Radical Politics & The University of Queensland : Staff & Student Activism

 

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‘Any complaints, take ‘em up there’

 

Bruce Petty’s cartoon on the previous page captures evocatively the way the world felt to many from the generation that entered adulthood through the sixties and early seventies.

Politics seemed stuffy, controlled, resistant to change, patronising, and bureaucratic.

Society was seen as hypocritically waving banners of democracy and consumerism that obscured deep problems of racism, nuclear fear, colonialism, poverty, controlled media and ‘grey’ working lives and culture.

The Petty cartoon was used at several points in the book Up the right channels published in 1970 by a staff and student reform movement at the University of Queensland.

Protestors with flags in Brisbane
during Moratorium march 1970

In the eyes of the new generation of activists, most of the social critics of the generation before them were failures - timid, self-censoring, and compromised. The left critics were complicit in totalitarianism and unable to think beyond rigid orthodoxy.

Small ‘l’ liberals seemed unable to find a new language to respond to the depth and urgency of the issues. Change through parliamentary parties seemed unlikely, given the apparent reluctance of non-conservative parties to drive policy on the most vital contemporary issues.

In Australia, the Labor Party defeat at the 1966 election seemed to make the end of coalition dominance unlikely. In Queensland the lack of one vote one value and the damage caused by the Labor Party split (1954 - 1957) made parliamentary change even more remote.

A Cold War culture, with its fear that any social critic would be accused of sympathy with totalitarian communism, or be seen as aiding countries that threatened Australia with nuclear destruction, seemed to have stopped all independent political action. But the new generation, far from being encumbered by any sense of complicity, saw totalitarianism as a primary enemy and nuclear disarmament as something to campaign for.

Above all, they were driven beyond political impasse and silence by a sense of immediate personal responsibility.

  A 'Conscience Left'