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Quang Incident: recollections of a university creating change

they are showing
how they define
spoils
justice
live to fight
fight to live
– ‘To the Victor belongs the Spoils‘ by Daniel del Solar

The University of Queensland is shamelessly advertising that it is creating change. Hanging from posts above circular drive with marketing banners promoting change. But what kind of change? Has the marketing Department borrowed slogans from the 1960s, 70s & 80s where students and staff fought against war and challenged values of elitism that the University Senate promotes?

To make way for that change the University Senate proposes to demolish this 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 another world is possible. One example of this was the Quang Incident.

On 4th September 1970 I attended a Friday lunchtime meeting in the Relaxation Block which later became known as ‘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.

quang-incident

Anti-war activists being jostled by security and Uni officials. Secretary Quang is at Right.

In the room were anti-war activists and Luic Tuong Quang. The First Secretary from the Embassy of South Vietnam in Canberra looked surprisingly unfazed by events. Quang was an ally of the US government and an advocate for 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.

I will never forget the photo of 9-year-old Kim Phuc running down a road naked with napalm burns on her skin. A South Vietnamese plane had dropped its flaming napalm onto her village.

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. He is now under a cloud of allegations while his Labor colleague, former mayor Pissasale is in jail for corruption.

After I left the Quang meeting, I heard reports about a scuffle between security staff and students. Some years later I was told that a policeman was injured when the fire brigade was called. I witnessed on more than one occasion the same policeman’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 (one of the anti-war activists) suspended from UQ for two years for his participation in both the CMF (Citizens Military Forces) 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.”

Student protest - Quang - 4 Sep 1970 S177 p714

From Left: Anti-war activists and Secretary Quang (seated)

 

Ian Curr
27 July 2019

 

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