My first knowledge of any connection between myself and Malcolm Fraser was when I took a closer look at some documents my father had handed to me with a simple “these are yours”. The documents included amongst other bits and pieces, my birth ‘extract’ and a letter to my father announcing my being awarded a Federal Commonwealth Scholarship to the tune of $200. The year was 1968, I was 15 and in fourth form at a state government High School. Fraser was the Minister for Education, (not that that meant anything to me at the time.)
My father was proud of my achievement and I remember a certain surprise and even awe (I thought maybe because I was female?) from others about my receipt of it. Normally they went to boys. The general surprise was probably due however to the fact that I was never a swot, always sat at the back of the class, had 1000 excuses for not having my homework and preferred talking to friends to participating in classes that were often extremely boring. Perhaps good reason for them scraping the award, IQ and brains do not always equal success as defined in the world of capitalism.
I missed the Whitlam years as I was hanging at the Roundhouse in Nth London, watching live music, smoking dope and dropping acid. I had a great job working with vulnerable kids from Tottenham and responsibly tempered my drug explorations to do the best job I could when with the kids at work. I loved my time there and to be honest thought little of Oz but the sea and the surf.
Aussie mates rocked up to our flat complaining about Malcolm the politician and how Gough was being cheated out of power. They brought me a “Shame Fraser Shame” badge which I wore with pride.
I didn’t vote for Gough as I considered myself an anarchist and had never signed up to vote. (‘Don’t vote it only encourages them!’). At 16, I was a member of the Geelong Moratorium Movement, a major force in the anti Vietnam War movement in Australia. Oh and I did register for National Service. Yes, I was female and therefore at the time ineligible, but my friend and I had male first names and thought we’d put a spanner in the system- don’t think it had much effect but it might have if my lotto ball had been picked out. I was reluctantly voted in as Treasurer to the Geelong MM by Trade Union officials who wanted a younger public face for the organisation so despite my protestations was convinced by my friends and I managed the meagre sum of $200, buying material and making huge antiwar banners with the proceeds.
Fraser’s parliamentary history during this time included (see full National Museum article here)
Fraser was Minister for the Army for two years from 1966 to 1968 in the coalition governments of Harold Holt and John Gorton. He was Minister for Education and Science from 1968 to 1969 in Gorton’s government and in William McMahon’s government from 1971 to 1972. He was Gorton’s Minister for Defence from November 1969 to 8 March 1971, when he resigned, accusing Gorton of disloyalty to him in a disagreement over the Army. His resignation set in motion McMahon’s successful challenge to Gorton’s leadership of the Liberals a fortnight later, resulting in Gorton’s replacement as Prime Minister by McMahon. Fraser was a member of the federal Liberal opposition executive from 1972 to 1975, and a spokesman on primary industry, then labour matters. He became Leader of the Opposition on 21 March 1975 after successfully challenging BM Snedden for the Liberal leadership.
Before leaving Oz in 1974 for the obligatory UK trip back to my roots, I used to go to a libertarian talkfest with the anarcho-syndicalists in Richmond where we would fend off the reds who often came to convince us of their political worth. I also met with the Nth Vietnamese delegation in Geelong as a Moratorium movement delegate. Slight paradox there. I just remember them being friendly little guys. Oh yeah and I also met the friendliest biggest guy Dr Spock, a soft spoken paediatrician and peace movement activist (and the cause of many a grandmother’s angst about her daughters child rearing influences. see here)
On 15 October 1975, Fraser set in motion the events leading to Whitlam’s dismissal by the Governor-General when he announced that the opposition would refuse passage through the Senate of the Budget Bills until Whitlam called an election. Justifying this decision, he claimed revelations about the government’s attempts to bypass the Loans Council to obtain funds overseas indicated ‘extraordinary and reprehensible circumstances’ which warranted an electoral verdict on the government’s actions.
When the opposition, led by Fraser, refused to pass the government’s Budget Bills through the Senate in October-November 1975, (delaying the funding of government operations) Australia experienced its most severe constitutional crisis. Fraser said the opposition would not grant supply until the government called a general election. The constitutional and financial crisis climaxed when JR Kerr, the Governor-General, withdrew Whitlam’s commission as Prime Minister on 11 November 1975. ibid, National Museum site here
When I returned to Oz late 1976, Malcolm had won and we were in the hands of his ‘razor gang’. It was at that time that I noticed his signature at the bottom of the scholarship letter to my father. Malcolm had been Education Minister. This signature signified shame to me, as I recognised the pitiful amount being offerred by a member of Australia’s sqautocracy to support my father in the pursuit of my education while rolling back as many of Goughs achievements as they could in a climate of ‘fiscal austerity’. His silver spoon background, I did not share…
- born in the exclusive Melbourne suburb of Toorak, Victoria, on 21 May 1930.
- family owned property in the rich Riverina district of New South Wales and ‘Nareen’, a station near Hamilton, Victoria.
- grandfather, Simon Fraser, emigrated from Nova Scotia in 1853 and became a land speculator and pastoralist, entered Victorian parliament, participated in the Federal Conventions of 1897-1898 and became a Senator at Federation.
- educated at exclusive Geelong Grammar preparatory school, Toorak, Victoria, then Tudor House, Moss Vale, New South Wales, before going on to Melbourne Grammar at 14.
- Oxford University, UK, graduate with a degree in philosophy, politics and economics.
- grazier at family property ‘Nareen’ after returning from Oxford.
The other thing I realised at this time was that Malcolm and did share something – a birthday. Holy shit did that mean we might carry similar traits? Both born on the cusp of Taurus and Gemini….scary thought. Then, when on 14 October 1986, as the Chairman of the Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group, he was found in the foyer of a seedy Memphis hotel, the Admiral Benbow Inn (an establishment popular with prostitutes and drug dealers) confused as to where his trousers were and wearing nothing but a towel and a shirt and tie – I saw the funny side of that one. Whew, lucky for me he was a metal Horse and very different from my Water Snake! I thought I would have made the most of it till I saw the tacky joint! Its actually now a retirement home. (More laughs)
Agreed, he welcomed in the Vietnamese boat people and finally showed a conscience. Where was he when the war was on?
He gave up his Liberal Party membership in protest against their move to conservative far right under Little Johnny.
He spoke out on Apartheid but history shows he did not speak out against the sporting nation of South Africa Rugby tour of Australia in 1971. (One of the most violent demo’s I ever attended and where after being searched by a dumb female cop, had a vivid pink sari with elaborate gold and coloured threaded pattern taken by her on the pretence that it could be a Communist flag!).
1971 was the UN declared International Year for Action to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination. The McMahon Government announced its support, advising the Australian Committee to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination that racism was ‘not acceptable to the Australian way of life’. But this did not stop continued sporting links between Australian sporting teams and South African teams, On the eve of the Springbok tour, six Australian players refused to play against a side selected according to race. McMahon called their behaviour a disgrace and vowed the tour would continue. Did Malcolm speak out? No. See here on McMahon government.
And did Malcolm do anything about East Timor? No, just like all the rest.
Malcolm what more do I say…..bye bye ‘Cusp Man of Paradox’, maybe it takes a while to get rid of the spoon stuck in your craw when only the position of privilege allowed you to shine. Thanks for being big enough to change some of your spots, it gives me hope in others potential capacity.
By the way I have Gough to thank for my tertiary education, not you, but thanks for the $200 bucks- I scored a transistor radio from dad and it kept me sane.