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The University of Western Australia Historical Society

in association with

Convocation – The UWA Graduates Association

Inaugural Annual Lecture


Halcyon Days –The Sixties at The University of Western Australia


ROBERT FRENCH

Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia

24 July 2009

Winthrop Hall
Halcyon Days

The Sixties at The University of Western Australia

This talk is about a time and a place. The time is the decade of the 1960s. The place is this University. They are of particular significance to those who were here then. My perspectives on them are necessarily personal and, to some degree, idiosyncratic. I am no historian. But all who were here at that time have in common some remembrance of the changing many-windowed history which shaped our world views. What we did and experienced at the University in that time, is part of its history, and ours.


Universities today are different from the universities of the 1960s. History changes things. Powerful external pressures have forced a much greater focus on the acquisition and efficient use of public and private resources and the managerialism that is its accompaniment. In some quarters the ancient ideal of a community of scholars is seen as an anachronism. But even when we accept, as we must, that times have changed, it does not follow that the ancient ideal should be abandoned, for it has the capacity to inspire.
One thing I remember about my arrival as a new student at The University of Western Australia in 1965 was a sense of intellectual excitement. It was not just about the things that I was to study, but also the whole anticipated experience of a world of ideas and debate in matters political, philosophical, religious, scientific and cultural. I was not disappointed. For these reasons, the second half of the 1960s was a good time to be at this University.
The foundation of The University of Western Australia Historical Society provides a way in which the university can nurture from within a sensitive understanding of its past, present and future. With such an understanding the university can remember what it has been, what it is and what it can be. It is therefore my great pleasure to deliver the inaugural speech for the Society and for Convocation.
I chose the term 'Halcyon Days' for the title of this talk without thinking too deeply about its meaning. The Halcyon was a bird which was said of old to breed in a nest floating on the sea about the time of the Winter Solstice. Halcyon days referred originally to fourteen days of calm weather during that breeding period. Now it has come to mean days of idyllic happiness or prosperity. Upon reflection, the title has some legitimacy. For those who were schooled in Perth and went on to The University of Western Australia, the sixties, for all their countercultural excitement, may have seemed for the most part to be an interregnum of relative tranquillity. There were new social freedoms, wide-ranging debates about life, politics, the universe and everything, and a sense of economic prosperity. It was a mild microcosm of more intense and sometimes disturbing ferment occurring elsewhere in the world. But like the fourteen days of calm enjoyed by the Halcyon bird it was a period shadowed by the sense that things could take a turn for the worse. The university experience of the 1960s should be seen in its composite setting of international, national and local events which framed our worldview and informed some of the social changes associated with that time.
The decade of the sixties has acquired a certain cult status in the western world. It has become known, as the historian David Reynolds put it, 'as years of liberation from antiquated cultural values and from the tyranny of the patriarchal family'1. In rosy retrospect it presents as a time of creative diversity in lifestyle, music, art and culture, sexual mores and challenges to all kinds of authority. There was endless discussion about everything. Indeed the euphoria of that time, inflated in the telling of it, underpinned the saying attributed to the Jefferson Airplane co-founder Paul Kantner - 'if you can remember anything about the sixties, you weren't really there!'
The marketing of the history of the sixties by reference to its so-called counterculture is not entirely accurate. Reynolds has pointed out there was much about the decade that did not fit its subsequent stereotypes. Putting the Beatles to one side, more people were listening to Brahms and Beethoven than at any time in history. And despite the ephemeral prominence of media stories about the stars of rock music, student protest and the beginnings of feminism, these were mere surface indications of a deeper cultural shift2:
An educational revolution was transforming the lives of children worldwide; together with urbanization, it was also reshaping the experience of women. Similarly, rock music was part of a larger challenge to traditional concepts of classical art and Eurocentric culture that was spawned by the consumer society and by what many regarded as the demon of Americanization.
It was a decade that is probably admired more by those who lived through it as young baby boomers than by those who didn't. Their generational successors, namely our children, are not all that entranced by parental reminiscence. On the other hand, it is not unusual to find today's generation playing sixties music, among other things, at eighteenth and twenty-first birthday parties. 'I Saw Her Standing There' and 'Twist and Shout' are still to be heard at the appropriate places in what contemporary party DJs call the musical trajectory.
The decade of the sixties has not only had its post-boomer sceptics among our children, but also its serious detractors. This presentation would not be complete without the words of the English Conservative, Norman Tebbit. Looking back from 1985 he spoke of the 'insufferable, smug, sanctimonious, naïve, guilt-ridden, wet, pink orthodoxy … of that third rate decade, the Sixties'3.
The prominence of challenges to authority and claimed changes in lifestyle, culture, music, sexual permissiveness and drug use can distract from the larger issues of which we had an awareness at the time. International relations were dominated by a Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. Each was armed to the teeth with weapons of global destruction. Large-scale nuclear atmospheric tests were being conducted. There was something about the tone in which ABC newsreaders reported the latest 100-megaton atmospheric tests conducted by the Soviet Union that I found particularly sobering as a schoolboy. In 1962, the Cuban missile crisis seemed to bring us to the brink of nuclear war. At the school I attended our global anxieties were not helped by school teachers who, while emphasising intellectual endeavour and the boundlessness of our opportunities, seemed keen to keep us focused on the after-life. In 1962, the West Australian newspaper carried a report of a prediction by a French savant. 'Savant' was then a journalistic term for a scientist with very bad news. This savant had predicted that in ten years time the earth would be a burnt-out cinder circling the sun. That day in class at St Louis School, our Welsh Jesuit Prefect of Studies reminded us of what the French 'savant' had said about the fate of the earth in the next ten years. His Welsh brogue gave particular menace to his evaluation of the report. He then asked one of my classmates 'How old will you be in ten years, Phillip?'. Phillip replied 'Twenty-two, Father'. Father responded 'Stay close to the Lord'. Phillip, I am pleased to say, went on to graduate in science and medicine from this university and recently retired in good health from his medical practice.
In that year another priest told our class, which numbered about fifty, that before we were twenty-one, some of us would die. As it turned out, two of us did. This kind of advice was imparted with cheery good humour to encourage us to lift our horizons above the mundane and have regard to the school motto 'Altiora Peto' 'I seek higher things'. The humour which attached to the contingency of our young existences was reflected in the epitaph, which I memorised at school, of a man who had been killed by lightning:
Here lies a man who was struck by lightning.

Just when his prospects seemed to be brightening.

He could have cut a flash in this world of trouble.

But a flash cut him and he lies in the stubble.
The global perspective in which we lived our young lives was not limited in its impact to the students of Catholic schools, although its dramatic intensity may have been greater there. It formed and informed some of the debates we had on campus. As Hugh Mackay has written of this period4:
All the rosy expectations created for the Boomers by their economic circumstances were … tinged by a shadow: the ever-present threat of nuclear war. This was the period when the idea of World War III was spoken of as though it was a kind of 'future historical' reality. The Boomers, as children and adolescents, knew more than they might have wished to know about the nuclear arms race and they lived with the possibility that some Russian or American might push the hot button, deliberately or accidentally, and wipe out the species.
Here as he pointed out, was a most extraordinary pair of contradictory beliefs: 'the belief in a rosy, easy future and the concurrent belief in the possibility of no future at all'5.
In the 1960s there was a shift in the political colour of two major western governments. The Labour party had been elected to government in the United Kingdom in 1964. At the beginning of the decade John F Kennedy had been elected as President of the United States, although by the time I came to university his short, bright life as President had ended. He had been succeeded by Lyndon B Johnson. The Vietnam War was well underway although, even as late as 1965, protests against the war had not emerged as a significant phenomenon in the United States or in Australia. Nevertheless, the real possibility of being conscripted was something of which my generation of young men was acutely aware. A high-visibility civil rights movement was active in the United States. It met significant, and sometimes violent and well-publicised resistance in the Southern States. 1963 was the year that Martin Luther had made his 'I have a Dream' speech in a civil rights march on Washington DC. In the following year, President Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act 1964. We began to read about a student protest movement centred initially on The University of California at Berkeley under the name 'The Free Speech Movement'. Conflict between students and the university administration and particularly President Kerr and the Board of Regents was well-publicised, at least among student activists in Australian universities. Large volumes of turgid prose were written by protagonists on all sides of the argument. A celebrated motto of the movement was a sign pinned to the chest of one University of California student which read:
I am a UC student. Please don't bend, fold, spindle or mutilate me.
In common with others, I became aware of the writings of popular philosophers like Herbert Marcuse, who penned a famous essay dedicated to his students at Brandeis University under the title 'Repressive Tolerance'. This offered a rather perverse view of liberal democracy as reflected in its opening paragraph6:
This essay examines the idea of tolerance in our advanced industrial society. The conclusion reached is that the realization of the objective of tolerance would call for intolerance towards prevailing policies, attitudes, opinions, and the extension of tolerance to policies, attitudes and opinions which are outlawed or suppressed. In other words, today tolerance appears again as what it was in its origins, at the beginning of the modern period – a partisan goal, a subversive liberating notion and practice. Conversely, what is proclaimed and practiced as tolerance today, is in many of its most effective manifestations serving the cause of oppression.
Quotes from Marcuse passed into popular culture. Websites are dedicated to them. His internal paradoxes only enhanced the attraction of his thinking. His quotes include such gems as:
The people recognize themselves in their commodities; they find their soul in their automobile, hi-fi set, split-level home, kitchen equipment.
The web of domination has become the web of Reason itself and this society is fatally entangled in it.
On the other hand he offered the more practical advice that:
Not every problem someone has with his girlfriend is necessarily due to the capitalist mode of production.
Another cultural hero of the time was Marshall McLuhan, famous for his statement 'The medium is the message'. An important element of his theory, as I now recall it, was that the medium in which we express ourselves defines the way in which we think. So the move from orality to the printed word corresponded with a move to linear thought. The development of the electronic age led us into a world of non-linear thought. McLuhan has many quotations preserved on contemporary websites including:
People don't actually read newspapers. They step into them every morning like a hot bath.
and :
I may be wrong, but I'm never in doubt.
Teilhard de Chardin and Martin Buber were among theological philosophers who offered engaging views of the cosmos, the world and our interactions with our fellow man.
There was also an emerging American poetry which appealed to students of my generation. The so-called 'beat' poets of the 1960s, Corso, Ferlinghetti and Ginsberg were prominent among them.
Jim McGinty and I once gave poetry readings to first year students at a Newman Society orientation camp in the late sixties. I read a poem by Ferlinghetti entitled Underwear’. McGinty read a poem by Corso entitled ‘Marriage’. Corso imagines the various scenarios of future matrimony and the ordeals through which he will have to pass:
When she introduces me to her parents

back straightened, hair finally combed, strangled by a tie,

should I sit with my knees together on their 3rd degree sofa

and not ask Where's the bathroom?
My poem, 'Underwear' by Ferlinghetti, began:
I didn't get much sleep last night

thinking about underwear

Have you ever stopped to consider

underwear in the abstract

When you really dig into it,

some shocking problems are raised.
That is not to say that more old fashioned poetry didn't have its uses. In a university debate on the topic that fat men can be trusted, I was first speaker for the negative team. The other members were Susan Boyd and Peter Bartley. My introduction began:
Sound the timbrel

Strike the lyre

Wake the trumpet's blast of fire

Till these gilded roofs do ring

French and Boyd and Bartley sing

Of obesity and trust

To strike the fat man to the dust

I will show with facts of science

That on fat men no reliance

Can be placed

While Boyd will trumpet through the lands

There's something wrong with fat men's glands.

For the first six years of the decade, Robert Menzies was Prime Minister of Australia. He had held that office since December 1949 and would continue to do so until Australia Day 1966. It was he who moved the Commonwealth towards significant funding of the university sector. His vision of the functions of universities was expressed in a speech he gave at The University of New South Wales in 1964 when speaking of academic freedom7:


The integrity of the scholar would be under attack if he were told what he was to think about and how he was to think about it. It is of vital importance for human progress in all fields of knowledge that the highest encouragement should be given to untrammelled research, to the vigorous pursuit of truth, however unorthodox it may seem. It is for this reason that in Australia we have established the autonomy of universities, and have, so far as I know, and I hope I am right, consistently refrained from interfering in their work with what I call political executive directions.
In 1956 Menzies had commissioned a committee headed by Sir Keith Murray to inquire into Australia's universities. The Murray Report that followed led to the establishment of the University Grants Committee. An interesting comment on the sequelae of the Report is offered by a former reader at La Trobe University, Bob Bessant, who wrote, I think uncontroversially8:
This Report, together with the growth in status and confidence of the Australian academic community, had made it possible during the sixties for university staff to exert a significant degree of influence over the academic affairs of the universities. In most cases vice-chancellors came to assume an academic as well as an administrative role and chaired both academic and council committees. They emerged as the key individuals in university government. By the end of the decade university councils had virtually ceased to interfere in academic affairs. Decisions on staffing and promotion, degree programs, courses of study and research were, in practice, taken by the professorial/academic boards. While these had to be ratified by the councils/senates under the terms of the university statutes, this had become a formality. A clear division of responsibility between the governing body and the academic leadership of each university had developed.
The divide, as he pointed out, worked in most universities through the 60s, 70s and 80s and was aided by the influx of academics from Britain who brought with them attitudes towards university governments similar to those in Australia.
Menzies, whose decisions in government undoubtedly affected the fortunes and characters of Australian universities, visited The University of Western Australia in 1969. He delivered the first Sir Robert Menzies Lecture for the University Liberal Club. I remember meeting him after the lecture and asking him how he had entered politics. He said he had stood for the Victorian Legislative Council but was defeated by the then incumbent. A little while later the incumbent had died. He stood again and won. After thirteen months in the Victorian Upper House he decided one might as well be dead anyway, so he resigned. His trenchant wit was apparent even over biscuits and a cup of tea. Menzies was succeeded by Harold Holt in 1966, who remained in office until his death in 1967. He was replaced by John Gorton in January 1968. With John Gorton we saw out the sixties.
The State political scene in the 1960s was also dominated by conservative governments. Sir David Brand led the Liberal Party to power in Western Australia in 1959 and continued as Premier of the State until 1971. Sir Charles Court was his Industrial Development Minister during that time. Their period in government coincided with major developments including the Kwinana Industrial Complex, a standard gauge railway from Kalgoorlie to Kwinana, major mining operations in the Pilbara and the development of the Ord River Scheme.
The leadership of the university during the 1960s was stable, if not particularly visible to most students. Sir Stanley Prescott was Vice-Chancellor for the whole of that time, holding office from 1953 until 1970. Sir Alexander Reid was Chancellor from 1956 until 1968. The first stage of the Reid Library, which bears his name, was completed in 1964. He was succeeded by the Chief Justice of Western Australia, Sir Laurence Jackson, who was Chancellor from 1969 to 1981.
The Guild of Undergraduates was an important element of the University. It was brought into existence in 1913 by the same Act that created the University. It was, and still is, described in section 28 of the Act as9:
an organized association of students for the furthering of their common interests, … the recognised means of communication between students and the governing authority of the University in accordance with such Statutes as the governing authority may prescribe.
The Guild had eighty-one members when it began its life. Its first president was Winthrop Hackett. In 1915, University Statute Number 16 conferred on the Guild the authority to conduct its own affairs10.
The Guild was a little unusual in the Australian context, as in many other Australian universities, student services were provided by a University Union, while student representation occurred through Student Representative Councils or SRCs. I remember having the view that it was too much like a bureaucratic corporation and not reflective of what student life was and should be about. I favoured the Union-SRC model of other universities and, in fact, rather quixotically proposed consideration of such a model at a Guild meeting sometime during the decade. It was a corollary of my position that I was unenthusiastic about compulsory student membership of the Guild, a view I expressed as a student representative on Senate in 1971 and 1972. This led to predictable denunciations from students who took a different view.
I wrote an article for Pelican in 1967 in the context of a presidential election for the office of Guild President suggesting that the choice lay between a corporate bureaucrat and somebody who was more likely to represent the volatility and untidiness of student views. The article began with a piece of poetry borrowed from a nineteenth century poet and forensically applied11:
Let the thronged audience press and stare

Let stifled maidens ply the fan

Admire his doctrines and his hair

And whisper, What a good young man!
The article did not name names. The editors of Pelican, fearful of the subtle subliminal influences of my piece, warned their readers 'in the interests of fairness' that I was the nominator of presidential candidate Robert Pearce. As it turned out the corporate bureaucrat, David Mackinlay, won the day and was a very successful president. He saw the Guild into the new Guild Building for which the University was funded by the Australian Universities Commission in the 1967-69 triennium. What he achieved no doubt mattered a great deal more to the bulk of the student population than what might have been delivered by an SRC style of representation.
Because of the combination of its service delivery and representational roles, the Guild was a significant voice within the university and in university government. Among its leaders over the years were many who went on to become figures of State and national significance in Australia. Names from the 1960s included Robert Nicholson, Alan Fels, the war historian Peter Edwards, Kim Beazley and Sue Boyd, recently retired from the Diplomatic Service and a member of the Senate of this university.
An early post-war example was H C ('Nugget') Coombs. He was part of a generation of students who came back to University post-war, many doing second degrees. The fact that they were graduates gave them standing as members of Convocation and, through Convocation, the ability to stand for election to the university Senate. Professor Fred Alexander discussed this phenomenon in his massive history 'Campus at Crawley'. He referred to the lament in the Woolf Report, published in the late 1940s, into the government of the university that Convocation was not electing elderly members of the establishment but rather younger people to the Senate. At the time that I read this piece of history in the late 1960s, Convocation had an image problem among students interested in university governance. It was regarded as somewhat antediluvian. There were people involved in it who had been there for a long time. Nevertheless, it is fair to say that they had given a long and sometimes a thankless service to the university through their involvement with the Standing and Statutes Committee. As a student completing a second degree, I joined Convocation and that Committee. I remember writing a piece for Pelican to remind student politicians of the Guild about the forgotten history of their close connection with the Alumni. To make the piece a little more persuasive and not to appear an apologist for the institution, I opened with another disarming quote from a nineteenth century poem about Italy12:
The home of the Arts! where glory's faded smile

Sheds lingering light o'er many a mouldering pile.
The objective was to lure readers into serious reflection upon the possibilities of stronger relations between the students and the statutory alumnus body of the University. I suspect that despite my poetic honey trap, the article remained largely unread except, perhaps, by a few members of Convocation who were probably offended by it.
Some sense of the seriousness with which students took involvement in the Guild of Undergraduates may be gleaned from the opening address given by Steve Errington, a post-graduate chemistry student, former Pelican editor and Guild Treasurer, who was President of the Guild in 1965. At his first meeting on 6 December 1964 he said, as recorded in the minutes13:
… Guild Council sits as a Board of Directors of the Student Body looking after the interests of some 4,300 students. It operates with a substantial staff and has a yearly turnover of approximately £60,000. Therefore, Guild Council is an important organisation. He asked members of Council to keep this in mind when conducting business.
Despite his rather solemn invocation of director's duties, Errington was a student leader with an engaging wit and irrepressible sense of humour.
When, in 1969, I stood for the Federal seat of Fremantle against Kim Beazley Senior I received a number of encouraging telegrams just before the election, including telegrams from John Gorton, William McMahon and Malcolm Fraser. No doubt the latter were sent against the remote possibility that I might get elected and be another vote in the party room when the question of party leadership arose. The telegram which I most appreciated, and which I have kept to this day, came from Steve Errington the day before the election. He wrote:
Best wishes for electrocution. Had I been on electrical roll you would have got my volt.
By the 1960s, the student newspaper, Pelican, had been a feature of campus life for thirty years. It was established in 1929. Back copies of the newspaper for the 1960s provide a rear view image of the public priorities and concerns of students, or at least those students sufficiently engaged in campus affairs to write for, or be reported on, by Pelican. The first edition for 1965 contained a two page flashback to 1964. It reported on the Guild elections conducted at the end of 1964 in prose:
Guild Treasurer, columnist, joker, Steve Errington, whipped the Vice-President Robert Holmes a Court and Pelican editor Rod Lyall to become the Guild President for 1965. An apathetic vote after a dull campaign returned the usual public service material to the 53 Council.
An issue that emerged early in Pelican in 1965 was the Guild's relationship with the National Union of Australian University Students (NUAUS). Julie Quinlivan, Guild President from 1987, has written a very helpful historical piece on the Guild of Undergraduates in a book edited by Brian de Garis about the University between 1963 and 1987. She said of the NUAUS issuerd:
Throughout its history the Guild had been suspicious of national student groups. One obvious reason for this was that such groups were based in the eastern states and it was difficult for Western Australia to wield much influence in them. During the 1964/65 vacation the Guild sponsored the NUAUS annual council meeting, which was held in Perth. The expense borne by the Guild was considerable and the impressions left behind after the Council were not altogether favourable. The seeds of dissatisfaction were sown and rumblings of secession followed – although moves entailing secession and suggestions for reform did not crystalise (sic) until somewhat later.
Dissatisfaction with NUAUS and division on the Guild Council about their future relationship with the organisation were reflected in the dramatic front page headline on the edition of Pelican published on 14 May 1965 which, for some reason, stuck in my mind for more than forty years. It read:
Daryl says Bob is Cheeky as Council ducks hot issue.
Robert Holmes a Court had given notice of motion to the Guild Council that the Guild should secede from NUAUS. Daryl Williams objected. The Pelican reported:
A strong personality clash marked the April 27 meeting of Guild Council. Immediate Past President, Daryl Williams accused Councillor Rob Holmes a Court of impertinence. This accusation was made while Williams was attempting to filibuster Holmes a Court's motion that the Guild secede from NUAUS.
Pelican noted that some fifty minutes was taken up debating whether the motion should lie on the table. Holmes a Court denounced the Council's treatment of his motion as disgusting and requested that it make up its mind. In the event, the motion was referred to a committee. Williams allegedly said it was not good policy to give the Guild shock treatment with a notice of motion such as that. This was the worst procedural method.
The first half of the decade, as reported in Pelican, seemed to reflect local rather than global issues and matters of high policy. There were, however, strands which began to emerge of issues which would acquire much greater prominence later in the decade. There was controversy in May 1964 over a ban against anti-capital punishment floats in the annual Prosh procession. There were some who were prepared to defy the ban. The Pelican of 14 May 1965 reported that a psychology student, Robert Donovan, had been fined, apparently by the Guild Discipline Committee, for carrying anti-hanging signs in the 1964 procession. His signs read:
Strangle, mangle, let them dangle.
and :
No noose is good noose.
The fine of ten shillings imposed by the Guild Discipline Committee had not been paid. The newspaper reported that the Finance Committee had referred the matter to the Guild Council, which had referred it back to the Finance Committee. The article concluded with the words, 'Tennis anyone!'.
Religion was another issue which began to emerge in the pages of the student newspaper. A relatively low-level controversy broke out as the result of an article in 1965 purporting to report the trial and execution of a carpenter called 'Jesus Christ'. It did so in contemporary terms. It elicited letters of outrage from a variety of campus Christians. The Reverend Father Ted Storemon SJ, then Rector of St Thomas More College, went on record as saying that the article was not anti-Christian. It was clearly satirical and he hoped that no Roman Catholics would associate themselves with its denunciation.
There was also a campus Humanist Society dedicated to the promotion of atheism. The Pelican of 25 March 1965 reported a lecture by senior lecturer in history, Dr J P Laven, who was reported as saying:
The humanists' awareness that prejudice is undesirable gives them a superiority over people holding a religious viewpoint.
Discussion of issues religious became a salient feature of campus life in the second half of the 1960s. The Evangelical Union, the Student Christian Movement and the Newman Society were all active. There were many lunchtime talks and seminars on the death of God and something called 'existential Christianity'.
Our racially-based immigration policy of the time, which began to change significantly under Hubert Opperman as Immigration Minister and Harold Holt as Prime Minister, was also the subject of discussion. D’Arcy Ryan of the Anthropology Department was a committee member of the Western Australian Association for Immigration Reform. His speech at a seminar on the question was fulsomely reported in Pelican in 1965. He offered as justification for reform that:
Apart from moral reasons, there is at least one convincing political reason. Australia is not projecting a very satisfactory image abroad and the world is mainly non-European.
Indigenous issues, which had not featured particularly prominently, also began to appear in the pages of Pelican in that year. An article appeared written by Charles Perkins, the Chairman of the Student Action for Aborigines, a University of Sydney club, about the famous freedom ride which took the form of a bus tour of New South Wales. More was to appear in later years and particularly around the time of the 1967 referendum, but even then I could not say that the newspaper or my recollection of campus events, reflected large-scale interest among students in the topic.
Gay rights received its first exposure in 1965 in Pelican in an article on homosexuality written by Robert Pearce. In his article he said, inter alia:
… it is difficult to see why the sexual relationship between two members of the same sex which has no greater effect on anybody else than an 'immoral' sexual relationship between members of the opposite sex should be punishable by law.
Robert Pearce made another contribution to the sexual revolution on campus. At a special general meeting of the Guild of Undergraduates he proposed the installation of a condom vending machine at the University. Somebody in the audience pointed out quite reasonably that there were perfectly good pharmacies around the corner in Broadway. The inquirer asked what need there was for a condom vending machine on campus. Mr Pearce replied that it was for 'emergencies'. The motion was defeated.

There were matters of more mundane concern reported in the Pelican.


The Guild Discipline Committee was busy in 1965. The Annual Engineers and Lawyers Tug of War in the Great Court had resulted in rubbish and damage to the lawn. Disciplinary proceedings against the engineers and lawyers were heard by a committee of four, chaired by the Acting Guild President, Ms Ranford. Lawyer member, Mr Holmes a Court ruled that lawn was a plant for the purposes of By-law 14, which prohibited the destruction of plants. The engineers blamed the lawyers. Mr Harvey, the President of the Engineering Students Society, said in mitigation that:
We turned up with a rope. The lawyers turned up with three or four cases of fruit.
The lawyers uncharacteristically pleaded guilty. In a fine display of realpolitik their representatives, Messrs Newby and Booth, said a fine should be imposed which was just high enough to keep the Senate out of the affair.
Parking, air-conditioning in the Reid Library, and Miss University also received some prominence. In each successive year that the Miss University quest was run there was a double page spread of photographs of the candidates. The quest was organised to raise funds for the World University Service. In 1965, the first prize was an air trip for two to Brisbane and clothes worth £150 for Miss University. Miss WUS, the leading fundraiser, would receive a £913 Datsun Bluebird. In the previous year the Blackstone Society had refused to enter a candidate when, according to Pelican, a senior student bitterly attacked WUS as a communist front which spent funds raised on trips for its own officials. However, in 1965, perhaps attracted by the promise of a trip for two to Brisbane and/or a Datsun Bluebird, the Blackstone Society resolved to encourage a law candidate.
Late in 1965, the word 'IN' began to appear in composite terms such as 'sit-in' and 'teach-in'. The term 'love-in' had also been heard, although I do not recall it occurring on campus. But there was a 'teach-in' on the Vietnam War.
Although enrolled as a science student with visions of becoming a great theoretical physicist, I became increasingly engaged in student affairs. I was President of the Science Students Union in 1966 and later had some involvement as a member of Guild Council and, for a short time, as Guild Treasurer. I decided after three months as Guild Treasurer, that it was that job or my degree, and resigned.
1966 saw student politicians expressing concern at a national and local level about the state of the education system and particularly secondary education. Robert Pearce proposed at a general meeting of the Guild that we have a work-out to protest against the system. This would have involved not attending lectures for a day in order to discuss the deplorable state of affairs. I opposed the motion on the basis that it was somewhat contradictory to abstain from attendance at lectures as a protest against the lack of funding in secondary education. I suggested we do it on a Saturday. Neither proposal elicited much enthusiasm. In the event, a public campaign was organised to raise awareness of the state of education in the State and the nation. Michael Hunt and I both attended the Karrakatta Club to speak on the issue. In addressing the ladies I produced from my coat pocket a penny bomb, then still a legal fire cracker. I held it up and said 'This is easy to get, inexpensive, largely paper but dangerous in the wrong hands'. I then produced a teacher's certificate and made the same observation. There were a number in the back row who appeared to be asleep, and I don't blame them.
Protests against conscription and the Vietnam War including the burning of draft cards began to occur in 1966. Brett Christian, then writing for Pelican, reported that students had been arrested in a city protest. An organisation called YCAC, which I think stood for Youth Campaign Against Conscription, was formed and there was some controversy about whether it should be registered with the Guild as a club. It was in 1967 that at a meeting of the Guild, a grief and anger motion about Vietnam was defeated, but a Vietnam information week proposed instead. This was to be a week of lectures from local and national experts and was organised by Jeremy Dawkins, Bob Pearce and myself. Dawkins and I engaged in public debate about the war in the pages of Pelican. We jointly wrote an almost unreadable piece in which we exchanged views in successive paragraphs about the war. I was, at the time, a supporter of our involvement however the more I read about it, the less enthusiastic I became. The Guild brought over Max Teichmann, a charismatic academic from Victoria whose lecturing style was engaging and attracted large numbers of students. Dr Hugh Owen was also a leading speaker on the topic. A variety of views was offered during the week and I recall it as a high point of what campus life could be about. A similar exercise was undertaken the following year with a week of lectures on communism. Kim Beazley Junior and I were co-organisers of that event. During this period there was an immense variety of talks, seminars and lectures occurring on campus - an embarrassment of riches.
Having completed an undistinguished science degree in 1967, I enrolled the following year in law but continued to be involved in student affairs. I must confess to being not so much interested by that time in the corporate life of the Guild of Undergraduates, but rather in sponsoring ongoing debate on campus about issues of contemporary interest.
In 1968, the University Liberal Club, of which I was President, organised a series of lunchtime lectures with interesting speakers. We invited people whom the University ALP Club would not dare to invite. One of our invitees was Laurie Aarons, then the National Secretary of the Australian Communist Party and an unreconstructed Soviet-style communist. We set up a panel in the style of an old television current affairs program called 'Under Attack'. It comprised three people with whom he would debate in the course of his presentation. At that time Russian tanks were rolling into Prague. Mr Aarons defended the Soviet incursion, much to the distress of local small "c" communists who had been keen to achieve a degree of respectability on campus.
Towards the end of the year, I took the decision to support, in conjunction with the then vice-president of the University ALP Club, a Guild of Undergraduates peace march to draw attention to the ongoing suffering caused by the war in Vietnam. It was a condition of my support that we should make the peace march as respectable as possible, wearing academic gowns and handing out pamphlets with a coherent message of concern, rather than carrying placards and shouting. These conditions were accepted. The peace march went according to plan, led by President David Mackinlay. I remember Channel Seven news reporting it that night in the following terms:
Shoppers were baffled as the dark, silent horde swept through the city centre.
Through these latter years, Pelican changed its style and its tone. It was, on at least one occasion, prosecuted for obscenity, a case which went to the Full Court of the Supreme Court of Western Australia. The editors lost by a majority vote of the Court14. In the columns of Pelican the dissenting judgment, delivered by Justice John Wickham, was highly praised for its lucidity and elegance.
I should mention, by way of social footnote, that change was a little slower among the law students in the 1960s than among other sections of the campus community. 1967 was the last year in which students all wore academic gowns to lectures. It took sometime for them to transform themselves into the jeans and other casual wear of the wider student population. There were very few women in the Law School. Those who were there did very well, but it was a very male-oriented group. A number of the social events organised throughout the year by the Blackstone Society were for men only. The Blackstone Society tendered to take fairly conservative attitudes in political campus debates. Much has changed since then.
I hope I have said enough about the 1960s to justify the use of the words 'Halcyon Days' in the title of this lecture. What I have offered is the merest sampling from a student's eye view of the events of that time. They were all set in a much larger context. But in what is perhaps excessively benign retrospect, they conjure up the ancient ideal of a university.
In 1991, twenty five years or so after I came to the University, I spoke as Chancellor of the Edith Cowan University upon its inauguration as a university. It was the ancient ideal and my experience at this university which I had in mind when quoting Cardinal Newman's words in answer to his question: 'What is a University?' He said:
It is the place to which a thousand schools make contributions; in which the intellect may safely range and speculate, sure to find its equal in some antagonist activity, and its judge in the tribunal of truth. It is a place where inquiry is pushed forward, and discoveries verified and perfected, and rashness rendered innocuous, and error exposed, by the collision of mind with mind, and knowledge with knowledge.



It is a place which wins the admiration of the young by its celebrity, kindles the affections of the middle-aged by its beauty, and rivets the fidelity of the old by its associations.


It may all seem a little aspirational today, but it is a mission statement worthy of a university.

1 David Reynolds, One World Divisible : A Global History Since 1945, (London, Penguin Books, 2000), p 289.

2 Ibid, p 289.

3 See Bart Moore-Gilbert and John Seed (eds), Cultural Revolution?: The Challenge of the Arts in the 1960s, (London, Routledge, 1992), p 2, quoted in Reynolds, ibid, p 289.

4 Hugh Mackay, Generations : Baby Boomers, their parents and their children, (Sydney, Macmillan, 1997), p 62.

5 Ibid, p 62.

6 Herbert Marcuse, 'Repressive Tolerance', (1965).

7 Robert Menzies, The Universities – Some Queries, Inaugural Wallace Wurth Memorial Lecture, University of New South Wales, (1964), p 13.

8 Robert Bessant, "'A climate of fear': from collegiality to corporatisation", in Biggs and Davis (eds), The Subversion of Australian Universities, Ch 4 (Wollongong: Fund for Intellectual Dissent, 2002), pp 52-84.

9 University of Western Australia Act 1911 (WA), s 28(3).

10 Julie Quinlivan, "The Guild of Undergraduates" in de Garis (ed), Campus in the Community: The University of Western Australia 1963-1987, (Nedlands, University of Western Australia Press, 1988), Ch 8, 151-170, p 151.

11 Thomas Macaulay, "Sermon in a Churchyard".

12 Felicia Hemans, "The Restoration of the Works of Art to Italy", (1816).

13 The University of Western Australia, Minutes of the First Meeting of the 53rd Guild Council, 6 December 1964.

rd Julie Quinlivan, "The Guild of Undergraduates" in de Garis (ed), Campus in the Community: The University of Western Australia 1963-1987, (Nedlands, University of Western Australia Press, 1988), Ch 8, 151-170, pp 154-155.

14 MacKinley v Wiley [1971] Western Australian Reports (WAR) 3.



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