In 1958, Campbelltown made national headlines! Handmade signs appeared overnight on main roads at Campbelltown, pointing motorists to a “Communist Training School”! This was at the height of the Cold War, and the ‘Communist menace’ was cause for sensation!
The front page of the Campbelltown Ingleburn News of July 1st 1958 reported “Bushlovers Club Mystified Over Signs”. Eric Aarons, who identified himself as manager of the “Bushlovers Club”, gave the newspaper a statement, saying that on June 20th, Sun Herald reporters had come to premises in the bush at East Minto (otherwise known as Minto Heights) with one of the offending handmade signs in the back of their car. The reporters had followed the rough bush track, coming to a clearing with a few buildings, and a welcoming group of men and women reading.
Four days later the police arrived at the premises to find out “what was going on there”. They were shown around, and left, having satisfied themselves that nothing sinister or untoward was occurring at the premises. Mr Aarons had explained that members of the Bushlovers Club, and their friends, came to the retreat on weekends, holidays, or in their spare time to enjoy the beautiful surroundings, as well as to read, study and discuss many topics including politics. An extensive library at the Club included many works, including some of Marx, Lenin, Engels and other Marxist writers.
This was in fact, only part of the story. Mr Aarons was in fact Eric Aarons, Communist Party Australia member who played an important role in the party’s work from the mid-1940s to the winding up of the party in the early 1990s. He rose to be in charge of party education, to be a leading theorist and author, a powerful advocate for de-Stalinisation of the CPA (Communist Party of Australia). He also became joint CPA National Secretary in 1976.
1958 saw the founding of the CPA National Training School – as ASIO used to call it – aka The Bushlovers Club! The Minto Bush camp functioned as both an educational facility, and a leafy retreat. Much to the disappointment of ASIO however, despite their spying, no paramilitary training took place there! Eric Aarons was essentially the first principal of the school – he had spent three years studying in China and upon his return he developed a fundamentally different approach to party education that was only partially implemented, due to resistance from older members of the CPA leadership.
The Communist Party of Australia eventually wound up in 1991, when it became clear that the party could no longer continue to function due to both the collapse of communism as an idea and the shrinking of its membership and influence. Eric Aarons stayed on in the area, publishing a number of books including “What’s Left? Memoirs of an Australian Communist” in 1993, and “What’s Right” in 2003. He also became an accomplished sculptor, holding an exhibition of his work at the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre as recently as 2013, at the ripe old age of 94.
|One of Eric Aarons well known sculptures at Campbelltown Arts Centre
The real mystery was the origin of the signs put up in 1958 – surely done to invite curiosity and concern. Eric Aarons later said “local reactionaries erected a number of signs… and the story was splashed over the front page of a Sunday paper”. However, the camp caused no more controversies, simply becoming an accepted part of the local scene.
Written by Claire Lynch
Campbelltown Ingleburn News 1958
Macarthur Advertiser June 6 2012, Reds in Minto by Jeff McGill
Macarthur Advertiser March 3 1993, The party’s over for a true believer – glory days with Red Eric
dictionaryofsydney.org “Minto school and Communist party camp” by Richard Strauss