When Joh went to Uni

In 1980 or 1981, Bjelke-Petersen went to University of Queensland guarded by Qld Special Branch. Joh’s visit was controversial as the questions from the news media suggest. We have secured historic footage of the event.

Standing behind Joh during the interview was Constable Gary Hannigan, previously from Sandgate CIB and the youngest ever undercover detective and member of the Qld Special Branch. Hannigan’s dad was an Inspector of police. Hannigan used to dress up as a student wearing an anti-uranium badge and during demonstrations push students down the steps of King George Square into the waiting arms of Task Force.

At one march in 1978 at the steps of King George Square ringed by about 300 police, Hannigan punched a priest in the stomach. A friend retaliated. In the scuffle that ensued Hannigan ended up with a broken nose.

Our friend was arrested by Task Force for ‘common assault’, a serious charge. He was defended by a barrister we used to call Spencer Tracey (pictured below).  Spencer advised our friend not to elect for a jury trial which was his right under such a serious charge. He told him to request a summary hearing before the ‘beak’ (magistrate). When the barrister cross-examined, he put it to Hannigan that it was unlikely that a protestor would make an unprovoked attack on a police officer in broad daylight with over 300 police nearby. Spencer Tracey grilled Hannigan closely on the circumstances of the arrest. He knew all the cops well from drinking with them.

Spencer Tracey.jpg

Spencer Tracey (at right) in front of statue of King George V talking to cops at a right-to-march rally in King George Square in 1978

Spencer Tracey suggested to the young Hannigan in the witness box that he was hiding behind the influence of his father to even become a detective and therefore be in a situation where he could arrest our friend to bring such a charge. Under heavy cross-examination, Hannigan eventually cracked, stood up in the witness box and blurted out ‘he hates me!’ pointing at our friend in the dock. It immediately became clear to the magistrate who had committed the ‘unprovoked assault’.  He had no choice but to acquit our friend on the charge of ‘common assault’.

Alongside Hannigan (fair haired) was Special Branch Detective Barry Krosch (pictured) who was later a student at the University and wrote his PhD thesis on the Special branch.


Special Branch Detective Krosch arrests Toni Hubbard at an Women’s Abortion Rights Demonstration outside parliament in 1980.

Some years later, in 1985, the University Senate, flying in the face of 1001 sacked SEQEB workers, UQ student and staff opinion, awarded Bjelke-Petersen an honorary doctorate of Laws.

Public Trial of Bjelke-Petersen
In 1977 or 1978 we put on a play called ‘The Public Trial of Bjelke-Petersen’. This was long before Joh’s actual trial for corruption. At the time we put out a rumour on campus that Bjelke-Petersen was to be there in person. A very large crowd gathered and witnessed the spectacle of the Premier of Queensland being put on trial for crimes against people, for mining and exporting uranium (1977), for banning sex education (1976), for sacking gay teachers (1976), for banning books like Portnoys Complaint (1975), for making street marches illegal (1977) and taking away the right of workers to organise in unions – the case of union organiser, Ted Zaphir (1977), for banning abortion (1980), for locking up aboriginal people in missions and on penal islands like Palm.

Unfortunately Joh didn’t show up for the trial so we could not cross-examine him on his motives.

I recall the closing line of the play — “after the trial was over, everyone went to the coast (Surfers Paradise)”.

Here is that historic footage of when Joh went to Uni.

This video was shot on Aboriginal (Toorbul and Jagera) country by Lachlan Hurse who is now the state organiser for the National Tertiary Education Union (NTEU). Lachlan posed the question what role the Special Branch has on campus at a time when democratic rights had been severely curtailed by the government.

Also appearing in the video (toward the end) is one of Queensland’s most famous poets, Oodgeroo Nunuccal (Aunty Kath Walker). Also in the picture are University Registrar H.B. Green and Student Union President Eugene O’Sullivan.

This film was shot and edited using equipment from LeftPress Printing Society and while we do not insist on copyright we ask that people wishing to use the footage, let us know, give proper credit for the footage and provide us with a copy of the film where it is used.

Ian Curr
mob: +61 407687016

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