4ZZZ remembers eviction from University

History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhymes – Mark Twain

4ZZZ held a forum at the old Schonell Theatre 15 Dec 2018 to commemorate its eviction from University of Queensland 30 years ago. The forum was attended by about 80 people and was chaired by Andrew Bartlett. The panel were: Anne Jones ( Station co-ordinator 1981), Stephan Ambruster ( 4ZZZ News room 1988-89), Donna Baines (former 4ZZZ announcer 1988) and Steven Stockwell (one of the founding members of 4ZZZ in 1975).

Anti-apartheid demonstrators outside Tower Mill Motel July 1971

During the Q&A, an audience member asked if there was a ‘coherent’ history of 4ZZZ.  The forum discussion was lively and interesting. For example questions were asked why 4ZZZ left the campus after Victoria Brazil and her cronies had been discredited lacking in public support. What was in no doubt, 4zzz struggled after it left campus and it was not until moving to the old Communist Party headquarters at 291 St Pauls Terrace that the station found its feet again.

Anti-apartheid poster 1970 – victory was never that clear cut.

Anti-apartheid demos inspire student to join 4ZZZ
Steven Stockwell explained how he became involved in the station. Even though still a school student he was struck by the harsh racist policies of the Queensland Government. Declaring ‘a state of emergency’ the government supported repeated baton charges by police against anti-apartheid activists at the Tower Mill motel in July 1971.

In 1973, as a young journalism student, Stockwell joined a media committee of the University of Queensland Student Union. It was this committee set up by Jim Beatson that helped steer the union support for an fm radio licence from the Commonwealth government. In December 1975 radio station 4ZZ in 1975 went to air (another Z was added later). In 1976-7 the 4zz transmitter was behind the stage where the panel were seated and the antenna was on the roof. It was  removed when 4ZZZ went to higher power and began transmitting from Mt Cootha.

Forum area at UQ Union complex circa 1970

The 4ZZZ forum was addressed by historian Jeff Rickertt who related how the University Senate proposes to pull down the entire edifice where the tumultuous events that gave rise to 4ZZZ took place and made it relevant as an independent broadcaster in the midst of mainstream hypocrisy – the Anti-Vietnam War movement (1966-1972), the civil liberties struggle against the street march ban (1967), the Occupation of the Citizens Military Forces (CMF) building (1970), the Quang Incident (1970), the anti- apartheid strike at UQ (1971), the Smash the Acts campaign (1972 onwards), the Democratic Rights campaign (1977-1979), the opposition to the Senate conferring of an honorary doctorate of laws on Bjelke-Petersen after he sacked 1001 SEQEB Workers (1985), the attempted eviction of 4ZZZ by the UQ Student Union in 1988.

4ZZZ crew 1984 May Day at the Exhibition Grounds. 
Left-to-right: Peter Alexander, Al Ward (obscured), Jon Baird, Harley Stumm, and Geoff Airo-Farulla, Clem Jones (in light suit back to the camera) — with Peter Alexander, Jon Baird, Harley Stumm and Geoff Airo-Farulla.

For the Senate running a multi-billion dollar corporate University like UQ these events and where they took place can be swept aside with money. The University master-plan used the buzz word of modern architecture ‘re-imagined’. So the aphorism attributed to Mark Twain may turn out to true of the University of Queensland.

These moves are opposed by Jeff Rickertt and Save the UQ Union Complex steering committee.

Jeff Rickertt (SUQUC) speaks at 4ZZZ forum 15 Dec 2018

The Eviction – a ‘coherent’ history
Here is my attempt to answer the question posed for a coherent history of the eviction.

Wednesday 14 December 1988,
On this day the right wing University of Qld Student Unions attempted to evict 4ZZZ from its studios under the Refectory. At 4.17am executive members of the UQ Student Council and four security guards served an immediate eviction notice on Darren a volunteer announcer doing the graveyard shift.

4ZZZ had been taken off air.

The president of the UQ Student Union, Victoria Brazil, supported by the Queensland Government were attempting to foreclose on radio 4ZZZ from its premises at the University.  By the weekend over 1,000 listeners and supporters had turned up at the UQ Union Complex to defend the station.

4zzz emergency broadcast van on Mt Cootha – Photo: David Lennon (1989)
Annastacia Palaszczuk taking a chance to speak at an occupation of the UQ Union building stairwell in support of 4ZZZ in 1989. For all accounts Palaszcuk played little part in the defence of 4ZZZ and played no role in the station wahtsoever. Photo by Michael Aird, Image courtesy State Library of Queensland

Within hours 4ZZZ announcers were making emergency broadcasts direct from Mt Cootha and later in the day the Student Union was occupied by protesting students and supporters effectively taking control of their own union and radio station.

The University stepped in and asserted ownership of the UQ Union Complex thus backing the union executive’s attempt at eviction. Students continued to occupy the station ensuring that it continued to broadcast.

Despite this, the 4ZZZ collective curiously elected to leave campus and set up the station in Toowong thus ending Zed’s affiliation with the Student Union and the University where it started in December 1975.  The station nearly folded and if it weren’t for the assistance of the Communist Party of Australia through a ‘gift’ of its building at 291 St Pauls Terrace Fortitude Valley, it surely would have. Forty-one years later 4ZZZ survives as an independent broadcaster with the slogan ‘Educate, Organise, Agitate’. Here is the report prepared by 4ZZZ at the time.

In the podcast starting at 3′ 10″ and ending at 6′ 32″ is one of the emergency broadcasts used to rally support. It was broadcast from the transmitter hut on Mount Coot-tha.

December 2018
During the darkest years of the Bjelke-Petersen government, the Union precinct was one of few places in Queensland keeping alive the flames of democracy. Like Monash University in Melbourne UQ Union was host to  vibrant anti-Vietnam War movements in the country, it served as the Queensland base of the anti-apartheid struggle, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander activists organised from there to Smash the Acts, it was a centre for the Right to March campaigns.

4ZZZ was launched there. No other site on an Australian university campus has a history more entwined with the broader political and cultural narrative of its host State.

Now we discover the University wants to tear down the entire edifice. The Schonell, the award-winning original student union building, the forum area, the relaxation block, the refectory, the old student union arcade building. All are mooted for demolition.

According to the St Lucia Campus Master Plan the entire site will be ‘reimagined’ as a student hub providing services and fast food outlets. Despite the Plan’s barrage of contemporary master-planning buzzwords, the contempt for history and the appeals to a self-serving and consumerist version of ‘progress’ and ‘improvement’ could have been lifted straight from a National Party policy book in 1988. Historian Jeff Rickertt has this to say about the proposal.

Ian interviews Jeff Rickertt

A steering committee has been formed to wage a public campaign to enliven the space again and look to alternative culture and ideas that will bring people together. Please sign the e-petition below and keep an eye on Save the UQ Union Complex facebook page.

Click this link to open the E-Petition: https://www.parliament.qld.gov.au/work-of-assembly/petitions/petition-details?id=3052. 

This E-Petition closes on 1/3/2019.

Thanks to Peter Gray (Radical Times) and Jeff Rickertt (Save the UQ Union Complex) for the historical material included in this article.

Ian Curr
Member of the Civil Liberties Co-ordinating Committee 1977-79
16 Dec 2018


Qld parliament E-Petition: https://www.parliament.qld.gov.au/work-of-assembly/petitions/petition-details?id=3052. 



1977 street marches against the ban

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