It’s said that one should not speak ill of the dead, but with Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen there’s an exception to the rule. There’s just so much to remember, so much to reignite the blood. From his sacking of 1500 electricity workers for having the temerity of going on strike and the banning of street marches and the right to protest, to the awarding of knighthoods to business cronies after significant cash donations to bogus ‘foundations’, to the outrageous gerrymandering of election boundaries that ensured the Labor party needed twice as many votes as the Nationals to take power (and which resulted in one case in a doughnut shaped electorate), Sir Joh’s nineteen year long reign as a National Party government was a right wing, authoritarian and corrupt regime that took an Australian state as close as we’ve ever come to a straight out dictatorship. Although Queensland did not reach the depths of Chile or Greece in the 1970s or Brazil in the late 1960s, it came awfully close.
With a corrupt police force and the use of the courts to sue for defamation, Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s government needed little prompting to demonstrate it’s friendship of outlaw regimes when it allowed a tour by the Springbok rugby team at a time when the entire world had banned sporting contact with South Africa. Then of course there was the Fitzgerald Inquiry that ultimately brought Sir Joh down, but not before it exposed the Premier as an undedicated, anti-intellectual roob with no real understanding of the intuitions over which he trampled. The Inquiry also exposed the way in which the police force had been corrupted into a strong arm for the government’s actions and attitudes.
It was fact of life in the 1980s that Sydney’s art world was full of political refugees. Brits who had fled “Fatchers Britain” loused up the art schools and the galleries with their quaintly antique left wing politics even as Post Modernism was washing in. We remember being lectured by one such specimen about how there was no Punk Rock in the People’s Republic of China and that The Sex Pistols were a petit bourgeois retrogressive step in the ongoing Cultural Revolution.
Another less obvious group were the people who had fled the Great North for Sydney and Melbourne, the Queenslanders who lived amongst us without any telltale accent to give them away. It was only over a few beers that you started to hear stories of how Sir Joh’s Government ran Brisbane like a right wing prison camp where gays and lesbians, Aboriginals, artists and trade unionists were routinely brutalised by the cops. We heard stories of art gallery openings and parties in the Valley and New Farm being closed down for no other reason than the cops just didn’t like the look of ‘em.
John Howard, speaking of the farcical Joh For PM campaign in 1987 that saw his first tilt at the Lodge wrecked by his mad Queensland brethren, said, “I don’t bear any grudges, there’s no point in bearing grudges, life moves on, that’s long years ago now and it’s not something that I dwell on.” Although it is said that Howard hated the bastard with a passion, they both shared a deep rooted suspicion of what they like to call the ‘over educated cultural elites’.
Let’s not forget, let’s dwell on it.