Introduction. The Covid crisis and its vastly different impact on Sydney and Melbourne have brought to the fore the significant cultural differences that exist between these two cities, differences with deep historical roots. Some appreciation of this important cultural bifurcation and its political effects can be gained by exploring the split from the perspective of the “Sydney Push”, as we will see shortly.
The Melbourne/Sydney Split. Differences between Melbourne and Sydney have long been noticed in the areas of sport, politics, fashion and art. However, there are also significant differences in their intellectual traditions and milieus, as these have evolved since settlement, and these have played a major role in national culture and politics. The historian Manning Clark painted a vivid picture of these differences in an essay, “Faith” (1962), which helps explain why Victoria has come to subject itself to a long period of lumpen-Marxist socialism under Dan Andrews and his predecessors. Put simply, according to Clark, from the late nineteenth century, Melbourne’s radicals gravitated towards Karl Marx, while Sydney’s tended towards Friedrich Nietzsche. One stream embraced collectivism and an all-powerful state, while the other was suspicious of the state and championed individual liberty. The latter position was summed up by a prominent member of the Push, George Molnar, who observed in an essay on Yevgeny Zamyatin’s pioneering anti-totalitarian novel, We (1921), that it is “anarchic protest against those in power, [and] not the capture of power, [that] is at the core of freedom”.
Mervyn Bendle appears regularly in Quadrant.
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Exemplars. According to Clark, in the crucial mid-twentieth-century decades, Melbourne intellectual life was exemplified by the Marxist historian Brian Fitzpatrick, and Sydney by the libertarian John Anderson. One believed in enlightenment and happiness for all, imposed and regulated by the state; the other was indifferent to the “servile” masses and was concerned instead with the gaiety and beauty to be enjoyed by the intellectual and artistic elite. One believed in the instrumental role that culture could play in uplifting the masses; the other believed that true culture could only be appreciated by the elect, and that any efforts to extend it to the masses would only lower standards. One believed in the perfectibility of humanity through social engineering; the other ridiculed all such ambitions as hopelessly naive. One believed in pity and fraternal love; the other regarded pity as the first step towards condescension and disdain.
Social Optimism v Elite Pessimism. The Neo-Marxist-Postmodernist literary historian John Docker expressed a similar view, contrasting Melbourne optimism with Sydney pessimism (Australian Cultural Elites, 1974). However, he also points to a distinction within the Sydney stream between “a literary tradition which draws heavily on certain aspects of European romanticism, and a philosophical tradition rooted in freethought and libertarian ideology”, and it is the latter one we will be concerned with here.
The Uselessness of Politics. Both Sydney tendencies shared the futilitarian view that “social and political involvement is useless … and has to be avoided or opposed”. This led them both to an individualistic elitism, “because they think their values are superior to the values of society around them”. It also exalted “anti-authoritarianism, sexuality, and consciousness as metaphysical realms of freedom, freedom from society”. Especially significant to this vision of transcendent liberty was sexuality, which was felt to be “a naturally free and universal activity, which society will [always] attempt to repress”.
The Sydney Push. This tradition found vivid expression in the post-war decades in the “Push”, an anarcho-libertarian, pub-centred, intellectual subculture that was active in inner Sydney from the late 1940s to the early 1970s. Many see the Push as antipodean pioneers of the Sixties Cultural Revolution, a claim made reasonably credible by the activities of Germaine Greer and Richard Neville, Push members who played significant international roles in that cultural upheaval. Other prominent members included Darcy Waters, Jim Baker, John Flaus, Harry Hooton, Maggie Elliott, Sasha Soldatow, George Molnar, Eric Walsh, Liz Fell, Lex Banning, Eva Hauser, Paddy McGuinness, Clive James, Robert Hughes, Frank Moorhouse, John Kerr, Les Murray, Robyn Davidson and Lillian Roxon, amongst many others.
The Name. The term “Push” is derived from earlier quasi-criminal and larrikin gangs that used to characterise inner Sydney, going back to the nineteenth century, such as the Rocks Push, the Straw Hat Push, the Glebe Push, and the Argyle Cut Push. However, the choice of name in the 1950s was something of an affectation, as most of the original members of the Push were younger middle-class or upwardly-mobile working-class folk brought together in the Royal George and other local pubs because they were staff or students at (or were hanging around) tertiary institutions like the University of Sydney, East Sydney Art School, the Conservatorium of Music, or the New South Wales University of Technology (later UNSW). The membership was fluid, and also included lawyers, journalists, public servants, manual workers, musicians, professional gamblers and criminals.
Professor Anderson. The Push might have amounted to little more than a fleeting subculture if it were not for its ideological origins in the work of John Anderson, Challis Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sydney from 1927 to 1958. As James Franklin (Corrupting the Youth: A History of Philosophy in Australia, 2003) has observed: “Anderson dominated the higher reaches of Sydney intellectual life for 30 years,” and “the Push [was] a realisation of Anderson’s ideas”. Donald Horne recalled how, when Anderson walked by, “my skin might stiffen and my hair prickle at the roots … I was gripped by the need to know him.” And as David Armstrong, Emeritus Professor of Philosophy, Sydney University, confirmed: “Anderson was the most important philosopher who has worked in Australia. A great educator, he was a profound influence on the intellectual formation of those who were his pupils.”
Influence. These pupils included those who went on to become philosophers and academics themselves (such as John Passmore, J.L. Mackie, David Armstrong, David Stove, Perce Partridge, A.D. Hope, James McAuley and Hedley Bull), but also many others who ascended to prominent positions in law, politics, journalism, the public service, literature, film-making and culture generally.
Andersonianism. Anderson propounded his own philosophical system, which provided an intellectual foundation for iconoclastic attacks on all other systems of thought and belief. He was also until his later years a committed communist fellow-traveller, and was well versed in the radical theories of Nietzsche, Marx, Sorel, Freud, Reich, Bakunin, Proudhon and others who would help form the intellectual hard core of the 1960s Cultural Revolution. He had a “conflict theory” of the world and systematically attacked every aspect of “bourgeois society”: morality, religion, tradition, authority, values, nationalism, patriotism, loyalty, business, marriage, the family, censorship and civic responsibility. He particularly hated what he called the “servile state” that reigned supreme over individuals in both capitalism and communism.
Does “Society” Exist? Anderson even rejected the notion of “society” itself, considered as a “real thing” existing above its individual members and to which they owed allegiance. According to Anderson, wrote James Franklin:
the world was going downhill fast. It was the age of socialism, religion, communism, rationalism … In Australia the Labor and Liberal parties were both committed to destroying freedom and independence. The churches, the universities and the media were servile to ruling interests.
His basic philosophical commitment was to the unrelenting and ruthless criticism of everything; as the poet and Professor of Literature James McAuley said of him: “He had an answer to every conceivable question. It was ‘No!’”
From Freethought to the Push. To promulgate his views, Anderson formed the Freethought Society, and his high-profile radicalism soon provoked censure motions in the New South Wales Parliament and the Sydney University Senate. However, faced with the insupportable atrocities of Stalinism he eventually moved to an anti-communist position in the 1950s, thus alienating a lot of his followers. They responded by forming the Libertarian Society, which had a prominent intellectual dimension, holding regular meetings and publishing the Sydney Libertarians Broadsheet, and from this grew the Push, which implemented Anderson’s libertarian ideas along with those of the radical Freudo-Marxist Wilhelm Reich and leading anarchists. Above all, the Push focused also on drinking, partying and promiscuity.
The Libertarian Position. The ideological position of the Libertarian Society was described in the University handbook as follows:
It is that of opposition, in every field of human activity, to authoritarian forces and to their social and political demands. Concurrent with this is support for non-servile, co-operative and free activities. On this basis, libertarians are found to be atheists, supporters of sexual freedom and opponents of repressive institutions, particularly that great destroyer of independence and initiative, the political State.
Melbourne’s New Class. The radical orientation in Melbourne was quite different: collectivist rather than individualist. There the focus was not on the individual’s liberation from their servile status under the state, but on a collectivist strategy to seize control of the state, vastly enhance its power, and then use it to transform society. And crucial to this was a revisionist role for the intelligentsia, which was now being cast as the primary “revolutionary subject”, supplanting the proletariat. This fundamental shift was explored by Ian Turner, a communist labour historian, in two articles: “Culture of the Intelligentsia” in Arena in 1964, and “Intellectuals in Australian Life” in Overland in 1965 (both reprinted in Room for Manoeuvre, 1982). According to Turner, the intelligentsia was composed of “the creators, the innovators, the administrators, the technologists, the educators, the opinion formers of contemporary society”. This caste constituted possibly “the only finally indispensable element in industrial society”—with the proletariat eventually being replaced by robots.
The Nomenklatura. Turner was noticing the rise of an antipodean “Nomenklatura”, the Party-affiliated apparatchiks of the Soviet Union and the Communist Bloc. This New Class (as it was labelled by the dissident Yugoslavian communist Milovan Djilas in The New Class: An Analysis of the Communist System, 1957) held the key administrative positions in the state bureaucracy, controlling all spheres of economic, social and cultural activity. It set not only the political and ideological agenda but served also as the trend-setter and arbiter of taste. According to Turner, it could assume this role because its members possessed a total worldview, derived from Marxism, that encompassed “the whole measure of the life of society and the individual personality”.
Caste Exclusiveness. This New Class also enjoyed a “caste exclusiveness” and its leisure time and tastes would be carefully self-regulated. Their principal social activity was visiting and monitoring each other to secure their places within their networks and the Nomenklatura itself. They also enjoyed an ideologically correct “material way of life”, constituted by a distinctive set of choices that Turner itemised in considerable detail in Room for Manoeuvre. These involved every aspect of life, including where to live (Carlton or Eltham, for example); what to live in (a restored Victorian terrace in the inner suburbs, a mud-brick cabin in the bush, but definitely not a “Housing Commission box”). Great care also had to be taken in making politically correct choices concerning household appliances and conveniences, furniture, fabrics, pottery, paintings, books, music, cinema, television, magazines, newspapers, gardens, pets, dining, alcohol and so on, behaviour that continues to be seen amongst the “hipster” culture of inner-city Melbourne.
A New Theory of Revolution. Turner’s articles were part of the systematic attempt undertaken in the early 1960s by ex-members of the Communist Party of Australia to formulate a theory of revolution that explicitly recognised the central role to be played by intellectuals. Central to these efforts in Melbourne was the journal Arena, which began monthly publication in September 1963, when it argued that the emergence of an “intellectual workforce” in the “affluent society” provided a “new class”, sharing “a non-conformist and left-inclining outlook”. The key sites for revolutionary activity would no longer be the factories, but the universities, schools, and cultural and media organisations.
The Arena Thesis. This “Arena Thesis” was spelt out by two Melbourne academics, Geoff Sharp and Doug White, in “Features of the Intellectually Trained” (Arena, No. 16, 1968). It distinguished between intellectual and manual workers, and emphasised the importance not only of intellectuals but of their “intellectual culture”, which amounted to a higher state of consciousness:
intellectual technique is [very] different to material technique … an intellectual is more conscious of his humanity; he is more aware of what he is doing, more anxious to bring the whole of his life into rational order … And because he wishes to carry through the whole of his life activity in accord with his values [he] is more concerned about the uses of the product of his labour than older style workers.
From this distinction emerged the new theory of revolution, as “the centres of formation of the intellectually trained [that is, the universities] become a main centre of conflict” in what is nothing less than a battle for the hearts and minds of intellectually trained personnel. Given the central role that the education system played in this theory of revolution it was not surprising that the Arena group had a very strong presence in the School of Education at La Trobe University, where it initiated a generation of students into the neo-Marxist and postmodern educational theories that have dominated educational policy ever since.
The Push’s Appeal. There was no parallel attempt in Sydney to develop a collectivist theory of revolution based on the intelligentsia. The attraction of the Push was more prosaic and immediate: “The first source of the Push’s appeal was simply that it was an island of excitement in a sea of dullness,” observes Franklin in Corrupting the Youth. In the post-war decades it seemed that all Australia offered young people was “a landscape of cultural monotony”. As one contemporary university student, Elwyn Morris, observed in “The Patriarchal Push” (Quadrant, January-February 1979), this society was overseen by an aspirational middle class whose homes were characterised by “a piano, a full-time wife-and-mother, three children who attended Sunday School, serviettes, doilies, and a neat garden”. Such culture as there was, was mediocre, anti-intellectual, philistine and dominated by a suffocating moralism and an overbearing wowserism, enforced by a censorship regime that kept Lady Chatterley’s Lover banned until 1965.
Grey Managers in Grey Suits. Morris vividly described the dull mundaneness of her everyday experience as a young Sydney University student, from which the Push offered liberation:
Each morning at eight I’d swarm onto the train with the white-collar commuters from Pennant Hills. [Soon] the grey managers in grey suits were deep in the sporting and financial pages of the Herald, and their Girl Fridays in stiletto heels and beehive hairdos were knitting and reading the Women’s Weekly. [Meanwhile] the schoolgirls in hats, gloves, stockings, long-sleeved blouses, ties and pleated uniforms … were flirting in the corridors with their counterparts from Scots or Grammar … Apart from church fellowships and tennis clubs, the train was the only place for them … to meet those exciting, alien creatures, Boys.
How much more exciting than this grey, repetitive experience was the milieu of the older, academically qualified, intellectually adroit, hard-partying and sexually experienced membership of the Push?
No “Alfs”. This alternative world was vividly described by Richard Neville, who encountered the Push as a young university student in the Royal George in the early 1960s:
It was exciting to think I could mingle with Anarchist pamphleteers, all railing against religion, patriotism, censorship, and moral conventions … Smoky alcoves, juke box blasting Roy Orbison’s “Working for the Man”, paperbacks on Kafka and Camus protruding from pockets, people in black sweaters espousing free love … Anyone who wasn’t anti-authoritarian was an “Alf”, a despicable conformist … The Push stance of “permanent protest” had struck a chord. — Hippie, Hippie, Shake, 1995
Black Maria. The experience of another young university student in the early 1960s also illustrates the appeal of the Push. He’d ventured into the Royal George and was seized by two policemen who’d flung him into the back of a Black Maria, driven off, and dumped him at Darling Harbour: “Look son,” they said, “don’t you go near that pub again—it’s full of loose women, social diseases and drugs!” The student thought, “Terrific! and I was back there next night.”
True Personality. The experience of Barry Humphries was similar: “As I stood in that packed throng of artists’ models, academics, alkies, radio actors, gays and ratbags, drinking large quantities of cold beer, I felt as though my True Personality was coming into focus.”
One Long Adventure. And as the writer Bob Ellis described the allure of the Push lifestyle:
It was one long adventure, night after night, party after party, race meeting after poker session and tragic love after tragic love … following their soul’s odyssey through all its incarnations … delivering their papers on sex and death and Reich and Christ and Phar Lap, arguing and drinking far into the night, taking round the hat for incidental abortions, welcoming anyone who showed up at midnight and wanted to sleep on the floor … conducting their ritual contests, inventing their savage games, and having parties, parties, parties …
Each Other’s Lovers. Another major reason for the allure of the Push was that its libertarian philosophy mandated sexual licentiousness. Morris recalled that “one reason for John Anderson’s appeal to young students was that he offered an intellectual release from sheer sexual frustration”. He surpassed even Reich, who made the case in The Mass Psychology of Fascism (1933, 1946) that sexual repression led to fascism (and nobody wanted that!), comprehensively demolishing “religion, moralism, authoritarianism, censorship and patriotism”. And then, “once free of God, the soul, the church, and what one ought to do for the sake of the common good, society, or parents … one was … sexually free”. The pay-off from “seeing through one’s illusions” in this fashion was described succinctly by Clive James: “Endorsing the critique of sexual guilt as a repressive social mechanism, the Libertarians freely helped themselves to each other’s lovers.” Consequently, James declared himself “enchanted”.
Disenchantment. The disenchantment came later. As Morris noted in 1979, this vaunted sexual freedom was only “theoretical”, especially for the women. While “there were … important improvements on the usual attitudes”, the women were trapped in a “patriarchal ideology” that obscured “the authoritarianism of Push men [and] the servility in themselves”. And this servility could later reach pathological dimensions, as Rosemary Neill revealed in her exposé, “Playwright Dorothy Hewett’s Daughters Say Their Mother’s Men Used Them for Sex” (Weekend Australian, June 9, 2018). These youngsters “spent their adolescence and early teenage years at the heart of the 1970s bohemian arts scene—meeting the famous and [being] feted at parties, rehearsals and film shoots; winning roles in high-profile films or radio plays with which their mother or her associates were involved”. And through their teen years “swaggered” many “starry identities”, including “Brett Whiteley … Martin Sharp, Bob Ellis and British photographer David Hamilton”. These, and other “illustrious names from the theatre, film, literary and visual art worlds were frequent visitors to the family terrace in Woollahra”, and many of them, including Sharp, Ellis and Hamilton, routinely sexually abused Hewett’s daughters. Their home had become “a brothel without payment”
Exploitation. By the 1970s Reich’s Freudo-Marxism had been supplanted by the postmodernism of Michel Foucault and other French theorists who championed “children’s rights” to “full sexual experience”, a grossly exploitative ideology to which Hewett subscribed. As one of her daughters recalled: “I think she genuinely believed she was offering this unfettered, uninhibited lifestyle to us … we felt we were special people doing special things.” Now, of course, these “starry identities” would be locked up, as would Hewett for procuring her girls for their sexual exploitation.
Cherubic. The same could be said of Richard Neville, who skited in his execrable memoir Play Power (1970), of having had sex with a “moderately attractive, intelligent, cherubic, 14-year-old girl from a nearby London comprehensive school”. Subsequently, in 1975, Neville hosted an ABC Lateline program on pederasty, during which “three men described with relish their sexual relationships with teenage boys and a teenage boy described his relations with an older man”, as the National Times reported (July 21, 1975). In the face of public outrage, the Chairman of the ABC defended the program, insisting that “in general, men will sleep with young boys” and that Australians needed to “understand” the urges of pederasts. (“ABC Cannot Deny the Reprehensible Actions of Richard Neville”, Gerard Henderson’s Weekly Column, September 12, 2016)
The Bogle-Chandler Mystery. Earlier, this sexual libertinism found spectacular expression in one of the great mysteries of the 1960s. On January 1, 1963, the bodies of Dr Gilbert Bogle and Mrs Margaret Chandler were discovered on the banks of the Lane Cove River in Sydney. It appears that on New Year’s Eve, CSIRO technician Geoffrey Chandler and his wife Margaret attended a party. Chandler was a fringe member of the Push and rejected the “petty” conventions of society. Declaring his belief in “open” marriages, he accepted that his wife was free to have an affair with Bogle, a leading CSIRO research physicist, who was also at the party. Chandler and his own girlfriend, a secretary in the University of Sydney Psychology Department, went on to a Push party. The bodies of Bogle and Mrs Chandler were found the next morning. The cause of death has never been established; theories have included hydrogen sulphide poisoning, dry ice, weed-killer, aphrodisiacs, LSD (allegedly produced in a CSIRO laboratory) and shellfish toxins. Suspects included ASIO, the CIA, the KGB, Mr Chandler, and another of Bogle’s girlfriends, who he’d just dumped. The media at the time noticed the connection of the two couples with the notorious Push, and reporters invaded the Royal George Hotel looking for a sensational story. They found little more than a blank wall of silence: did Push members know something, but weren’t talking? The murders—if such they were—have never been solved.
Radical Thought. In addition to its sexual libertinism, the Push also had an appeal for young people drawn to radical ideologies. Before the Sixties, youthful rebelliousness would have been satisfied by joining the Communist Party. However, the revelations about the horrors of Stalinism, and the Soviet invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia, along with the Soviet-Sino split, discredited the Party for many—it was simply another “Establishment” organisation—and so the Push and the Libertarian Society filled an ideological vacuum.
Intellectual Appeal. The Push also had solid intellectual appeal, based as it was in Anderson’s iconoclastic libertarianism, which had survived over forty years of conflict with the Establishment. The folk who made up the core membership of the Push took ideas seriously and this foundation gave it legitimacy for the intellectually inclined. Membership of the Push therefore went beyond conventional Australian ockerism, defined by Richard Neville as being “about conviviality: comradeship with a touch of good-hearted sexism”—it was all that, plus challenging ideas and rigorous arguments.
The Greer Experience. Germaine Greer quickly noticed the fundamental cultural difference between the Melbourne intellectual culture (“the Drift”) in which she’d been brought up, and the Sydney one into which she erupted (“the Push”) in the 1960s. The former was romantic in relationships and sloppy in reasoning; the latter was realist in relationships and rigorous in reasoning. Greer found herself outgrowing the sloppy sentimentalism of the Drift: “I was very much a rationalist and very much atheistic and not given to romanticism.” She had become miserable in Melbourne, and a visiting Sydneyite had explained: “You’re a Sydney person, Germaine. You’re simply in the wrong place. Come to Sydney.” And so she went, a decision made easier by her infatuation with Roelof Smilde, a professional gambler and a leader of the Push.
Germaine’s Damascus. Greer described the effect of this intellectual ardour when she arrived in Sydney from Melbourne:
She walked into the Royal George Hotel, into the throng talking themselves hoarse in a room stinking of stale beer and thick with cigarette smoke, and set out to follow the Push way of life … “These people talked about truth and only truth, insisting that most of what we were exposed to during the day was ideology, which was a synonym for lies—or bullshit, as they called it.” Her Damascus turned out to be the Royal George. — Christine Wallace, Greer: Untamed Shrew, 1997
No Female Eunuch. It was the Andersonian emphasis on rigorous argument that most impressed Greer:
In Sydney, I found myself driven back, again and again, to basic premises, demonstrable facts. [Here there were] intellectually rigorous people [who] could teach me something … I was already an anarchist; I just didn’t know why I was an anarchist. They put me in touch with the basic texts and I found out what the internal logic was about how I felt and thought.
New Faith. Soon Greer was giving a paper on “Libertarianism and Sex”, and defending her new faith in the Broadsheet: “Libertarians are not bound together [only] by an all-consuming interest in freedom of inquiry, but are also interested in political, social and sexual freedom, with varying intensity and emphasis, based on a common philosophical background of realism and determinism.”
The Libertarian Influence. This outlook later shaped her most famous book, as Anne Coombs observes in Sex and Anarchy (1996): “The Libertarian legacy shines through The Female Eunuch—revolutionary but not utopian, smashing icons but not erecting new ones, self-reliant without being self-blaming, attacking the conventional family while not opposing motherhood or sexuality or men.” More doctrinaire feminists never forgave Greer for turning her back on the collectivist party line of Melbourne:
When I have to explain where I’m coming from [and why] I’m not a proper Marxist, or a proper Marcusean, or a proper Freudian or a proper anything else, then I have to invoke that kind of ad hoc training that used to be meted out to me in the beer-stained purlieus of the Royal George.
Greer later declared that Sydney libertarianism was the strongest influence on her life.
The ASIO Assessment. Inevitably, the libertarians and the Push attracted the attention of ASIO and a security report was prepared. This concluded that they were ideologically controlled by communists and had amongst their numbers “a few anarchists who wouldn’t hesitate to drop a bomb on the Sydney Harbour Bridge or de-rail a train”. (In fact, such an apocalypse was envisaged in David Ireland’s brilliant novel The Unknown Industrial Prisoner, 1971.) ASIO dismissed the assumption that they were just pseudo-rebels or beatniks: “they are well above the average ‘beatnik’ intellectually,” possessing a sophisticated knowledge of Marxism. On the other hand, “they have absolutely no standard of ethics … their behaviour and conversation in mixed company [is] shocking … they have no respect for property and live entirely according to their own standards, which can only be described as base.”
Soviet Plot? ASIO had a sinister view of the Sixties in general:
ASIO’s theory was that the whole thing was just another Communist front, like the youth and women’s organisations of the Thirties and Forties, and the peace movement of the Fifties. There was, they thought, a worldwide Soviet-led plot to undermine the West by corrupting its youth. Perhaps it was not an altogether ridiculous theory, but intense efforts failed to turn up much evidence.— James Franklin, Corrupting the Youth
Growing Influence. Nevertheless, the connection between the libertarianism and neo-Marxism had become obvious at the height of the Sixties. By then a Marxist-oriented libertarian group had appeared at UNSW, along with an Anarcho-Marxist Society at Macquarie University. There were also regular “Red and Black” meetings held in a well-known radical bookshop in Goulburn Street (traditionally, red is the communist colour, black is the anarchist). At these and other meetings, papers were given on the usual suspects: “The Anarchism of Michael Bakunin”; “Emma Goldman and Women’s Liberation”; “Wilhelm Reich and Sexual Theory”; “Women’s Liberation, Libertarianism and the Left”; Che Guevara; Gay Liberation; the revolutionary potential of student protests; along with many papers on Greer’s The Female Eunuch, including one that criticised her understanding of Freud. Many of the people who presented these papers became prominent academic and political figures.
The Censorship Wars. Professor Anderson had used his academic status to conduct a decades-long campaign against all forms of censorship, well supported by his followers. He particularly targeted religion, declaring that “church-going minds are childish. We are dealing with people who are not really adults.” “The fight between secularism and religion is intense,” and academics like himself had “to attack any religion which tries to lay down requirements not in accordance with reality”, as his philosophy defined it. (Corrupting the Youth)
The Archbishop’s Sermon. This campaign came to a head when the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney and Primate of Australia, Dr Hugh Gough, delivered a sermon in St Andrew’s Cathedral on July 6, 1961. The media had been warned to expect something sensational, and they weren’t disappointed. It was the height of the Cold War—the On the Beach era—and most Australians believed that armed (and even nuclear) hostilities could break out at any moment. However, in addition to this external threat, there was internal corruption, the Archbishop warned.
Soul-Destroying Philosophy. Indeed, there were professors of philosophy at Sydney University “who are shamelessly teaching the same soul-destroying philosophies” that gave rise to Nazism and communism. They were “breaking down the restraints of conscience, decrying the institution of marriage, urging our students to pre-marital sexual experience, advocating free love and the [unfettered] right of self-expression”. In the face of this crisis, and given that “empires and nations have fallen because of moral corruption”, the Archbishop asked, “is it not the duty of governments to take note of this decline in morals and to take action?”
New Dark Age. The New South Wales government declined to get involved, especially in the light of the Lady Chatterley’s Lover legal fiasco in the UK. It then emerged that the Archbishop was involved in an extra-marital affair with a parishioner, leading to his abrupt relocation to the motherland and appointment as vicar of an out-of-the-way church in Somerset. On the other hand, one of Anderson’s early supporters changed his mind and later observed that the libertarians had inadvertently opened the gates “to the shock troops of the new dark age” of the Sixties.
The OZ Obscenity Trials. Throughout the Sixties, the anti-censorship argument was put forward frequently in the Libertarian Broadsheet. This, however, was distributed mainly to society members and not the general public. However, this was not the case with Richard Neville’s semi-pornographic and puerile counter-culture magazine OZ, which was sold at news-stands. This ensured that it would reach its two intended audiences: those who wanted to be exposed to salacious pictures and stories, and those who wanted to suppress them. The latter group could be relied on to initiate court proceedings for obscenity, thus guaranteeing widespread and invaluable publicity and interest in OZ.
OZ Number 6. It was issue number six that got the ball rolling, containing many items designed to offend “bourgeois values”, not the least of which was a fictional first-person narrative of a gang rape. An enraged magistrate duly sentenced Neville and the other editors to six months hard labour. Amidst widespread public incredulity, the case was then appealed before the more liberal Judge Levine, with the heavyweight Andersonian, John Kerr, appearing as defence counsel, along with several expert witnesses for the defence.
Legal Argument. A leading professor of English (and co-founder and editor of Quadrant), James McAuley, testified to OZ’s literary merit, while a prominent psychiatrist, Dr John Ellard, opined that the “persons of weakened personality structures” who would supposedly be “depraved and corrupted” by exposure to OZ were actually unaffected by what they read. Judge Levine was inclined to quash the convictions, but referred the case to the Supreme Court for guidance on a number of legal points. These basically concerned the role of expert witnesses; how one determined what it was that “tended to deprave and corrupt”; and who exactly would be so affected. The Supreme Court decreed that expert opinion was not relevant, as “ordinary human nature … is not a subject of proof by evidence, whether supposedly expert or not”, but instead is something that judges are presumed to know. On the other hand, if a judge found himself uncorrupted by reading OZ this didn’t mean that others wouldn’t be, as there were in the community “people of varying degrees of intelligence, moral fibre, and wickedness”, that would be corrupted and depraved by its pages. With this ambiguous guidance, Judge Levine quashed the convictions.
The London Trial. Neville then took the show to London, where London OZ offered its usual fare: “all hippie, all psychedelic, all radical, all obscene”. The obscenity trial of the “Schoolkids Issue” of London OZ was the last great censorship battle in England. It attracted enormous interest and publicity, as well as some of London’s leading legal lights. These included John Mortimer QC and the Australian Rhodes Scholar Geoffrey Robertson, who called not only the comedian Marty Feldman, but the Professor of Jurisprudence at Oxford, Ronald Dworkin, and the Grote Professor of Mind and Logic at the University of London, Richard Wollheim. They argued that a ban would be unconstitutional in America, that it was the prosecution itself that was corrupting public morals, that such legal action was a grave attack on “the morality of toleration which is a large part of the morality of a society like ours”, and that it threatened to polarise society.
Worldwide Conspiracy?! The judge had other views, believing that the OZ editors were merely the front men for a worldwide conspiracy of pornographers, and that his fear of them required an armed guard. Summing up, he denounced “so-called experts”, while the defendants were found guilty of publishing obscenity, and given severe jail sentences, including fifteen months for Neville, with a recommendation that he be deported. Eventually, the Lord Chief Justice upheld an appeal on the basis that the drawings and prose in OZ were so disgusting that they’d turn the reader off the practices depicted. And so, England’s long-standing censorship regime was overthrown. Meanwhile, another Australian, Rupert Murdoch, had bought the London Sun, and declared that the arrival of the “permissive society” meant there was no universal moral code, as his new newspaper then set out to demonstrate.
Obscene Bacon. Meanwhile, back in Australia, a younger libertarian-feminist, Wendy Bacon, rose to prominence. She and her comrades were inspired by the French Situationists, the anarcho-surrealist group that had supplied most of the witty slogans during the 1968 student rebellion in France. Their objective was described as “total subversion and a world-wide proletarian revolution with unlicensed pleasure as its only goal”. (Sex & Anarchy) Bacon managed to have herself charged with obscenity over an issue of the UNSW student newspaper Tharunka, and a similar publication, Thorunka, both of which had content deliberately inviting prosecution.
Nuns at Court. To drive home the level of her defiance, Bacon appeared at court wearing a nun’s habit emblazoned with a particularly obscene slogan claiming a very intimate sexual encounter with God. Remarkably, the defence was able to call a Catholic priest as an expert witness who testified that the statement was “a reasonably accurate though rather novel depiction of the relationship between a nun and God”. Once again, traditional institutions were ridiculed, the libertarians prevailed, the charges were withdrawn, and that was effectively the end of censorship.
Victory … Overall, it seemed the Sixties counterculture represented a victory for everything the libertarians and the Push stood for. Suddenly,
it found the world changing to its values overnight. One Push member wrote: “When, in September 1968, I went to the US as a grad student at the University of Illinois, you can imagine my reaction—Shit, the bloody Push has extended over the whole world … the late 1960s and early 1970s were like a Libertarian dream come true: we are gonna change the world!” —Corrupting the Youth
A more realistic comparison was made by Elwyn Morris, who noted that “the Push resembled other counter-cultures of the post-war period elsewhere. As a retreatist group which condemned political activism as ‘social engineering’, it can be compared to the hippies of the Sixties”, with their ostentatious rejection of “the conventional, materialistic lifestyle of their affluent middle-class parents”, and their indulgence in communes, drugs and mindless “free love”.
… and Eclipse. Paradoxically, the Sixties also surpassed the Push—in the blink of an eye they’d been outstripped by a younger generation that simply took for granted the freedoms, especially in the area of sexuality, that the libertarians had felt they had been struggling to achieve for decades. It seemed the moral hegemony of the Establishment simply crumbled overnight. Moreover, the Sixties generation was “into” protests and radical political activity, whereas the earlier libertarians had adopted a “futilitarian” stance, insisting that any involvement in “the system”, would be futile, a waste of energy, and serve only to legitimate its existence. This cut little ice with Sixties militants, who loved nothing more than staging a “demo” or occupying and trashing a vice-chancellor’s office.
Atheism. Another area where the Push was out of tune with the Sixties was its militant atheism and anti-transcendentalism. These arose inevitably out of Anderson’s philosophy, which insisted that there is only one level of being (this one) and that any thoughts otherwise were delusional. In contrast, the Sixties had considerable room for spirituality, divinity and transcendentalism, albeit often in unconventional and frequently superficial forms, as with the New Age Movement.
Dissolution. Inevitably, the Push attracted criticism, even from people associated with it. For them, it was simply a drunken gang of verbose poseurs, a fraternity of middle-class desperates, journalists, academic dropouts, gamblers, wannabe poets and novelists, girlfriends and hangers-on, as Barry Humphries observed. From the late 1960s onwards the men of the Push were often denounced by feminist members as unthinking sexists—an accusation that cut to the quick of the group’s self-image, as its basic ideological rationale was libertarian and militantly egalitarian, especially in the realm of sexual relations.
Deliverance. Ultimately, it was this feminist critique, the invention of the Pill and the ageing process that led to the dissolution of the Push, but not before it had provided the vital ideological and psychological foundations for the resolute individualism that came to characterise the culture of Sydney. For all its flaws and excesses, this may still be favourably compared to the collectivism and state-idolatry that has delivered Melbourne into the hands of a cadre of socialist apparatchiks and their grossly incompetent nomenklatura.
Epilogue. Towards the end of last century, Mary, an ex-member of the Push, was consulting a psychiatrist.
“Your problem,” the psychiatrist explained, “is that you’re going beyond acceptable social bounds in your sexual behaviour. You’re being … too voracious.”
“But doctor,” Mary protested, “my friends the Libertarians think just the opposite. They think my problem is that I’m sexually repressed and need to break out!”
“Mary, Mary,” sighed the psychiatrist, “the Libertarians are just a figment of your imagination.”
Mervyn Bendle contributed the literary piece “Medieval Monastic Mysteries” in the September issue