they are showing
how they define
live to fight
fight to live
– ‘To the Victor belongs the Spoils‘ by Daniel del Solar
In 2018 the University of Queensland is shamelessly advertising that it is creating change. Hanging from posts above circular drive at the University St Lucia campus are marketing banners promoting change. But what kind of change? Has the marketing Department borrowed the slogans from the 1960s and 70s where students and staff fought against war and challenged values of elitism that the University Senate promoted?
To make way for that change the University Senate proposes to demolish the UQ Union Complex including the Relaxation Block, the forum area and the Schonell Theatre. It was in these places rather than in lecture theatres that I learnt that a different world is possible.
In contrast the University has set up a centre called Idea Hub in the old Staff Club whose aim is to turn engineers into entrepreneurs.
On 4th September 1970 I attended a Friday lunchtime meeting in the Relaxation Block at the University of Qld Union Complex which later became known as the ‘Quang Incident’ or ‘Black Friday‘. I was a second year medical student and my Anatomy practical commenced at 2pm across the other side of campus. But I stayed as long as I could to witness the questions being put to a Vietnamese embassy official present at the meeting, Mr Quang.
Luic Tuong Quang was a First Secretary from the Embassy of South Vietnam in Canberra, during the time of the Vietnam War. Quang was an ally of the US government and advocate for that war. At the meeting a number of students and staff at UQ pressed Quang for an explanation of the brutal conduct of the war that was killing millions of his countrymen.
Opposition to Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War peaked in 1970 in Brisbane, with two national Moratoria protests occurring in May and September of that year.
Pro-war student groups (such as the Democratic Club, i.e. the Democratic Labor Party DLP Club) had invited First Secretary Quang to speak on the UQ campus. One of those students, Paul Tully, went on to become acting mayor of Ipswich. The film ‘The Quang Incident‘ shows the passion with which the meeting was conducted with conservative catholic students defending Mr Quang and Australia’s involvement in the war against challenges to the conduct of the war from the ‘radicals’.
After I left, I heard reports about a scuffle between security staff and students. Some years later I was told that John O’Gorman a policeman was injured when the fire brigade was called. I witnessed on more than one occasion Constable O’Gorman’s particular dislike for radical students. The students were objecting to the Special Branch and other police being called onto campus during the incident.
Historian John Piccini* wrote of the incident:
“A full university enquiry later saw Shearman suspended from UQ for two years for his participation in both the CMF occupation and the “Quang Incident,” a clear indication that the university administration was unwilling to support the activists’ imagined purchase on the university as a radical centre (my emphasis).”
20 years later I attended a meeting addressed by two Trade Unionists from Vietnam at the waterside workers club in Brisbane. They had fought against the US forces during the war. The meeting was attacked by Vietnamese refugees brandishing stones and tin darts. Task Force assisted by Special Branch arrested a number of people who organised the meeting.
Democratic Rights were under constant attack in those years because activists at Uni and unions stood up against war and attacks on the right to organise. One of the foci of that organisation was the University of Queensland Forum area, we never won over the majority on a conservative campus but we did have some influence. Off campus it was the Wharfies Club, the old Trades Hall and women’s house where much of the activism was centred.
Jeff Rickertt gives a good account in this interview at why it is important to stand up against the University Senate to stop the demolition of the UQ Union Complex.
An extract from “Up the New Channels” “Student Activism in Brisbane during Australia’s Sixties”by Jon Piccini.
The C.M.F. Occupation and Quang Incident in http://radicaltimes.info/