memories ....

Richard Swan

Telopea on Strike

Were you there for the March on Parliament? We all had an exciting year in 1968. One event that may have been a first in Australian history was that we organized a march  of senior high school pupils from the Albert Hall to Parliament House. In October 1968 our teachers - led by the A.C.T. Teacher’s Union President, our own Micky March -  were striking for more investment in public education.

Some of the usual trouble makers, from both Telopea and other schools, decided to assert our own thinking and support the teachers despite (pro forma) opposition from Mick March. The names I have on the document we circulated to all high schools in Canberra are R. Swan, S. Bisset, K. Press, P Blemey, I. Barnes and J McCrorie. However, we had quite a substantial number of Telopea students proudly wearing our blue blazors and some representation from North side High Schools.

The march took us through the parliament rose gardens to the front lawn where we were firmly stopped by the police protecting our center of democracy. In our naivety we probably expected are stronger reception. I suspect that we forgot to call the Canberra Times. However, I think a couple of us may have been let in to meet with our local member.

At this distance, we were declaring our entry into adult responsibilities and our independence from school and teachers. Unknowingly we were a small part of the world wide student revolution sparked by Vietnam.

background information and media coverage

Response from Steve Bisset:

That triggers a lost memory.  I remember a couple of things:

1) The news media reporting of the strike was focused almost entirely on salary demands, as if it were a standard industrial action, whereas salary demands were #4 and #5 on their list.  This was true of TV reporting anyway.  We were a bit incensed about this, our innocence shattered by the realisation that adults would manipulate news to serve political ends.  Faux News was far from the pioneer (but was Murdoch involved back then?).

2) Our history teacher Julie MacFarlane had recently quoted some Chinese proverb to the effect that "When snow falls in the spring, a great injustice has occurred in the land".  As I recall, the morning of the march did snow, one of Canberra's occasional snows and extremely rare for a spring day.  There's nothing on Richard's documents to fix the date (although maybe "Tuesday 1st" gives a clue), but I believe it was in the spring.  The snow reduced the turnout somewhat.

The media were talking about how the strike showed that the teachers were greedy and and did not care about the students (i.e. they gave coverage to government spokespersons who espoused such views).  We were inspired to demonstrate that we supported their goals and saw them as being in the students' interests.

My memories on this are really really vague, but I do recall two of us (myself, maybe, and a girl whose name and school I don't remember) being ushered in to see the local member, where we were treated politely.  I can't remember if it was in the same meeting or a separate interview with a reporter, but I remember being assured that the views we represented would be made known to the public, and of course we were again disappointed (shock!) when they were not.

from Richard:

I remember fondly the old Chinese proverb quoted by Mrs MacFarlane and the snow. However, I think the reference was to something more profound than the teacher's strike. Perhaps conscription for the Vietnam war?

The date on the newspaper article that I included was October 2, 1968.

Steve's reply:

So it was spring.  Julie may have intended it for something else, but we decided that it was an omen definitely delivered by the higher power we didn't believe in (some of us anyway), and intended for the strike.


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