November 11: Where were you?

Catallaxy is running a bit of November 11 nostalgia, so I thought I’d join in.

Here’s a reedit of my comment on the thread, and an invitation to others to tell us where they were. I go back as far as JFK. I was about 6 and my dad was trying to listen to a crackling radio and shouting at me to shut up. I couldn’t imagine what could be so important.

On November 11 I was coming out of an exam at ANU, turned on the radio in my car and the commentator said something like ‘it was like walking into an ambush’. It was obviously about the constitutional crisis, but I didn’t know who had walked into what ambush and it took me ages to get the bloody radio to cough up with the information that Gough had walked into the ambush.

But then there was all sorts of speculation that maybe it was a double cross.

I wasn’t a great political junkie, never was and never will be, but I used to turn on ABC radio every morning when I got up in swot vac and listen to wonderful speeches. Great speeches were made by Gough, Kim Beazley (Snr obviously), McClelland. Were there any good speeches on the other side? Steele Hall gave some great speeches also attacking Fraser from the Liberal side of politics. “The honourable gentleman is playing with fire. He will get his fingers burned”. He nearly did too!

I am a lot more sympathetic to Fraser now than I was then. He was just taking political advantage. That’s what politicians do. But Kerr’s behaviour remains a disgrace. A constitutional head of state deceiving his Prime Minister. Had he not done so Whitlam would have won the battle, and lost the war in eighteen months. A much happier outcome given that the ALP was (after the departure of Cairns, Connor and Cameron) governing quite well. But of course it was the prospect of Labor’s governing well that made blocking supply all the more urgent for the Liberals.

No-one thought they’d covered themselves in glory as an Opposition and they were scared Labor might clamber back into contention.

Where were you on Nov 11 1975 – and what were you thinking?

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Homer Paxton
Homer Paxton
2022 years ago

agree with you Nicholas,
had not this happened I was goint to vote liberal no matter how much an improvement in government the ALP would have delivered.

We now know that one or two liberals were about to vote for supply.

I might add Fraser might have had more ‘guts’ as a PM when he won a proper election instead of believing correctly his mandate was sullied.
It took until 83 to get proper government and Australia was poorer for it both literally and metaphorically.

Mindy
2022 years ago

I was either thinking about trying to get Mummy to pick me up, or stealing a toy from my brother, or not having my toy stolen. Such are the important things at 2.

Ken Parish
Ken Parish
2022 years ago

Nicholas

I pretty much agree with your analysis of the political events and significance of the Dismissal.

When JFK was murdered, I was about 9 and we were on our way home from Saturday morning shopping in Manly (Sydney northern beaches). I saw a newspaper plackard outside a newsagent on Pittwater Road that said “Kennedy assassinated”. I drew my parents’ attention to it and commented that I hoped it was that wanker (although I probably used a differect expresion) Graham Kennedy and not JFK, because the latter was a great man. My dad went mad at me.

As for 11 November 1975, I was studying at home for second year law exams at Sydney Uni. I heard about the Dismissal on the radio and remained glued to it and the TV for the rest of the day. Revision was ignored. I remember hatching all sorts of ideas in my mind about how Gough could turn the tables and outsmart Kerr/Fraser even at that late stage, but I don’t remember what any of them were now, and certainly none of them happened.

Jaye Newland
Jaye Newland
2022 years ago

Sept11. has had a lot to do with the current reality of fear and propaganda from the West.
The murder of so many people will not be forgotten.
Many tens of thousands of innocent people have been murdered since then in Aphganistan and Iraq, is this revenge or just a plain murdering spree, carried out by sociopaths.
As for Australian politics, we need a new Party which stands for truth.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

I was watching in a flat in South Yarra as Fraser, Phil Lynch and Doug Anthony gave a press conference. The TV was on the blink and the horizontal hold had slipped, making their faces and bodies distorted and deformed. Seemed eerily appropriate. I felt totally devastated.

(Did not maintain the rage in perpetuum, though.)

Talisker
Talisker
2022 years ago

Whitlam was an incompetent PM, but he replaced one so that’s no bad thing. Kerr was probably at the point where the Peter principle was about to kick in, though I think honest enough, and Fraser was a political cynic of the worst degree and hasn’t shown me anything to change my mind. Kerr was trying to deal with what he thought were the constitutional requirements of his position. Who would want the job? I was teaching at the time and it was quite a shock to the staffroom I can tell you when the dismissal became public. Interestingly, most thought it was fair.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

I don’t know to what extent I’ve changed my mind about the dismissal. I can see now that Gough was a very bad PM, and that period after he was elected in ’72 when he and Lance Barnard were ministers for everything was farcical, in retrospect. I think Kerr did what he thought was the right thing, but he wrong-footed himself a few times. I admit that at the time I could not appreciate just how bad the Khemlani/Loans Council business was, and thought the whole dismissal thing was a conspiracy that had nothing to do with Labor’s manifest failure of governance.

That said, quite a long time ago I got mightily fed up with Whitlam swanning around the landscape for the last 30 years intoning ‘We wuz robbed’.

Nicholas Gruen
2022 years ago

Rob,

I can’t see the problem with the Whitlam/Barnard Govt. Perhaps I’m missing something – perhaps they did silly things. But I thought they just implemented existing Labor policy in a hurry. Might have come back to bite them politically, created too exciting a profile, but I can’t see any problem in principle. Then again, perhaps they implemented things incompetently. What was the problem.

Talisker, Kerr was “honest enough”. Wouldn’t that idea of honesty extend to the Prime Minister from whom you were supposed to take advice and warn and counsel?

Yobbo
Yobbo
2022 years ago

Insert Baby Boomer reminiscing here.

I was still 13 months away from being born. In fact, it’s possible that the joy and relief of Australia’s worst ever PM being sacked contributed to my parents’ decision to go ahead and start having kids.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

Nicholas, it was so Lorenzo de Medici, so Ozymandias, so….un-Westminster.

You have to have a Cabinet to test and sanction government policy, as a minimum. It was unilateral Prince of the Renaissance stuff. Or Don Quixote and his loyal Sancho.

blank
blank
2022 years ago

I was OS on an extended working-holiday.

I don’t know whether what Kerr did was right or wrong, BUT the whole affair was put to the electorate in a double-dissolution election on 13 Decemeber. Whitlam was defeated in that election, (and again in the following election.)

To me, living OS in 1975, that seemed to be an endorsement by the electorate of the GG’s actions.

derrida derider
derrida derider
2022 years ago

I was working as a barman and the dismissal precipitated a brief fist fight between a couple of regulars.

I thought the two person cabinet was brilliant – it certainly performed better than some of the succeeding ones. Mind you, my esteem for it might have been because their first action was to put conscription in abeyance – and I was in the next ballot.

Wicking
2022 years ago

I started the day at school and finished it in intensive care. I’d just walked into a Grade 8 maths class when I opened a window by going through it, slicing my right wrist badly enough to cover everybody in blood. Happened pretty much around 11 o’clock too. I still bear the scar of that momentous day and I’ve met people who’d kill for one just like it.

Guido
2022 years ago

November 1975 was just over a year in Australia for me, and my English was not yet to a standard to understand what was going on. I was in the process to complete third form at Crow’s Nest Boys High and my life was reaching its nadir – little English, overweight and bullied I certainly was not yet in the space or mood to try to understand the current political climate in Australia.

I had a vague understanding that there was this Prime Minister called Whitlam and where I was living (Castlecove) he was deeply unpopular.

Watching the ‘newsbreaks’ all I understood was that the government has fallen. What’s the fuss I asked myself, coming from Italy where in the 70’s two or three governments fell every year.

James Hamilton
James Hamilton
2022 years ago

“Many tens of thousands of innocent people have been murdered since then in Aphganistan and Iraq, is this revenge or just a plain murdering spree, carried out by sociopaths.”

Oh, definitely the latter. We’ve never met but with your highly developed sense of humanity you’ve looked into my very soul. So Busted: I have this insatiable thirst for innocent blood.

Re the dismissal. I was in year 8 at a private all male school. The PE teacher told us as we sat on the lawn. The class errupted in cheers. As the news spread around the school you would hear the odd outbreak of cheers.

And now look at me, now a slaughtering sociopath.

David Tiley
2022 years ago

I was on a bus on the way home from elecution lessons when I found out about JFK from the conductor. My parents never did turn me into Stuart Wagstaff the second, though he was my father’s hero and wartime friend.

When the Whitlam government arrived, it was like a burst of light over a vast plain covered in a dense mewling mass of comatose codgers mumbling into their pap about the Red Menace, discipline, Chips Rafferty, Her Maj, Gallipoli, the foulness of garlic, the uppitiness of blackfellas, jailing rock stars, the Domino Theory, the Yellow Peril, the sinfulness of the biro and the wonders of the birch. Oh, and keeping the proles in their place.

And yes, after being in the wilderness for so long, and with such a need for massive change, they made a few mistakes. None to remotely compare though with the Vietnam War.

As I said to someone only yesterday, December 3rd 1975 was the last time I slept in my own vomit. Passionate times, and not just because we were young.

Nicholas Gruen
2022 years ago

Yes David, fair point about Vietnam which the ALP to it’s eternal credit was sceptical about as it was on Iraq II. On the other hand I don’t know of any PM who has as much blood on his hands as Whitlam – because of East Timor.

James Russell
2022 years ago

I was four days away from my first birthday, so I don’t remember what I was thinking at the time. I’m fairly sure it was nothing to do with Whitlam, anyway.

James Russell
2022 years ago

I was four days away from my first birthday, so I don’t remember what I was thinking at the time. I’m fairly sure it was nothing to do with Whitlam, anyway.

Don Wigan
Don Wigan
2022 years ago

I was at work with SA Tourism in Sydney. Although we were viewed at the time as dangerous Dunstanite radicals, I was perhaps the only staff member genuinely shocked and dismayed by the actions.
My two most senior colleagues were both Lib supporters and therefore in favour. Other staff members were mildly leftist and stunned but not upset by the action and not at all moved by its (lack of) morality or that of its sponsors. I suspect that unfortunately the majority of Australians felt that way.

One amusing side-event, as gossip spread like wildfire through the the travel industry: Reg Ansett, on hearing the news quickly sought confirmation. Upon getting it he booked a call to Charlie Jones, Gough’s Minister for Transport. Jones had given Ansett hell over the previous three years.

AS soon as Jones came on line, Ansett asked,
“Charlie Jones?”
“Yes.” came the reply.
“Get stuffed!” shouted Reg Ansett before hanging up.

tony
2022 years ago

On 11 Nov 1975, I was at North Sydney TAFE doing a fitting and machining trade course. (Not everyone who reads at Troppo has an undergraduate degree!)

We were doing a practical session in the college’s machine shop when the word got around that Whitlam had been sacked. My TAFE instructor at the time was quite a character, very Labor oriented, and was livid when it happened.

Being at the time quite conservative and not particularly politically savvy, I didn’t realise the ramifications of the event. That came later.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

“I don’t know of any PM who has as much blood on his hands as Whitlam – because of East Timor.”

Nicholas, that’s way over the top. Soeharto would have invaded East Timor regardless of what Whitlam could have said or done. There is no way that he – as a dedicated, possibly even maniacal, anti-communist – was going allow ET to fall into thte hands of a marxist national liberation movement (as FRETILIN then styled itself).

wen
wen
2022 years ago

I was only eight in 75, so probably contemplating the coming joys of Christmas, school hols & 9th birthday…My Dad was probably very cut up. He’d met Mr Whitlam a year or so before (did he visit Bourke? I’ll have to check) There’s a photo, some sort of a lineup, with GW towering over the rest of the fellas. Anyway, it was something to do with setting up an Aboriginal housing co-op (Widjeri)there, I think.

Jason Soon
Jason Soon
2022 years ago

I have to agree with Rob here. Terrible hyperbole from Nick. Would go even further as a consistent realpolitik guy (which also makes me anti-invasion of Iraq). Count me as an apologist for the Brereton/Keating/Evans line on East Timor. None of our business or in our national interest to have East Timor as our mendicant as it is now or a Marxist neighbour as it would have appeared then, and nothing Australia could have done anyway.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

I think it’s one of the most offensive conceits of recent Australian political culture: this assumption that Whitlam – tall, erudite, European – could have dictated to Soeharto – small, dark, Asian – what to do in his own neighbourhood, and that Soeharto should have obediently done as he was told.

Nicholas Gruen
2022 years ago

Just to clarify,

I was not critical of Fraser, Hawke or Evans regarding East Timor. I agree that there was nothing that they could do. I think it is clear that Whitlam was in a very different position.

Despite Whitlam’s later denials and one or two clauses in diplomatic communications with Suharto to the effect that we’d prefer a democratic decision by East Timor, it seems to me quite clear from the documents that Whitlam’s language encouraged the Indonesians to annex East Timor.

I am not suggesting that Whitlam should have done anything more dramatic than saying to Indonesia that if it were to annex East Timor without regard to the wishes of the East Timorese people that Australia would be extremely concerned. Whitlam said nothing like that. And that was at a time when we could have had some influence.

What we do once we have done all we could to indicate our hostility to Indonesian invasion and it goes ahead anyway, is a quite different matter. I’m pretty sympathetic to Rob that it is an offensive conceit to think that Whitlam should ‘dictate’ and that the Indonesians should obey. That’s quite different to Australia taking a principled stand on a matter and doing what it can to influence the outcome. And Timor is part of our neighbourhood too. Ask Captain Bligh.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

Nicholas, my understanding is that Whitlam did write to Soeharto – twice – to indicate Australia’s opposition to an invasion. I think the second letter was revealed after it turned up in the Archives, or something. Don’t have the references to hand but I recall Greg Sheridan crowing about it and saying ‘another conspiracy theory hits the wall’.

Whitlam’s position at the time was that ET should become part of Indonesia – but ONLY as the result of an act of free will by the East Timorese people. That was a defensible positiion at the time, given that ET was only not part of Indonesia because the Portuguese had refused to give their colonies back in the period after WWII, as the Brits and the Dutch did.

Nicholas Gruen
2022 years ago

Rob,

I know that correspondence has been released showing that Whitlam said to Soeharto that ET should be absorbed into East Timor providing it was done with the consent of the East Timorese.

I hardly think that Whitlam would have preferred an invasion. The issue is

1) whether Whitlam’s actions, wantonly, recklessly or negligently encouraged Soeharto’s invasion:
2) the extent of opposition to an invasion of ET that Whitlam showed.

Saying that he’d prefer Indonesian annexation to be with ET consent is pretty tame don’t you think? If China was contemplating absorbing Australia, would you think it fair enough if George W wrote to them saying that he’s be happy with it if they got our consent, or do you think if he thought it was a serious possibilty he ought to say something stronger, and at the very least that he would view anexation against our consent with “grave concern”.

I concede the analogy is not perfect. But it’s good enough to make my point. I don’t suggest Whitlam was part of a conspiracy for the Indonesians to invade ET. Rather his correspondence either negligently or deliberately made it much easier for the Indonesians to contemplate it. Fraser, Hawke, Keating and Evans could do nothing about the invasion so I don’t blame them. I don’t accept that Whitlam could have had no effect – and we never pushed hard enough to find out.

If you can show me any correspondence in which Whitlam indicated not with some diplomatically worded ‘caveat’ that we wouldn’t support it, but said that we would view invasion with grave concern I’ll happily agree with you.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

Nicholas, the closest I could get was this, dating from 2000. It seems to be the one.:

Late mail: 24-year-old letter reveals Whitlam’s Timor plea (The Australian)
The Australian has obtained a copy of the top-secret letter concerning East Timor from Gough Whitlam to Indonesia’s President Suharto in February 1975, which shows that Whitlam called on the Indonesian president to allow an act of genuine self-determination.

The link does not work so presumably one has to go to the archives for it.

http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/index.asp?URL=/national/4373180.htm

Nicholas Gruen
2022 years ago

Rob,

This isn’t the most unbiased of sources obviously, but it’s what popped up on Google. I’m presuming that they are not making up the quotes – like this one ‘”I am in favour of incorporation but obeisance has to be made to self-determination,”

Don Wigan
Don Wigan
2022 years ago

Irrespective of this correspondence, Nick, I think that the one serious party that Suharto would have observed was the US. When it became clear that they were not objecting their way was cleared.

Rob was right. It has always been a conceit to imagine we would have counted in considerations. Sure, Gough could have been stronger; he claims to have known enough about diplomacy to have voiced his objections with subtlety. But even jumping up and down publicly would have made no difference with the US blessing.

Nicholas Gruen
2022 years ago

Don,

I think there are false dichotomies in what you’re saying.

Firstly how might we have been able to influence American sentiment if we’d have come out strongly. If Whitlam was unable to do so because of the bad odour he was in, what about some bipartisanship in the interests of the country. Not impossible I would have thought (but not easy I grant you).

I don’t accept that the Indonesians would have simply ignored strong opposition from Australia. They may have gone ahead of course, but I don’t think that’s a foregone conclusion. They may have looked for some way of addressing their own problems, perhaps both countries could have worked something out that would be mutually satisfactory. If not mutually satisfactory, then you don’t have to come up with much to have brought about a better outcome than ultimately occured.

I don’t think this is the kind of thing where one can say that there is no possible benefit in trying other than to say one stood up and was counted (which is not such a terrible thought, if the case is strong enough even in international relations). One might argue that if China invades Taiwan, but Indonesia invading Timor right next to us is rather a different kettle of fish wouldn’t you say?

The fact is that after a period of unfortunate complicity (though I don’t know what else could have been done) Howard showed some backbone on the issue of East Timor and standing up to the Indonesians. Had Whitlam done so 25 years earlier, he might have made a difference. But of course we’ll never know.

Rob
Rob
2022 years ago

Nicholas, I don’t think it’s going too far to say the invasioin was a foregone conclusion. Soeharto was a fanatical ant-communist. Ten years earlier he had acted savagely against the Indonesian communist party, killing some 300,000. And at the time it was clear that the Communists were going to take South Vietnam.

There was no way he was going allow a Marxist ‘national liberation front’ to take over half an island bang in the middle of the Indonesian archipelagic island chain.

On Don’s point, sometimes Australians have an unrealistic understanding of the length of the shadow Australia casts in this part of the world. I recall Bill Hayden wrote some telling words about this misapprehension in his autobiography.

James Farrell
James Farrell
2022 years ago

I can’t resist commenting, because of Nicholas’s crackling radio. My mother picked me up from school in her Ford Escort, and was fiddling frantically with the radio. It was crackling like crazy and only producing intermediate bursts of intelligible sound. ‘They’re saying Whitlam’s been sacked or something!’ The radio never produced another sound after that day, though I was still driving the car itself until 1992.

Evidently I’m the same age as James Hamilton.

I despair at Blank’s argument that the dismissal was vindicated by the election result. By that logic, every GG is obliged to disolve the parliament when the opinion polls reveal that voter intentions favour the opposition.

James Farrell
James Farrell
2022 years ago

Intermittent, I mean.