Bjelke Blues: Stories of Repression & Resistance in Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s Queensland

The next meeting of the 17 Group will be held on Wednesday the 4th of September at 7 pm in unit 6, at 20 Drury St, West End. The topic will be “BJELKE BLUES: Stories of Repression & Resistance in Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s Queensland”.

Editor, Edwina Shaw, and And Also Books publisher, Matthew Wengert, will talk about the wonderfully timely and penetrating just-launched book Bjelke Blues, and the issues raised in it.

Copies of the book will be available for sale at the meeting. Many of you will have been there and done that in the Joh era and will doubtless remember the whole time with a mixture of emotions. Come and share them with the speakers.

Life under Joh was no joke! In fact, for a lot of people it was downright dangerous.

BJELKE BLUES: Stories of Repression & Resistance in Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s Queensland is a collection of 45 powerful stories, articles, and memoirs by those whose lives were shaped during the Joh era, when corruption and the gerrymander defined politics in the Deep North.

The stories in Bjelke Blues are potent reflections and reminders of what can happen when the mainstream public allow divisive politicians to use the law against anyone seen as ‘dangerous’ or ‘different’––such as those who fought for ethnic and gender equality, or who opposed environmental vandalism. A lesson we need to take note of today.

The discrimination and marginalisation of the Joh years helped to ferment an underground cultural response that flourished in the face of Joh’s efforts – an equal and opposite force of music, art, unity and activism. In striving to divide the community, Joh made himself a common enemy, radicalising and politicising generations of Queenslanders who refused to give in.

As Matthew Condon states in his foreword: “Bjelke Blues gives heart and soul to the remembrances of the men and women who were at the end of police batons… at the front line fighting for justice and decency.” (From the foreword by Matt Condon)

The collection includes stories from noted Queensland writers including, Nick Earls (winner of a number of awards including gold medals in the 2017 Independent Publisher Book Awards), Melissa Lucashenko (winner of the 2019 Miles Franklin Award), Warren Ward (winner of the New Philosopher Prize 2019), respected Indigenous activists Sam Watson and Bob Weatherall, historian Raymond Evans, UQ agitator Dan O’Neill, musicians John Willsteed, Anne Jones and Debbie Zero, cartoonist Matt Mawson, reporter David Margan, comedian Mandy Nolan, director Sean Mee and many others.

Biographical notes
Edwina Shaw
is a Brisbane writer of fiction, memoir and screenplays. Her novel, Thrill Seekers, based on her brother’s battle with adolescent onset schizophrenia, was shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Award for New Writing and was recently released as a new imprint by Raven Books UK.

In the Dark of Night (Ransom UK), her chapter book for young readers, was selected for the 2016/17 National Library Summer Reading Club. Since 2002, her short pieces have been published in Australian and international journals, including Best Australian Stories, Asia Literary Review, Griffith Review, and Island.

Her feature film screenplay M was awarded 2018 Talent Development funding from Screen Queensland and is currently under development. She is the commissioning editor of Bjelke Blues- Stories of Resistance and Repression in Bjelke-Petersen’s QLD1960s – 1980s (AndAlso Books 2019) When she’s not writing, she teaches creative writing at the University of QLD, for the QLD Writers Centre and in the community. She also runs Relax and Write Retreats for women that combine yoga, dance and writing.

Matthew Wengert is an historical researcher and writer, with a particular interest in medical history and stories from Queensland’s colonial frontier. He worked as a research assistant on Ross Fitzgerald’s political biographies of Ted Theodore and Fred Patterson. His recent book––‘City in Masks: How Brisbane fought the Spanish Flu’––was funded by the Brisbane City Council’s award for local history research. With his colleague Louise Martin-Chew he was awarded the 2019 John Oxley Fellowship from the State Library of Queensland, to research the visual history of the Government Printing Office.

Leon had a mysterious visitor when we got there. He was rather reluctantly and grudgingly introduced to us as Mr Isidrio Bombanazzi, a developer from the Gold Coast, of striking appearance, with white shoes, check trousers, tweed jacket with leather patches at the elbows, ‘full-faced, quite florid, with dancing rather jutting eyes; prickly with a very quick temper’, to use the surprisingly apt words of Burton Raffel’s translation of that part of Don Quijote that describes Reinaldo de Montalban.

He was reading to a grim-faced Leon from a book called Don’t You Worry about That. When our entry interrupted the colloquy he had just read out the words “Declaring a state of emergency was often the key to it. The press would howl each time I did it…”.

Leon, great internationalist and universal scholar that he is, was evidently having difficulty fixing his flagging attention on this rubbish, rather provincial as it was in style and content. He asked a question languidly:
“ Mr Bombanazzi, I don’t suppose, considering the possibility of sound-shifts and so on in the Romance languages over the intervening centuries, that you’d be descended, would you, from the great Pietro Pompanazzi, born 1462, died 1525, Renaissance philosopher, exponent of Aristotle without rival in that time? His was an Aristotelianism — I quote roughly from Roberto Weiss’s useful little book — which emphasized the paramount position of man and claimed that the practical intellect was much more important than the speculative one, so far as happiness was concerned. The Stoic doctrine of fate also held strong attraction for Pompanazzi, and in his lectures he defended it strenuously against Alexander of Aphrodisia.”

It was at this point while Leon was pausing for breath, that we saw that the visitor was indeed, like Reinaldo de Montalban, ‘prickly with a very quick temper’, or ‘puntoso y colerico en demasia’ as the unmatchable original has it.

As he angrily flung Don’t You Worry About That at Leon’s head we made a hasty exit, lacking an answer in the usual way, to our usual question whether Leon would, like you, gentle reader, be our guest at this enjoyable and important meeting.

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