What Do We Want?
The Story of Protest in Australia
Talks / Lecture
Australian journalist and commentator Jack Waterford AM launches Clive Hamilton’s latest work, which explores the colourful, enthralling and stirring forms of protest used in the big social movements that define modern Australia.
Transcript of ‘What Do We Want? The Story of Protest in Australia’
Speakers: Cathy Pilgrim (CP), Clive Hamilton (CH), Jack Waterford (JW), Audience (A)
Location: National Library of Australia
CP: Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the National Library of Australia. I'm Cathy Pilgrim, the Library's Assistant Director General of Executive and Public Programs. As we begin tonight, I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land. I thank their elders past and present for caring for this land we are now privileged to call home. I'm delighted that so many of you have joined us today as we celebrate the launch of the National Library publication, What Do We Want? The History of Protest in Australia. Described by Elizabeth Farrelly in her Fairfax column last weekend as a rare combination of fine writing, lucid analysis, quiet passion and astonishing images. What Do We Want tells the stories of those who have stood up, those who have raised their voices to change our country for the better.
The author of What Do We Want is one of Australia's influential thinkers and authors, Professor Clive Hamilton. In What Do We Want, Clive explores the colourful and stirring forms of protest used in the big social movements that define modern Australia. He examines how these movements for a quality, peace, environmental action and indigenous rights have confronted the ugliness in Australian society and caused major shifts in social attitudes and thinking.
Since 2008, Clive has been professor of public ethics at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics, a joint centre of CharlesSturtUniversity and the University of Melbourne. He is based at CharlesSturtUniversity's campus but here in Canberra. He was the founder and executive director of the Australian Institute, a progress think tank. He holds degrees from the AustralianNationalUniversity and the University of Sydney and completed his doctorate in the Economics of Development at the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex. Clive has published on a wide range of subjects, but is best known for his books which include Growth Fetish, Affluenza with Richard Denniss, WHAT'S LEFT? The Death of Social Democracy, Silencing Dissent and Scorcher, The Dirty Politics of Climate Change.
In 2009, he was made a member of the Order of Australia for his contribution to public debate and public policy, and in 2012 was appointed by the Federal Government to the Climate Change Authority.
Joining Clive this evening is Jack Waterford, Australian Journalist, commentator and former editor of the Canberra times. Jack is well known for his long and illustrious career in journalism which began with the Canberra Times in 1972.
Jack received the Graham Perkin Australian Journalist of the Year Award in 1985 and more recently in 2007 was named not only a Member of the Order of Australia but also Canberra Citizen of the Year.
Please make welcome this evening, Clive Hamilton and Jack Waterford. Welcome.
CH: Many thanks for that wonderful introduction, Cathy. I just want to make a few words before we start our conversation to ... basically to give some thanks for which with this book is ... owes more to other people than any other book that I've written.
When Susan Hall from the Library approached me to write this book some three or so years ago I said no. I was too busy, had other projects, a couple of books on the boil and I suggested that she might like to approach someone else.
And then over the next month it kind of gnawed away at me and I thought, gee, writing that book would be so much fun. And so I rang her up and said, Susan, have you asked anyone else to write that book? She said, no, not yet. I'll do it, I said (chuckling). And I'm so glad I changed my mind because writing the text and selecting the images that have gone into it really I've never had so much fun as an author. And so my first thanks are to Susan who throughout the process has been endlessly supportive in, you know, getting over many of the hurdles and humps that inevitably this kind of book entails so I'm very grateful to her. And, as I suggested, a book like this with the images is far more complicated than a text only book. Incidentally when we start talking, some of the images from the book will start rotating through in front of you. I just want to give you a sense that this is a book about words as well as images.
And so in the course of the stages of preparing this book I've relied very heavily on a whole range of expertise that the National Library possesses in layout and text design, in editing, in image location, in copyright permissions, working the photos up into really astonishingly high quality for the book. And so I'd like to thank Jemma Posch and Louise Dews for their very important contributions with the pictures, and of course the photographic team in the basement that does magical work with the images.
I'd like to express particular gratitude to Amelia Hartney for her fabulous editorial work when you see the book I'm sure you'll agree, as well as her sage advice on various tricky issues that came up in the process of editing, she's really been a great delight to work with. I've also benefited enormously from my access to the Petherick Room upstairs or downstairs actually when I was doing the work, led by ... it's highly professional staff led by Andrew Sergeant. And lastly I have to thank ... a special thanks for Gemma Williams who's joined us here today, has flown in from London. Gemma was my research assistant on the book and she immediately said yes. When I asked her she was kind of fresh out of university although then had to go back, but she was completely committed for the several months in which we were working very, very intensely on the text and gathering photographic images, and she arrived every day in the Petherick Room with her boundless enthusiasm and she was full of ideas. And most importantly, I think, for me, she brought a young person's perspective to this project, because the last thing I wanted was for this book to be about nostalgia. I wanted it to be, as well as a social history, I wanted to bring it up to date and make it as relevant for 22 year olds as it will be for 62 year olds. So I hope that that youthful view comes through as you read the book, and that particularly is a manifestation of Gemma's influence too. So lastly I just want to thank Jack for coming along and agreeing to launch it. I remember Jack from my days at ANU. He was one of the great leaders of the student movement there and I was just one of the foot soldiers that turned up at the demonstration. So I held him in a little bit of awe at that time and so it is wonderful to have him here all these years later to help us launch the book. So we'll get stuck in.
JW: Clive, you mention of your age there. It reminds me of the fact that a year before you were born and only a couple of years after I was born, there was that cult movie made starring Marlon Brando called The Wild One. And there's a scene in it where Marlon drives a bike into a little town which is absolutely quaking in fear of a whole host of other bikies come in, and the Mayor or the policeman or what, I can't quite remember who, but anyway, comes out and wants to know what they're all about. And then he asks them, what are you against?
JW: And Marlon Brando says, I don't know, what have you got?
CH: And what have you got? (Both laughing)
JW: And this sort of reminds me of the fact that sort of height of what one might call the early demonstration era that you chronicle in this book, the '60s and the '70s, we've demonstrations against Vietnam, against conscription, against apartheid, in favour of Aboriginal rights and so forth, was often said that the students who were involved or primarily students who were involved, you know, would adopt any cause and were quite undiscriminating against it. On the 6th of March 1970, which was two days before everywhere else in Australia and the day after the KentState massacre in the US, three to four thousand Canberra people marched across the bridge to Parliament House to protest in the first moratorium. And we were described by Billy Snedden as political bikies peck raping democracy. Otherwise we were generally just known as long haired communist hippy pufta bastards, I think.
CH: (Chuckling) That just about summed it up (chuckling).
JW: Now the youth of today, including yourself, because you're still a very useful ... youthful ...
JW: ... 62.
CH: Sixty-three, yeah.
JW: Are just called advocates. What's happened?
CH: Well I mean ...
JW: The hair part of it, I guess.
CH: Yeah, yeah, right (chuckling). I had this kind of horrible image then when you were talking about Marlon Brando letting the bikies into town. I mean I never thought that actually there's quite a strong analogy there. I mean, when you think of the freedom writers ... riders turning up in their bus in Walgett or Moree, these long haired puftee commie students from SydneyUniversity ...
CH: ... the reaction of the locals to these aliens, these very threatening outsiders, whom they couldn't understand and saw as a big threat to the social fabric, was actually a bit like that bikie gang riding into Canberra last weekend. I mean ...
CH: ... you know, I was saying to Janeene, I'm really glad that cops are keeping a close eye on these blokes, you know, bastards, you know, how dare they come in town and intimidate us all. And yet there was a very strong visual reaction from conservative people who did not understand what ... you know, this is ... we're talking late '60s, early '70s, perhaps up to the kind of mid-late '70s, which this felt very, very threatening. And ... but it's also true that more and more people started to see the logic of the case. So if I can put it that way.
CH: And one of the interesting things about protest is, and this was particularly ... this has been very prevalent in the early days of the indigenous rights movements, I mean they were kind of latest phase '60s, '70s, and also the gay liberation movement, is that there were elements often that were very cautious.
CH: Very careful, and would often well, look, we don't want to press too hard, we need to wait until society is ready for change. But the radicals amongst them would say no.
JW: We're sick of waiting.
CH: We're sick of waiting, we are going to make society ready for change. And I think that's part of what's happened, that this cautious moderate element has come to dominate and the radicals who, you know, are out there, say, demanding that society must be made to be ready for change have kind of receded into the background.
JW: I'm reminded in that of Aboriginal affairs, I suppose, in particular but where it became quite noticeable by the end of the '60s and certainly into the '70s, that the moment anybody said anything truly fantastic and the best example of it at the time was the use of the word black power or Black Panther. But about half a dozen Aboriginal people, Dennis Walker, Billy Currie, Gary Williams, Gary Foley and a couple of others, dressed in black panther style uniforms and talked about, you know, seizing power ...
JW: ... or something. Anyway, it inspired, I tell you, at least 50 separate ASIO think papers. They became the subject of fulltime attention but what was even more interesting was that the equivalent in those days of the 7:30 Report or the Sydney Morning Herald editorial column, would start writing editorials saying, granted that the Aborigines have a lot to complain about.
JW: But this is going too far.
JW: But in the course of explaining just why they were going too far this time, they would actually concede a whole host of ground that had never been conceded before.
CH: Well the fascinating thing about those indigenous protests, and of course a lot of this story happened in Canberra.
CH: And one of the things, and there are quite a number of photos of protests in Canberra, one of the things I noticed in a lot of the photos, not least the brilliant, brilliant photo of Jimmy Clements, the Wiradjuri man ...
CH: ... who in 1927 walked from Tumut with his dogs to the opening of Parliament House. And he just turned up and he was there, it was kind of the politics of presence and he was saying, this is our land. That was in 1927. Extraordinary, one man protest that ... and there's this wonderful photo in the book. I don't think it comes up here. But, yeah, the thing about the Kent Embassy and those black power, this (chuckling) ...
CH: ... you know and they even had the leather and the whole ... (chuckling) and they stared into the camera. There was a kind of element of piss take in it.
JW: Yes, absolutely.
CH: And those guys knew what they were doing, they knew they were winding up the establishment and the establishment, let's face it, was so easy to wind up, I mean ...
CH: ... political bikies pack graping democracy, I mean it was hilarious.
JW: It was fabulous. And some of the worst and most disgraceful things that happened, I ... the few people who are old enough to remember it, but might remember that every time you went around State Circle, the white walls of the South African Embassy would be painted a fresh smash apartheid.
JW: And every morning at about 10 o'clock, somebody commissioned by the Department of Foreign Affairs would go and put a fresh coat of paint on it (chuckling).
CH: And they'd go and check out Jack Waterford who oddly had paint all over his hand (chuckling).
JW: But the thing was, it was you know regarded as some sort of insidious conspiracy when in fact what would happen would be at 11 or 12 o'clock at night somebody would say something like, I'm bored, let's go around and paint the South African Embassy (chuckling) and we would.
CH: So there was a lot of classic Aussie rat-baggery in it.
CH: As well as very serious political purpose, and I like to recount the comment that was made, again when the freedom riders in 1965 turned up at the Walgett RSL and held those famous signs saying Good Enough for Tobruk but not good enough for Walgett RSL because Aboriginal diggers were excluded from it. The diggers came out, the white diggers came out with a beer in hand and said, oh God, thank God these ratbags are never going to run the country.
CH: I mean they say there was Jim Spigelman, you know (chuckling).
CH: And a whole bunch of luminaries who actually did end up running the country and this is ... or part of it for some of the time. We could perhaps talk about the, you know, the Victory of the New Right in the end, as it were, although it's a more complicated story than that. But you know this is one of the fascinating things that it was the students who had a conscience and a bit of courage and went out there and also like a good time because the best parties of course were always held by the protesters. You know, they were the ones that often went on to, you know, edit newspapers, get senior judicial appointments, even become senior politicians. I'm thinking of Anthony Albanese, for instance. I've got a photo of him there with other ... as a young student occupying the Clock Tower of the University of Sydney. So it ... you know, it's not an accident that a lot of those people went on to do those kinds of things.
JW: And yet ... and yet there was some feeling after the height of those times which ended fairly abruptly with the election of the Whitlam government.
JW: And we all thought the achievement of everything that we were on about, that somehow or other the baton was dropped, that those people became too interested in the gravy train and that the youth of today ...
JW: ... was not picking up the baton and asking for more. Now if you look at this book you see actually that there's a fairly continuous and seamless development into wider areas. Women ... the rights of women in particular perhaps, but also gay liberation, war against discrimination in a whole host of fields, sex, race, etc, and the further development in Aboriginal affairs.
CH: And then the emergence of the environment.
JW: And then the emergence of the environment movement.
JW: Perhaps floodlit by the uranium, anti-uranium movement.
CH: Yeah. That's right but then really in a way hitting it straps in the ... with the Franklin Dam protests of 1982/83.
CH: I was actually overseas doing a PhD at the time and I came back and people kept talking about the Franklin Dam and I kind of didn't get it, you know. Now let the Gordon run free. I thought that was about Gordon Rugby Club or something (chuckling). I really did, for about two years, and I asked someone.
JW: It was ... that was like it in the late 1960s, that many people thought that free zarb was something on offer.
JW: (Both laughing)
CH: That's right. Yeah, yeah.
JW: Delicatessens in Melbourne or something like that. Yeah.
CH: I've been expecting that some clever marketing creative will recommend to, you know, Rothmans that they name a new cigarette Freezone so that, you know, everywhere around Australia there would be the sign smoke free zone (chuckling).
CH: (Both laughing) I shouldn't have suggested it, they'll probably do it.
JW: Yeah. That brings to mind actually that one of the pieces of continuity that you pick up in this book is the bugger up movement.
JW: And what they were doing particularly with cigarettes and alcohol but also sexist advertising which led up to Pat O'Shane's interventions as a magistrate in it and whatnot, but there was also a ... that was, if you like, the fun thing ...
JW: ... the merry prankster style of things, but it was also being alleged at the time that the old new left was starting to become humourless.
JW: Earnest not quite as forgiving or tolerant.
CH: I think that's probably true, almost undoubtedly true, and just for those of you who might not remember bugger up or came from Melbourne rather than Sydney, it was a particularly Sydney base although it did spread to Melbourne and one or two other places, Newcastle a bugger up activist was arrested in Newcastle. But they ... it was dominated by doctors, young doctors actually.
CH: And they went out in the middle of the night with their spray cans and they defaced billboards or they called it refacing rather than defacing. And they had very clever few changes to billboards that completely undermined the message. I mean we call it culture jamming, it was a kind of ... it was start of culture jamming. And they only operated for less than two years and then they mysteriously disappeared. But the interesting thing about it was that when ... there were only a couple of arrests but they gave the classic defence of civil disobedience, they admitted that yes they caused property damage but it was in the interests of preventing a greater harm, children smoking or alcoholism or so on and so forth. And it was, you know, wonderful, I mean, I remember I think I was driving along Victoria Road in Sydney.
JW: Victoria Road was the best place for them.
CH: Yeah, and I saw it.
JW: Full of Balmain basket weavers, that was the reason why.
CH: That's right.
CH: (Chuckling) And I thought, oh this was wonderful, what a fantastic way of making a protest. And I think that ... and it was very humorous except for the advertising industry who hated it and didn't know how to respond and so their response was to have an advertising campaign to condemn these vandals. But, yes, I think a lot of that has been lost, although within the environment movement there is at times outbreaks of humour, which keeps people going.
JW: Or sheer devilry.
CH: Yes, or sheer devilry, that's quite right (both laughing). Yes.
JW: Yeah, one of the end up things of the bugger up thing was that the ... perhaps a different set of anti-graffiti artists but began getting at sexist advertising. And that led to the point where I think a matter of defacing public property or malicious damage or some other grievous thing but involving many police and whatnot and a couple of women who had wrote this ad is sexist or something like that. But came up before as it happened Magistrate Pat O'Shane.
JW: Who said immediately that it was sexist and acquitted the people and (both laughing) that was that. Yeah, was ... do you think there was a sort of a sense, though, in, if you like, some shift to grimness or something like that that some things just weren't funny anymore?
CH: Well I mean as you've suggested, Jack, after the ... particularly the election of Whitlam government and subsequent years, which was a great victory. I mean when you think ...
CH: ... about what the Whitlam government did, I mean, they did all sorts of fabulous things very quickly, like you know, making sure that the Franklin would never get dammed, releasing conscientious objectors from prison ... sorry, not conscientious objectors ...
JW: Draft dodgers.
CH: Draft dodgers from prison within about three days, some dozens of draft resisters were freed, but what we saw is that protests or the campaigns, I'm thinking particularly of the women's movement, became much more institutionalised.
CH: And so we saw, and this was a good thing, we saw campaigners drawn into the institutions of government ...
CH: ... both parliamentary aspects of government but also public service and non‑government organisations and so on, or quasi government organisations and they became involved in consultations and position papers and commenting on legislation and lobbying parliamentarians and so on. And it kind of ... I mean it was important and necessary and I'm thinking now of the women's electoral lobby, it was important and necessary and a lot of advances were made but somehow sort of sucked the enthusiasm and the joie de vivre out of those protest movements. And, you know, it became boring and institutionalised and I think again it was that ... there were breakouts from that, I'm thinking of the Aboriginal Embassy in 1975 ... no, sorry, that was 1972, but I'm thinking more particularly of the environment movement which started to gather pace at the end of the '70s but then really took off in the '80s. And that was much more out there, you know, it was much more a counter cultural thing, it was a re‑emergence of the counter culture and we shouldn't forget that.
JW: Yes, I just want to pick up on that. As this thing became somewhat more mainstream and working over the institutions and making things happen, there was in fact a quite radical transformation occurring in the general Australian population as well.
JW: You know, it actually became wrong in common par lets you know to discriminate against Aborigines.
JW: The gay liberation, homosexual rights, that the law reform movement and whatnot continued to develop the women's movement while undoubtedly less than completely satisfied with the rate of progress but actually achieved not just during the Whitlam years but sort of progressively through the Fraser years and so forth. So that within 15 or 20 years most of the things that had been argued about in, say, 1965 or 1970, were actually now part of the general consciousness of Australia. Even to some extent a new reverence for the environment.
CH: Yes indeed. Yeah I mean the kinds of social changes put forward in the early days of the women's movement were met mostly with horror by the mainstream. You know, it would undermine the basic pillars of our society particularly the attack on the heterosexual family and the subordinate role of women in it. But the system learned over the years that it actually could accommodate it and that this ... these demands were not going to go away. But you're absolutely right that the transformation that occurred from the late '60s but particularly through the '70s and '80s really revolutionised Australian and Australian social attitudes so that it became wrong to publicly express all sorts of attitudes. I mean I remember the things that I heard that were just normal in the schoolyard when I was a boy that were just horrifying now.
JW: Yes, and well beyond anything to do with political correctness or something like that, it reflected a genuine, you know, new social mood ...
JW: ... that discrimination on the basis of race or sex or creed or something like that was implicitly wrong, but even un-Australian. Woah, the good folk of Walgett, the good white folk of Walgett's image of what was Australian had almost entirely evaporated ...
JW: ... except perhaps in some of the Walgetts of the world.
CH: Well, and it was in ...
JW: I speak as a former Walgett citizen (both laughing).
CH: Yes. Jack was telling me some amazing war stories from Walgett and Moree in those days. Yes, and, you know, there was a roiling constant public debate through those years that, you know, across every dinner table and at every bar and in every workplace there were constant difficult arguments where people would challenge ...
JW: Their parents or ...
CH: ... their parents or their work mates or wherever and the kind of attitudes and beliefs that, you know, we all grew up with, you know, we thought nothing of talking about boongs. What's wrong with that? You know. And as soon as that started to be challenged people had to say, oh, I mean it's very hard to defend.
CH: And over those years there was a tremendous transformation in attitudes, particularly public attitudes. Private attitudes are slower to change. So, and it was then that, you know, I remember that this phrase political correctness is actually, you know, an extremely interesting and important one. I remember originally when it first started to be used it was used I think in the early '70s and of course it was adopted from Maoist language ...
CH: ... you know, in an ironic way. It was taken up by western leftists and radicals as a way of saying, you know, somebody would say something and they'd say comrade, that's not politically correct. It was a kind of gentle ironic way of reminding people that this is really not the way, you know, you need to re-examine your attitudes. And we all confronted it and were confronted by it and I know I certainly was many times. And then something happened and, you know, in the last 10 or 15 years the neo-conservatives have taken up this phrase and turned it around and have characterised political correctness as this form of oppression that the left has imposed.
JW: Boar constraining.
CH: Yes, against freedom of speech.
CH: And it's this kind of re-assertion of freedom of speech and a resistance to this oppressiveness of the fanatical left that demands that we do all of these things. But I say three cheers for political correctness.
JW: And, yes well we've got the new affirmation of everybody's right to be a bigot to do.
CH: Mm. Thank you, Brandis.
JW: Yes. In that sense ...
CH: And Bill Leak.
JW: Yeah. In the book you talk about how the triumph of the new left was to some extent followed by a triumph of the new right.
JW: I'm not quite sure if it's a part of the same trend, but the development, say, of a Pauline Hanson, perhaps some might say the mobilisation of a redneck community by a Trump in the United States is that to seen if you like primarily in terms of a reaction against this transformation in society or is it more, do you think, economic forces?
CH: Well it's ...
JW: Pauline Hanson, you might remember, was forever saying things like Aborigines are getting rights and benefits that ordinary decent folk like I represent are not getting.
CH: Yes, which was a very powerful argument.
CH: It was a completely wrong argument and in fact the Australia Institute when we heard this, when she was elected in 1997, the next few years it became a commonplace, we decided to do a very detailed analysis and it was carried by the departed Max Noitsa who, he did a brilliant study of what kind of benefits indigenous people are entitled to compared to non-indigenous people and proved that it was completely incorrect to say that Aboriginal people were entitled to all these things that white people aren't. I mean it was a question of income and disadvantage not colour.
JW: Yes but there was a powerful edge of resentment in it.
CH: Definitely there was a powerful edge of resentment.
JW: And there was a powerful edge of thinking that somehow or other society had changed without there being consulted.
CH: Well it's a complex thing. I mean, I make the point in the book and I think this is true but it needs closer examination, as you're suggesting. I make the point in the book that the left one, the cultural and social battle over the last several decades. I mean, if you think about Australian culture and society now compared to the 1960s, if you think about racism, sexism, homophobia, Australia has been radically transformed and that was ... there were tremendous victories. But what it isn't saying, emerging from the '70s but particularly in the '80s was the kind of ... the rise of the new right, the neo-liberals are arguing for radical changes in the way the economy and through it the political system were organised, and in a way the left was kind of blindsided because the old left, of course, had argued for social ownership of the means of production, government intervention and so on. But the new right won those arguments and it was particularly the Hawke and Keating governments that basically capitulated to that ...
CH: ... and allowed that in and basically collapsed any substantial difference on economic policy between the two main political parties. So you had the left one in the cultural and social sphere and the right one in the economic and political sphere in terms of the relationship between economic power and political power. And then you've got these kind of complicating factors like Pauline Hanson, that is in many ways a kind of throwback if you're thinking about the racism, but also a kind of populus view which is very much opposed to neo-liberal, you know, allow all these foreign companies to come in and sell off all these assets and so on. And so I think it definitely is a reaction against some of the great victories of the left but it's also a reaction against the neo-liberalism of the right. And it's a very kind of messy situation but I don't think it's ever going to really wind back the progress that has been achieved in the social and cultural sphere. I mean I don't ... that's entrenched.
JW: Well this is going off point just a little bit, but imagining, say, that a Hillary, yourself a great angel of neo-liberalism is defeated by a president Trump, how do you think that will affect the economic and social landscape of a place like Australia?
CH: Well you know Trump ... Trump of course is like Hanson in many ways. He's reacting against both the victories of the left and the victories of the right.
CH: I don't see ... I don't think the ... a Trump victory and a Trump presidency for eight years would roll back in any substantial way those great cultural changes. I mean you know we now have certain states in the US voting to legalise marijuana ...
CH: ... which, you know, I'm not necessarily ... I don't necessarily think that's a good thing, I might say (chuckling).
JW: Oh well it's interesting that in many cases the democrats have been keen to put it forward on the basis that they think it might encourage young voters to go to the polling booths.
CH: Mm, yeah.
JW: Voters who could not otherwise summons the enthusiasm ...
JW: ... to vote for either of the major parties (chuckling) but ...
CH: Get off the couch (chuckling). Yes. Yes, I couldn't help laughing the other night, at Catalyst talking about the medical uses of marijuana and you know one of the effects is as an appetite stimulant and I think that's the munchies isn't it (both laughing). But I mean one of the points I also make in the book is one of the great things about doing this and it's a social history ...
CH: ... as well as a history of protest, although I ... you know, I always had to keep coming back time and time again, people would suggest various photos and I'd say well is someone protesting in it?
CH: Is this book about ... people have to be protesting rather than just engaging in, you know, some kind of lefty radical activity of one kind or another. But it was also a social history of Australia and I actually I think, if I can suggest it, it would actually make a fantastic school book because it tells, you know, in an engaging way with lots of pictures a very kind of concise but I hope in some ways provocative, and it's only one view, story of Australia's social progress. And I was looking at it, well if you look at the main social movements and there are kind of five of them that I deal with. There's the peace movement or the anti-war movement, there's a women's movement, there's the gay liberation and indigenous rights. And then later on, a little bit later on, the environment movement. And thinking well which of those was most successful? And I think ... actually there's no doubt, it was gay rights.
CH: I mean, if you just think about what it was like in the '60s and these programs on TV recently reminding us of about ... in the '80s the murders that were ... that took place in the eastern suburbs of Sydney and the collaboration of the police in it. And then I'm thinking I talk about the Doctor Duncan case which I remember very well, the murder by the police ...
CH: ... it is alleged.
JW: Also a very strong Canberra connection in that.
CH: What was that connection?
JW: The student magazine, Woroni ...
JW: ... sent its editor at the time, Paul Foss, across there and he came back and wrote in Woroni exactly who had done what, which police were involved, which was picked up by the Adelaide Advertiser ...
CH: Is that so.
JW: ... and became a cause of the Royal Commission.
CH: I didn't know that, that's fascinating.
JW: Yeah. The Adelaide Advertiser quoting Woroni as its source of information.
CH: Yes, excellent.
JW: (Chuckling) Those were the days (both chuckling).
CH: Wow, and yeah. Yeah, it is, but why go liberational? So you think back in those days and, you know, going back over it and looking at the extraordinary police brutality at the first gay mardi gras, it wasn't the lesbian mardi gras, the first gay mardi gras in 1978, I mean the planned and systematically carried out brutal assault on those people who are demonstrating. No, well they weren't demonstrating, they were on a march, it was quite a happy march.
JW: They were on celebration.
CH: A celebratory march. And you think now about the extraordinary progress in ... against discrimination against gay people and just about everywhere, I mean people have become very steamed up about equal marriage over the last months. And really, you know, it's the icing on the cake but the cake was baked over those very many decades to the point where, and again I mention in the book, in 1994 the ABC took its outside broadcast units down to Sydney and they televised the gay and lesbian mardi gras and homosexual rights and gay people were celebrating became an entertaining night in for the family. I mean that was unimaginable in earlier times. So it wasn't just legislative change but the extraordinary change in attitudes of ordinary Australians, the radically increased tolerance of Australians to homosexuality, I think, has been truly remarkable.
JW: And yet I've instanced the good folk of Coonamble or Walgett and of Pauline Hanson, but right through this period of transformation there were people ... there was a John Winston Howard, for example, who right 'til the end in, I think, 1981 or 1982, was arguing in cabinet that Fraser was completely wrong in supporting social change in South Africa but that apartheid was the only appropriate solution there. And when he became prime minister in 1996 he became an adept at playing what we call the culture wars.
JW: Which is not necessarily an attempt to roll back the curtain because I think there's a bit of an admission that that can't be done, but an attempt to rewrite the history of it ...
JW: ... and to deny that things were as they think that it turns out according to Keith Windschuttle, that the Aborigines were not massacred or poisoned or given flour or dispossessed of their land and it's about time we stopped apologising ...
JW: ... to them for it. And a whole host of things that they sometimes seem to delight in just sort of throwing like a dead cat into the ring, if only because they know that they will cause outrage ...
JW: ... in the sense that the left day used to specialise in causing outrage amongst the right.
CH: Indeed. But I think it has to be said that although Howard, in his cultural wars, caused a lot of anxiety and pain, particularly to indigenous people, he didn't succeed and I don't think he could. I mean of course you still get the fulminating ratbags at the Australian, for example, playing this out, and you still have politicians and Tony Abbott who's the perfect case in point, whose essential engagement in political life has been reliving and attempting to win the political battles he lost as a student at the University of Sydney.
CH: I mean that animates him, you know ...
CH: ... he wants to teach those lefty bastards who's boss now. And, you know, in a way giving a knighthood to Prince Phillip was, you know ...
CH: ... up you, all you lefties at Sydney Uni ...
CH: ... now what do you think about that.
CH: And it worked. Well, you know, it was brilliant. I mean, he lost the prime ministership (both laughing) but he did get us all enraged, but the thing is he enraged most of his colleagues as well.
JW: Yes. Well they couldn't see the point of it but he was actually imitating Howard. Howard would never have done it, but Howard always delighted in having a distraction that would get the editorialists at the Age or something like that ...
JW: ... knickers in a knot.
CH: Yes. But some of those guys, some of those ... they never forgot their student days and the humiliations of losing to the left in the '70s.
CH: And, you know, and Howard, for example, I dug up this fantastic flyer which was a debate on a conscription in Bankstown Town Hall or something like that, and it was, you know, John Howard representing the young liberals.
CH: Is it in one of these?
JW: (Chuckling) No.
CH: No, not one of these. And, you know, it was just months before Whitlam won, conscription was ended and Australia withdrew from Vietnam.
CH: And by that stage by the time Howard was arguing against Tony Blackshield, who became one of Australia's most distinguished jurists, you know, the moral case for the war was completely lost and I think it was not long after the My Lai massacre which ... horrendous massacre of a whole ... hundreds of people by GIs which really turned the war, I think, is probably true to say that it was impossible ever for the Americans and therefore the Australians to mount a moral case for the Vietnam war after that. And yet there was John Howard in the Blacktown Town Hall was ...
JW: Fighting to the last man.
CH: Exactly, exactly.
JW: Some of the ... some other last man, I mean.
CH: Yes (chuckling). Yes, indeed.
JW: You might remember that he spent the last couple of months of 1972 working as a volunteer on the personal staff of Sir William McMahon.
JW: I'm sure he helped the defences, I think it was.
CH: Yes, indeed. Yes.
JW: Now, I'm not one of those who's ever said that the idealism and the ideas of younger people have changed radically or that they are not involved or that they don't want to do something. We've had a stream of development of it. But what I want to ask you about is the last decade ...
JW: ... possibly two decades has seen the event of information technology, the computer, the internet, social media and so forth. How, in your opinion, is that working either in changing the ideas of folk or just as importantly in protest terms in mobilising people to get and make their opposition known and to effect change?
CH: Yes. Well first of all I mean I agree with you. I mean I think that, you know, over the last decade or two we've seen new generations of young people who have become activists in a range of social movements, who have been fantastic, you know. I mean the environment movement is driven by their energy and enthusiasm and more power to them.
JW: And so is refugee rights and the whole host of other ones.
CH: Indeed. And they're well represented, I hope, in the book. Social media and the gravitation of protests ... some protest to social media, I mean, I actually find this a really hard question. I don't have any very good answers. I think that it certainly has ... it is true that so-called click divisim has made it much too easy to protest and feel as though you've done enough.
JW: You are a boots on the ground sort of guy really.
CH: I am, I mean when environment activists ask me, you know, well what should we do? I always say, you know, take more risks, and that's not on the computer (chuckling), that's out there on the sites ...
CH: ... and I think if the Galilee Basin and if ever they start to dig there and they may well I think we'll see a massive ... a massive boots on the ground protest that, you know, the Franklin dam will pale into insignificance in front of it. I think because people are primed for that now, it's the most appalling possibility. So, yes, I think there are lots of young activists out there and plenty more who'd be ready to put their bodies on the line.
JW: So with or without a sense of humour, you've actually got to show some commitment, make some showing, some demonstration.
CH: Absolutely. Yeah, you've got to be out there and do it, but yeah ...
JW: Take a risk.
CH: ... a sense of humour is really important. Partly because, and you know there's some fabulous examples in the book, of activists who do only bizarre things and when they appear on television or pictures in the newspapers it's much more difficult to pigeon-hole them as, you know, fanatics if they're doing something that's humorous, that makes people laugh at the same time.
JW: Yes. Well I just remember in that respect, and I'll finish off on this but that Gareth Evans, having made a serious tactical mistake in the dams thing by calling in the F1-11s, but completely got off the hook when asked why he'd been such a silly idiot said, well it seemed like a good idea at the time (chuckling).
CH: (Chuckling) Indeed.
CP: Well thank you very much, Jack and Clive. It seems like a good idea at the time now to say thank you both for putting your bodies on the line with us tonight and for your engaging and thoughtful conversation. Thank you also, Clive, for your dedication and for bringing about What Do We Want. The book I think is a testament to your passion for research, for your understanding of society and also a celebration of those who challenged our assumptions of the world. So thank you.
Now if it's okay with you both I'd like to throw open to the floor and I'm hoping there might be some questions for you from our audience tonight. So if you just your hand and we do have microphones to go to you, so just ...
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