'I think therefore I am.'  Descartes            'I AM THAT I AM.'  Exodus.3.        'I am what I am.'  La Cage aux Folles

29 October 2012

My Sixties Revisited

My Hippie and Marching Days

It was the time to have lots of hair and in those days I had plenty. I still give bonus points to anyone with long hair. 

Get Out And March
This is a rare Photo and some Footage I found of my first demonstration 45 years ago in 1967. I was one of those who went on the long march and then got dragged from the road and as I recall, thrown over the top of a parked car. This brings back memories of passion and involvement.
My First Demo and First Run-in With Police Violence.

From the Army disposal stores, Indian and charity shops the clothes and beads evolved, music was unleashed with no restraints and to our parents, our governments and our churches, the social fabric appeared under threat.  Smug little students that we were, we thought the revolution had begun. Up popped black liberation, women's liberation, sexual liberation and things like greed and war were to be cast into oblivion. Well I would not have had it any other way. It was a great, fun, creative and forming age. No matter how cynical people now appear I don't think the world would be as it is if it were not for the flowers and the banners and the confrontations. The huge swing of the last decade or two to the fundamentalism of religions and politics, and the cry of moral superiority so often heard, is the latest battle for change. It is a dangerous time of excessive self-interested comment and media manipulation and where it ends will be historic, no matter on which side things fall. 
My first march in 1967, was for Civil Liberties and the 'right to march' (video above) 4000 marched from the St. Lucia campus some several miles into the city-heart and when blocked by a wall of police, we sat in the middle of Roma Street. Then myself and several thousand others were dragged from the street and several including myself were and thrown by a special riot squad over the roofs of cars. Undeterred we regrouped and moved to King George Square and then continued on to Parliament House with ringleaders being picked off and arrested one by one along the way. Such was the uproar from this march that it even got a mention in Pravda (Russian News in Moscow) - I recall some slight exaggeration about 'Australian students rising up against an authoritarian government'. When the over 250 arrests went to court, the behaviour of the police caught on film and the outrage from the newspapers (before they all became right wing) saw all the charges thrown out by the judge. The law was overturned and the first taste of victory enthused several years of civil disobedience as students gained a conscience and stood against the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia and began the anti Vietnam-War moratoriums. It was a hallmark of those days that NEVER were the students violent. Civil disobedience works, Riots never do.

As I saw recently one demonstration in 1968 against apartheid and the visiting white South African Springbok football team is described as a formative changing moment in Australian history. I was there with friends and recently found a photo of the demonstration with me in it. It was taken just before 500 police charged 400 students, drove us down a hill where we tumbled in darkness over a 20 ft. cliff. A few broken bones for some and one close friend arrested escaping over a fence in a nearby railway yard. Out despicable, notorious and overzealous Premier declared a State of Emergency.

'Sir Johannes "Joh" Bjelke-Petersen, KCMG (13 January 1911 – 23 April 2005), was an Australian politician. He was the longest-serving and longest-lived Premier of Queensland, holding office from 1968 to 1987, a period that saw considerable economic development in the state. His uncompromising conservatism (including his role within the downfall of the Whitlam federal government), his political longevity, and his leadership of a government that, in its later years, was revealed to be institutionally corrupt, made him one of the best-known and most controversial political figures of 20th century Australia.' From Wikipedia. In fact when I was in England in 1979 the owner of a small guest house in York could not understand how I “could live under such a regime.”. He was known worldwide.

This is the photo with me at the Springbok Demonstration (red Arrow).
 It would be thirty years and not until the rally against the attack on Iraq in 2003 has this city seen a larger number of people (over 50,000) take to the streets. There were the busy evenings back in the 60's and 70's, occupied with pamphlet printing, police raids and the high drama of smuggling from house to house, those with warrants for their arrest. I remember driving my Mini Cooper around the back streets ferrying one particular activist as we moved him ever few hours. The police even harassed his grandmother. There were always cries of police brutality and the chants were so full of excitement and commitment. Several of my friends were arrested from time to time, so my mother always gave me some extra bail money just in case. 
These are some old photos of various other protests I participated in four decades ago.
Times were good as a student and we partied on cheap wine, danced in sarongs and burnt enough incense to pollute the planet. I miss it. Of course everyone talks about the drugs of the sixties and I may have been one of the minority who did not smoke or take any, but so many of my friends did. Yes, many died from the occasional accidental overdose, or intentional and ritualised suicide, drowning on their own vomit etc. and I developed a hatred for drugs, but that is a personal idea and although I prefer that people do not, I understand why they do. It is their choice and laws will not deter anyone, but only ensure alienation from the community.
Political Sides
What was the morality or politics of this age? Many who were not involved or have since changed sides, refer to it as a naive, childish, self absorbed time. I am a lot older today, but my mind still remains in that time or at least in my understanding of it. I do not presume to speak for others, but to me it was a time of a deep sense of morality, a concern for brotherhood and I see little difference between the high ideals and those of St. Francis of Assisi. I can already hear some screaming to challenge me. I recently watched a series on St. Francis and watched his passion for loving all creation and his wish to share equally with everyone. If today the politicians and churches would cease being totally obsessed with sexual matters and controlling what people feel they need in the ways of pleasure such as intoxicants, fashions and entertainment, they might cast their eye at what is, to me, so much more important: the creation of a world where mankind can understand his spiritual journey, strive towards his ambitions and have the ability to live a free life where one can explore and search for meaning and 'truth'. One must be left to try and attain the right place in the world for oneself and for others. Ethics does not guide today's politics, nor does leadership reveal any logic other than the imposition of rules to maintain popularity, power or personal economic profit. Profit is fine, but profit for all not the few. Rules are fine, but arbitrary disapproval has little to do with justice. How many times do laws change? How can something that was illegal one day be legal another or the other way round? Perhaps legal has nothing to do with right. Either something is ok or it isn't. It should not be made illegal because it is inconvenient or someone, who has transitory power, disagrees with it. No church has the right to criticise another. No individual can be sure of his rightness and thus condemn another, or at least he must be very careful. Yes, many do go against the peace and safety of others, but what goes on in the mind of the apparent transgressor? Perhaps we look at the surface only and the truth remains hidden or we choose to be blind to it because it is inconvenient. Life is much more complicated or we have made it so by narrow focus. Was this the sixties or was it just youth? No generation is that different to another but what history recalls is generally the view of a few who at that point in time held the upper hand of politics, religion or the media. At birth we are each given a choice to examine or not. Some may suffer, others can tread more safely, but we do have the choice. We are not guaranteed success or even an easy road, but we should be allowed to try and if it appears that we are not, our will still allows us to stand up if we choose. We alone are responsible for our choices, but that does not mean they are correct nor does it mean that those of others are at fault.

 As mentioned the clothes that evolved towards the end of the decade were certain evidence that 'the times were a changin'. From the formality and 'bad taste' of what your mother bought you there was a gradual drift through the pastel shirts, then the paisley prints until the unisex image of the beads, the length of hair and the flowing and flowery clothing went beyond all bounds. We also had a healthy and I still believe good respect for the naked body in those days and very arty, presumptuous, self expression overflowed into the parks and onto the streets and beyond the imagination. 
Relationships were many, passionate and dramatic and seemed to meander with assorted swapped couplings amongst a group that constantly expanded and contracted. A group of us introduced the wearing of scarves and as soon as it caught on we stopped wearing them. I began my lifelong habit of throwing large parties of around 400, several times a year. Surely this is all an arrogance that now irritates the generations who followed, but if this is so perhaps there should be revolution anew. 
There were two streams of music that influenced me and many. Pop began to be important with the Beatles and the cuteness of groups like Hermans Hermits and others backed up this light side, but amongst the simple and happy music were also the songs of conscience Peter Paul and Mary were my great influence and I saw them 5 times ending in the centre of the front row staring up adoringly at Mary Travers whom I adored. 
They and others sang anthems from the likes of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. Dylan is shown in this  'says it all photo' with Alan Ginsberg at the grave of Jack Kerouak - I once saw Ginsberg read poetry at my University. Songs of the time were not just of love for a girl or boy, but for mankind. A song was also a gentle way of voicing ones dissatisfaction with a war, an injustice and gave voice to a longing for a hope filled utopia which seems never to have arrived. As Oscar Wilde said "as soon as we sight it and fail to recognise it we set off again to search anew."
Hair 1968

Of course a musical of its time was Hair. Today it is occasionally revived, but as I read comments and reviews I get the feeling that it should be left in the past and that modern commentators just don't get it. I remember the 1,000k drive to Sydney in 68 to see this wonder. We drove through light snow, heavy rain and the old Mini broke down regularly. We got lost, but at last we arrived. It was an event and yes the nudity was very revolutionary to a group of 18-19 year old students on their first big adventure. It was an event of its time and a fashion. It can no longer speak to people living in a different atmosphere. I suspect revivals are no more than just another musical and mean little in the way of revolution to its audience.
Unlike many who grace our documentaries these days I do not believe that the flowering of love and peace imploded and failed to work. I still have faith in the ability of people to re-examine themselves, pull them selves up and carry themselves forward. It was an intense time of cold war, real war and social and spiritual renewal and I feel better for it and those who participated and survived are surely stronger. Recently I saw an Argentinian Reporter attempting to explain an internal political battle going on in the USA. She couched her assessment in terms of those who were not part of the left hippie uprising getting their revenge on those who did. A fundamental battle of belief that is far from over and in fact alarmingly intense. Do we abandon the sexual liberation in all its facets and return to the paternalistic, finger-pointing, hypocritical pretence of the nineteenth century or do we continue along the path of demolishing the barriers between the races, the sexes, the generations and the minorities? What is described as the conservative Right or the various movements that claim to adhere to 'fundamental' beliefs would certainly like to return the world to a darker time of guilt, suspicion, and moral arrogance. The battle continues.
I may not have been to Paris until 1975 but the feeling of the old riotous Left Bank (the famous 1968 above) was with me in spirit. They even threw on a student march down Boulevard St Michelle for me while I was there, but then again on that same trip there were 150,000 on the streets outside my hotel in Rome burning buses, a bombing a few blocks away in London, the border to Spain was closed because of train bombings and our Prime Minister Gough Whitlam was sacked, which threw Australia into angry turmoil. 

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...