1968, when revolution was everybody's business


 2533 Charlie Carter smileBy CHARLIE CARTER
1968. 50 years ago.
A seminal year in the latter half of the 20th century.
The Tet offensive in the Vietnam war.
A massive wave of student and worker protests and strikes in France and Europe.
The Prague Spring.
The beginnings of the Republican uprising in Northern Ireland.
Things in Australia were different, but very much in tune with the spirit of the times.
2533 '68 2In ‘68 I was in the first year of a part time post graduate degree, and working as a research assistant at Sydney University, where I had just finished my BSc. Four years at SU had taken me from a small c conservative rural christian upbringing to an activist leftist perspective.
I had dropped the religion at about 15. My passion for biology even at that age left no room for supernatural fairy stories.
SU was the epicentre of radical student social and political activity at the time, and I was caught up in it. The ‘revolution’ in Australia was not explosive like France, but built up slowly, and the seeds were well and truly sprouting by ’68. As Dylan sang “The Times They are a Changing”.
The plight of Aboriginal Australians was put on the public and political agenda by the freedom rides in ’65 which came out of SU.
The Gurindji walkoff in ’66 continued the focus with support demos for Land Rights in ’67 and onwards.
There was certainly connection between students and the Trade Union movement (or sections of it) in the Aboriginal rights and anti war movements.
I recall a protest outside the Sydney office of Vesteys in the early days where the police outnumbered the handful of us being addressed by Frank Hardy, who did a lot to bring the Walk-off to wider attention.
The anti Vietnam War movement hit the headlines with the visit of US President Lyndon Johnson in ’66.
2533 '68 1The “Run over the bastards” incantation from Robin Askin, then Premier of NSW, was a great fillip to the cause.
Draft card burning protests in ’66 from SU were a spark for the anti conscription movement. The movements continued to grow into the early ‘70s until massive public oppostion to both conscription and the Vietnam war ended both.
Environment issues started to come to popular notice with the formation of the Colong Committee in 1968.
The Colong caves are an extensive limestone formation in the Blue Mountains close to Sydney, and well known to bush walkers, cavers and biologists at SU.
The Portland Cement Company wanted to mine the formation for cement.
Members of the CC each bought a single share in the Company, and attended the AGM.
Motions calling for a change in policy were defeated about a million to 20, as the chair held a huge swag of proxy votes, but at least we got the issue into the media, and eventually saved the caves.
2533 '68 3In a register somewhere I presume I still have a share in Portland Cement.
Social mores were also changing at a breathtaking rate, and the introduction of the contraceptive pill in the ‘60s had a huge effect.
In ’68 I was “living with” a woman who was a fellow student, and it was public knowledge in the Biology dept. although it caused considerable distress to my mother.
It wasn’t until the mid seventies that Mum offered me and my girlfriend the double bed in the guest room when on a visit to the farm.
However, there had been something of a furore when the Pill came out about the Student Health Service guidelines limiting the prescription to married women. That was quickly overturned.
Two important books came out from SU alumni soon after: Germaine Greer’s Female Eunuch in 1970, followed by Dennis Altman’s Homosexual, Oppression and Liberation soon after.
I recall a meet-the-Chancellor function where representatives from Uni clubs attended (I was representing the Motorcycle Club) and the Gay Club rep was wearing a T shirt that read in bold letters “poofter”.
One of my fellow post grads drove a yellow mini moke with the rego GAY 001. Brave moves in those homophobic days.
My continued interest and involvement in Aboriginal Rights lead me to Alice in ’87 where I worked for CLC for three years, after a stint working for the Western Region Land Council in NSW. My continued interest in the environment led me to a position on the foundation committee of the Arid Lands Environment Centre (ALEC), and continued membership.
2533 '68 4After many years of activity in issue based politics I became active in the NT Labor Party, deciding to try fighting inside the tent. I held many positions in the branch, and stood as a candidate for the Legislative Assembly, but eventually left he party over its support for the Gulf wars.
My 70th birthday resolution was to give up meetings, and my activity these days runs to a bit of buffel chipping, attending demos, and letter writing, but the Spirit of ’68 is still alive and well in the Alice, which is one of the reasons I love the place. And I’m still not married.
IMAGES: Time Magazine; Panama Photo Workshops (Woodstock).


  1. Charlie you bring back memories of May to July 1968: It was the time when people were not guided by money and material possessions like today, family values and human rights were important.
    My favorite slogans were:
    Élections, piège à con (Elections, a trap for idiots).
    Cela nous concerne tous (This concerns all of us.)
    Leon Zitrone the radio foreign broadcasting services of Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française told the public not to trust Televised news as they were edited to please the rulers of the day. (Nothing changed obviously)
    It was a turning point in my life as we decided to leave Europe for Australia, the land of the free: God bless Australia, The land of the free.
    Here in Australia, we treasure love and liberty.
    Our way of life, all for one, one for all.
    (Australian songwriter and radio personality Jack O’Hagan.)
    Alas it seems that 50 years after my days of protesting are not over. SAVE ANZAC OVAL.

  2. @ Evelyne Roullet. Some great singers and songs came out of that era. Melanie and Peace Will Come a classic example. Nothing has changed in the 60 or so years since then. More drugs, more free sex, and now mindless techno rap music. No peace has come with that infernal racket mix. The place is going down hill. Thanks a lot, Scott McKenzie.

  3. I agree that the Spirit of ’68 has not gone, at least for some of us old enough to remember it.
    For those younger, I cannot say, but I attend Wide Open Spaces and am encouraged.
    Alice is down right now. I think we can all acknowledge that. But I am not convinced she is out.

  4. Thank you Charlie, this is well thought and well written. The spirit of the late 60s (May 1968) has affected me, you, and many others.
    Songs, slogans, demos, “black is beautiful”, end of the Vietnam slaughter, but also “all the way with LBJ”. Did I see on TV our PM and the president of the USA shake hands in warm support and unshakable friendship?
    Is the ’68 spirit still alive today, in a revolutionary sense? I wonder – within some of us no doubt, but it is not felt at the Federal level, nor at the community level.
    I don’t think the revolution of 68 has changed the Aussie ways with the same depth as it did where the people had to fight for their liberty.
    But today I shall raise my voice to say “NO FRACKING” and “Hands off Anzac Oval”.
    This is no doubt my residual 1968 revolutionary approach.

  5. I appreciate your interest Russell, but the double negative confuses your meaning, and I’m not sure what it is.
    I didn’t mention the Beatles, and the activism of the period was not based on Beatles songs.
    My humanism is based on scientific methodology and rational thought.

  6. @ Russell. I take it you mixed up your verbs “were” and “weren’t”. You mean they were lost in it perhaps. The Beatles in the pic were in hippy Love Is All You Need it drag of the humanist fairy tale revolution. Whether they were lost in it or not, they were definitely hard nosed enough to cash in on it and made big bucks out of it. They knew the lyrics that would sell, regardless of the any fairy tale. Half their luck.

  7. @ Charlie Carter Posted April 28, 2018 at 8:33 pm: Your story was full of interest, Charlie, as were the times which we both lived through, but as a postgraduate social scientist, I find postmodernism (deconstruction) in relation to social policy of greater interest.
    I thought your reference to the “spirit of the times” equated with the Zeitgeist, which went on to establish the Abortion (on demand) Act of 1967 and left a legacy of seven days per week take away alcohol among its liberal attitude to social policy.
    There are many negatives in scientific positivism and “rational thought”, which is not a criticism of your position, simply my observation.
    I’m not trying to buy an argument as this period is very important to the “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” cosmos of contemporary lifestyle (the late 20th century as you wrote) and deserving of deconstruction.
    You didn’t mention The Beatles, but the activism of the period was as much based on their songs as anything else (I was 16 and managing an R&B band), particularly beginning with the Love is All You Need (Sergeant Peppers) period around 1967.
    Their earlier songs were romantic and existential and they had a global influence, perhaps, more subtle than a hard-nosed scientist might allow.
    Maybe you’re not familiar with that (more Dylan/Zappa than pop), but with John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Give Peace A Chance release around 1970, the point that I make is that the “make love not war” mantra became self-evident in social statistics, especially in relation to the Abortion Act (1967) and militarily, we are no better off for it.
    I contend that by collating love and peace, two key words in the activist agenda, The Beatles proved that they were lost in a peacenik paradise.
    Having said that, John Lennon’s Working Class Hero, covered by Marianne Faithful, one-time Mick Jagger paramour, is among my favourite all-time songs.
    @ John Bell, Posted April 28, 2018 at 8:51 pm: In my opinion, my meaning is clear. The Beatles were lost. Perhaps, this can be seen as a double negative by my use of the verb “weren’t”, but you determined it correctly.

  8. @ Russell Guy. 2/2 of us found your double negative confusing.
    It was me that used the term double negative not John.
    Your contention: “You didn’t mention The Beatles, but the activism of the period was as much based on their songs as anything else” is ludicrous.
    “Love and peace, two key words in the activist agenda.”
    Er, not in my experience of the time. They may have been mantras of the flower fringe, but those of us on the front line were a bit more realistic.
    “I’m not trying to buy an argument.”
    Yes, Russell you are, and hanging it on a tendentious misrepresentation of of my position.
    “Abortion (on demand) … and … a legacy of seven days per week take away alcohol among its liberal attitude to social policy.
    I said nothing about either, but I suggest that the attempted prohibition of both produced worse outcomes.
    My positions on the social and political issues of the time were based on respect for human rights, and a realistic analysis of geopolitics.
    “American exceptionalism” is bullshit.
    The “domino theory” was bullshit.
    Sergeant Peppers was a favourite album of mine at the time, but Dylan, Redgum, Chisel, and Bogle were more to the point.

  9. Russel, I agree with Charlie, because 1968 in France and Germany had nothing to do with the Beatles and their songs.
    It follow Daniel Cohn-Bendit’s activism.
    In 1968 the hope was to change the world, like the Bolshevik Revolution.
    While a youth revolt became general in the West — from anti-Vietnam protests in the United States to the Rolling Stones in swinging London and finally the Baader-Meinhof gang in West Germany — France was where the protests of the baby-boom generation came closest to a real political revolution, with 10 million workers on strike, and not just a revulsion against stifling social rules of class, education and sexual behaviour.

  10. Charlie Evelyne and Russell.
    We all obviously lived through the 1967 era and we all drew on our own experiences to form our opinions of what effect the times had in shaping today’s society.
    Depending where we were living at the time. I was very lucky to be a city boy fresh in Alice. Evelyne was in France. Corrosive elements of sex drugs and rock and roll came packaged with noble ideals of slogans human rights, liberty fraternity and equality in which each young generation tends to think of themselves as pioneering activists.
    But let’s face it, the western democratic world has not advanced since then. Just have a look at Europe. But at least we will go out loving our favourite singers and songs – a permanent legacy of the times.

  11. @ Charlie Carter. Posted April 29, 2018 at 8:42 pm. The Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper album introduced hallucinogenic drug-use via the American exceptionalism of Dr Timothy O’Leary and the White Rabbit.
    “Tune in, turn on, drop out.”
    It was as much a part of the “sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll” ethic then as it is today, so your downplaying of The Beatles in relation to geopolitics, sex and drugs is myopic, rather than visionary.
    I can’t believe that you were not exposed to love and peace, man. The peace symbol was extensively placarded in the activist marches, but I make the point that the flower fringe took up the moral relativism of the front line revolutionaries and many, including myself, had to register for National Conscription.
    Some went to the front line to support the domino theory of the time.
    Expanding territorial influence by communist states in Asia and Europe is more the issue today.
    You didn’t mention the Vietnam War either, but I assume that your reference to Redgum, Chisel and Bogle is related.
    I didn’t mention prohibition either, but we are left to deal with the liberal agenda of that period’s contribution to social legislation.
    Prohibition doesn’t work, but alcohol supply reduction does and so do various forms of contraception for men as opposed to the Pill, which you did mention, so all this “I didn’t mention” stuff is tedious, rather than tendentious.
    As I said in my earlier reply, I’m more interested in postmodern analysis of that legacy.
    By way of having a reasonable debate, perhaps, you could explain how I’m misrepresenting your position?

  12. @ Russell Guy. The single biggest factor that influenced the issues in those times in Central Australian remote Aborinibal communities that I saw was the sheer deluge of Commonwealth funding that saturated the landscape from 1973 onwards for political and idealistic reasons.
    You had to see it to believe it.
    The floodgates opened and they have never been checked.
    The mix of government money and altruism is far too daunting for a vote-conscious pollie to challenge. For so many obvious reasons. Sad.

  13. @ Russell: My piece was, and was intended to be a personal memoir.
    Erwin said keep it tight. I tried to.
    I concentrated on Aboriginal Rights, anti war and conscription, the environment, and sexual liberation.
    Of course I was aware of, and involved in the peace and love thing to some extent, but it was not a priority.
    Erwin chose to illustrate the piece with a picture of the Beatles. That was not my decision, or my focus.
    Your initial comment included “Love is All You Need humanist fairy story”.
    I understand that you have a religious perspective, and were responding to my “supernatural fairy story” comment.
    But the love is all you need story was not in my piece. I consider that tendentious.
    Also you wrote “You didn’t mention the Vietnam War either”.
    I wrote two paragraphs on the Vietnam war.
    You have sprayed your comments over a wide field, and seem to attribute everything you dislike to
    “the moral relativism of the front line revolutionaries”.
    I’m not sure what you mean by that, but our stance that conscription was wrong, and that the Vietnam war was immoral, geopolitically stupid, and based on lies was not relativism.
    I also had to register for the ballot for National Service.
    The Vietnam war was lost.
    The Dominos have not fallen.
    The “yellow peril” has not overrun Australia.
    I could go on.
    But, you say,”I’m more interested in postmodern analysis of that legacy”.
    Go for it, but leave me out.


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