In Memory of Jay Birny Birnbrauer | The Greens (WA)

In Memory of Jay Birny Birnbrauer

A tribute presented at the Cottesloe Council Civic Centre, Jarrah Room, Friday 1st December

By Chilla Bulbeck, Co-Convenor Greens WA, on behalf of the Greens WA
Monday, December 25, 2017

In this memorial service attended by around 150 people and lasting over two hours, friends who swam, played bridge or dominoes, watched footy, travelled overseas, shared dog custodianship with Jay; U.S. family, adopted Australian family, professional and community service colleagues paid tribute to Jay.

Jay had two brothers and a number of nephews, nieces and their children in the United States. In the Powerpoint photo gallery, the loving attention Jay showed the many babies and children he has been with testified to his love for the young. His adopted family included colleague Guy Hall, who he introduced to his partner, another acquaintance of Jay’s. Jay told Guy one day, ‘Get out there and introduce yourself to that lady. Don’t let her get away’. They remained close and one of their children sang ‘Streets of London’ and ‘Hallelujah’ (Siobhan Dow-Hall, accompanied by Lukas Murphy) while the other concluded the proceedings with the 23rd psalm (Liam Dow-Hall). Jay’s choir attended and sang several songs. 

Jay was taught by a student of B.F. Skinner’s and became committed to a version of behaviouralism which he and colleagues developed and pioneered its application to ‘unteachable’ children in the United States and Western Australia. Psychology that didn’t work Jay called out as bullshit. A prize has been created to honour his influence in developing and practicing a behavioural therapy that worked.

Paddy Cullen of Oxfam remembers that Jay unassumingly came into the Oxfam shop every Friday and sold chocolate. Only gradually did Paddy realise he had a volunteer with strong editing skills and a sharp political nose to reshape letters to politicians or newsletter articles, and someone of such generosity he organized the Friends of Oxfam to donate thousands of dollars to keep Oxfam doing its work.

Thanks to Ean James, a football watching friend of Birny’s for creating a warm and wonderful event of this particular man – whose presence was entirely with you and whose sharpness of observation was acute.

In memory of Jay, I acknowledge we meet on the land of the Wadjuk-Noongar people and pay my respects to their elders past and present. Jay worked with an Aboriginal community in the Kimberley in his professional capacity. I was pleased to see the Aboriginal flag flying outside as we entered.

Jay’s gruff directness, his quirky sense of humour and his lanky frame disguised an erudite academic mind, a generous heart and an enduring commitment to a fairer planet. 

I thank my Greens colleagues who are here today sharing their memories of Jay:

Tim Clifford, our newly minted upper house member for East Metropolitan and Rachel Siewert, our long-serving Greens senator

Rowena Skinner, our Greens office manager

Greg Boland, council member with Birny, neighbor, and Greens member

Other long time friends, office volunteers and Greens members, Ruth Greble, Judy Blyth, Behrooz Eslam, Jan Knight, Peter Wilmott, Catherine Hall, Jean le Quesne and Katherine Minara.

Greg Boland wants to acknowledge Jay as a pioneering environmental and social justice campaigner in and beyond Cottesloe Council. Jay was the Chair of Cottesloe Council’s Disabilities Services Committee. Around twenty years ago, Jay was the driving force behind the carbon neutral policy adopted by the Town of Cottesloe, expressed for example in solar panels on the Civic Centre. 

In his periodic international trips, Jay attended operas and orchestral performances. Expressing his love for music, Councillor Birnbrauer introduced many of the Music for Pleasure concerts held here in the Jarrah Room.

Jay is one of a handful of Greens WA members who has been awarded an honorary lifetime membership. Rowena Skinner remembers Jay as a volunteer at the Greens office for at least 17 years.

Rowena writes: He was there when I started in 2001. As a bit of a coincidence, Jay was my lecturer at Murdoch University in the early 1980s, so it’s a small world.

Wednesdays were Jay’s day and he was as regular as clockwork. He took an annual holiday; otherwise he was always there. Even when he had his hip operation, then a heart bypass, then both bouts of cancer he still managed to come in fairly regularly, commandeering his many friends to ferry him to the office. Such dedication. It was part of Jay’s nature to be loyal and reliable, as a volunteer and friend.

So now on Wednesday morning when I get to the office, I keep expecting to hear his gruff ‘good morning Row’. I think it will be a while before I get used to not hearing it.

Jay was involved in the Greens in other ways as well. He was a member of our Administration Working Group for a couple of years. He was a permanent representative for our Curtin Regional Group through which he participated in our grassroots party decision-making. 

Jay had a wry sense of humour, and new volunteers took a while to work out when he was joking. While he was sharp in his wit, he was never unkind or nasty.

I will miss him.

Speaking for myself, I came to know Jay from about 2012 when he was volunteering as a booth coordinator for the Curtin electorate during federal elections and for North Metropolitan during state elections. As recently as 2016, Viv Glance, our candidate for Curtin, remembers that Jay handed out how to vote cards at Mt Claremont all day, mostly singlehandedly. Viv sends her apologies.

I want to share Jay’s passion and humour by reading an extract from an article he wrote for our newsletter Green Announce on the joys of handing out how-to-vote cards

‘What a (good) way to spend a Saturday!

Elections are on a Saturday when nothing else of significance is happening. That’s according to the government who may not know it’s our day to wash the car, mow the lawn, play tennis, bridge or other games, shop and/or chauffeur the kids to netball, birthday party or whatever they are into. For me, I gave away my lawn years ago; I let the rain wash my car. My great grandchildren fend for themselves happily wherever they are and my bridge partner accepts me doing something different and important on an election day. 

If you choose to captain a booth you will find that no matter what time you arrive in the morning, the Libs and ALP will have already covered every available space with pictures of their smiling candidates. You can feel OK about that since your party is not wasting paper on lots of pictures. You can be proud that all you need is your Greens flag and Greens t-shirt, a poster of your favourite (and far better looking) candidates, and a handful of how-to-vote cards. So, you don’t have to wake up at sunrise; 7 AM will do.

At the end of the day while cleaning up, I reflect on the many interesting people I met, the issues that I have never thought about or have had to face and I hope I had made new friends for the Greens and even a new friend for myself. I can go on to the celebration party and exchange the highs of the day with comrades.’ 

It was easy to be with Jay, even in Bethesda, where he was the most popular patient on the ward. On my visits, Jay and I joked together with the gay nurse telling him he must get his marriage equality vote in TODAY! Jay was also a regular volunteer at our Pride Fairday stalls and part of our Greens movement to recognize GLBTI rights.

Farewell Jay. Wherever you are, may it be a place of peace, love and chocolate.

Header photo: Jay Birnbrauer with Tim Clifford and Nathanie Catteneo at Fairday in October 2012. Shane Guthrie