Remembering A Great

Whilst Australia and the international community were mourning the loss of one of Australia’s great Prime Ministers, I was in the middle of a research task investigating the impact that this man had on Australian politics. It was an extremely significant impact. Gough Whitlam challenged the agenda of the federal government in many ways, but in particular funding education to make it accessible to the masses, regardless of gender, race or economic situation.


Starting with Sir Robert Menzies as Prime Minister the Liberal government focussed on establishing Australia as a strong economic force in the world. With market stability and coming off the back of an economic boom, there was not a large enough investment made to help the education system flourish. Free primary and secondary education theoretically opened school level education to the masses, however a lack of funding to boost remote schools or schools in disadvantaged areas meant opportunities were not equal.


After school, students hoping to continue their education faced large university fees and parents acted as the only financial support. This facilitated class divides, isolating kids from disadvantaged areas.


It is this that Gough Whitlam aimed to revolutionise. From the very beginning Gough Whitlam was seen as a source of hope. Leading the labor party to victory in 1962 with a rousing campaign titled ‘It’s Time’. And time it was after 23 years of the party in opposition.


The Labor Party policy speech Whitlam delivered at the Blacktown Civic Centre was a powerful message to the voters, making many promises in regards to education, addressing it as one of the main agendas of his government. So often, and especially today in Australia’s political landscape, it is easy to become disillusioned with the political process as promises are never kept. However all but one of Whitlam’s education policies were enacted, all within the 3 years of his government. He said:

‘Under a Labor Government, Commonwealth spending on schools and teacher training will be the fastest expanding sector of Budget expenditure. This must be done, not just because the basic resource of this nation is the skills of its people, but because education is the key to equal opportunity… We will abolish fees at universities and colleges of advanced education. We believe that a student’s merit rather than a parent’s wealth should decide who should benefit from the community’s vast financial commitment to tertiary education. And more, it’s time to strike a blow for the ideal that education should be free. Under the Liberals this basic principle has been massively eroded. We will re-assert that principle at the commanding heights of education, at the level of the university itself.’ (Whitlam, “It’s Time for Leadership”)


Gough Whitlam saw the value of an educated population in securing Australia’s future. Whilst there was a short-term economic loss, he saw a long-term investment into jobs and economic security. Something I tend to agree on. These sentiments expressed in 1962 echo in our ears today as we watch the Abbott government.


In May 2014 during the federal budget, the Abbott Government announced university cuts through the deregulation of fees, course funding cuts and the application of interest rates to student debts. This once again will open the university system to an unequal playing field with students deterred by the enormous long-term debts they might incur. Rather than an investment in the education system, Abbott has shunned the Whitlam model, causing universities to have to invest in themselves.


The Australian public supports government funding of education. If they didn’t Whitlam wouldn’t have won his spot as Prime Minister in the early 60s from a comfortable Liberal government. Currently the Abbott government wouldn’t be facing so much criticism, nor would they have left it out of their policy promises during the 2013 election, if there wasn’t still that support.


Crowds gathered not only inside Sydney’s Town Hall, but standing outside, watching from an erected screen in Cabramatta and in homes around Australia at the beginning of November this to remember the life and achievements of Gough Whitlam after his death. I too sat on my lounge watching as notable Australians – Cate Blanchett and Noel Pearson – both delivered eulogies reflecting how Whitlam impacted on their lives. It was through education and the equal opportunities created.


Aptly this is how Gough Whitlam is remembered. For the numerous achievements he made in just three years. For a man that seemed to be defined by his exit from office, his legacy will be his achievements, particularly in education.




Gough Whitlam “It’s Time for Leadership.” Australian Labor Party Policy Speech. November 13, 1972.

The Rape of Berlin


We all know about the horrors of World War II and what Hitler and the Nazis did all over Europe in the name of Aryan supremacy. But what a lot of people don’t know is what actually happened in Germany in the final days of the Nazi regime.

During the months of April and May, 1945, as Soviet Red Army troops approached and eventually invaded Berlin, almost two million German women were raped on a level of violence never seen before or since. Figures provided by historians such as Antony Beevor (2002) suggest that of the two million victims, almost 100,000 eventually committed suicide, and in 1946 10% of all babies born in Germany had Soviet fathers.

While these figures are astonishing, what is maybe even more remarkable is the fact that for over 50 years there was a concerted effort to keep the facts of these events quiet. For fear of re-energizing German nationalism through a sense of national victimhood and sympathy, first German politicians and authorities protected this cover-up, followed by pro-Soviet, anti-German historians in the last 20 years.

An example of this silence is in the form of one of the only primary sources to reflect these terrible days. “A Woman in Berlin” was written anonymously by a German journalist and is a diary of the final weeks of the Nazi regime. It relives in harrowing detail, the mass rapes and violence suffered by the women of Berlin. There seemed to be no escape, with young girls, old women and ladies of all classes being ‘hunted’ and picked to satisfy the racially charged sexual violence of the Soviet soldiers.

This book was originally published in the late 1950s, but immediately taken off the market in Germany, and the publishers could find only Switzerland as a market for the tome. Despite even this, the book was pulled; and it was not until 2001 that the book was seen again in Germany and found a new audience. This was due to the fears of how the facts and recounting of what occurred could lead to a resurgence in nationalist ideals.


A Woman in Berlin (2001) – Encouraging the Nazis of tomorrow?

While this fear may seem ludicrous to most, it is still apparent in many historians’ views of this episode. Female historians such as Annita Grossmann believe that the rapes were rather a result of being accessories to the Nazi war machine, and not the simple matter of innocent victimhood. While this view may astound many of you, unfortunately she is not the only historian who feels that the German females received their ‘just desserts’.

The question of whether these German women were somehow complicit in these attacks, because they provided support for their husbands, brothers and sons ignores the astounding violence and horrors they suffered. Accounts from other women from this period include Gabi Kopp’s “Why Did I Have To Be A Girl?” which recounts how as a 14 year old the author was regularly ‘passed’ around, even by her fellow victims because of her young age. While the Nazi propaganda machine warned the females of the Asiatic hordes from the East, they still were not prepared for the incessant, nightly attacks and the blatant disregard these soldiers had for women.

While historians attempt to understand the strategic reasoning for the rape, the core theory behind the viciousness of it points to the racial undertones that the war in the East endured. The near annihilation of the Soviet Union and the constant pronouncements of Aryan supremacy, instigated an almost genocidal touch to the rapes. The spreading of Bolshevik seed, especially amongst the German maidens after defeating so comprehensively their men appears to be the primary index to this horrible event.


German propaganda constantly warned of the animal like Bolsheviks from the East.

While Soviet authorities and histories are quiet on the subject, there are contradictory tales told of Stalin’s reaction to the news of the rapes. From laughing them off as ‘trifles’ to denying that Soviet soldiers were in Germany for anything other than war. The sealing of Russian/Soviet archives, initially by the KGB and more recently by the Putin Government hinders any attempts to see official views of the tragedy.

Despite this, some Soviet war correspondents embedded with Red Army divisions reported ‘terrible things happening to German women’ (Vassily Grossman), and Natalya Gesse famously reported that it was ‘an army of rapists’.

The Rape of Berlin is an episode of history that should never be silenced, or ever be forgotten. It is a dark part of history that should be recognized for its magnitude and the lack of sympathy and recognition for the victims. One thing that should be recognized is that it is history, and that should never be denied.


Anonymous. 2006. A Woman in Berlin (Eine Frau in Berlin). Translated by P. Boehm. London: Virago.

Beevor, A. 2002. Berlin: The Downfall, 1945. London: Viking, UK.

Grossmann, Attina. 1995. “A Question of Silence: The Rape of German Women by Occupation Soldiers.” October- Berlin 1945: War and Rape: Liberators Take Liberties 72: 42-63.

Kopp, Gabriele. 2010. Warum war ich bloss ein Madchen

Struggling to be involved in the Struggle: Aboriginal Voluntary Defence of the Nation in World War Two.

In 1942, Sendy Togo and his two accomplices travelled from their home town of South Grafton to Sydney in order to complete their enlistment in the second A.I.F. Having already passed preliminary tests at the country centre in Murwillumbah, the men were keen to fight for their country. How shocked they were to receive the news that their willing service was neither necessary nor desirable. Here we have the curious case of the army who in the middle of a war refused fresh recruits. Sendy certainly could see no sense in the situation; “I am anxious to serve Australia but, without any examination or explanation I am being sent back”. But you see, Sendy and his friends were Aboriginal men. For this reasons alone they had to fight for the right to die for one’s country.

This was just the start of the complex and remarkable nature of Indigenous war service to Australia.

 sendyAbove: Sendy Togo extracted from Aborigine Sent Home By Army,” Sunday Sun, January 4, 1942.

The rights of an Indigenous Australian during World War Two (WWII) were seriously restricted. Not even being recognised as part of the nation makes the stream of volunteers from Aboriginal communities a riveting event to research. The lack of rights however was recognised and raised as a concern for Aboriginal enlistment. Rather prominent members of the community such as William Cooper were pushing for citizenship rights before enlistment. Cooper summed up the situation “He (Aboriginal men) has no country and nothing to fight for but the privilege of defending the land which was taken from him by the white race without compensation or even kindness.” This is not to mention the treatment of Aboriginal veterans from World War One (WWI) who were not even allowed to be served a drink in a pub. Despite this, Aboriginal Australians supported the involvement of Australia in the war itself. In fact the Australian Aborigines League was one of the first to condemn German persecution of Jews during Kristallnacht. But contending with the lack of citizenship was not the only obstacle to overcome. For example the military issued orders officially rejecting the service of capable, able-bodied Aboriginal men and women!

Although exempt from conscription the Defence Act outlined that those who were British subjects could freely volunteer. In fact the Australian Military, Regulations and Orders no.177 made during WWI provided the only restriction of enlistment based on race which required an enlistee have one parent of European origin. As an army order it did not have the legal ground of the Defence Act. So from these origins the grounds for restricting Aboriginal enlistment remained shaky In May 1940 a memo on the official military stance on the racial makeup of the army was posted. Enlistment of non-Europeans and aliens was “neither necessary not desirable.” White Australia claimed itself as the sole defender of the country.

The bombing of Darwin on the 19th of February 1942 however, signified that war was knocking at Australia’s front door and it was not the time to be saying ‘no’ to able volunteers. Cracks appeared in the practice of the 1940 declaration which claimed that Aboriginal volunteers were not necessary or desirable. Aboriginal enlistment peaked between 1942 and 1943. Officials grappled with the value of aboriginal service verse their prejudices towards their aboriginality. For example in a letter to the Western Mail in 1941 a soldier outlined what he considers to be the foolishness of removing a capable Aboriginal soldier Jack Blurton. Blurton was told to leave the training camp Blackboy Hill Camp (along with all other men enlisted with Aboriginal descent) after an Aboriginal man returned to the camp with an unspecified disease and fears were sparked about having Aboriginal men in the army. The writer of the letter notes that there could be “no finer Australian enlisted”.

Though records of race were not kept for enlisted soldiers and thus we can only estimate the extent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander participation at 3000 serving in the official forces whilst another 3000 worked as civilian labourers (Robert Hall, 1992). When considering the percentages, the scale as well as the battle to even enlist is impressive. Torres Strait Islanders represented the largest group from a single population in Australia to serve, even more than white Australians. The official stance against enlistment by Aboriginal people however, silenced this history until well after the granting of citizenship rights in 1967.

 P02140_005_150Above: Aboriginal soldiers from their special all volunteer platoon at No 9 camp, Wangaratta, Victoria, retrieved from

At the outbreak of World War Two Indigenous Australians had a number of options with which they could proceed. Although the challenge of a lack of citizenship rights was legitimately presented, the enthusiasm to serve was not diverted despite official orders restricting the racial makeup of the Australian forces. The desire of Aboriginal Australians to serve far outweighed the attempts of the army to create barriers to service. The conflicting needs of the military too ultimately allowed volunteers to slip through the cracks and prove that the digger legend also includes Aboriginal Australians.


Hall, Robert. “Aborigines, the Army and the Second World War in Northern Australia.” Aboriginal History 4 (1980): pp.73-96.

Hall, Robert. “Finding the Black Parts of the Digger Legend: A Guide to Archival Sources on the Aboriginal and Islander Contribution to the Second World War.” Aboriginal History. 16 (1992): pp.58-72.

  1. Cooper to the Minister for the Interior AA. 3 January 1939. A659, 40/11858 Australian Archives.

War Cabinet Agendum, 24 February 1940, NAA: A2671, 45/1940, National Archives of Australia, Canberra.

“Indigenous Australian Servicemen.” Australian War Memorial.

The Argus. “Deputation Not Admitted.” December 7, 1938.

Sunday Sun. “Aborigine Sent Home By Army.” January 4, 1942.

Western Mail. “Something Wrong Somewhere.” March 27, 1941.

The Black Chartist – Unlikely Hero’s In Our National Narrative.

Australia during the 19th century has been renowned as one of the most democratically experimental environments to have ever existed. In comparison to our British forefathers, the Australian colonies were achieving great levels of success when it came to eliminating the barriers of class and distinction that were such a defining feature of the old country. During the 1850′s, NSW, Victoria, South Australia and Queensland had all achieved the right for men to vote, giving the impression that these colonies had the makings to shape up as experimental hot spots for liberal development.

Romantic memories of convict Australia certainly have become popular since the latter half of the 20th century, as many historians have attempted to explain what it is that defines our “Australian” character. It is quite easy to envisage transported felons as the founding fathers of what was considered to be an anti-authoritarian ethos, which separated us from British culture… Picture a colonial Australia where convicts and ex-convicts wandered independently from station to station, not bound to one employer, often only known by a nickname, and not needing reference to land a job. This sort of frontier depiction has been a popular one amongst the earlier works of some Australian historians (Reynolds, 1969).

However, there is another side of the story which does not fit into what some would describe as our national narrative. Instead this is the history of a somewhat unlikely working class hero who emerged out of the political dissatisfaction that was occurring in Britain during the 1840′s. He was not a horse riding, gun wielding bush ranger. On the contrary he was a 4’11 tailor named William Cuffay, who had been transported to Australia on an account of sedition. Unlike the some of the other mythological heroes of Australian folklore, Cuffay was black, suffered a spinal deformation and was 60 years of age when he was transported to Van Diemen’s Land. Although these contextual disadvantages may have limited the political options for some, Cuffay went on to become some what of a celebrity within the Tasmanian media over the next 20 years of his life.

This project has aimed to describe the relationship between Cuffay’s political life, thought and practices – and his representation in colonial journals, regarding the Master and Servant Act. The act in question has been found to be one of the most draconian pieces of legislation in Australia’s short history. Imagine if in the present, day you were able to be sentenced as a criminal for any “misconduct” or breach of contract within the work place. If you were to show up late to your shift, perform your duties to a lower standard or swear at your boss (heaven forbid) you would be thrown into solitary confinement for thirty days, fined an amount that was impossible to pay back or even given a three month charge of imprisonment with hard labour on the side. Additionally, you would be required to go back to your place of employment after the sentencing and complete your contract. This was a likely occurrence for “misbehaving” workers in V.D.L during the 1850′s, as justice moved swiftly with the requirement of only one magistrate to seal your fate. The Master and Servant Act, and its various amendments is the piece of legislation which sets our political context and provides the foundation for a furious debate, occurring between Cuffay and the various media outlets of Tasmania during the 1850′s.

What has been found from this inquiry into the past is that Cuffay was not popular amongst his established contemporary’s. As debate raged over the various amendments that occurred throughout the era, there transpired a vitriolic and consistent class based disdain from the colonial media outlets, for the man who was an unlikely champion of the working class. Cuffay was clearly applying the tactics he had learned and mastered with the Chartist’s back in the UK. He was reported as the chair man of monster meetings (a common Chartist ploy) in iconic locations such as the Albert Theater in Hobart, and was clearly having an affect on the rousing of an emerging working class movement that opposed the draconian features of a dated Master and Servant Act.

Cuffays political life, thought and practices had effectively disrupted not only Tasmanian journals, but even elicited a response from some of the largest papers in Sydney by 1857. Although it wasn’t until he had openly ridiculed the media that he started to receive negative attention from various outlets, the class based rhetoric saturated throughout each article there after, reveals Cuffay as a character that was willing to fight against established institutions of power even though he was disadvantaged by age, race and physical condition. Such was the status of Cuffay, that when he finally passed away in 1870, his obituary was published in three states (Tasmania, Victoria and NSW). There is no singular grave marked site for Cuffay, however, it is likely that he was buried in a mass grave amongst the Trinity Burial Ground in Tasmania. Cuffay’s limited mention in our national narrative of liberal development and convict defiance make him some what of an unlikely hero who contributed with what he could to the working class movement throughout the 19th century.

Bibliography and Further Reading:

Coghlan, T.A. Labour and Industry in Australia (1918) Vol. 2

Davidson, A.P. “A Skeleton in the Cupboard: Master and Servant Legislation and the Industrial Torts in Tasmania”, University of Tasmania Law Review, Feb 1976 Vol. 5(2)

Gossman, N. ‘William Cuffay: London’s Black Chartist’, Phylon, vol. 44, no. 1, 1983

Jones, David. Chartism and the Chartists, Allan Lane, London

Patmore, G. “A Workingman’s Paradise? Labour 1850-91.” Australian Labour History. Melbourne: Longman Cheshire, 1991

Pickering, P. “A Lesson Lost? Chartism and Australian Democracy.” Agora, Vol. 46, no. 4, 2011

Reynolds, H. ‘“That Hated Stain”: The Aftermath of Transportation in Tasmania’, Historical Studies, Vol. 14, no. 53, 1969

911 The zombies are coming!

Mention the word zombie and your ear drums are likely to be perforated by the collective scream of those around you asking “Oh my god have you watched the Walking Dead!?”. Television, games and film the zombie appears to be the dominating supernatural aspect of popular culture. However the zombie and in particular the zombie film has more to offer us than apocalypse fantasies, blood, gore and Mila Jovovich in leather.

Our engagement with film relies upon its ability to reflect our fantasies, our hopes and our fears. Subsequently aside from serving as an excellent procrastination tool films can enhance our understanding of society and its historical events. The events of 9/11 shook the foundations of American civilisation and resulted in the emergence of a collection of new anxieties. The attack on a perceived superpower brought into light the potential vulnerability of America and brought to the forefront a wave of fears that although rooted in history were new for the current generation. Fear of a racial ‘Other’ that intends destruction on a way of life, an ‘Otherness’ that is contagious and fear of the ironic invisibility of ‘Otherness’ arose as underlying fears and assumptions of terrorism. Rather than deal with these anxieties explicitly filmmakers used the zombie as a metaphoric tool. Filmmakers translated the above assumptions and fears of terrorism into the defining tropes of the zombie genre: fear of bio warfare and bioweapons, fear of a terrorist ‘Other’, paranoia and societal collapse. Since time or rather word count is of the essence I’ll explore two of the above mentioned fears/tropes (lest this turn into a Grandpa Simpson style rant).

Fear of bio warfare and bio weapons

On Tuesday September 18 2001 (one week after the September 11 attacks) the U.S. experienced an attack of anthrax. Letters containing anthrax spores were mailed to news media offices and two U.S. senators causing the death of five people. Within the contect of the 9/11 attacks the anthrax attacks added fear of bio warfare to societies anxieties. Citizens became concerned with how a nation could cope with the attack of a bio weapon and what it meant for the survival of the everyday person. U.S. funding for bio warfare research and preparedness increased exponentially. In 2004 Congress passed Project Bioshield which allotted $5.6 billion over 10 years for the purchase of new vaccines to fight agents of bioterror. Films such as  the Resident Evil franchise translated this fear in their films. Resident Evil (2002) introduced the audience to the T-Virus, a highly contagious and weaponized virus created by a bioengineering pharmaceutical company known as the Umbrella Corporation.

Resident Evil: Extinction (2007) depicted the potential destruction a bio weapon could create. One scene showed a destroyed Vegas with attractions such as the Statue of Liberty, the Great Pyramids and the Eiffel Tower dilapidated and buried in sand. With images of the destroyed Twin Towers still etched in the mind of the U.S. this shot of destroyed national symbols expressed the social anxiety surrounding the potential devastation of bio weapon terrorism.



Those involved in the terrorist attacks were visually unidentifiable until they revealed themselves through their actions. Fear and suspicion became the prevailing emotions as society struggled with the idea of an unrecognisable enemy. Airline security changes became the predominant reflection of this fear. Multilayered security measures such as explosive trace detection were brought in aswell as pre screening of all passengers flying weekly to, from and within the U.S. against government watch lists. Paranoia over the anonymity of the terrorist ‘Other’ also extended to fear of the contagious nature of terrorist ideals or ‘Otherness’. The zombie virus stands as an expression of this post 9/11 paranoia. The virus and its transmission are a symbolic representation of radical brainwashing. Anyone can become infected (or conditioned) and therefore everyone is a potential threat.

Dawn of the Dead (2004) portrayed this idea by presenting the audience with their first zombie in the form of a little girl. Dressed in her white nightgown the girl appears in the bedroom doorway of neighbour Ana covered in blood with a…slight facial wound.


See! Just a scratch

Concerned she is injured Ana’s husband rushes to the girl’s side who repays his act of concern by ripping out his throat. The juxtaposition of the innocence of the young girl (shown through both her age and the symbolic purity of the white nightgown) against her violent actions resonated with the post 9/11 paranoia that anyone is a potential threat.

In the context of 9/11 it’s not hard to witness the connection between perceptions of the terrorist ‘Other’ and the zombie. An ‘Other’ whose actions aren’t based on reasonable thought, an ‘Other’ that is more monstrous than human and an ‘Other’ that doesn’t discriminate in its victims. Essentially the antitheses of humanity.

Whilst I’d love to suggest watching every zombie film ever made the films below present some of the strongest examples of the use of the zombie as a metaphoric device of post 9/11 anxieties.

Anderson, Paul W.S. “Resident Evil.” Screen Gems, 2002.

———. “Resident Evil: Retribution.” Screen Gems, 2012.

Boyle, Danny. “28 Days Later.” Fox, 2002.

Mulcahy, Russell. “Resident Evil: Extinction.” Screen Gems, 2007.

Snyder, Zack. “Dawn of the Dead.” Universal, 2004.

For those interested in further reading of this topic:

Birch-Bayley, Nicole. “Terror in Horror Genres: The Global Media and the Millennial Zombie.” Journal of Popular Culture 45, no. 6 (2012): 1137- 51.

Bishop, Kyle. “Dead Man Still Walking “. Journal of Popular Film and Television 37, no. 1 (2009): pp.16-25.

———. “Raising the Dead.” Journal of Popular Film and Television 33, no. 4 (2006): 196-205.

Mayer, Ruth. “Virus Discourse: The Rhetoric of Threat and Terrorism in the Biothriller.” Cultural Critique 66, no. 1 (2007): 1-20.


“A Virtual Declaration of War on the Unborn” – The 1974 Royal Commission on Human Relationships and Abortion: a Contentious Issue

The Royal Commission on Human Relationships was a venture of the Whitlam Government, as all good things from the 1970s were. The aim of the Commission was “To inquire into and report upon the family, social, educational, legal and sexual aspects of male and female relationships, so far as those matters are relevant to the powers and functions of the Australian Parliament and Government”.[1] Arguably, one of the biggest – and most controversial – matters relevant to parliament and the government at this time was the issue of abortion!

While the Commission was formed only forty years ago, Australia in the 1970s was very different (and by different I mean more ‘conservative’) than what it is today. While there were slight differences and exceptions in each individual state, abortion was for the most part illegal. A woman could not make the choice herself, it would need to be decided by a doctor – and in some states two doctors – if the women was fit or not to continue with her pregnancy. Of course there were sympathetic doctors, found mainly in Sydney and Melbourne, but there were also doctors who would turn desperate women away. There were also women who would not even seek the help of a doctor in the first place, given the social stigma surrounding taboos such as pre-marital sex, unwanted pregnancies and abortion. This meant that a woman would rather seek the services of a backyard abortionist or even self-abort (both extremely unsafe!) than risk her unwanted pregnancy being found out. Jeannie Dempsey, who was 21 and single when she fell pregnant from a casual partner in 1969, described her options as “suicide… getting rid of it or coming clean to everyone and going into a-you know St Joseph’s House or whatever and having it… it came down to suicide or abortion.”[2]

Jeannie was from South Australia, and ended up flying to Sydney to secretly procure her abortion, from what she thought was a doctor. However the procedure was performed in the back room of a villa in Maroubra… and was hardly a sanitary doctor’s office. Her story is just one of many that reflected the need for liberalised abortion laws. However the Royal Commission saw testimony from those who would deny such a need; in their view abortion did reflect the needs of the community. One such testimony was from Rev. Alan Nichols, from the Church of England Diocese of Sydney, who spoke to the Commission on the 19th November 1975. It was his belief that abortion services, both counselling and the clinics, were not wanted or needed, “It concerns us that the government initiates support, which really amounts to social change, and we are not sure there is a demand for that kind of social change.”[3] However, Jeannie Dempsey, and the 60,000 other women annually who seek abortions,[4] would beg to differ.

A witness who would also challenge Rev. Nichol’s assessment of the issue was Dr. Dorothy Nolan. Dr. Nolan was the medical director of the newly established Preterm Foundation in Sydney, who provided services such as first trimester abortions, counselling, and contraceptive and family planning advice. Preterm sought to fulfill both a societal need and to educate the community, to create public awareness of the issue, “So often it is noted on our sheets that women are so glad to know about such an organisation. They have never heard about it before and they say, “Why is it not more generally known?””[5] Despite what Rev. Nichols would have the Commission believe, Dr. Nolan’s testimony showed that social change was in fact something that was needed by the community. Silencing and moralising the issues of abortion, and sex generally speaking, was not the answer – rather it increased the incidence of unsafe and illegal abortion practices.

Dr. Nolan and Rev. Nichols are just two examples of the numerous testimonies given to the Commission on the issue of abortion, but two that capture the polarising nature of the topic. Abortion was still viewed in a moral light by many, a societal ill and a catalyst for corruption. However there were just as many who challenged these old-fashioned views; abortion was an undeniable reality and one that could not simply be moralised away. It was happening for a reason, and in some cases illegally, and therefore it was an issue that needed to be addressed. It is clear to see, why then that the issue of abortion was a constant theme during the life of the Royal Commission on Human Relationships.

Further Reading

Arrow, Michelle. “Public Intimacies: The Royal Commission on Human Relationships 1974-1977.” In Acts of Love and Lust: Sexuality in Australia from 1945-2010, edited by Lisa Featherstone, Rebecca Jennings and Robert Reynolds. Cambridge: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014.

Baird, Barbara. “I had one too…” An Oral History of Abortion in South Australia Before 1970. Flinders University South Australia: Women’s Study Unit, 1990.

Evatt, Elizabeth Felix Arnott and Anne Deveson. Royal Commission on Human Relationships Final Report. Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service, 1977.

Royal Commission on Human Relationships: Official Transcripts of Proceedings. Sydney: Commonwealth Reporting Service, 1977.


[1] Elizabeth Evatt, Felix Arnott and Anne Deveson, Royal Commission on Human Relationships Final Report Volume 1 (Canberra: Australian Government Publishing Service, 1977), p. ix.

[2] Barbara Baird, “I had one too…” An Oral History of Abortion in South Australia Before 1970 (Flinders University South Australia: Women’s Study Unit, 1990), p. 41.

[3] Rev. Alan Nichols, testimony, 19 November 1975, Royal Commission on Human Relationships: Official Transcripts of Proceedings: p. 2518.

[4] Evatt, Final Report Volume 4, p. 115.

[5] Dr. Dorothy Nolan, testimony, 19 November 1975, Royal Commission on Human Relationships: Official Transcripts of Proceedings: p. 2542.

Springboks, Salisbury and Sanctions

The Whitlam government’s reform of Australian Foreign Policy towards the white minority regimes in Southern Africa. 

Apartheid era South Africa and Ian Smith’s Rhodesia rightfully lie in the dustbin of history. Their impact, however, lives on. Tonight, England takes on the Springboks at Twickenham.  An article by the BBC, published yesterday, reminds us of the continuing problem in South Africa of under-representation of native Africans in the Springbok side and the continuing dominance of South African rugby by the Afrikaner population. For many black South Africans the Springboks still represent a potent symbol of Afrikaner dominance and of Apartheid era exclusion of native Africans from South Africa’s national sporting teams. Many black South Africans support the New Zealand All Blacks rather than their own national side.

You may be asking “What has this got to do with Gough Whitlam and Australian foreign policy in the 1970’s?” In 1972, within a few days of his election, Whitlam banned racially selected sporting teams from touring Australia. By doing so, he closed the last outlet for Apartheid era South African sporting teams to compete abroad. This move primarily affected the Springboks and the South African cricket team, however it was part of a broad range of policy reforms that the Whitlam Government instituted in relation to the white minority regimes in Southern Africa.

Courtesy of Getty Images

The Whitlam Reforms

My latest publication “Playing cricket and rugby does not make people democrats” details these changes and analyses why the Whitlam Government adopted a stronger stance against the minority regimes in South Africa and Rhodesia.

As with most of the Whitlam Government’s reforms, the changes were rapid and extensive. Whitlam immediately reversed Australia’s voting stance at the United Nations General Assembly in relation to Southern Africa.

Under previous Coalition governments, Australia consistently voted against or abstained on a number of resolutions condemning the Southern African regimes and urging for strong international action to be taken against them. This was justified by the Menzian policy of non interference in the domestic affairs of other countries. On two key Resolutions in this area, Whitlam changed Australia’s voting from no and abstention to yes in support of condemnation of Rhodesia and South Africa and urging strong action to be taken against them, including sanctions.

This was followed by the closing of the Rhodesian Information Centre in Sydney, the ending of the Coalition policy of issuing Australian passports to Rhodesian officials to enable them to travel overseas and of course the banning of racially selected sporting teams such as the Springboks.

My research has uncovered four key factors that influenced this about-turn in Australian foreign policy by the Whitlam Government.

Australia’s Reputation in Asia:

The Labor Party had long been concerned that Coalition policy toward Southern Africa gave Asian countries the impression that Australia was a racist country and that it damaged its reputation in Asia. This was not far from the truth. In 1961, the Singaporean Press described Australian policy in this area as “White Australia supporting White Africa.” The Whitlam government distanced itself from these policies in order to improve Australia’s standing in Asia.

Australia’s Foreign Policy in Asia

Improving Australia’s reputation in Asia was an important tenet of Australian foreign policy generally under the Whitlam government. Whitlam also distanced Australia from policies that depicted Asia as the front-line against Communist China or Indonesia, which had understandably affected Australia’s reputation in Asia. To that end, he withdrew the remaining Australian military forces in Vietnam, downgraded Australia’s membership of SEATO and the five power defence pact and recognized the People’s Republic of China as the legitimate ruler of the Chinese mainland.

Racial Equality

The Whitlam government was determined to eliminate racial discrimination both internationally and domestically and its policies towards Southern Africa should be seen in this light. Domestically, the Whitlam government announced the death of the ‘White Australia’ immigration policy, committed itself to improving the status of Australia’s Aboriginals and enacted the Racial Discrimination Act. In conjunction with Australia’s foreign policy towards Southern Africa and self-rule for Papua New Guinea, it is clear that these policies all form part of the Whitlam government’s broad anti-racialist platform.

Labor Party Tradition 

Most of the secondary sources have also identified that the three factors above drove the Whitlam government’s policies towards Southern Africa. They have, however, paid scant attention to the fact that these three factors had influenced the Labor Party’s policy in this area since at least 1949 as, outlined in my research. It is my belief that had a Labor Government been elected at any time between 1950 and 1972, under Doc Evatt, Arthur Calwell or Gough Whitlam, they would have pursued identical policies for identical reasons. Unfortunately, this was not to be and Australia would have to wait until it was time, Gough Whitlam’s time.

By Mikhail Ushakoff

Number 2

Courtesy of Getty Images


How did Gough change the way we are educated?

Pre-Whitlam educational policy was overlooked and indicative a preoccupied government prior to the 1970s. The progressive and ambitious nature of the Whitlam administration allowed for educational reform which remains crucial to contemporary education. But what was all the fuss about? Did Whitlam really change the way we are educated now? Or was it short lived?

The Whitlam government’s changes to primary, secondary and tertiary education were some of the most powerful and notable changes to the Australian constitution since federation. The changes made to education policy during the Whitlam term were poignant, specific and effective. The formation of the Australian Schools Commission in 1972, the Schools Commission Act and the Students Assistance Act of 1973, and, perhaps most importantly, the abolition of tertiary education fees in 1974 were revolutionary alterations in the Australian education sector. The effects of these changes are still very much relevant in contemporary education. So how do they affect us?

After the Whitlam government came into office in 1972 it swiftly moved to make changes to Australia’s educational system. First and foremost, the Interim Committee for the Australian Schools Commission was chaired by Professor Peter Karmel and appointed in December, 1972. This Committee was set up to investigate the needs of government and non-government schools and assess their individual requirements to ensure longevity. The setting up of the Interim Committee for the Australian Schools Commission was one of the most significant efforts to changing the educational system in Australia during the Whitlam term.

The Karmel Report was the lovechild of the Australian Schools Commission and the Australian school system. It was a needs-based assessment of Australian schools. The Report found inequalities in resource distribution, a lack of human and material resources and a lack of quality of teaching and school organisation. It suggested that there should be set standards of achievement for all students through curricula and adequate resourcing. The Report was important for other reasons. In particular, it highlighted the disparity between male and female school completion which, naturally, drew attention to gender inequality. Whitlam himself acknowledged this in his 1974 Election Policy Speech, stating that “the greatest inequality in the system is its bias against girls: the fact that so few girls compared to boys sit for their final school exams or contribute to technical trades or enter the professions.” He went on to infer that, “this is why women are concentrated in the less well paid jobs in our society.”

Following the guidelines of the Karmel Report, one of the most important Acts introduced by the Whitlam government was the Schools Commission Act (1973). At the midpoint of the Whitlam administration this Act formed the basis for real change in government and non-government schools throughout Australia. The Schools Commission Act represented the ALP’s push into the educational world in an authentic and tangible way. The Act itself declared that “in the exercise of its functions, the Commission shall have regard to such matters as are relevant, including the need for improving primary and secondary educational facilities in Australia and of providing increased and equal opportunities for education in government and non-government schools in Australia and the need for ensuring that the facilities provided in all schools in Australia, whether government or non-government, are of the highest standard.”

This led directly to the Students Assistance Act of November 1973 which was a significant piece of legislation during the Whitlam administration. The Act was designed to cater to those whose financial limitations would have otherwise rendered them unable to attend university. Its intention was “to make provision for and in relation to benefits to students by way of assistance in the form of Senior Secondary Scholarships… Tertiary Education Assistance… and Post-graduate Awards.” A key piece of legislation the Whitlam government introduced was the abolition of tertiary education fees from January 1, 1974. This landmark moment was met with great excitement yet also great criticism. The abolition of fees extended to all universities and technical colleges. It set the bar for universal education standards and put Australia on the global educational map. Further, it immediately enhanced not only a student’s ability to be educated, and thus have higher chances of later employment, but it aimed to ensure future economic stability within the country. How would you have responded to the newfound ability to attend university?

During Whitlam’s 1972 Election Policy Speech, he stressed the urgency to have quality education in Australia, outlining his expectation that “under a Labor government, Commonwealth spending on schools and teacher training will be the fastest expanding sector of budget expenditure. This must be done, not just because the basic resource of this nation is the skills of its people, but because education is the key to equality of opportunity. We can have education on the cheap… but our children will be paying for it for the rest of their lives.”

There was a sense of immediacy and social justice instilled in the Australian public during this time which was powerful in the sense that it mobilised thought, if not action.

Gough Whitlam’s legacy rests on an array of innovative yet precarious changes to Australian policy. It is both reinforced and contested in contemporary society and, in particular, in the realm of education. Education is a broad, complex and demanding sector of Australian society which deserves functional support on every level. I believe that even though direct correlation between Whiltam’s reforms and our current education system isn’t often explicitly seen, he changed Australia’s core values in education.

So, how do you think Whitlam’s reform has affected your own education?

Would you have had the same opportunities to learn had it not been for the efficiency and dexterity of him and his government?


Australian Schools Commission. Schools in Australia: Report for the Interim Committee for The Australian Schools Commission. Canberra, 1973.

McLaren, John. ‘Karmel Report: Schools in Australia’. Dictionary of Educational History in Australia and New Zealand. Victoria, 2014.

Commonwealth of Australia. Schools Commission Act. Canberra, 1973, Section 13.

Commonwealth of Australia. Students Assistance Act. Canberra, 1973, Section 1.

Whitlam, Gough. “Election Policy Speech.” Speech given at Blacktown Civic Centre, NSW, November 13, 1972.

The Limitations of Feudalism in New France

France’s feudal society was all encompassing. The context of the metropolitan affected not only the lives of those living in France’s European territories, but particularly its North American colonies. The nature of French feudal society prevented its development of a strong and stable New France in North America.

The political, social and economic contexts of feudal France were all closely intertwined. Those with power in the seigneurial system relied on the surplus of the peasantry, who made up the vast majority of the population. This low-level farming provided the basis of France’s economy. Predominantly composed of subsistence agriculture, there was a fear that increased production or improved standards would result in higher taxation. As a result of this taxation, alongside other factors, it was seen as unwise by the peasantry to increase their output. Surplus that was produced was taken by tax collectors, and was dispersed amongst the monarchy, church and nobility.

Adding to a lack of surplus was the ability to purchase noble titles and land to solidify power and status. Merchants who were able to build up enough capital often chose to improve their social standing, rather than invest in the market. This desire for nobility meant that there was little chance to develop into a capitalist economy. The wealthy wasted resources on extravagance instead of developing production methods. Once titles were gained, those with land gained much of their income from what little surplus the peasantry produced. In France, this economic hierarchy left insufficient demand for the development of capitalist economies. While most had enough to survive, there was little push for change. This focus on short-term benefits would hinder the development of France’s economy, and have devastating effects on its North American colonies.

Comparison to the English

Unlike the English, France had not made significant steps towards a capitalist economy. Capitalist England had access to surplus resources and a large urban workforce that could be sent to its colonies. France, however, was still predominantly reliant on its peasant population and this showed in its development. Unlike England, the monarchy was wary of sending men and women across the Atlantic, fearing it would affect its own strength. With the wealthy in England having taken control of much of the land from its peasantry, it had produced its own labour market, one of which France was severely lacking. Any excess population in France was quickly swallowed up by its military, or what little urban workforce had developed. It did not have the same numbers as England that could be sent to the New World, regardless of overall population sizes.

New France

Life in the colonies was difficult. Those that travelled to New France faced a variety of hardships. Practices by the feudal French government, which favoured protectionist strategies and legislation, meant that the wrong mix of people was making the journey. Those developing New France’s agriculture were often not from the peasantry. Instead, soldiers and labourers, used to working under the guidance of others, were left to farm themselves. This made the production of enough food difficult in the newer colonies.

Fur traders in canada 1777

There was also a reluctance to send necessary resources to New France. The lack of a significant population meant that they also did not offer an attractive new market, like the English had created in its colonies. There was, therefore, a reliance on Native Americans for survival and the development of the fur trade.

Native American assistance allowed the fur trade to continue to operate under a feudal society. By working with the Native Americans, the French did not need to send over a population to take on the role of collecting the fur, which would have added to the colonies’ population. This lack of population and resources left much of New France in relative poverty, and led to them trading with the Native Americans and English where they could.


Feudal society in France, and its reliance on its peasant population, had left few making the journey to the New World, with only 3,000 ‘permanent’ colonists being received between 1670-1730. While its population did rise, it was predominantly due to natural increases rather than emigration levels. Coupled with inadequate trade, New France was not able to expand to significant levels. So while there were other contributing factors to New France’s lack of stable success, the nature of feudalism was particularly damaging. With an increased population, New France could have diversified its trade, and provided the metropolis with a new market for its goods. Instead, the maintenance of a subsistence economy that relied on the production of its peasants left its North American colonies threatened by hostile Native Americans and an expanding English empire.

Further reading

Beik, William. A Social and Cultural History of Early Modern France. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

de Charlevoix, Pierre François Xavier. History and General Description of New France. Translated by John Gilmary Shea. New York: John Gilmary Shea, 1871.

Hamilton, Roberta. Feudal Society and Colonization: the Historiography of New France. Gananoque, Ontario: Langdale Press, 1988.

Pritchard, James. In Search of Empire: the French in the Americas, 1670-1730. Cambridge, UK; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

“Necessary for the human good”: Marriage and Divorce in the Royal Commission on Human Relationships

The 1970’s were turbulent and challenging times in Australia. Talk of everything from social activism around Women’s Liberation, Gay Liberation and the anti-war movement to debates on abortion and family life was circulating through Australian media and society. In 1974 the Whitlam Government established the Royal Commission on Human Relationships in order to give a voice to the people on how they thought the government should best tackle these new social issues. The Commission uncovered and explored a host of controversial and emotional issues in their public hearings and written submissions. One issue that the Commission covered that was firmly divided in opinion between the conservative and the radical was the state of marriage and divorce in Australia.

Given the strength and dominance of the nuclear family in post-war Australia, we might assume that the quote in the title, taken from a transcript of the Commission’s public hearing, is suggesting that marriage is “necessary for the human good.” However, the truth is in fact the opposite. The above statement comes from a member of the Australian National University demography department, Lincoln Day, who put forward in his submission that higher divorce rates would probably mean good things for Australian society. Day was one of the more radical people who gave submissions regarding marriage and divorce in Australia. His conceptualisation of marriage was that rather than being a fundamental aspect of society, it was a means through which people were able to satisfy their basic needs. Some of the needs that he mentions include emotional, economic and sexual needs. Day argues that the reason a higher divorce rate is “necessary for the human good,” is because of the social changes it reflects. Day suggests that a higher divorce rate reveals that the social and economic position of women in 1970’s Australia is changing for the better, meaning that women are able to meet their economic needs outside of marriage and “to think of themselves as something in addition to wives and mothers.” Because of this, women were no longer required to stay in unhappy marriages or argue in court that the requirements for divorce have been satisfied.

No fault divorce

No-fault divorce petitions being signed in Canberra, in 1974 (National Archives of Australia A6180, 13/11/74/11) – (

As many scholars have shown in their work, marriage is a key way that many people achieve full citizenship and gain access to the benefits that being a citizen provides. The group CAMP NSW (Campaign Against Moral Persecution) brought attention to this in both their formal written submission and in their oral submissions at the public hearings, arguing that such benefits should be available to all citizens, not just married couples. At the public hearing one CAMP member questioned some of the reasons why people wanted to marry, asking “whether those are really benefits of marriage or more general benefits being sought.” They proposed a reformulation of the definition of “family” to move away from the legislative definition that was largely limited to straight, married couples. CAMP was lobbying to have the legal definition of a family be “a group of people, however constituted, which considers itself a family,” whether this be de facto couples, same-sex couples, single parents and children or adult siblings, meaning that all of these families would have access to the same benefits as married couples. In CAMP’s proposal, marriage and the nuclear family are no longer the cornerstone of society.

In opposition to these more radical views, there were those who spoke at the Commission who were far less progressive when it came to marriage and divorce. One witness from the Lutheran Church of Australia, Daniel Overduin, spoke to the Commission about his concerns regarding Australia’s rising divorce rate. He and a number of other witnesses from various religious denominations were involved in “marriage preparation courses,” where young, soon to be wed couples were disciplined on the responsibilities of married life. Many of the more conservative witnesses, including Overduin, thought that the responsibilities of marriage were being ignored or put in jeopardy by changing lifestyles. In Overduin’s opinion, as women make the choice to get married and have children, they take on responsibilities towards “her marriage and partner and her child,” which is threatened by the threefold responsibility of a career. Throughout the conservative leaning submissions the typical nuclear family is reinforced as the ideal.

Throughout 1975 when the Commission’s public hearings were taking place, the Whitlam government was debating the Family Law Bill in parliament which would see the introduction of no-fault divorce in Australia. The decision to implement this law meant that our understanding of marriage in Australia had fundamentally changed. As the Commission shows, many Australians were no longer viewing marriage as a contract for life or as an institution at the heart of Australian society.


Campaign Against Moral Persecution, Submission to the Royal Commission on Human Relationships, 1975, State Library of NSW, Sydney.

Daniel Overduin, Royal Commission on Human Relationships Transcripts, 08/07/1975, State Library of NSW, Sydney.

Lee, Royal Commission on Human Relationships Transcripts, 28/07/1975, State Library of NSW, Sydney.

Lincoln Day, Royal Commission on Human Relationships Transcripts, 25/06/1975, State Library of NSW, Sydney.

Further Reading:

Mary Bernstein and Nancy Naples, “Sexual Citizenship and the Pursuit of Relationship-Recognition Policies in Australia and the United States” Women’s Studies Quarterly 38 (2010): pp, 132 – 156.

Henry Finlay, To Have But Not to Hold: A History of Attitudes to Marriage and Divorce in Australia 1858 – 1975, Sydney: The Federation Press, 2005.

Shurlee Swain and Danielle Thornton, “Fault, Gender Politics and Family Law Reform,” Australian Journal of Politics and History (2011): pp, 207 – 220.