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Pig City: ‘they shut it down, they pulled it down’?

How does the song go?

Watch the butcher shine his knives
And this town is full of battered wives
…………………………………….
They shut it down
They pulled it down
They shut it down
They pulled it down

Round and round, up and down
Through the streets of your town
Everyday I make my way
Through the streets of your town

Brisbane rock band the Go-Betweens
commentary of Brisbane in the 1970s
.

Nowadays Brisbane’s Channel 7 (or is it Prime TV?) play the lyrics of the song quoted above as a station jingle … if barry-krosch-arrests-leigh-hubbard-at-pro-abortion-rally-29.jpgonly station managers would listen to the words.

In the book Pig City [Andrew Stafford (UQP) 2005] the author states that the book was originally an MA thesis submitted to QUT Creative Industries postgraduate studies.

The book was well researched as regards the music scene; the author made the effort to seek out a lot of people around Brisbane at the time of his inquiry (1970s – 2000s). However he did fail to speak to political musos of that era confining himself to what was a narrow group loosely attached to the social scene at alternative radio station, 4ZZZ.

At the outset, the author claims that the book, while originally about rock bands like ‘The Go Betweens‘, in the end became an analysis of the JOH years. The author says he could not ignore the ‘music scene’ as a product of the politics of the time. This is not to say that there was much, if any, political music to be mentioned or analysed in the book.

However there was a central problem with the author’s approach.

Stafford failed to critically analyze the political situation carefully; he relied far too much on mainstream media and the ‘social left’ i.e. people not part of any political organization but part of a social scene that attached themselves to the political movements of the time. For example, 4ZZZ often sought ‘Left cover’ by giving opportunist support to one campaign or another.

The political analysis of Stafford’s book is biased to the personal rather than the political.

Unfortunately, as the alternative rock station 4ZZZ demonstrated time and again, the personal was not political.

Worse still, those on the Left that Stafford did speak to played almost no part in any ongoing organisational response to the Bjelke-Petersen regime in the Civil Liberties Co-ordinating Committee (CLCC) or its successor, the Civil Liberties Campaign Group (CLCG). Sure, there were comments by people from 4ZZZ who may have attended one or two meetings. There were others who drifted in and out of political organisation, some stacking meetings, others more interested in taking drugs.

It is a fact that 4ZZZ banned democratic rights activists and feminists from using its facilities because of its elusive search for popular acceptance and a higher power FM broadcasting licence. Both MegaHerz and the Civil Liberties Coordinating Committee had shows banned.

Pig City ended up being a shallow popular book in the vein of fictional works like “Last Drinks” and “He died with a Felafel in his Hand” all lacking in critical analysis.

What politics there are in the book, Stafford still fails to recognise that ordinary people, their political organizations and unions, conducted (arguably) the longest sustained period of popular revolt (the Street Marches 1977-1979) in Australia’s history (with the exception of the Aboriginal Resistance which has lasted over 200 years).

Chapter One of Pig City, titled ‘A Million People Staying Low‘, misses that fact completely.

Pig City claims: “The radical movement found a natural haven in the sprawling, leafy surrounds of the University of Queensland in the inner western suburb of St Lucia. In 1967 two groups were formed on campus: the Civil Liberties Co-ordinating Committee and the Society for Democratic Action. From these two groups came the nucleus of students that would establish community radio station 4ZZZ in the ’70s.”

Whilst Stafford’s claim that “The radical movement found a natural haven in the sprawling, leafy surrounds of the University of Queensland” may have been superficially true of the period of the New Left in 1967-1973, it was certainly not true of the democratic rights movements of the period 1977-1985. This latter movement had a greater impact on the stuggle for democratic rights than the earlier struggle in the 1960s – it was larger, more sustained and focused on the overthrow of the conservative National Party government.

Organisations like CLCC  and CLCG in 1977 were not headquartered at UQ as claimed in Stafford’s book. The CLCC and SDS in the late 1960s may have been partly. Students played an important part in the first few weeks of the right to march campaign in 1977 but were outnumbered in years that followed by workers outside the university. The arrest lists attest to this.

Whereas the New Left had gone for breadth and the ‘long march through the university’, the democratic rights movement went to the streets of Brisbane in the late 1970s. That is not to say it is Stafford’s fault that he came away with this false impression. There are many still who prefer to think of the Left in terms of a student centrist middle class movement drawing strength from the university.

So it is unsurprising that an author so removed from either period of the New Left of the late 1960s or the Democratic Rights movement of the late 1970s spoke to so few political and Murri activists, unemployed workers and trade unionists of the period. These people are still to be found, often engaged in the unheralded campaigning that is the lot of the political activist now as then.

Stafford confined himself to people on the social scene — often more focussed on rock music and drugs. See the interview with Alan Knight, formerly one of the founders of 4ZZZ but more recently one of Stafford’s Professors at QUT:

Alan Knight (4ZZZ): There were two things that influenced us. We were culturally influenced by the whole rock music explosion; the Beatles and things like that. But we were also to an extent influenced by the hippies. So you had this mixture of rock music, psychedelic drugs and ultra-leftist politics, which led to a lot of very strange demonstrations.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the book subscribes to the stereotypic view of Queensland as being led by a country buffoon in the interests of religious fundamentalism.

When it is closer to the truth to say Bjelke-Petersen was more the corrupt, savvy henchman of the transnational mining companies. It is naive to assume that Bjelke-Petersen stood alone. Many sectional interests of capital were served by creating this illusion of the hillbilly dictator. Bjelke-Petersen was happy to be their gun dog, not held in high esteem by the board rooms of Pitt and Swanston Streets down south, but useful nonetheless.

Pig City follows (dare I say it) the social left’s swallowing of the stereotype, none monikki-vh-and-glenda-w-may-day-1978.jpgre than the aspiring journos and business men at 4ZZZ . The  one-time station coordinator, Dennis Reinhardt, went on to make a million in gold mining companies, pouring acid into the water table of Torres Strait Islands, and speculating like any other capitalist, until the stock market crash of 1987 brought him down.

The constant fear at 4ZZZ was that the station was not professional enough — this led to a kow towing to the Australian Broadcasting Tribunal (ABT). For example, a public hearing of ABT to determine FM licences in Brisbane demonstrated that 4ZZZ representatives were happy to gain left cover from a pirate radio station of the time 4PR.  The Voice of the People had been largely confined to direct sound broadcasts at University and the odd FM transmission from Mt Cootha using a car battery and an home made transmitter.

The same myth persists today.

If not, why is it possible that the author of a book on Bjelke Petersen and the current QUT’s vice chancellor, Peter Coaldrake, claims that Creative Industries to be the new Humanities.

As the critical failings of Pig City demonstrate, there is no substitute for an active, informed, systematic, and organized approach to the real world of capitalism we face.

The truth is they may have pulled much of Pig City down, but they never shut it down…completely.

As Sam Watson, an activist from that time and this time, said at the ceremony after the recent passing of one of our comrades, Phil Perrier:

We have come together as Phil’s family, in blood, in dreaming and in the great struggles that he fought. We have come together to honour our brother and acknowledge the importance of his contribution to our onward march. We have come together to stand with his loved ones and to share their Sorry Time, so we can share their pain and anguish. We have come together in his name – to say farewell.

A beautiful farewell to ordinary activists like Phil.

Hopefully, a farewell to times past where we lost our way in the social haze of 4ZZZ and like organisations.

Ian Curr
2007

Excerpts from Pig City can be found at http://espace.library.uq.edu.au/eserv/UQ:8981/Stafford_Chapter.pdf

20 responses to “Pig City: ‘they shut it down, they pulled it down’?

  1. andrew stafford

    champagne comedy Ian, keep it coming!

  2. John Birmingham

    You must have your head stuck dangerously far up your arse to be so full of shit.

  3. Hi Bush Telegraph,

    I just stumbled upon your post, from a link on ‘Online Opinion’ (I think?)

    Gee – you know how to ruffle the feathers of the Brisbane literati!

    Anyway, I didn’t know that Channel Seven were using ‘Streets Of Your Town’ too.

    Unbelievable!

  4. I was part of the movement against old Joh. I have also spent about 5 years all up producing radio at 4ZZZ, including some during the late Joh era.

    I agree with the Bush Telegraph analysis.

    I have been involved in many disputes at ZZZ between the perspectives of community movements and the inner sanctum of the music subculture. Z used to exist in a dynamic tension between it’s youth music agenda and the many community groups that had their own shows. The most famous of these tensions was the emergence of Aboriginal broadcasting. The Murri hour was one of many community programs on Z but it caused much tension with unorthodox on air technique, its unholy obsession with country music, as well as some of the everyday trauma of Aboriginal life occaisionally spilling over at the studio.

    There was much whinging and nashing of teeth amongst many of the young white zedders as murri hour grew incrementaly to 2 full days of broadcasting a week. A couple of the (very cool) mainstay’s of Z were the Murries strongest allies and they kept a lid on the white discontent and protected the murri broadcasters from the hostility and whinging from the general Z community.

    ZZZ has allways been an institution where political and community movements have chosen to focus energy, because they have seen its potential. However the “collective” and the Z music scene has rarely been activeley involved with these movements and have often been hostile to them.

    There are however two very important exceptions:
    1/ when the Z collective turned the whole station over to the land rights movement for the duration of the Commonwealth Games in 1982, including organising a spontanious radiothon that raised $30,000 (1982 money!) in a weekend to raise bail and campaigning money. And

    2/ during the prison riots of the 80’s when the prisoners show began and became a key instrument of communication ampongst prisoners as well as providing a direct line to the outside community.

    A great historical shift occurred in Brisbane’s art and creative community around about 1980. Before that time “The Popular Theatre Troupe” was recieving considerable arts funding touring schools, universities, factories and shopping centres with proffessional, highly produced street theatre that could be (and was) performed in any venue. They produced plays about East Timor, Uranium, workers rights, abortion and civil liberties. They were frequent performers at illegal marches and could often be found, in costume, in the watchhouse at the end of the march. The P.T.T. had managed to use art and culture, in a very entertaining way, to help set the political agenda of the time. Their tours of schools and factories took political discussion out of the insular circles of political activists. The arts trendies liked them because they represented one of the first Australian experiments in publically funded performance outside of opera, orchestra and traditional theatre. However their Queensland funding was cut around 1980 (cant remember exactly when – but this is the historical shift I refered to).

    The P.T.T.’s funding was then used to establish the STREET ARTS community theatre company which organised (bread and) circus workshops in the South Brisbane area. There is no doubt as to the creativity of Street Arts, their local (bread and) circus movement came to lead the Australian alternative art movement and was the key organisation in developing the term community cultural development which dominated public arts policy throughout the late 80’s and 90’s. But the fact is that, as a direct result of the knifing of PTT, community theatre in Qld and Aust developed as an insipid, apolitical diversionary activity for a bored society, and lost it’s capacity to be a powerful and dynamic instrument of the community’s intelectual and political life.

    Although Qld And Bris have a rich history of political art it has rarely been represented in “alternative” media.

    The recent pop-histories of the resitance to old Joh have failed to acknowledge, let alone include, the key political and intelectual themes and spokes people of those movements, prefering instead to envisage a fairy-floss filtered perception of the times.

    Similarly the poems, songs and paintings of Aboriginal people, workers, migrants and left wing intelectuals of the time are no more acknowledged now than they were back then.

    So there!

  5. Since we are remeniscing about the good old days.

    “A bit of parochial history – The history of public toilets, community notice boards and welfare agencies in West End (Brisbane)”

    http://paradigmoz.wordpress.com/2007/07/04/the-history-of-public-toilets-community-notice-boards-and-welfare-agencies-in-west-end-brisbane/

  6. John

    Not surprisingly, I wouldn’t be as harsh as you (or Ian) about the perceived hostility of ZZZ towards community and political movements then. However, the 2 examples you give of the 1982 Commonwealth Games and when the prison riots were happening were both important and powerful events (as was the ongoing role of the Prisoners Show). The development of Murri radio was also very significant and I think is one of ZZZ’s major legacies, as it led directly to the eventual granting of a radio licence of what is now 98.9 (was 4ZZZ) (and they still play that dastardly country music!)

    I think another example worth mentioning was the “Solidarithon” that was held during the SEQEB strikes – a weekend radiothon to raise funds to help the strikers who were under serious (and ultimately successful) attack from the government.

  7. Yes, and their whole role in the SEQEB dispute including promoting the protest against old Joh’s honorary doctorate at Mayne Hall, perhaps Qld.’s most significant protest of the era.

    I stand corrected.

  8. sorry, my mention of 98.9FM should read “(was 4AAA)” not “(was 4ZZZ)”

  9. It looks like AAA has been totally overtaken by the Federal Government and is now called something like Australian Country.

    I don’t listen much anymore because unfortunately it’s lost the feeling under this new regime.

    All of this came to pass without a whisper. One day I was listening to AAA and then the next, it was this “new” station.

    I have this horrible gut feeling that 4ZZZ is losing its independent authenticity, and has unhealthy connections with mainstream politics.

    The big worry is the constant promotion of ‘MySpace’, Rupert Murdoch’s assault on the internet, as some kind of harmless public meeting point.

    What used to be the town common, is now a commercial commonality, apparently. I disagree!

  10. Pingback: 1977 is not that far from 2007 « Bush Telegraph

  11. Pingback: We are not there « Bush Telegraph

  12. David Fitzpatrick

    I experienced the horrors of Joh-land first hand as a teenager. I will not bother going into it here. But the thing which fascinates me about all this commemoration is all the easy self-congratulation. Some people did not survive the Joh years and others refused to draw a line under them. The repression of those years was followed by an even longer period of economic hardship for many of the young people who went quietly crazy in pig city. But, of course, in fine Nietzschean style all this blood, sweat and tears merely serves to water a distinctively Queensland contribution to world culture, so we can all toast our old roots and take off for our sabbaticals no longer complete nonentities by virtue of vicarious participation. This IS the australian intelligentsia- pusillanimous, vicarious and mediocre.

  13. David Fitzpatrick

    Editor’s Note: Deleted insult directed at John Birmingham. David, what is your point, without the insults, that is?

  14. David Fitzpatrick

    Editor’s Note: Comment deleted. No gratuitous insults please.

  15. Political Policing in the Norties

    The Misuse of Anti-Terror Legislation to Silence Nonviolent Anti-War Dissent- Scott Parkin & A.S.I.O.

    A 15 minute video on the detention and deportation of Scott Parkin by the Australian Security Intelligence Oraganisation. In 2004 Scott Parkin a nonviolent anti-war activist organiser from Texas was detained in Australia as a possible national security threat and deported. Video contains interviews with Scott and Australian activists.

    http://www.indymedia.ie/article/88028

  16. Andrew,

    But how was the money spent?

    Was it siphoned off into Con Sciacca’s ALP re-election campaign as was a large amount from the SEQEB Strike Fund?

    See Labor Party puts more of Queensland up for sale

    Ian

  17. Hello Roo from http://speechification.com,

    Re: Pig City — incorrect comment, wrongly attributed – (http://speechification.com/2007/12/13/pig-city/#comment-1420)

    Thanks for the sensible change of attribution from ‘Bernie Dowling’ to ‘Anon’. As you know Bernie Dowling (the author of Iraqi Icicle) did not write that entry.

    Popular journalism (i.e. Pig City) claims for the musicians (The Saints, The Go-Betweens and The Riptides ) a pre-eminent position in the Democratic Rights struggle in Qld.

    The environment and anti-nuclear movement made the same mistake by promoting Peter Garrett [Midnight Oil].

    There are contemporary exceptions on the music scene (Phil Monsour [& friends], Jumping Fences, Mark Cronin, Ovideo & Leonore Orellana, to name some local Brisbane musicians…) these musicians have consistently written songs and performed as part of the broader movement for political change. These musicians are inspired by people like Victor Jara — a chilean musician from a poor working class background — Victor made the ultimate sacrifice, he gave his life for Chileans’ struggle against the US backed dictator, Pinochet.

    My recollection of the 1970s in Queensland is that it was very difficult to find political songs and committed musicians, so much so that when it came to produce a video on the democratic rights struggle (If you don’t fight you lose [1978]) we (the editors) had to resort to music from the civil rights movement in the US to find ‘political’ music and lyrics that related to our struggle.

    A parallell to this were the problems political groups like the International Socialists had when they made the mistake of recruiting punks into their organisation.

    Like Peter Garrett, many musicians may do better for the political struggles by sticking to their music.

    Ian Curr
    March 2010

  18. Taking to the Streets

    “Taking to the Streets”: Museum of Brisbane (MoB) April – August 2006

    Toadshow was commissioned (and presumably paid) by MoB to transfer onto video super eight film, images, banners and posters. Toadshow claims on its website:

    …ToadShow produced four short documentaries which played in semi-enclosed booths to complement the exhibition’s impressive display of posters, newspaper clippings, badges, t-shirts, placards, banners and leaflets with the emotional power of video… we (Toadshow) were able to tell the stories of specific incidents, important figures and alternative perspectives in an engaging and comprehensive style.

    Much of this material referred to above (not the four short documentatries) was loaned to the MoB by LeftPress Printing Society on the simple basis that LeftPress would be acknowledged in the exhibition. No payment was sought by or made to LeftPress but the agreement for acknowledgement (attribution) was with a promise from MoB that copies of film transferred to video would be provided. LeftPress received only a small amount of the film material it provided in video format. Basically LeftPress was shortchanged.

    Toadshow makes no acknowledgement on its website of LeftPress’ contribution even though I mentioned the importance of acknowledgement to the MoB. MoB contracted to Toadshow the job of copying the video/film material for the exhibition.

    may day march

    Comment
    It is the nature of our history in Qld that those that struggled (i.e. the many that marched) had their efforts appropriated by others. The appropriators are now in power in Brisbane and Canberra, in the boardrooms and in the editorial offices, in business and in bureaucracies, in Parliament, at the bar table and on the bench.

    While the appropriators grasp their ministerial leather, sit in their boardrooms and peer into their editing consoles, a few of us remain here on the streets — mere barbarians at the gates. When we are gone, there will be no one to replace us, just a few stories that have been appropriated by the poeple who never marched, never fought, never put anything on the line. But that is the way of things so bitterness achieves nothing. We have moved on.

    Toadshow probably has no obligation to do so but it would be so easy for them to make the effort and acknowledge the source of much of this material on their website.

    Ian Curr
    April 2010

  19. in and out, mainly

  20. Brisbane writer Andrew Stafford updates tome on music and politics ...

    Andrew Stafford had 10 years to come up with a new foreword for the republished Pig City. But it took Campbell Newman only days to render part of it dated.

    With a keen eye on the parallels being drawn between the Newman government and the corruption-plagued Bjelke-Petersen government, the Brisbane writer was convinced he’d delivered the perfect introduction to place the book in the context of the modern political climate.

    That was until the Premier delivered a post Stafford by-election apology to voters just days after the republished Pig City hit the stands.

    “I wrote the new introduction to sort of bring into sharp relief the sound of history repeating itself and as soon as the book comes out Campbell tries to go and undo half of it – bloody bastard!” Stafford says jokingly from a café in Brisbane’s West End.

    Read more: http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/pig-city-revisited-brisbane-writer-andrew-stafford-updates-tome-on-music-and-politics-20140731-zvozq.html#ixzz391Nv1xhi

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