Month: May 2014

Fairfax to students: ‘You silly young people. Don’t you know the sixties are over!’

How student protests were covered by the media in 1971

How student protests were covered by the media in 1971

Since the student protests that kicked off last Wednesday, Fairfax Media in the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age have run three comment pieces on how the students needed to drop the traditional mass street protest of the 1960s/1970s and employ ‘new’ tactics in the fight against higher education cuts. First there was Annabel Crabb, who wrote:

I’m just wondering why university students – who should be the most connected, educated, cutting-edge communicators in our country – are still protesting like it’s 1969… But in this magical new era of communication, there must be better ways of telling a story than “What Do We Want? No Fees! When Do We Want It? Now!”.

Then former Liberal Education Minister Amanda Vanstone complained:

Protests are, in my view, a good thing. They are a sign of the freedom we all enjoy. But what some protesters fail to understand is everyone else’s right to go about their business undisturbed. Sadly, the right to protest has become for all too many the right to ruin anyone else’s day just because they want to be on telly.

And then today, PR firm Hootville got some free publicity from The Age by releasing ‘advice’ they gave to the National Tertiary Education Union about how to combat the cuts. Number one piece of advice from this PR lot was:

1. 1968 is over – forget the violence

Intimidation, harassment and bullying is not going to help you persuade people to your cause. You’ve already donated Minister Pyne hours of free, easy media coverage.

A protest against higher education cuts in Brisbane last week

A protest against higher education cuts in Brisbane last week

There are really three things that really annoy me about these pieces, comparing the student protests now with those of the 1960s and 1970s.

1) This is a really reductionist idea of what forms of protests were employed during the 1960s and 1970s, instead relying on this popular stereotype of sixties’ protests involving marching, chanting and sitting down. A read of Sean Scalmer or Iain McIntyre (see his How to Make Trouble and Influence People website) shows that the history of protest in Australia has seen a diverse range of tactics used, with marching and chanting only one of many options.

2) The mainstream media has had a well-worn narrative that Generation Y is self-centred, individualistic and apolitical. The protests last week saw young people showing initiative and deep political concern – enough to mobilise several thousand onto the streets around Australia. While it is only one tactic in a broad spectrum of activism in the 21st century, congregating in public together demonstrates to those involved that they are not alone and proves the old adage, ‘in unity is strength’. Street demonstrations can give a critical mass to a movement much more than a bunch of disparate individuals getting involved in online campaigning – but it should be kept in mind that activism is not a zero sum game. It should’t be street marches or clicktivism, but street marches plus clicktivism.

3) Vanstone’s complaint that protests disrupt the business of other people, alongside Hootville’s call for student protestors to conform to the rules of conventional politics, overlook the purpose of protest. Protest is about breaking out of the boundaries of the conventional political sphere and challenging the status quo. If protests aren’t causing disruption, then they are not an effective political strategy. As Kurt Iveson wrote here, conforming to the mainstream political idea of ‘legitimate protest’ will push protest activity from the realm of direct action to the symbolic. For Iveson, the concept of ‘legitimate protest… rests on the liberal assumption that if protestors are given the opportunity to speak, this will be enough for them to be heard if they have a legitimate point to make.’

Of course, protest should be peaceful, but as history has shown, even when protestors are peaceful, the authorities can construe any form of protest as ‘potentially violent’, believing those who protest to be ‘thugs’. The real lesson that students should be taking from the protest movements of the 1960s and 1970s is how the government, the police and the mainstream media have reacted to protest in Australia over the last forty years.


More electro/indie CDs for sale

Following on from this list, I am decluttering my CD collection and the below CDs are for sale. All are $5 Australian (plus postage) except where stated. I will post worldwide – please enquire if interested. Payment via paypal is preferred.

10,000 Maniacs – Blind Man’s Zoo

10,000 Maniacs – Our Time in Eden

The Audience – s/t

Black Kids – Partie Traumatic

Bratmobile – The Real Janelle EP $10

Cat Power – You Are Free (promo CD) $20

Cibo Matto – Viva La Woman

Cobra Killer – s/t

Cocteau Twins – Stars and Topsoil: A Collection (1982-1990)

Damn Arms – Patterns EP

Gorillaz – Clint Eastwood (single)

Hanin Elias – No Games, No Fun (with press sheet)

Alec Empire – Generation Star Wars $10

Alec Empire – Les Etoiles Des Filles Mortes (1996 edition) $10

Jane’s Addiction – Nothing’s Shocking

Merzbow – Ikebukuro Dada

Ministry – Land of Rape and Honey

Moler – Delicious (single)

New Order – Krafty (single)

Patric C – The Horrible Plans of Flex Busterman 

Pop Will Eat Itself – Karmadrome (single)

Portishead – All Mine (single)

Pulp – Disco 2000 (2 CD double single) $20

Reverend Horton Heat – Space Heater

Robots in Disguise – s/t

Robots in Disguise – Get Rid!

Mark Ronson – Here Comes the Fuzz

Sigur Ros – Agaetis Byrjun 

Sleater Kinney – Chainsaw

The Streets – Fit But You Know It DVD (single)

The Streets – The Hardest Way To Make An Easy Living

V/A – Fat Cat Split Series 1-8 (promo)

V/A – Geffen Rarities vol. 1

V/A – Unstable Ape Sampler 2005

Whirlwind Heat – Do Rabbits Wonder?

If interested, please get in contact!

New post at The Conversation: ‘Student Protests Won’t Be The Last’

A protest against higher education cuts in Brisbane yesterday

A protest against higher education cuts in Brisbane yesterday

The Conversation has just published this piece by myself on yesterday’s demonstrations across Australia against the Liberals’ cuts to higher education and the introduction of higher fees, arguing that the Liberals have been fearful of student radicalism since the late 1960s.

Incidentally, I am giving a paper tomorrow at Flinders University on the same topic. See details here.

Research seminar, Friday May 23 – ‘Policing Protest in the Nation’s Capital’



This Friday morning I am presenting a paper at the Flinders University History Research Seminar Series. The paper is based on an article currently under review. Here is the abstract:

This paper examines the reaction by the Australian Federal Government to the protest movements of the 1960-70s and their attempts to use public order legislation to thwart radical discontent in Australia. It argues that the Public Order (Protection of Persons and Property) Act 1971 was aimed at the threat of ‘violent’ protests, particularly the tactic of the ‘sit-in’, and that to this end, the legislation was an over-reaction to the actual threat posed by the protest movements at the time. It also shows that after a long gestation period, the Act was ill-equipped to deal with the changing nature of demonstrations in the 1970s, such as the problems caused by the erection of the Aboriginal Tent Embassy. Thus, after an initial flurry of use in mid-1971, the law has been seldom used since. 

If you can make it, it would be awesome to see you there. If not and you’re interested in the paper, email me.

Working for the rat race, are you wasting your time?


The Research Whisperer asked me to write about my experiences in academia and the public sector, so here is what I wrote.

The Research Whisperer

evan-smithEvan Smith is a Vice-Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the School of International Studies at Flinders University.

He is interested in contemporary history, politics and criminal justice research. He blogs about his research and aspects of 1980s popular culture at:

Evan tweets from @hatfulofhistory.

As we’re interested in #altac trajectories, the Research Whisperers approached Evan for a guest-post when we realised that he had been a researcher in the public sector who had returned to academia. How did these job changes happen? What were the drivers and challenges?

He has kindly shared his story with us here, and provided five strategies for keeping your research career options open.

I am a historian and a criminologist. Historian by training and criminologist, first by default, then by profession.

My postdoctoral career has been varied, and I’ve spent the last seven years in and out of academia (simultaneously – like Derrida…

View original post 1,397 more words

British fascism and perceptions of Australia


Despite the centrality of the British Union of Fascists’ pro-imperialism, there has been little written on the BUF and its imperial policy (possibly with exception to the party’s attitude towards India). The attitude of the BUF towards the Dominions (in particular Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Southern Rhodesia) has not been explored in any detail by scholars. On the subject of Australian fascism and paramilitarism in the inter-war period, there have been several studies which analyse the influence of the BUF upon Australian fascist groups, most prominently the New Guard (see the Australian/British intelligence files on the BUF’s supposed influence in Australia here). But there is an absence of studies that look at how the BUF perceived Australia and its place within the British Empire.

After our university recently had a trial subscription to a historical newspaper database that included BlackshirtFascist Weekly and Action (the three weekly papers of the BUF), I became interested in how Australia (and to a lesser extent, the other Dominions) was portrayed in the BUF press. I was able to print off a lot of material, but after coming back from South Africa, I have not had the chance to go through the stuff downloaded.

I was especially interested in seeing whether the BUF had any commentary on the ‘White Australia Policy’ which was in effect during the inter-war period. In Australia, proponents of the ‘WAP’ argued that outposts of the British Empire, such as Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, were preserving the ‘white race’ – even improving it by ‘flourishing’ within the new hostile environments. I am keen to see whether the BUF, with its pre-occupation with empire and ‘the British race’, held similar views. Although stuff keeps getting in the way, I hope to have perused the BUF material I downloaded before I leave for the UK in mid-June.

While I have been able to access the weekly papers of the BUF, the organisation’s ‘theoretical’ journals, Fascist Quarterly and British Union Quarterly, are not available in Australia. They are available in several UK libraries and I hope to have a browse of them while in the UK – they are at the British Library, LSE and Cambridge, for example, if anyone wants to have a quick gander for me! I am also half thinking about visiting the BUF archive at the University of Sheffield, but a look through their catalogue doesn’t promise much on the topic of Australia. Has anyone been through the BUF papers (and remember stuff about Australia and the other Dominions)?

This project is very much in the early stages, so any suggestions, comments or criticisms would be most welcome.


Days of Rage: The Public Order Act 1971 in practice

On 13 May, 1971, the McMahon Government passed the Public Order (Persons and Property) Act (Cth) into law. As I have written here, the Act was a ‘law and order’ response to the cultural radicalism of the late 1960s and early 1970s, with many Liberal and Country Party members concerned about the anti-Vietnam War and anti-Apartheid movements that were growing at the time. That previous post outlined the history of the Act and its wider context (and this post looked at how the Act was used to dissuade protests from occurring at foreign embassies/consulates), but the post below looks at the first uses of the Act in the week following its enactment. The post is complemented by some digitised documents from the National Archives of Australia, relating to the campaign against the South African Springboks tour of Australia in 1971

ASIO report on anti-Apartheid protest in May 1971

ASIO report on anti-Apartheid protest in May 1971

The Public Order (Protection of Persons and Property) Act came into effect on May 13, 1971. On May 19 and 21, two demonstrations took place. May 19 was an anti-apartheid demonstration to take place outside the South African embassy and the May 21 demonstration ended up being a march against the Vietnam War, euphemistically known as the ‘Day of Rage’. The first demonstration saw approximately 1,000 students march from the Australian National University to the South African Embassy, in what the authorities described as ‘an unauthorised procession’.[1] An anonymous report on the day’s proceedings pointed to the fact that the marchers, which occupied some of Canberra’s busiest streets in the city centre, ‘defied the provisions of the Traffic Ordinance’ as the organisers did not seek written permission ‘to organise a procession of this kind upon a public street.’[2] The writer of the report complained:

The participants showed no regard for the convenience of motorists and did not respond to appeals by police to proceed in an orderly fashion. The conduct of the participants and the language used indicated a continued defiance of authority.[3]

Once at the South African Embassy, which partly looks onto State Circle, a busy roadway in the Parliamentary Zone, a ‘sit-in’ (or what the anonymous report writer described as a ‘sit down’) took place on the road for around 15 minutes (10 minutes according to the Commonwealth Police),[4] while ‘a large body of those involved moved along the perimeter fence and congregated at the main entrance to the South African Embassy.’[5] According to a report by a Commonwealth Police Force Inspector, around 500 demonstrators stood outside the Embassy and members of the local ACT Police (not yet an amalgamated force under the Australian Federal Police) took up positions in the grounds of the Embassy and those of Casey House next door, which housed several offices for the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.[6] The anonymous report cited ‘frequently used’ expressions, such as ‘we came here to smash it, let’s smash it’, as evidence that ‘left no doubt that the intention of the group was to storm the embassy [sic] and commit damage’, and in colourful terms, said that the ‘situation was so tense that extreme tolerance was necessary in order that the resources of the police could be maintained to meet any extreme development.’[7] According the CPF representative, the ‘stated intention’ of the protestors was ‘taking the flag from the pole and to break as many windows as possible.’[8]

As demonstrators started to enter the grounds of the Embassy, they were arrested, along with others who refused to move after the police started to clear the road. According to the Canberra Times, 24 people were arrested,[9] while the anonymous report stated that nineteen were apprehended within the grounds of the Embassy and charged under Section 20(1) of the Public Order Act and amongst those ‘moved on’ on State Circle, ‘a number of persons were arrested and twelve charges under the general law were preferred’, including assaulting the police, hindering the police, resisting arrest, offensive behaviour, use of indecent language and insulting words, and malicious damage.[10] In his report to the CPF Commissioner, Inspector Waring commended the ACT police, who ‘as a whole displayed great restrain and in the face of the abuse hurled at them during the demonstration.’[11] The Canberra Times quoted Chris Swinbank, a leader of the anti-apartheid group at ANU, who said, ‘I’ve seen police a lot rougher than they were here. In NSW they kick first, then ask them to move on.’[12]

The newspaper also compared the scenes outside the South African Embassy with a demonstration outside the Soviet Embassy, where 15 people demonstrated against the treatment of Soviet Jews. The article said:

The demonstration lasted about 30 minutes. Some wearing convict garments marched from the St John Priory Headquarters in Canberra Avenue.

Afterwards the police thanked the participants for their orderly behaviour.[13]

Canberra Times on the first use of the Public Order Act

Canberra Times on the first use of the Public Order Act

In its report on the South African Embassy protest, the Canberra Times warned that further demonstrations were planned for the following day but added, ‘the objectives have not been decided’.[14] Students and potential protestors gathered at ANU on Friday 21 May, 1971, which coincided with Aquarius Festival of University Arts, which saw a large number of people congregate and according to the newspaper, argue ‘about the purposes and objectives of their protest for an hour’.[15] The newspaper further reported, ‘[n]o conclusion was reached although some students believed it was primarily an anti-Vietnam War, anti-conscription protest.’[16] The report to the CPF Commissioner gave the impression that the march was much more organised and reproduced the text of a flyer allegedly distributed the day before:


A planned meeting will be held on the Library Lawn at 11 a.m., tomorrow, Friday. The mass march will leave shortly afterwards.

Wear protective gear. Bring crash helmets.




The report stated that ‘[o]ther information gathered prior to the demonstration appeared to lend itself towards violence’ and that several Commonwealth Government buildings, as well as the South Vietnamese Embassy, were to be targeted.[18] According to the report, there was a belief that ‘[s]hould the police [have] intervene[d] in the actions of the demonstrators then violence would ensue.’[19]

Approximately 800 demonstrators set off from ANU towards the city centre (Civic), where a ‘sit-in’ was temporarily held on Alinga Street near Garema Place. The previously mentioned anonymous report says that this action was designed to obstruct the street and 46 arrests were made under Section 9 of the Public Order Act ‘which provides a penalty for any persons who, while taking part in an assembly, engages in unreasonable obstruction.’[20] As the demonstration the moved into the Parliamentary Zone, nine were arrested under the same section of the Act outside the Treasury Building and another three outside (now Old) Parliament House.[21]

The major confrontation between demonstrators and the police occurred outside the ACT Police headquarters on London Circuit between the Parliamentary Zone and the city centre, with around 700 demonstrators assembling at this point.[22] The Canberra Times reported that a police inspector announced into a megaphone, ‘I am asking you to move off. You are creating an obstruction. Please move away’,[23] with the police able to use the Public Order Act in the crowd did not disperse. Inspector Waring’s report to the Commissioner described that upon hearing this pronouncement, a ‘number of speakers were heard amid the crowd defying the order and ‘[l]oud chants of “We can’t hear you” followed the order to disperse.’[24] After fifteen minutes and two further warnings, the police moved into the crowd and there was a feeling amongst those assembled that this was a chance to ‘test the provisions of the Act’.[25] In the end, 190 demonstrators were arrested (and 187 charges laid), which was according to the Canberra Times ‘more than twice the number arrested at any previous demonstration’, with ‘two-thirds… charged with obstruction, and about one-third with failing to disperse, all under the new Public Order (Protection of Persons and Property) Act.’[26]

Canberra Times article on the 'Day of Rage'

Canberra Times article on the ‘Day of Rage’

In assessing the use of the Act to disperse the demonstrators, the author of the anonymous report wrote that the new legislation ‘was not only considered appropriate, but it was doubtful whether any alternative legislation would have met this situation.’[27] The CPF report did not mention the effectiveness of the legislation, but declared that ‘[t]hroughout the day the A.C.T. Police was in control of the situation’.[28] In an internal CPF memo, written in July 1971, as the Anti-Apartheid Movement in Australia was mobilising against the Springboks playing in Australia, the Commonwealth Police stated that it was believed that the Act had ‘had a sobering effect on demonstrators in the A.C.T.’ and claimed that ‘[m]ore than one local identity has voiced his concern over the thought of being prosecuted under this legislation.’[29] It seems that the authorities used the Public Order Act against the two demonstrations in late May to demonstrate the powers that could be wielded under the Act and to make protestors wary of the police – possibly seeking to establish the message that any form of unruliness from a demonstration would be met with considerable force by the police with the powers to arrest most disobedient demonstrators. As Roger A. Brown wrote, the ‘apparent policy of A.C.T,. police has been to provide close escort, or a major show of force, for large demonstrations’, but warned that the fear of arrest ‘often tends to make the crowd remain compact, and likely to react violently to any attempts to break it up.’[30]


In July, the Act was used again when 1,000 protestors demonstrated against the Springboks playing at Manuka Oval. However after this, the Act was reluctantly used by the authorities, probably due to the lack of convictions that resulted from these initial waves of arrest (see the figures mentioned in Parliament here and here). By the time of the Whitlam Government, its use was almost non-existent.

If you are in Adelaide, I will presenting a paper on this topic at the Flinders University History Seminar Series on Friday May 23. More details can be found here.


[1] ‘Public Order (Protection of Persons and Property) Act, 1971: Application at Canberra for demonstrations held on Wednesday, 19th Mat 1971, and Friday, 21st May, 1971’, p. 1, A432 1970/5108 Part 4, NAA

[2] ‘Public Order (Protection of Persons and Property) Act, 1971’, p. 1

[3] ‘Public Order (Protection of Persons and Property) Act, 1971’, p. 1

[4] Inspector D.C. Waring, ‘Demonstration held in Canberra, A.C.T. on 19 and 21 May 1971’, report to Commissioner of Commonwealth Police Force, 26 May, 1971, p. 1, A432 1970/5108 Part 6, NAA

[5] ‘Public Order (Protection of Persons and Property) Act, 1971’, p. 1

[6] Inspector D.C. Waring, ‘Demonstration held in Canberra, A.C.T. on 19 and 21 May 1971’, p. 1

[7] ‘Public Order (Protection of Persons and Property) Act, 1971’, pp. 1-2

[8] Inspector D.C. Waring, ‘Demonstration held in Canberra, A.C.T. on 19 and 21 May 1971’, p. 1

[9] ‘Students, Police in Violent Clash’, Canberra Times, 22 May, 1971

[10] ‘Public Order (Protection of Persons and Property) Act, 1971’, p. 2

[11] Inspector D.C. Waring, ‘Demonstration held in Canberra, A.C.T. on 19 and 21 May 1971’, p. 1

[12] ‘More Protests Planned’, Canberra Times, 20 May, 1971

[13] ‘More Protests Planned’, Canberra Times, 20 May, 1971

[14] ‘More Protests Planned’, Canberra Times, 20 May, 1971

[15] ‘Students, Police in Violent Clash’, Canberra Times, 22 May, 1971

[16] ‘Students, Police in Violent Clash’, Canberra Times, 22 May, 1971

[17] Inspector D.C. Waring, ‘Demonstration held in Canberra, A.C.T. on 19 and 21 May 1971’, p. 2

[18] Inspector D.C. Waring, ‘Demonstration held in Canberra, A.C.T. on 19 and 21 May 1971’, p. 2

[19] Inspector D.C. Waring, ‘Demonstration held in Canberra, A.C.T. on 19 and 21 May 1971’, p. 1

[20] ‘Public Order (Protection of Persons and Property) Act, 1971’, p. 3

[21] ‘Public Order (Protection of Persons and Property) Act, 1971’, p. 3

[22] ‘Public Order (Protection of Persons and Property) Act, 1971’, p. 3

[23] ‘Students, Police in Violent Clash’, Canberra Times, 22 May, 1971

[24] Inspector D.C. Waring, ‘Demonstration held in Canberra, A.C.T. on 19 and 21 May 1971’, p. 3

[25] ‘Public Order (Protection of Persons and Property) Act, 1971’, p. 4

[26] ‘Students, Police in Violent Clash’, Canberra Times, 22 May, 1971

[27] ‘Public Order (Protection of Persons and Property) Act, 1971’, p. 4

[28] Inspector D.C. Waring, ‘Demonstration held in Canberra, A.C.T. on 19 and 21 May 1971’, p. 4

[29] CPF memo, 15 July, 1971, A6122 2116, NAA

[30] Roger A. Brown, ‘“And Hast Thou Slain the Jabberwock?”: The Law Relating to Demonstrations in the ACT’, Federal Law Review, 6, 1974-75, pp. 143-144