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The Hero Haunted World

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Forty years later and we are going backwards

Sydney University in the late 1970s was an exhilarating place to be. There were feminists, gays, environmentalists, socialists and hippies all challenging the traditional patriarchal elite. There was always a protest about something going on and the graffiti was witty and thought provoking.

The lunchtime concerts were fantastic, if not conducive to making afternoon lectures and pracs. Mental as Anything, Australian Crawl, Split Enz, Flowers, Rose Tattoo, Men at Work, the Angels, AC DC, Cockroaches (rock precursor to the Wiggles) and many more entertained us for a miniscule payment. Marx Brothers films were regularly screened.

The pubs and bars were not only scenes of too much drinking, but philosophical discussion, poetry reading, political debate, pinball, space invaders and pool.

Sexual liberation was well and truly underway with women taking control of their own bodies and questioning why their virginity was any different to a man’s. Lesbians were loud and proud though looking back, I think it was still hard for gay men to be as open and transgender people were largely not understood.

Into this heady mix strode Tony Abbott, full of his own importance though he rarely appeared without a sycophantic crowd in tow. He was dismissed as a weird anachronism by most but he persistently pursued political power even then.

On 20 March 1979, a 21 year old Tony Abbott appeared on the ABC TV’s Nationwide program complaining that Marxist academics had set out to deliberately lower academic and moral standards.

Abbott called on the Fraser Government to immediately slash the $550 million provided to universities in annual funding, to force left wing lecturers to abandon their flights of fancy and get back to basics.

“Should they teach what is socially useful or would they be able to continue as they have done and waste money on such things as the politics of lesbianism?” Abbott asked.

Reporter Mark Hamlyn questioned Abbott’s description of the secret Marxist plot.

Hamlyn: “Why are you so concerned about that [the left wing presence on campus]? After all, in our society, politically people are allowed if they wish to think left wing thoughts.”

Abbott: “They are indeed and that’s their privilege…you see the Marxists that I said are operating in the universities…they realise now that the universities play a crucial role in the education of the elite of modern society. And they understand that if they destroy the academic standards and perhaps even the moral standards of that elite well then they have perhaps fundamentally and fatally undermined liberal democratic society…”

Hamlyn: “Excuse me I just want to get this absolutely clear. You’re saying there is a Marxist plot in Australian universities these days to undermine the university system morally and academically and therefore Australian society.

Abbott: “What I am saying is that there are a number of academics of Marxist leanings in the university who are actively working to destroy academic standards. I wouldn’t put a plot coordinated from the Kremlin but there is certainly a general tendency towards destroying academic standards and the impetus is coming from this sort of person.”

How terribly sad that, 37 years later, the optimism of the 70s has died and we are seeing the resurgence of the same conservative arguments we found so elitist, sexist, intolerant and archaic so many years ago. The social progress of the last 40 years has been seemingly obliterated by a few loud but apparently influential dinosaurs.


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  1. DisablednDesperate

    My thoughts exactly. RMIT had unisex toilets. Bowie was being fluid. We had hope. We had fought for abortion, women’s rights, the wilderness, against uranium yet here we are again. Fighting the same causes.

  2. Kaye Lee

    We had brought our boys home from Vietnam, peace and love was the slogan, land rights were finally a reality, we thought we could do anything. How petty we have become.

  3. Carol Taylor

    At my first stint in tertiary education at Toorak Teachers’ College, we fought for equal pay, the right to marry and the right to wear pants suits (as long as the pants and the jackets matched). That was also my first (and last) stint as a union rep, the Victorian Teachers’ Union. Later as a Shire Councillor we introduced recycling, cat curfews to protect the lyrebird from extinction, protection of red soil agricultural areas, putting the environment first and ahead of the ‘greed is good’, development equals ‘progress’ mentality.

  4. mark delmege

    Aaagh yes Uni the ’70’s. …I remember a solid hit of good hash prior to joining a control group in an alcohol driving skills test. I wonder… oooh never mind.

  5. Miriam English

    I’d never heard of that interview with Abbott. Considering how unutterably stupid the man is, I was struck by the similarity to what was being said in USA at similar times. There was a concerted and deliberate push to change the media and many institutions in USA into right-wing propaganda sources. Enormous resources were sunk into creating a right-wing noise machine that drowned everything else out. This was enormously successful and is what has got USA into such terrible troubles in recent years.

    I wonder, given Abbott’s inability to think for himself, if he might have been played for a patsy way back then.

    Watch the documentary “The Brainwashing of My Dad”, by Jen Senko. It is an excellent crowdfunded film (I was privileged to be one of the backers) about how Jen’ father went from being a happy, tolerant, open person that was well-liked by all, to becoming a grumpy, racist, intolerant person given to going off on nasty right-wing rants. It all happened when he had a job that required long car drives to and from work and he started listening to talk-back radio. In the film Jen interviews historians who reveal how paranoid right-wingers, scared of a commie plot, with the liberalisation of social values, set about capturing the media for indoctrination. It is a fascinating doco.

    Just today Jen sent out an email to all the backers to let us know she now has video-on-demand release at:
    (I’ve already seen it because she made an advance online screening available for her backers some months ago.)

    I heartily recommend watching it. From my description it sounds horribly depressing, but it isn’t. It actually ends well because it shows how one can recover from this awful disease of the mind.

  6. Kaye Lee

    mark delmege,

    I remember the pharmacy school asking for volunteers to take part in tests assessing the affect of THC on driving. They gave you a tab and then you played an arcade game basically. The line of volunteers went for blocks.

  7. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Many of us have lived through the last 40+ years. I loved the ’70s and have been generally bored by the ’80s, 90’s and 2000’s since except for a few highlights like my children and some personal achievements.

    Nonetheless, I espouse the philosophy that everything is cyclical and although the likes of smelly Rabid will seek to destroy every step of progress by regressive measures, the circle rotates and then it is the progressive opposite again.

    It takes our sustained determination not to allow the Rabids of the world to keep the upper hand.

  8. Miriam English

    As you say, “Higher Education” has changed in the intervening years. It was almost like a social club where you could learn stuff. Now it is like the force-feeding they put those poor geese through in order to produce foie gras. It is a highly stressful affair. There seems to be a puritanical attitude that if you are enjoying yourself you’re not getting value for money. And as the cost increases you can expect the stress levels to increase too. Nobody seems to have stopped to realise that the instinct for fun is not a bad thing; it is there to help the brain to learn.

  9. Kaye Lee


    I had a surge of hope as we moved into the 90s, The Berlin Wall came down, Nelson Mandela was free and apartheid was being dismantled (I spent a day in 1988 singing Free Nelson Mandela whilst manning the Non-Stop Picket outside the South African Embassy in Trafalgar Square calling for his release), the Soviet Union was dissolved, China was opening its doors – the world could have come together (though the Middle East was continuing to cause problems then as now).

  10. mark delmege

    never underestimate higher learning

  11. John Kelly

    Universities were truly evil places in the 60/70s. I know because Bob Santamaria told my mother, who told me. So I didn’t go. I remained true to the purity of the DLP, Frank McManus and Archbishop Mannix who said people who voted Labor were committing a mortal sin. I’m so glad I was saved from those wretched communists in the universities who claimed souls for Satan. Mind you, that meant I had to be satisfied with an appalling education, but that was alright. At least I won’t spend all eternity in Hell. Those poor commie bastards.

  12. Kaye Lee


    As you know, university isn’t the only place to get an education and learning never stops. I am sorry you missed the fun because I know how a mind like yours would have loved the diverse experiences available Another factor adding to our carefree days of indulgence was the advantage of free university education. Not only was it free, I won a Teachers Scholarship and was bonded hence assured of a job. How different it was for us….we graduated with no debt and secure employment.

  13. Matters Not

    Breaking News. The Freedom Boy wins pre-selection for Goldstein. George will resign in the morrow in protest against Liberal endorsement of ‘deviants’ and encouraging that ‘chosen’ lifestyle. ?

    But maybe not. ?

  14. Deidre Zanker

    Freedom boy will be fast tracked to a cabinet position and we will be expected to believe he got there on merit! What a clueless bunch of “leaners”.

  15. mark

    once we were great,love all,mark.

  16. margcal

    If ever there was a case for all sorts combining to beat one, defeating Wilson in Goldstein is it.
    The IPA is well on the way to governing Australia in its own right. Doesn’t bear thinking about.

  17. margcal

    Does anyone else think that George’s rabid homophobia is a result of deeply fearing himself to be gay?

  18. TS

    Margcal, possibly. However, he’s anti so many things it’s hard to tell. I simply cannot understand why he’s been endorsed to run again for my area. He won’t be getting my vote & even a lot of his supporters will be voting away from him because of Turnbull. I keep reading comments on his page along the lines of “I love you George, but I won’t vote LNP because…” , so hopefully we can get rid of him. I don’t think I can stand another 3 years of his bigoted rhetoric.

  19. Kaye Lee

    Hopefully people will vote George out but Tim is a shoe in in Goldstein. I saw the Liberal Party members going in to vote on preselection – the average age was about 92. With Paterson gifted a Senate seat and Wilson gifted a job for life expect Section 18c to be high on their agenda again. The best thing we can do about the inevitability of Tim’s latest sinecure is to relegate him to the Opposition backbenches.

  20. Kaye Lee

    Mr Wilson won Andrew Robb’s seat and beat popular local candidate Denis Dragovic by just two votes out of the more than 400 cast.

  21. John

    Jennifer Meyer-Smith- From your comments below one can only assume that YOU are a very BORING person.

    Many of us have lived through the last 40+ years. I loved the ’70s and have been generally bored by the ’80s, 90’s and 2000’s since except for a few highlights like my children and some personal achievements.

  22. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Thanks John,

    that was a nice way to wake up to your endorsing comment on this lovely Sunday morning!

    From the pointed condemnation of your comment, I can only assume you are either a newcomer to this site and hence have little understanding of what type of person I am, or a latent commenter from the shadows, who pounces when it suits you to insult other commenters without offering any words of wisdom yourself.

  23. Kaye Lee

    Education is very much under attack with the latest IPA stooge making ridiculously ill-informed statements already.

    “Our youngest-ever senator has been appointed by the LNP. He is 28-years-old and it would be nice to say that he is the proud product of the Victorian public education system but, sadly, he seems rather apologetic about the lack of an elite private school in his CV.

    Indeed, given his interview with Wendy Harmer on ABC 702 on Thursday it seems James Paterson couldn’t wait to shake the déclassé public school dust off his heels. Despite what I assume is a complete lack of experience of private schools, he told Harmer that many parents are choosing private schools because they believe such schools are “better at conveying the values of a good work ethic, caring for your community and your neighbours and being raised in a way that is socially conservative.”

    According to his maiden speech he is also opposed to a national curriculum, which he seems to regard as a subversive, left-wing document. He believes it should be replaced by competing private curricula. He is also a fan of charter or so-called independent public schools and seems to believe that they will solve the widening gap between our lowest and highest achievers.”

  24. Terry2

    I was surprised that Tim Wilson was so confident of pre-selection, that he gave up a well paid job that he had only been in for a short time, to stand for Goldstein.

    I was forgetting that the Liberal Party is run by factions and he was given an assurance in advance that the numbers were in his favour. I have no doubt that Ms Downer has been placated by the same factional whisperers that she is next cab off the rank.

  25. terry

    that was a waste of time reading that kaye , the gay community will eventually win over , with so many in government . they wont vote for this government anyway . bring up the ndis and what this government is positioning for , will be , and is a greater point of concern . needs to be exposed , again and again . there is no harder path in life than raising a child with a disability

  26. John

    Dear Jennifer I am sure you have great qualities.Though your comments deserved to be challenged because we have to grateful for every day we live on this earth.Your comments are akin to people only really feeling alive during The 2nd world war and are forever harkin back their hey day.They were great days ie the 70s. But life is always changing and challenging as we change also.I think we have except the highs as well lows in this life.It sounds like so many sat back on laurels from their victories in the Seventies and indulged their children too much from those times.There’s the rub.

  27. Paul

    And the music was better too

  28. Jennifer Meyer-Smith


    as an advocate and activist for social justice, law reform so that it works FOR grassroots people, progressive party politics and equality – to name just a few essential principles and processes, I accept your explanation on the assumption that you have not witnessed my advocacy and activism before.

  29. terry

    I share the distain you have for these grubs , I really do , but again it is clouding your focus like so many , on the real issues . left hand , right hand . pretty sure you know what im on about

  30. John

    No Jennifer I know nothing about you. Sounds great! But I guess we must be careful as to what we write.You are writing to a larger audience; not just your peers.I don’t think the last 3 and half decades have been boring.

  31. terry

    Terry 2 his rooting brandis . pretty simple

  32. Matters Not

    he is also opposed to a national curriculum

    Nothing wrong with that. Someone should whisper in his ear nevertheless that the use of the National Curriculum is not obligatory. Schools can choose to use any curricula they like. Some schools, for example, use the International Baccalaureate which is well recognised but not really suitable for the vast bulk of students. Others choose a curriculum based on the notion that ‘God will provide’ if enough prayers are offered. ACE (Accelerated Christian Education) was once quite popular, albeit in a very limited circle.

    However, the vast majority of schools choose the National Curriculum and there is a number or reasons why. First, deep and meaningful curriculum development is time consuming and expensive, way beyond the financial resources of an individual school or an individual teacher. Second, the vast majority of parents and institutions want some assurances that what students are exposed to is not only ‘good and valuable’ but also involves ‘standards’ and has intellectual rigour.

    They also want the ‘qualifications’ awarded to have ‘currency’; to be recognised by institutions across the nation that provide higher levels of study. Sure, there are alternative paths of entry (and so there should be) but for the vast bulk of students being exposed to a National Curriculum and being awarded a ‘qualification’ is the path well trod. It has the stamp of ‘quality’. Society as a whole have confidence that it accesses the best available up-to-date knowledge and is taught by those qualified to so do.

    James Paterson is ‘wet behind the ears’. A disciple of David Kemp who while Minister for Education (Minister for Schools, Vocational Education and Training was his full title) became entranced by the concept of Charter Schools. He led a delegation of public servants from every State to the US to see the wonders of same. He had ‘influence’ in education that persists to this very day. The Kemp family have a long association with the IPA at the most senior levels.

  33. Mercurial

    We might well have laughed about Abbott 35 years ago. Look at us now.

  34. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Unfortunately John,

    “boring” is the way I see it when Australian politics has been largely dominated by the Lib/Lab flipflop duopoly. I could have said ‘disappointing’ or ‘disillusioning’ but I didn’t want to depress too much the wide audience, who reads our comments!

    I am talking politics not scientific or sociological or literary advances. Obviously there are discoveries, developments or inventions that deserve great praise and great support.

    I agree with Kaye that the 90’s promised hope with the fall of the Berlin wall. I was also filled with hope when the Arab Spring began because we saw the uprising of Arab grassroots people against oppression.

    By saying our political regress is “boring”, I’m trying to influence the wide audience to become pro-active in bringing back the promise the ’70s promised and think very carefully about how to support the implementation of change by supporting the upcoming of the progressive parties, who seek to address the diverse socio-economic, legal, political issues that confront us.

    A good start is to look at the micro parties under the banner of ‘Alliance For Progress’. I particularly have inside knowledge of the Australian Progressives, which is made up of young and mature-age people who walk the walk and not just talk the talk.


  35. Wally

    Great article Kaye.

    While reading memories return of the smell of smoke from burning grass that often wafted around FIT in the 70’s.

    “we graduated with no debt and secure employment”

    The Liberals who enjoyed free education back then have denied the generation that follow them. Can we back date their dues and send them a bill? With interest!

  36. Kaye Lee

    “The Kemp family have a long association with the IPA at the most senior levels.”

    In the budget from hell, George Brandis found $1 million to contribute towards the purchase of a mansion for the Australian Ballet School.

    “On the board of the Australian Ballet School is Daniele Kemp, the high-profile wife of former Liberal arts minister Rod Kemp, a predecessor of George Brandis as arts minister. Mr Kemp is now the chairman of the Institute of Public Affairs, a right-wing lobby group.”

  37. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    Good idea, Wally!

  38. Kaye Lee

    Ummmmm….that would include me paying up. I think I repaid them by twenty years in a high school maths classroom.

  39. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    No Kaye,

    Wally specifically said the Liberal dinosaurs should repay. Not you nor me nor our peers, many of whom have already dedicated decades of our lives in underpaid teacher jobs.

  40. Wally

    Correct JMS I was referring to the “Liberals who enjoyed free education” no one else, should have put politicians in the description to be precise. And Kaye you have provided value to the community in return for your education, these self serving Liberal pricks have only given us misery and divided our society.

  41. 5ime0n

    I attend the University of Sydney at the moment and I wish that I the chance to see it back then. We still have some free thinking groups who put on lectures, discussion forums and presentations on the ideas of Marxism; weekly, groups stand on Eastern Avenue and petition for signatures to help the refugees in detention; and there is the odd philosophical or academic discussion at Manning Bar.

    But we are under an onslaught from the administration who actively supported fee deregulation, and who now want to cut down the degrees on offer from 120 to 20, resulting in lost jobs for staff and more students forced in postgraduate programs which HECS doesn’t always cover. (sic)

    The university defends its position often by suggesting they require more income to maintain their level of research, and to improve services. Is this a result of government cuts to university education? And how much of the ideology expressed by Abbott in the interview you referred to is responsible?

  42. Jennifer Meyer-Smith

    For starters, 5imeOn,

    I would want the political discussion to focus on how we are going to keep universities fully public property and not privately owned nor fighting for public funding scraps, which puts pressure on students and staffing.

    As public property, they should continue to be entitled to sufficient public funding that will keep diverse courses open to diversely attributed students and put lecturers and tutors on long term tenure, not bullshit casual employment or short contracts.

    Snotty Morrisscum should be trying to make a good fella of himself by promising to tax the corpocracy who don’t pay or under-pay their taxes. All those unpaid taxes plus the fines and interest on top will fully fund all the universities, keep the courses open and reduce or even better, replace the fees with a return to free education.

  43. Kaye Lee

    Ahhhh yes….Manning Bar where we would combine our few cents to put Take a Walk on the Wild Side on the jukebox for the hundredth time.

    Students should bring pressure to bear on Malcolm Turnbull’s innovation fixation. If he wants an agile smart innovative nation then he has to invest in education and research. Point out the difference between his words and his actions. Get vocal but remain non-violent. They love it when uni students get aggro. Point out the dangers of inequality and how education must be available to all. Education is an investment, not a cost. Compare how much they are spending on defence materiel, demand a cost benefit analysis of the 72 dud fighter jets we have on order. Ask what the submarines will be used for and question if this is the best use of our resources. Demand FttP NBN.

    Use the fact of an election year to push your case and make SURE every young person is enrolled. It is YOUR future you are fighting for in more ways than one. If we don’t address climate change the rest of the argument is moot.

    Come on young people…we are relying on you to turn up.

    PS 5ime0n, there is no question that education is under an ideological attack again as always happens under Conservative governments.

  44. Max Gross

    Objective fact, scientific enquiry and empirical evidence do not deter these obsessive, sociopathic wingnuts from bludgeoning everyone within reach with their blithering idiocy

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