50 Years ago: Brisbane Peace activist, Norma Chalmers, met Chairman Mao

“In Politics there is no such thing as the Centre” —visiting Guatemalan revolutionary, Walter Felix, at the TLC [QCU, sic] Brisbane in September 2009.

mao tse tung meets brisbane communist Norma Chlamers

“In hollows behind outhouses
or back of a wall of pepper tree, tanks
are sleeping, stirring.
They expand, become nervous and rough,
and grinning with iron dimples
begin to move out to the edge of town
to wait for the lorry to place unknown.”
—Rhyll McMaster

Quoting from Towards Peace – a Workers Journey by Phil O’Brien & Bernie Dowling.

Towards Peace - a workers journey by JP Phil O'Brien and Bernie Dowling
Towards Peace – a workers journey by JP Phil O’Brien and Bernie Dowling

“Since its formation in the 1940s, the World Peace Council has accepted many Australians as Peace Councilors. You will notice prominent members of the ALP among World Peace Councilors, but you wont notice many names of  Labor politicians of the 1950s.

When groupers were powerful in the ALP, the world peace council along with most peace organisations were proscribed by the Labor party. Bill Morrow, who went to serve Tasmania as an ALP senator, had his pre-selection vetoed, when he refused to cut his ties with the peace movement.

Norma Chalmers was one of those who was honoured as a World Peace Councillor.”

Norma Chalmers at Ky Demonstration contemplatesd her broken ankle
Norma Chalmers, sitting on the footpath in George Street, contemplates her bruised knees, torn stockings and broken ankle after Anti-Vietnam War rally in Brisbane in 1967 (thanks to Fryer Library at UQ for photo)

On October 1st 2009 it will be the 50th anniversary of the night Mao shook Norma Chalmers by the hand on the roof of the Great Hall of the People, Tien A Mien Square, Beijing, October 1st 1960, on the 10th anniversary of the founding of the Peoples Republic of China.

Historically, this was the time of the Great Leap Forward.

Phil O’Brien in his book “Towards Peace – a Workers Journey” describes how Norma Chalmers was injured during a demonstration against a visit to Brisbane, Australia, of former South Vietnamese vice president Ky in January 1967.

Norma’s husband, Heck Chlamers, an ex-POW in Singapore and the department head of a leading Brisbane insurance company, was arrested during the demonstration.

He was later fined for assaulting special branch detective, Don Lane (‘Shady’ Lane, one of two liberal MLAs who enabled Bjelke-Petersen to rule in his own right 1983-1989, was later disgraced and jailed for corruption).

When Phil O’Brien saw Heck, Don Lane had him in a head lock.

Heck was a quiet and gentle person unlikely to assault anyone.

Bad luck continued for the Chlamers when Norma, Secretary of the Peace Movement, sustained injuries including a fractured heel after being removed from Lennon’s Hotel by police during the Ky visit.

Norma Chalmers meets Joe En lai
Norma Chalmers meets Chow En Lai on eve of International Peace conference held on Oct 1, 1960 in Peking (Beijing). Norma was the Australian delegate.

Ian Curr

Towards Peace - a workers journey by JP Phil O'Brien and Bernie Dowling_Page_2
JP (Phil) O’Brien


Source: Towards Peace by Phil O’Brien and Bernie Dowling. Printed by LeftPress, PO Box 5093 West End 4101. Email: iancurr@bigpond.com

Source: Towards Peace by Phil O’Brien and Bernie Dowling.

Here are more links that realte to Norma Chalmers:



Thanks to Jim Sharp for reminding me of this story, Ted Reithmuller for the photo of Norma meeting Chow En Lai and Peter Gray for the links.

8 thoughts on “50 Years ago: Brisbane Peace activist, Norma Chalmers, met Chairman Mao

    1. Thanks Ted,

      See photo, now in main article above.


  1. Norma Chalmers says:

    Phil was a great mate and peace worker, staunch union man. It was great to come across this on the web, and brought back many memories. Norma

  2. Kathleen Chalmers says:

    I was a young teenager at the time and I remember the incident of Mum’s attack by detectives. If you are interested in her story, I have it written down. Also, her memories of the meeting with Chairman Mao and Chow En Lai at the 10th Anniversary of the formation of the People’s Republic of China.


    1. Mike Williss says:

      Kathleen – hope this gets to you! I would be very interested in reading the material on your mother. I am President of the ACFS in South Australia. Could you please contact me at mwilliss@hotmail.com and I’ll send you a postal address.

      many thanks for your offer to share information on your mother.

      Mike Williss

  3. Errin Henderson says:

    I always knew my grandmother as an icon, now I realise this went a lot further than being a loving and supporting influence in my life. I’m so proud to be able to point at this and say, that’s my grandma!

  4. The Don Henderson Project says:

    Three and half years ago the Don Henderson Project was launched at the National Folk Festival in Canberra with the mission to raise interest and finance to produce a CD of Don’s songs.

    Don Henderson Project

    The interest was there and the finance came in the form of sponsorship from Don’s friends, those who sang and recorded his songs, unions, folk festivals, folk federations and folk clubs.

    The result is a double CD with 40 songs, one CD of Don singing and the second of others singing his songs Declan Affley, Alex Hood, Gray Shearston, Ann Bermingham, Dave de Hugard, Bill Berry, Danny Spooner, Helen Rowe, Griff Bignell, Geoff Wills, Annette Hood, Mark Gregory, Craig McGregor, Sally Henderson and Tommy Leonard.

    The tracks for ‘The Songs of Don Henderson’ have come from a variety of sources, recordings dating between 1965 and 2007.

    Among them are studio, concert and home recordings on every medium from reel-to-reel tape, LPs, cassette tape to digital recordings, restored where necessary to the best quality achievable without losing the original atmosphere.

    The ‘The Songs of Don Henderson’ is released through Shoestring Records and release is planned for 15 December.

    The CD will be launched at a special concert on 28 December at the Woodford Folk Festival.

    For more information please visit the project website at http://donhenderson.com.au/ http://folkstream.com/ http://railwaysongs.blogspot.com/

    It’s On! Mark

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