“Without the gutsy efforts of HT Lee before me, I wouldn’t have been elected the member for Marrickville,” Andrew Refshauge told a lively crowd at Sydney’s Gaelic Club on Saturday. “And I certainly wouldn’t have become deputy premier.” Refshauge’s tribute summed up HT’s contribution to NSW politics – persistent, pesky and damned effective.

More than 100 people gathered to celebrate the life of HT Lee, political activist and Crikey contributor, who died in Melbourne in July after complications from heart bypass surgery. Refshauge recounted his role in cleaning up the notorious Enmore branch of the ALP – at one stage in the early ’80s, HT was the only remaining Left member in Labor’s seemingly intractable rotten borough.

But by 1983, HT and his cohorts had cleaned the Right rorters out, and got Refshauge elected to State Parliament as the member for Marrickville. Ironically, 22 years later, Refshauge was pushed from the deputy premier’s position the same August day that HT Lee was cremated.

Among those paying tribute to our feisty former political commentator and union activist were filmmaker David Bradbury; East Timor’s consul-general in Australia, Abel Guterres; NSW Timorese Chinese community leader, Kim Gago; and UN observers and journalists who worked with HT in the UN compound during the turbulent September 1999 TNI seige of Dili. This episode is recounted in an SBS radio tribute to HT, broadcast on Saturday.

East Timor’s Abel Guterres remembered the time he called on HT for help getting much-needed vehicles to Falantil fighters. HT was the link man who set up delivery, courtesy of Martin Kingham and the CFMEU, of two Land Rovers, still in use by Falantil today. “HT always said to me: ‘East Timor must succeed’,” Guterres told the crowd. “We intend to honor the vision HT and so many others showed.”

Investigative journalist Carmela Baranowska, who screened new documentaries from East Timor, with retrospective footage of HT, told the audience a fund has been established to honor HT’s work. The HT Lee Memorial Political Filmmakers Fund is being established by Baranowska – who can be contacted here – and other independent film-makers who worked with HT on last year’s Time to Go, John documentary.