Their 1968 and mine

05 Jan

Fascinating series of articles in the Magazine of The Weekend Australian today.

In 1968, the counter-cultural revolution finally hit home. Richard Guilliatt asks a group of Australians on the frontline to recall how their world was changed.

As 1968 dawned in Australia, the Liberal Party was about to enter its third decade of political power and Johnny Farnham’s chirrupy ode to domestic help, Sadie the Cleaning Lady was topping the pop charts. By the end of the year, Martin Luther King and Senator Robert Kennedy were dead, riots had torn apart Paris and Chicago, Russia had invaded Czechoslovakia and the Tet Offensive had devastated the US war effort in Vietnam,

For Australians, who absorbed these tumultuous events via the grainy, black-and-white TV images and crackling radio news bulletins, it was a year of confusion and contradictions. The hippie utopianism of the Summer of Love had barely taken root here in 1968; LSD was hard to come by outside Sydney, and the first psychedelic “happenings” were only just being staged. Conscription was beginning to galvanise the anti-war movement, and the jailing of draft resister John Zarb sparked street marches through Melbourne, but the massive Vietnam moratorium marches were still years away.

In a way that was quite distinct from Britain or the US, 1968 was the year the Sixties finally hit Australia, as the counter-culture’s most idealised hopes and worst fears came crashing through at the same time. Here seven Australians remember what those days were like…

It’s not online, but a related article by Keith Windschuttle — one of the seven little Australians 😉 — is. The other six are: George Gittoes, Barry Billing*, Meredith Burgmann, Albie Thoms, Ross Wilson (Daddy Cool and Mondo Rock later on), and John Zarb. At the time I had not actually heard, so far as I can recall, of any of these people, though John Zarb’s case no doubt was one of several; I do recall the case of Simon Townsend very well, as I was working with one of his relatives at the time. * indicates someone I still haven’t heard of…

I was in The Shire, in Cronulla in fact, where very little of the above really penetrated. I caught up with it in Dapto in 1970.


16-year-old surfer Sydney 1968

The people mentioned above were not part of my everyday life, and when I did hear of some they were generally thought of as ratbags; some have kept the faith but mellowed — George Gittoes and Meredith Burgmann, for example. They must all be 60 or 65+ now. As I am.

Keith Windschuttle is interesting. He is one year older than I am, and yet he was a student at Sydney University three years after I had left, editing Honi Soit no less. The story he tells in the article that is online is amusing.

FEW people realise that Keith Windschuttle, the conservative author and ABC board member, was a 1960s student radical who published an article extolling the virtues of dropping acid.

But 40 years on, Mr Windschuttle has revealed something even stranger about that incident – he might have been the innocent pawn in a CIA plot to destroy the counterculture.

In October 1967, Mr Windschuttle – then a 25-year-old arts student at Sydney University – caused a furore when he published an article in the campus magazine, Honi Soit, explaining how to manufacture and ingest LSD.

Under a headline borrowed from a Beatles lyric – “Turn on with Honi and float downstream” – the two-page article lambasted the NSW government’s plan to outlaw possession of the drug, which was still legal. “The real reason behind the bigotry surrounding LSD remains a mystery,” Mr Windschuttle wrote.

The Daily Telegraph denounced the article, NSW deputy premier Charles Cutler called it deplorable and other government figures demanded that Mr Windschuttle be prosecuted for obscenity, sacked as Honi Soit’s editor and expelled. Sydney University took no action.

Mr Windschuttle, now editor of the conservative magazine Quadrant and a critic of drug culture, has rarely spoken of the incident and says he’s spent much of the past 20 years trying to atone for his Leftist antics in the 1960s.

But although he was named as the only author of the article, the historian admits much of it was written by an American who turned up in the magazine’s offices, claiming to work for the computer company IBM.

“He looked like a US marine in a business suit, with a big jaw and a crew-cut,” Mr Windschuttle recalls. “He had the formula for LSD and he had an article explaining how wonderful LSD was. He told me that although they all looked pretty straight at IBM, they were really anti-establishment characters.”

Mr Windschuttle says he wrote the earlier sections of the story, which argued why LSD should remain legal. The American, he says, provided the chemical formula and wrote lengthy passages that praised LSD and provided advice for “inner-space astronauts” contemplating a trip.

“Medically, LSD is one of the safest substances known to man,” one such passage stated.

Only in recent years has Mr Windschuttle become aware of allegations that US spy agencies encouraged the spread of hallucinogens in the 1960s…

First time I ever met anyone who knew anything about such things was Dapto in 1970, a much younger Sydney University contemporary of Windschuttle’s, proud rider of a 1942 Harley Davidson, and a History teacher known to be stoned on the job… Hosted great parties though.

Windschuttle was a full-on ratbag in those days; in my book he still is, having oscillated from one kind of lack of balance to an equal and opposite kind. He is now famously on the ABC Board and edits the former Prime Minister’s favourite magazine, Quadrant. He espouses what I regard as an extreme form of “scientific” history, extreme because it is a) unattainable and b) thus deludes itself and c) manages to exclude quite relevant evidence on mere ideological grounds. As summarised in Wikipedia: “Windschuttle argues that the task of the historian is to attempt to provide the reader with an empirical history as near to the objective truth as possible, based on analysis of all the available evidence. The political implications of an objective, empirical history are not the empirical historian’s responsibility. A historian may have his or her own political beliefs but this should never lead them to falsify historical evidence.” That sounds fine until you really think about it, and realise that the boundaries of what is “evidence” for Windschuttle leave much to be desired. Historian Richard Evans finds Windschuttle’s The Killing of History “exaggeratedly alarmist” (In Defence of History, London, Granta 1997, p.303). However, that takes us back to the famous Australian History Wars, and I won’t go there again just now.

I wonder which is the real 1968 though? Mine was not nearly so exciting, even if I recall the effect of the Czechoslovakia invasion on erstwhile Communists in The Shire — many left the Party, and hearing those two assassinations on radio, and listening by short wave to Radio Peking and finding the “capitalist-roaders-running-dogs” rants blackly hilarious. (“Comrade Wang Fu studied the Thought of Chairman Mao and had a brain tumour removed without anaesthetic, after which he single-handedly increased bicycle production
in his communal factory by 1000%…” Or something like that.)

I did buy a Mazda 1500. And afterwards learned to drive. Embarrassing really, as one of my Year 11 students at Cronulla already had a pilot’s licence.

And I subscribed to Quadrant.

Cronulla 1964

There are some nostalgic clips over in VodPod: see The Bottom of the Page in Home (tabbed above).

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3 responses to “Their 1968 and mine

  1. Bush Telegraph

    January 5, 2008 at 7:01 pm

    The 1960s is lauded now but in another 20 years, in a world of celebrity and superficiality, it will be the 1980s turn.

    The New Left of the 1960s was the breeding ground for some strange politics – so social and personal – take the racist historian and ABC director, Keith Windschuttle, who has spent the last 20 years attacking what he and the New Left stood for.

    So the nostalgia masks some pretty poor politics.

    If the New Left failed, it was a failure to reach out to the working class. The 1968 revolutionaries marched around the factories and when the workers went on strike, they returned to the left bank (of the Seine). Leading New leftists flew into Paris to stand at the burning barricades in time to acclaim the revolution had come and then departed the next day.

    But before we start on the New Left, what about the current Left?

    I read with interest the Irish indymedia debate about the failure of the peace movement to prevent the war on Iraq. There is so little mention of the importance of the working class in the discussion of the ‘Route Irish‘ Documentary. Amidst all the recrimination and moralism, the workers do not get a mention.

    The Vietnam anti-war movement did not get serious until ordinary people were taken from their families by conscription to kill and die in that imperialist war. See the story by John Zarb in Weekend Australian magazine titled 1968. So too with the Iraq war, I do not know about Ireland, but there will be no strength in the opposition until ordinary people are directly affected. And why would it be otherwise, so many workers have a struggle to exist in capitalist countries like Australia.

    See also On Democratic Rights and the Work Ethic

    Ian Curr
    5 Jan 2008

  2. ninglun

    January 5, 2008 at 8:34 pm

    Thanks for your comment, Ian; I think I see where you are coming from. I am no fan of Windschuttle — that should be obvious — but while I agree his major works over that last few years are compatible with racism, that racists would like them, I hesitate to label him as a racist personally. Rather, I think he has been so narrow in his methodology, so determined to get one up on people like Henry Reynolds, that rather than “restoring a balance” he has introduced his own distortion and was a significant cause, along with one or two other favourite Howard-friendly intellectuals, of the failure (with the exception of some aspects of the NT Intervention) of the Howard government to do anything significant to advance Indigenous Australia, especially in relation to reconciliation, but even in practical terms. The whole area had a low profile and a low priority until the 2007 election loomed.

    You will find I have ranted on this quite often.

  3. Bush Telegraph

    January 6, 2008 at 5:36 pm

    I take your point about Windschuttle, but as Gough Whitlam put it: “Windshcuttle’s arguments would have more weight if he did not leave his fly undone.”

    I have made a more considered critique than Gough of how nostalgia masks some pretty poor politics @

    Ian Curr

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