Offenders were punished / By being set in the cart / And driven up and down / The town. Their reputations / were lost, and the right to be present / At court; they lost all honor / And joy. Everyone knew / What carts were for, and feared them….” – Chrétien, Lancelot: the Knight of the Cart
Recently I was asked by author Nadia Wheatley to explain the source of this photo (above). I will try. It is difficult to get facts right, especially during these days where both past and present are so murky. There is confusion among participants about the date of the photo and the event that it depicts [Anyone who can accurately source details of the photo, please do so in the comments section down below.]
But here is my take on it, for what it is worth. The US military were authorised by President (LBJ) Johnson commenced a merciless bombing of the capital of North Vietnam, Hanoi. The US had been using napalm and agent orange against the civilian population. The Australian government supported the US government’s bombing and deployed troops to assist. Vietnam and conscription were the main issues and the ALP took a principled stand against both. The Liberal/Country Party coalition won the federal election in a landslide on 26 November 1966 using the slogan “Keep Australia secure and prosperous – play it safe”.
Apparently Wheatley’s latest work (co-author is Meredith Burgmann) to be published next year is about how event ‘transform conservative people into radicals‘.
Nadia found this photo of the Lavers’ on Workers BushTelegraph and her publisher wants to use it in a chapter about Brian Laver, a ‘radical’ who comes from a middle-class Rockhampton family that includes some pretty good tennis players e.g. Rod Laver.
Now look at the photo from another perspective.
The photograph in question was taken outside the US Consulate on the corner of Queen and Albert Street in Brisbane on Friday the 1st of July 1966.
The photograph depicts the arrest of Brian Lennard Laver (21 years) for displaying a placard in a public protest against the Vietnam War and against conscription of 19 year olds to serve in Vietnam.
Laver is accompanied by his wife Janita and his two-year-old daughter Sidonie. On the 15th July 1966, only fourteen days later, Janita gave birth to their second daughter, Tempe.
Laver subsequently served two weeks in Boggo Road jail for non-payment of a fine related to a later arrest.
Laver was arrested in an anti-conscription march and city rally on 5th October 1966 along with 26 others (which was a majority of the demonstrators). Four of those arrested elected to go jail rather than pay their fines. They were:
1. Gail Salmon
2. Barbara Jane Gaines
3. Mitch Thompson
4. Brian Laver
On the day of the earlier protest in July 1966 the US increased it’s heavy bombardment of civilian areas in the capital of North Vietnam, Hanoi. This was the greatest and most horrific bombing since the US dropped the atom bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and its fire-bombing of Tokyo.
Unlike Japan, the Vietnamese government and it’s people refused to submit to the US terror and, nine years later, drove the US military out of Saigon and away from their country.
Sadly the photographer is unknown. The photograph was not published in any of the Brisbane daily newspapers (The Courier or The Telegraph). Nor was it published in the weekly communist paper, Tribune. The photo may have been taken by a freelancer or by a member of the Communist Party, Ted Reithmuller, who has now passed away. The photo also may have been taken by Grahame Garner. There is a slim possibility that the photo was taken by Queensland Police Force photographer, or ASIO.
All eyes appear to be on this photogenic couple. Brian with his chic Che Guevara beard and Janita with her Guinevere good looks. The police officer was more respectful than we came to expect in later marches in the 1970s. Dressed in his drab olive green uniform and cap he lived up to the motto on his badge which read Constantia ac Comitate (Firmness with Courtesy). There was speculation by one of the participants that the police officer who arrested Laver was Terry Lewis, now a disgraced former Commissioner on-the-take. But there is no evidence for that.
What did the local daily Brisbane masthead Courier Mail have to say about this demonstration or this arrest? Nothing. The headlines on the following Monday were about the French detonation of an Atomic Bomb in the Pacific and the United States bombing of Hanoi, the capital of North Vietnam. The Courier Mail social pages had pictures of cocktail celebrations of American Independence Day in the nearby Lennons hotel. But nothing about the commotion on the street on Friday afternoon. Two days later the Sunday Truth had a photo of another policeman roughing up Barbara Gaines, a Vet student at the University of Queensland. The policeman has confiscated a placard that appears to read “Stop Bombing Hanoi” [See loupe of the shot above].
Laver appears to be arrested for carrying a placard. Note the policeman in khaki uniform is holding a placard in his hand.
So what is the fuss all about?
According to an op ed piece (pictured below) about Janita Cunnington by Amanda Horswell, after Laver’s arrest and subsequent time in Boggo Road jail, he was sent to Bulgaria by his employer, the Qld Trades & Labour Council, to attend a youth conference about opposition to the Vietnam war. The Communist Secretary Trades & Labour Council, Alec MacDonald, had indeed employed Laver as an assistant. Despite this during a speech on May Day 1978, Laver declared that left-wing trade unionists in Queensland are “some of the most ruthless Marxist-Leninists in the world.”
The Labor Party had contested the 1966 Federal election and fought it on conscription of 19-year-olds being send to the Vietnam War [Laver was 21 at the time]. They lost in a landslide.
So I asked a number of Laver’s associates back in 1966 what was the photo all about. One reply stated that the photo depicts -“A demo outside the US Consulate against the Vietnam war. Brian was arrested. Janita not, she gave birth to Tempe less than a week after the event.” From the caption in the photo below and from the placards being carried it seems the protest was against US bombing of Hanoi. The following Tuesday the ABC showed a film about a US attack on Dong Tre.
Earlier reports by the Courier Mail say that Laver had met with the US consul on 28 March 1966 but there was no mention of his arrest on this day the 1st of July.
“These impulses come over me all of a sudden, and I just can’t resist them.” – Hedda Gabler by Ibsen
In more recent years Laver was involved in setting up a community centre in West End. He used a retired meatworker’s money to buy a property in Horan Street next to the Primary School where he teaches tennis. Laver stole money from the community centre and renovated his home in a fashionable part of West End.
The fraud committed by Laver at AHIMSA house was reported to the authorities including the Public Trustee, local MPs, Anna Bligh and Jackie Trad and the Premier Campbell Newman. The Courier Mail refused to print the story despite extensive research by one of its journalists.
Nothing was ever done to bring Laver to account.
Beware the Knight of the Cart!
Rather than Laver’s transformation to a radical, a far more interesting topic for a book would be how he managed to align his radical politics to gain the maximum advantage for himself. Why is it that Laver lacked the capacity of will to remedy the situation at the community centre (AHIMSA house) when it was on the slide financially?
I was still at school in 1966 and appeared in a high school debate on ‘Should Australia be in Vietnam?’ My team argued the Vietnamese were engaged in a civil war and therefore interference by Australia was wrong.
We lost both the argument and the debate to young women from a Loreto Convent. They argued for the domino theory, a Cold War policy that suggested a communist government in one nation would quickly lead to communist takeovers in neighboring states, each falling like a perfectly aligned row of dominos. With the exception of Cambodia and Laos the latter argument proved false.
So why did we lose the debate? On our side we had Michael Treloar (who topped the state matriculation exams in a number of subjects) and Matt Foley (who was later a barrister and attorney-general of Qld, certainly no slouch in a political argument. And myself.
I think, on this occasion at least, I carried my weight in the argument. The reason being that I had consulted with Hector Ferguson, a family friend and local bank manager, what argument he would employ to win the debate. He advised me to stay away from ideological considerations and argue that it was a civil war and Australia had no right to interfere.
In 1972, as a Medical student, I was taken by a friend to a garden party in Ascot and met one of the debaters on the intervention side, Jane Cottee. I was struck by the affluence of my former opponent’s family with their magnificent old Queenslander, tennis courts and gardens. How it contrasted with the crowded house in Taringa where I lived during those years. When I told her that we had debated at school she had little or no recollection and did not seem particularly interested in the subject of Vietnam. Both my friend and I had recently participated in a Vietnam moratorium march but it certainly was not a topic of conversation that day in this company.
Not to say Jane was any slouch in the academic area. She went on to become Head of Department Horticulture & Floristry at Canberra Institute of Technology. Despite Vatican II the nuns in those days were pretty conservative, some even came out to welcome LBJ with a giant American Flag when his entourage made a blitz of the country in October 1966.
Brisbane News Magazine March 7 – 13, 2018. ISSUE 1167