Back in ’68 . . . . reminder of my old university days

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by Neil Godfrey

I have just stumbled across a blog that brings my university student days back to me with vivid memories of personalities and events that were affected me deeply at the time — forcing me to face up to how the world really works. I have since lamented the fading of radical and direct action from university life but this blog brings back some disturbing memories that no-one would really want repeated.

Most of the names mentioned — especially on the second part of the blog — I knew personally, one even from school days. We were not close buddies but he did share with me his experience of being taken by Commonwealth police in a car down to an isolated wharf. My recollection is that the police were being publicly humiliated by their failure to locate the ones who were printing banned political tracts and to find one student in particular who had retaliated against police in a frightening mob situation with a series of vicious punches. He told me how the police pulled out a gun as he sat in the back seat of their car that night at that wharf and told him they could make it look like suicide.

I wonder if I ever crossed paths with the author of the blog while I was at the same university in the same years as he. I don’t recall his name and probably didn’t. But we could share memories if we did ever meet (it’s sad to see his health circumstances as explained in his blog):

Vietnam and Damascus via Coronation Drive

Vietnam and Damascus, via Coronation Drive part 2

In the first part he even has a photo of Diane Cilento. I recall being mesmerized by her stage performance in Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew a few years afterwards.

In part 2 I see Bob Katter there. I never knew who he was on campus though I did know of one small firebrand who led a minority student reactionary (pro conservative) viewpoint. Now I see that it was the same Bob Katter who is something of a populist independent in politics today. The names more memorable to me are those of Dan O’Neill, Brian Laver, Jimmy Prentice and Dick Shearman.

Dick shocked the establishment of the day by visiting North Vietnam and returning in a black Viet Cong suit. When the Vice Chancellor met students at a courtyard rally (memorable for the constant blaring of the Beatles new and subversive White Album) he insisted that they could not, as they had been seeking to do, erect tents in the courtyard. Jimmy took the mike and calmly sought clarification from the VC: “So are you saying we are not allowed to have an erection in the courtyard?”

Ah, those were the days.

As for the politics and the way the media worked then, now that was a real education. I can’t surpass Dennis Wright’s portrayal of it in his blog.

One more detail. I stumbled upon this blog while looking to see what happened to a philosopher lecturer whose post-graduate classes I once enjoyed so much. Ted d’Urso. I liked Dennis Wright’s account of him, too, except that I found he had more humour than he appears to have displayed in Dennis’s class. Maybe he had learned to relax more by the time I met him. He was not wearing a white shirt and tie then, either.

Dennis recalls some words he spoke to his class then:

‘Some of you in this room are going to be sitting in a paddy field in Vietnam in two years, and when you come under fire for the first time, you’re going to say “What the hell am I doing here?” All I want to discuss with you are some facts you can check with any reliable source, Then you’ll know why someone in a black t-shirt and pants, someone you won’t even see, is going to try their best to kill you….’

In another online article (2007) Ted (now retired) cites a prophecy of Rosa Luxemburg:

As long ago as 1918 Rosa Luxemburg predicted that the alternatives to capitalism were socialism or barbarism, the latter now well under way. With the defeat of the hopes for humanistic socialism, the plans now in progress by the Pentagon for military supremacy in an increasingly resource-scarce future (the pre-emptive invasion of Iraq is a foretaste of future conflicts) . . . . 

How depressing. Especially since observing all that has happened since then and especially with the most recent media and political gloating over the barbarism we have all witnessed in the past few months in Libya and that looks like extending its bloody life into the weeks to come. It’s all tied up with Western resources and economics, of course. I can never forget another memorable phrase I picked up in one of his classes: the nazi years in central Europe described as “barbarism empowered by technology.”

God I hope something can come out of these new Occupy movements. We are seeing similar (not quite as bad?) sorts of violence now in Melbourne as we saw back in 1968 in Brisbane. But there has been real progress and that’s clear, too. Back in ’68 the mere act of walking down a street with a placard really was considered orc-centric as Dennis reminds us.


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Neil Godfrey

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11 thoughts on “Back in ’68 . . . . reminder of my old university days”

  1. Making it look like a uni student had committed with a police issue sidearm? That would be quite a trick. At some point in the 60s my father was investigated by ASIO and kicked out of the Australian Navy for being a card-carrying member of the Communist party. Good times! 😀

  2. My recollection is that these were commonwealth police, not the uniformed state ones. (I am not even sure that the state police routinely carried weapons then.) But whatever, it was the fear factor with being taken down to an isolated part at the river bank at night and being physically assaulted with rubber hose and then the threat — it left him shaken for a while and many of us pretty dazed. But I don’t think it was widely known. It was only one personal incident. Nothing compared with Kent State.

    There were spies (ASIO or Commonwealth police) turning up at major rallies. They were generally picked out from the rest of us for looking more like neatly trimmed versions of beach boys than john lennons. Amateurish but dangerous to future careers.

    One of the warmest experiences visiting Vietnam is seeing there the gratitude expressed to those in the West who did their bit to try to end that war. (Made up for the few isolated instances of anti-white racism.) Mcduff had an enviable personal reminder of their gratitude: http://vridar.wordpress.com/2010/09/05/vietnam-national-day-military-concert/#comment-11261

    What I miss in universities since then is the open atmosphere of political debate and controversy. Few could avoid being challenged to investigate issues for themselves and think about the nature of society and power and their own personal responsibilities. I was at the time living in two worlds. I was a newly converted Christian and committed to avoiding defiance of the authorities but friends of mine were activists — one a committed pacifist and of a different religious or spiritual bent — and I often joined with them. It was a schizoid time for me.

    One of the saddest thing on too many campuses today is a prohibition against political party activism. Business and industry rule. Yet Christian groups are allowed to proselytize openly and prey on isolated and vulnerable international students who subsequently become estranged from their own families and culture. Restrictions are placed on political debate but no similar restriction on the ability of faith-addicts to sow seeds of anti-intellectualism.

  3. I live a 30-minute drive from Manhattan. The weather today is cold and rainy. The days are getting shorter. We can expect frost within the next few days.

    A couple days ago, the neighborhood association near the OWS park voted that the drummers should be limited to two two-hour shifts a day. The drummers have been ignoring those restrictions, and so this wealthy neighborhood will apply increasing political pressure on the local politicians to control the noise, harassment, urination and defecation in their park.

    All the other cities with copy-cat OWC demonstrations are clearing their parks. New York City is about the only city that still has not cracked down. It won’t be long now.

  4. I am distant from any similar activity myself, but I can see evidence of heated debates among the Occupy Melbourne people, with one side no doubt stressing constantly the need to avoid alienating the sympathies of the wider community. Grass roots organization is, to use a Rumsfeldianism, always a bit messy in the early days.

  5. I have read that most of the protesters want the drummers to limit themselves in order to maintain good relations with the neighborhood, but the drummers refuse to comply. They drum all day and night. A lot of people live in the buildings surrounding the park, and they are getting angry.

    Here is an article on how the situation is developing in the Manhattan park.


    The Occupy Wall Street volunteer kitchen staff launched a “counter” revolution yesterday — because they’re angry about working 18-hour days to provide food for “professional homeless” people and ex-cons masquerading as protesters. For three days beginning tomorrow, the cooks will serve only brown rice and other spartan grub instead of the usual menu of organic chicken and vegetables, spaghetti bolognese, and roasted beet and sheep’s-milk-cheese salad. They will also provide directions to local soup kitchens for the vagrants, criminals and other freeloaders who have been descending on Zuccotti Park in increasing numbers every day. To show they mean business, the kitchen staff refused to serve any food for two hours yesterday in order to meet with organizers to air their grievances, sources said.

    As the kitchen workers met with the “General Assembly’’ last night, about 300 demonstrators stormed from the park to Reade Street and Broadway, where they violently clashed with cops.Officers made at least 10 arrests when rowdy demonstrators refused to get out of the street and stop blocking traffic. A dozen cops on scooters tried to force them back to the sidewalk. ….

    “We need to limit the amount of food we’re putting out” to curb the influx of derelicts, said Rafael Moreno, a kitchen volunteer. A security volunteer added that the cooks felt “overworked and underappreciated.”

    Many of those being fed “are professional homeless people. They know what they’re doing,” said the guard at the food-storage area…. yesterday the kitchen staff served only peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and chips after their staff meeting. Organizers took other steps to police the squatters, who they said were lured in from other parks with the promise of free meals.

    A team of 10 security volunteers moved in to the trouble-prone southwest section of Zuccotti Park in a show of force to confront them. “We’re not going to let some members of this community destroy the whole movement,” a volunteer said. ….

    Overall security at the park had deteriorated to the point where many frightened female protesters had abandoned the increasingly out-of-control occupation, security- team members said. Rumors swirled that one homeless man had pulled a knife in a dispute the night before — and that there had been yet another case of groping. But protesters and a cop on duty told The Post that most of the crime goes unreported, because of a bizarre “stop snitching” rule. …


  6. Another important development is the continuing dispersal of business away from Wall Street, away from New York city, and away from New York state. Since the city and state have made themselves narrowly dependent on very high tax rates on the high incomes of Wall Street, this dispersal will cause permanent revenue problems for the city and state governments.

    Since January 2008, employment on Wall Street has fallen by about 32,000 jobs. Many of the lost jobs have moved to out-of-state cities — Cincinnati, Atlanta, Minneapolis, etc.– or even outside the USA.


    So, in addition to business dispersal from Wall Street because of high taxation, this new demonization of Wall Street will be yet another reason for prosperous businesses to disperse out of the city and state, accelerating the downward spiral of tax revenues and employment.

  7. Neighbourhood noise and catering issues, and talk of business relocations — it all sounds quite banal against the prospect of my losing all my superannuation and savings as a result of the corruption and criminality of the super-rich and those friends of mine who did lose their home as a result of the same not too long ago. Not to mention that predisposition of that same elite to channel the material means and direct the media and political powers to sustain their peccadillo of bringing truth, justice and the american way to the rest of the world by means of explosive technologies and expendable lives.

  8. New York City is getting about three inches of snow today, and the police removed all the electricity generators from the park during the past week.

    The people living in the buildings surrounding the park have been paying high mortgages, rents and property taxes because of the high value provided by the park. They have lost the park that they used to be able to enjoy and that they still are paying for. Also, the retail businesses in those buildings have seen their income cut in half.

  9. I think you would find it a useful exercise to list all of such costs in one column and then the costs suffered by the current gangster practices of the masters of the wealth of the world in another column — and source each complaint for good measure.

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