52 weeks of personal genealogy and history: Week 46: Politics not one of my favourite things

The topic for Week 46 in Amy Coffin’s and Geneablogger’s 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy and History series is: Politics. What are your childhood memories of politics? Were your parents active in politics? What political events and elections do you remember from your youth?

If I was to go all Julie Andrews in Sound of Music, politics would not be one of my favourite things in the world.

I have few childhood memories of politics until towards the end of my primary school years when reading the newspaper became part of our school homework. I think family listening to the news was restricted because of my father’s shift-work hours and sleeping patterns. I’m sure my parents listened when he was up and about…Dad was devoted to his “tranny” (transistor radio) as he always called it and in his old age would listen to the hourly news bulletins. Politics was not really discussed at home all that much when I was a child, at least that I recall.

Union politics and work matters were more likely to feature in the daily discussions as Dad was always an active union member, not always agreeing with the majority rank-and-file, and outspoken in his views. It’s only recently through Trove, that I’ve learned of my maternal grandfather’s political involvement: he was a union official and also had an official role with the Australian Labor Party(ALP), (not to mention the Hibernian Society). Given the presence of a declaration re the Irish constitution among his belongings it seems he also maintained a close interest in Irish political happenings, despite leaving the country as a two-year old. Neither of my parents was active in political affairs generally.

Particular memories of political events which have stayed with me are the election of John F Kennedy as the President of the United States of America which was a landmark event for Catholics across the globe. His assassination was consequently all the more shocking, and I remember my mother coming to wake me up that morning to tell me the President had been killed. Somehow it’s linked in my mind with being woken up a couple of years later to be told my beloved grandfather had died overnight.

I also remember the visit of Lyndon Baines Johnson (LBJ) to Brisbane and the cries of “All the way with LBJ”. The significance of the first visit of an American President to Australia was huge at the time and he was received by enthusiastic supporters. An interesting contrast with this week’s visit to Darwin by President Barack Obama when roads were closed and the general public had very little opportunity to see him – except on TV. The Defence Force members who heard his short speech and had a meet-and-greet with him seemed very keen to shake his hand and say hello (or g’day). He also won hearts among the survivors of the Bombing of Darwin who met him.

Other political “events” I remember are:

  1. The response of church leaders and teachers to the Communist Chinese threat in the 1950s, complete with gory details taught to five year olds.
  2. The establishment of the Democratic Labor Party (DLP) with its anti-Communist, pro-Catholic aims and the break-away impact on the Australian Labor Party.
  3. The conservative governments in Queensland and Australia which were in power through much of my youth and into my adulthood.
  4. The all-pervasiveness of Prime Minister Robert Menzies and later Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen in Queensland.
  5. The disappearance/drowning of Prime Minister Harold Holt in 1967 with all its attendant conspiracy theories. Prime Minister John Gorton, a war hero with a mashed-up face.
  6. The right-to-march and anti-Vietnam-involvement protests at The University of Queensland in the 1960s and almost-daily speeches in the Forum outside the refectory. Brian Laver was the charismatic left wing speaker and Bob Katter, leader of the recently formed Australia Party, was then (from my memory) head of the student union. This story by a friend I knew at uni, reveals some of the issues of the time..in fact I should have just put a link to this story against week 46, and left it at that!
  7. The election of an ALP federal government in 1972 and the rise of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, free university education, withdrawal from Vietnam etc, and later, his dismissal by the Governor General.
  8. The evacuation from Saigon in 1975 sticks in my mind as we were in New Zealand on holidays with our kids, watching the helicopters lift people out of the American embassy.
  9. Most importantly for my own family, self-government for Papua New Guinea in 1973, and Independence in 1975. My story about Independence is here.