A lion of the Labor movement, Tom Uren has been celebrated as an extraordinary man who served two prime ministers and his country.
A professional boxer, a soldier, a federal parliamentarian of 31 years and a minister in the Whitlam and Hawke governments, Uren died on Australia Day at the age of 93.
Michael Uren led the tributes in front of more than 700 people at a state funeral in Sydney, saying the crowded Town Hall was testament to his father’s character and influence, after having spent his life in service to others.
His father was “arrogant, egotistical, opinionated, loving, humble, hard and very gentle”, he said.
“And yet with all these qualities, he chose a life of service to others.
“I love ya old fellow. I’m going to miss you, you old bastard.”
The funeral procession was accompanied by a percussion and funeral song performed by the East Timorese community, honouring Uren’s time spent there when deployed during World War II.
Uren was a long-time supporter of East Timorese independence.
Senior Labor MP Anthony Albanese, who was told by Uren more than a decade ago that he would be MC at the funeral, said Uren was not just his mentor, but the closest person he’d had to a father figure in his life.
“The passing of a man such as Tom Uren has caused us great sadness,” Mr Albanese said, adding that Uren would have wanted his life story “to inspire a new generation striving for a more compassionate and just Australia, and world”.
“He was a truly extraordinary man.”
Political dignitaries past and present, including past Labor prime ministers Bob Hawke and Paul Keating, and former Liberal prime minister John Howard, attended the funeral.
Born in 1921 in the then working-class suburb of Balmain, Uren left school at the age of 13 to look for work, as the impact of the Great Depression still lingered.
He was a professional boxer, and fought for the Australian heavyweight title, before serving with the Australian Imperial Forces in World War II, during which time he was a prisoner of war at the hands of the Japanese, forced to work on the Thai-Burma Railway alongside Sir Edward “Weary” Dunlop.
In 1945, from his POW camp, Uren witnessed the “discoloured sky” as an atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki in Japan.
He would later become one of the first Labor MPs to question Australia’s support for the war in Vietnam, and in the early 1990s led a delegation to free Western hostages before the first Iraq war.
Uren was elected to federal parliament for the seat of Reid in 1958, was Labor deputy leader in 1976, and served in parliament until 1990.
Described by Mr Hawke as a “people’s politician”, Uren was also credited with establishing the Register of the National Estate, which recognised natural, indigenous and historic heritage places.
A private cremation was held on Wednesday afternoon.