Wine country on the 30 April when the sad news arrived. We stood perplexed for a while.

That night, the sky was full of stars
And I saw one shoot across the sky.
‘Every man and every woman is a star’
And when we die each of us becomes one,
Until a thought is created,
And one of them chooses
To come back down to earth.
A shooting star.

I feel great sorrow for Peter and Naomi.

Peter was always someone that stood out from the crowd. The first time I saw him (back in 1998 or 1999) was on the 100 bus, quietly reading a book on religious spirituality, and thought to myself – Ah – a special person.

He was dressed like a toy soldier back then, and later told me he was recovering from a near death experience while working at the local service station just near where our house in Mayfield. He was held up, roughed up badly, and thought he was going to die.

That experience brought him to the Library. He was enrolled, as I was, in a Classics degree at the University, and we crossed paths across the religious, magical and classical subjects on offer. Marcus Aurelius was a particular favorite.

While at the Library he made a movie for the Shootout Film Festival where he gave birth to a watermelon. He had the nick name ‘Black Pete’ and was the late Emeritus Professor Godfrey Tanner’s last ever student of Sanskrit.

“John – I wasn’t that great a student” – he would say

I would reply – “That’s not the point, Pete. You were Godfrey’s last student. No one cares how great Beethoven’s last work was – it was Beethoven’s last work!”

From time to time we would meet and chat. We would exchange brilliant ideas that would one day make us millionaires. He said that his was to apply the dewey classification system to the Internet.

A number of years passed. I was eating lunch in the courtyard having a conversation with Matt Ward and broke a molar in half. I was on my way to the dentist, and catching the bus, trying to keep my mouth shut. At the bus stop, there was Pete.

‘Hi Pete – how’re going?’ – I said.

‘Okay – how are you?” he replied.

‘I broke a tooth, sorry I can’t talk because it hurts when I open my mouth’.

I realised how much I liked talking, I couldn’t shut up, what a pain. During those brief moments when I actually did shut up, he said he had money concerns. I mentioned that Vera Deacon had recently donated some funds to accession environmental and labour history archives, and that he should apply for the job. Anyway, Naomi eventually motivated him to get his resume together and apply, and he came to work with us.

Peter had worked as an archivist accessioning a number of collections within the University’s major regional research archives. His work involved the identification and description of important records of past local environmental and political activism, and he showed great diligence and enthusiasm in this work, ensuring that these records were preserved and available for future generations of academic, student and community researchers. These archival listings are currently uploaded to the Radical Newcastle blog and form the back bone to the guides.

From time to time he would be involved in various activist actions through Rising Tide, and I would write him a character reference to the judge or magistrate pleading with them to be lenient and UNDERSTAND.

He left work to travel with Naomi. In 2008 I rang him to see whether he could do another stint with us. He told us he had just found out he had cancer, and was currently informing the family, everyone was in shock. The last time I saw him was at the Radical Newcastle meeting held in the Library in late 2010. I was worried after I’d seen him on QandA, his face had become rounded, the skull had started to come out. Nonetheless we continued to be hopeful and continued to pray for a miracle, keeping him in our thoughts and blessings.

My last words to Pete, at the conclusion of the meeting late last year, after a hug, was to ‘Stay Healthy’. He glared.

Vale Peter.

You are a young poet like Percy Byssche Shelley,
And died way too young.
But lived a marvelous life
With friends that loved you.
What more can a man ask?
Blessings to you Naomi
My heart is with tears for you.
He is eternal – so look for the star
And you will forever see him there.

30 April 2011
Audrey Wilkinson

The morning after Peter’s funeral I had a dream that I was barefoot and about to approach a rocky path.
I turned back to get my shoes.
GDG 8 May 2011

At around 3-3.05 am I had a dream that I was at a sunny hot and dusty place, such as a scene from a old western. A group of Aboriginal people, very tired and sleepy were arriving at this outpost. I walked around the group, and was really happy to see Peter, he was sitting down and speaking with an Aboriginal man on a bench seat. I thought to myself I must have gone back in time. Here was an opportunity to speak with him again, as if nothing had happened. I touched him and he was startled to see me and said ‘hi’. I said, “Oh, if only we had beds so that these guys could get to sleep, they look really tired”. Then I tried to remember the lines from Shakespeare’s Tempest: “We are such stuff as dreams are made on, rounded with a little sleep” but I didn’t want to make reference to death.  I then found myself in a room with a little brass/gold thimble type object, it was covered in muck and in need of a clean. Just prior to seeing Peter I had stood in this same office telling the Clerk (or the Mayor?) there (again like in an old TV western) that we needed to replace the entire political system with intelligent people of heart and education. Then the sound of machine guns could be heard in the adjoining room of my house, coming from my son’s room. I thought that maybe they were playing games. I walked into the room, the noise was still there, the room a mess, but the computer was off. My skin felt goosebumps. I thought my dream was a time travel dream, but now I realised that it was a glimpse of him on his journey. Peter was now helping these men as a psychopomp.

9 May 2011

A Personal Reminiscence.

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