Philosophy & Ideas

The Melbourne Crisis and the Sydney Push

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

32 thoughts on “The Melbourne Crisis and the Sydney Push

  • guilfoyle says:

    Great article – totally fascinating. I might add that, while the prevailing view then (and remaining now) was to disparage the views of ASIO as expressed in the article, if you watch interviews with KGB agents of that time such as Yuri Bezmenov or Ion Pacepa -or the dissidents, such as Bukovsky, the student ‘activists’ and the academics actually were instruments of the Soviet Communist machine. Bezmenov was quite scathing about them – the scorn seemed to drop from his lips – he despised both the well-intentioned as both stupid and hypocritical as well as the academics who, he implied, were bought off by flattery, promotion and attention and gifts etc. He was interviewed in 1984 and basically validated the views that had been ridiculed and mischaracterised by the generation you describe.

  • davyddwilliams says:

    Essentially, the Sydney Push was a cult of the immature and insecure. Whereas the “common” people had bodgies and widgies, those who considered themselves their betters had the Push. Both groups celebrated their “difference” by rigid conformity; bodgies and widgies to a dress code and the Push to doctrines and practices.
    The Push, and Professor Anderson, wanted to tear down society and remake it; into what, and how, was never made quite clear. The main thing was to abandon the moral standards of the “Christian” society into which they had been born. Thus, atheism was an essential prerequisite for membership of the Push, as was drinking in workers pubs on the Sydney waterfront, and reckless fornication which was often followed by back street abortions.
    In the event, the Push succeeded in destroying society and remaking it into what it has become. Members of the Push, and its intellectual heirs, have, in succeeding decades, colonised all the once great institutions of our democracy – the media, the Church, the Law, the Parliaments and all educational institutions.
    The natural outcome of Professor Anderson’s world view, and that of the Sydney Push, is the world we live in, characterised by the denial of individual freedom, social division and disorder, almost totalitarian government control and widespread confusion, fear and anxiety amongst citizens.
    The lesson that is to be learned is that we should never change direction unless we know where we are going.

  • davyddwilliams says:

    Essentially, the Sydney Push was a cult of the immature and insecure. Whereas the “common” people had bodgies and widgies, those who considered themselves their betters had the Push. Both groups celebrated their “difference” by rigid conformity; bodgies and widgies to a dress code and the Push to doctrines and practices.
    The Push, and Professor Anderson, wanted to tear down society and remake it; into what, and how, was never made quite clear. The main thing was to abandon the moral standards of the “Christian” society into which they had been born. Thus, atheism was an essential prerequisite for membership of the Push, as was drinking in workers pubs on the Sydney waterfront, and reckless fornication which was often followed by back street abortions.
    In the event, the Push succeeded in destroying society and remaking it into what it has become. Members of the Push, and its intellectual heirs, have, in succeeding decades, colonised all the once great institutions of our democracy – the media, the Church, the Law, the Parliaments and all educational institutions.
    The natural outcome of Professor Anderson’s world view, and that of the Sydney Push, is the world we live in, characterised by the denial of individual freedom, social division and disorder, almost totalitarian government control and widespread confusion, fear and anxiety amongst citizens.
    The lesson that is to be learned is that we should never change direction unless we know where we are going.

  • Elizabeth Beare says:

    If you were hanging around the pubs and universities in the early sixties as I was in those days, Sydney and Melbourne did have a different ‘feel’ in terms of the intellectual culture of each city. The Sydney ‘Push’ were a self-styled elite, rigid and scathing of outsiders, although attracting a coterie of followers as the years went by. The old identities of the late fifties and ’61 and ’62 became a sort of historical backdrop to a wider group of drinkers and thinkers, especially after the old Royal George and its special ‘back room’ folded around 1964, my first year at SU, although I had been to The George in 1962 and 1963 and to some of the parties at that time. The university demographic explosion had just started, which changed things. The New Left was rising with the folk music of ’65.. I’d moved on to the Criterion Hotel for Friday drinks, and then drank at the Newcastle, down near the Quay. Melbourne I only knew from a few visits. It had always seemed more overtly political, Marxist and union aware. Sydney was Glebe and Balmain, and Melbourne was Carlton and Fitzroy. Sydney’s old Push was dramatic, encompassing SUDS, and Melbourne’s ‘crowd’ was poetic, more like Lorengrini’s used to be in Sydney in 1960, still ‘beatnik’ with velvet sleeves. Those are my memories anyway and Sydney by that time was my city. I can read the Wikipedia entry on the Push and know, as ships in the night, or know of, a number of the names mentioned. Others I knew are not mentioned, such Kep Enderby, later a QC, and Ken Buckley, who owned the party house of Bogle Chandler fame in Phoebe Street, Balmain where I saw in NYE 1963. Frank Moorehouse’s book ‘Days of Wine and Rage’ captures a lot of it well in retrospect from the 1970’s.

    The world of ‘the Push’ was a small world in a much smaller town than Sydney became by 1964. Like the Melbourne comics, the aim was to shock, to confront suburban dreariness. It was thus intoxicating and dangerous if you were young like me, and I knew I was always someone on the margins of it. Some of the old haunts lasted longer, especially the cheap restaurants. The Greeks, and the Malaya at Central. Beppis for a fancy spend up after a race win with one of the punters.

  • Ian MacDougall says:

    “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.”
    As a sometime habitué of the Royal George and Push identity, close friend of push identities Terry McMullen, Dick ‘Appo’ Appleton and Albie Thom, I can speak with some experience if not authority on those subjects, though I confess I know little of the Melbourne Push. Though I never identified as such, they mainly professed anarchism, eschewed political organisation of any kind, and voted informal in elections. That never appealed to me. But I must confess that with the passing years I have found Australians adopting more and more of the attitudes found only in the late 1950s and earl 1960s in Push circles.
    THE big accelerator was the war in Vietnam, morally on a par with the Nazi assault on Poland in WW2. That split Australia over conscription, and encouraged the mass adoption and wearing of outward and visible signs of an inward and spiritual antiwar and anticonscription grace (based on Archbishop Thomas Cranmer’s original expression, not mine.) Pukkah gear from Fletcher Jones et al gave way to denim all round: as faded and as ripped as you like. I am surprised that Merv Bendle apparently overlooked the role of the Vietnam War in the rise of the Counterculture, for which the Push identities were definitely pioneers.
    “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.”
    For the record, McGuinness definitely yes, though he finished up as Editor of Quadrant. (I put that down to an excess of Catholicism in his youth.) John Kerr was once a Trotskyist and close associate of Nick Origlass. Nick became arguably the most expelled political leader in Australia’s history, but Kerr was never to my knowledge ever a Pushite. And those contemporaries of mine at Sydney University, Robert Hughes, Clive James and Les Murray (and I spent a lot of time in the company of the latter two) were definitely not Pushites. James was on his way to a media career, and Murray was on his way into Catholicism, and against the flow that carried McGuinness the other way and out of it.
    But the great unifier of them all was free thought, which was practiced by all of them to a greater or lesser extent. Where adherence to ideology and religion stifled it, the Libertarians had free thought for 3 meals a day.
    The classical Greeks were the pioneers of free thought. Ironically the great religious teachers were practitioners of it, too; but within the confines of a received canon of religious ideas. So Moses, Yeshua bar Joseph (aka Jesus Christ) and the rest were unavoidably if possibly unconscious hypocrites, pracising ‘do as I say; not as I do.’
    The Pushites were genuine freethinkers, translating to ‘I reckon we should do as I suggest. But if you’ve got a better idea, let’s hear it.’ And towering over the whole scene was the figure of the legendary John Anderson.


  • ianl says:

    Well written and entertaining nostalgia. Elizabeth Beare’s comment above is an evocative (partial) stream of consciousness of the early 60’s in Sydney that I easily acknowledge.

    Now ?

    >” … tear down society and remake it; into what, and how, was never made quite clear”. Again. This time with woke Covid.

  • Ian MacKenzie says:

    The shiny veneer of the Emerald City, now an exercise in phonebooth stuffing, or East Berlin on the Yarra? No thanks.

  • Tony Tea says:

    Fascinating read, Merv. Hats off.
    What about the other Split: the ALP/DLP one? Would things have shaken out different down here in Viktoria had the Coalition not been running the show in Canberra and the Libs not been sitting pretty in Victoria for so long?

  • STD says:

    Wonderfully enlightening – now all the garbage makes sense, thanks Merv and commenters.

  • Elizabeth Beare says:

    Mervyn, re your ‘tale’ of a Mary. I knew a Mary, a very beautiful girl aka Mary-Belle, who hung around in some Push circles in the mid-60’s, just before her mentor and friend Germaine went to the UK. Mary told us that Germaine’s forthcoming book was to be called ‘The Female Eunuch’, and I recall being rather shocked by the title, as I was hitting my socio-biology straps at that time and standing up to some emergent feminists who said women were no different from men (apart from being female, that is). A few years younger than me, Mary graduated with honours in Arts with me in 1967. I saw her a couple of times after that but we lost touch. We both had children by the early 70’s. Like me, she came from the Western Suburbs, but from a less chaotic family, and she finished high school, which I did not, until doing the Day Matric in 1963 off my own bat. Mary-Belle married away from the Push, and I often wonder how her life went after that. I married (an unthinkable thing to do in the late 60’s) into some of the Push’s toxic cultural remnants, the ‘counter-culture’, the anti-Vietnam and ‘freedom’ drug-addled times . Holding a marriage and children together in that environment was a losing battle. Mine ended in 1976.

    Looking back on that period, and the origins of ‘the Push’, I am reminded of Paula McLean’s fascinating novel ‘The Paris Wife’, the reimagined story of Hadley Richardson, Ernest Hemingway’s first wife. McLean aptly recreates from Hadley’s viewpoint the ‘Moveable Feast’ of free-thinkers that was Hemingway’s 1920’s Paris, where on a broader canvas a cultural milieu of international writers and artists existed on the Left Bank, with tentacles into The Rich – think Zelda and Scotty- on the other side of the Seine. McLean dissects how holding a marriage together was similarly impossible in the ‘free thought’ of those times.

    That said, I cannot discount the individual nature of love and relationships as also a part of the mix. 🙂

  • Elizabeth Beare says:

    Ian Mac – I loved your link to the story of the forked Jacaranda in the Quad as recounted to you by Milo Roxon. The tree’s blooming was always a signal that you had to cease partying and do some study for exams, because old SU was Oxbridge and nothing but exams counted. The best way, I have come around to thinking, after seeing academia move to an inglorious ‘continuous asessment’ of purchased and plagiarised essays. SU today is a horror that defies description. Well, the Arts Faculty anyway.

    I knew Milo Roxon and many of the 60’s philosophers. I was surprised though when Milo recognised me in the quad well over ten years ago now and stopped me to say that I was right in holding fast during one impassioned debate in the early 70’s to the fact that men and women were different in mind and being as well as in body; the body issue at least appearing quite apparent because I was at that time nine months pregnant. If he ever reads this, then he will certainly know who I am. A rose by any other name, etc. 🙂

  • Ian MacDougall says:

    Glad you liked the story, though it was not told to me by Milo, but by Len Schroeder (ex AIF) who as I said might have been a participant.
    I might also take this opportunity to recount a humourous story about Paddy McGuinness, a core Push member who afterwards became Editor in Chief of this very august Quadrant, in the days pre-Internet.
    Paddy and some of his friends attended some confab or other at the WEA (Workers’ Educational Association) Camp at Newport, which as you will no doubt recall, was a residential conference centre; possibly still is. I forget what the occasion was, but it was around the year 1960.
    It had been a hot day, followed by a meal and much drinking on the part of the participants. So McGuinness, Ian Parker (a rather sad alcoholic) some other bloke decided at around midnight to go for a walk down to Newport Beach, about a mile away as I recall. When they got there, McGuinness chose to go for a swim, totally starkers. He peeled off his clothes, raced in and enjoyed the surf immensely. But when he got out again, he found that Parker and the other bloke had skedaddled, taking all his clothes with them.
    So McGuinness had to make his way back to the WEA camp, through the well-lit streets of Newport, stark naked, finding whatever cover he could, and perhaps dodging the odd police patrol car. By the time he got back to the WEA Camp, and was able to gird his loins again, he was absolutely ropeable, and abused the bejasus out of all and sundry. That, needless to add, did not have the effect McGuinness intended, but only added to the mirth; which unfortunately McGuinness was never able to join and participate in as he would have, had he been involved in the prank otherwise, and not as victim and laughing-stock.
    As Henry Lawson would have said: Ah well.

  • BalancedObservation says:

    So much stuff to ponder here, especially on the differences between Sydney and Melbourne – a subject which intrigues me. ( I’m fascinated by differences between states/cities in Australia because there are remarkably few when you compare Australia with many other countries. But they do exist.)

    Of course most of the people who wrote from an intellectual perspective about our culture didn’t get out as much as most Aussies did.

    They spent more of their time indoors reading books, mostly written in other countries – and talking to others in their narrow groups who did the same. Arguably it’s a limiting factor on the insights they might bring about our culture. However that’s not to discount it totally. After all its these same sorts of people who are relied on everywhere as our chroniclers.

    There are obviously insights to be gleaned. There are opinions to use to seemingly back up one’s own prejudices if you want to look selectively enough at all this stuff that’s been written. It’s a lot of fun. I’m always grateful to those who put their precious time into researching this stuff for us – regardless of the conclusions they reach.

    However I can’t agree that any of this stuff ‘helps explain why Victoria has come to subject itself to a long period of lumpen-Marxist socialism under Dan Andrews …” I reckon that’s fanciful. Victoria is simply not a Marxist state – whatever effect these Marxist influences were supposed to have had. Victorians are far too sensible to persistently vote in a Marxist government.

    Victoria was once very widely, probably universally, regarded for many years as the jewel in the crown of the Liberal Party after all. And that was after all these supposedly Marxist influences had been at work.

  • Lonsdale says:

    I liked OZ.

  • Elizabeth Beare says:

    Sorry, Ian. Checking back, mea culpa, I see ’twas Milo who told you about how the Senate decided to handle Anderson’s unlooked for impact on Sydnety’s morals and Shroeder who came up with the ‘bomb’ in the jacaranda solution. A man in 1961 who, like Shroeder was one of those ex-army post-war SU attendees who had no time for Anderson, was something of an early mentor to me. This was not a romance in any way though, for by 1962 I had taken up with a Push member working at the ABC who was a great Anderson fan. Interestingly, both men encouraged me to aspire to SU via matriculation. I’d no idea that Commonwealth Scholarships existed and that you get one by private study. By the mid-sixties my earlier mentor had sold a profitable business and was a millionaire. By then I had lost contact with him and my ABC friend, becoming immersed by the mid-60’s in SU’s New Left during the Vietnam protest years. Re Paddy McGuiness, he was known more to my sister who also did the Day Matric and followed me to SU. Paddy was a friend of her second husband (she had five), and both he and Paddy were later to turn to the political right, as Keith Windschuttle could confirm re both of them. The remnant Push network in the early 70’s, including my by-then first husband, was small enough to swap goods and Paddy’s baby ended up sleeping in my first baby’s basinette; we had such things in those days and mine with its gingham and lace frills always looked awfully out of place in a Glebe student house under posters of Che Guevara. I guess Hadley Hemingway felt similarly in 1920’s Paris. I saw Paddy’s daughter on TV the other night and realised how old she would, be doing that calculation. Poor girl; no secrets. 🙂

  • James Franklin says:

    Well done from Mervyn. The relevant chapter of Corrupting the Youth is here, if anyone wishes to read further

  • BalancedObservation says:

    I find the comments here quite stimulating. First hand accounts always trump those of the theorists for me. Thank you for these contributions. It stimulates wonderful memories of those times.

    However I think these intellectual groups tended to exaggerate their importance as an influence on our culture. To me statements like “… the Push succeeded in destroying society and remaking it into what it has become” is a huge exaggeration of their influence.

    In a sense we’d been artificially constrained by an English middle class “morality”. A morality that didn’t seem to infect the upper or lower classes nearly as much in the UK as it seemed to in Australia. In Australia it was quite stultifying and narrow for many. People like Barry Humphries and Clive James actually fled to the UK to avoid it.

    Ironic in a way because the roots of that middle class narrowness actually originated in the UK – but it’s applicability across classes wasn’t as apparent as it was in Australia. So there was room for them to develop their artistic potential and have it appreciated in the UK. The market for what they had was far bigger in the UK too.

    However in the process they missed a lot of good stuff here which went on after they left Australia, in the 70s for example.

    But I feel underneath it all that middle class morality was never really us, with our convict larrikin background, laid back approach to life and early ideas of a fair go and an affection for the underdog and the less well off. Yet that morality still held sway at a political level and was reflected in even small things like 6 o’clock closing of pubs. Something for example which was arguably quite contrary to the inner Aussie character.

    So we were poised to break out anyway. These intellectual groups may have had some influence but it was exaggerated largely by them.

    Arguably the really concrete influences for change in our society were far more mundane and included the following, not necessarily in order : the pill, higher levels of education, increasing wealth, the Whitlam Labor government, increasing use of the motor vehicle and international travel and immigration.

    Growing up in inner city St Kilda in Melbourne I saw first hand the enormous influence of immigration on our culture. From food and cafe life, to theatre, to ideas. I don’t think the influence of migrants from around the 1950s onwards on our ideas has been fully appreciated, like it has in the other more obvious areas like food etc.

  • andrew2 says:

    Being Gen X and living in Newcastle, having a lot of disdain for Sydney, I find the positive nostalgia displayed in the comments horrific.

    A number of young women work for my business and they all have the same problem, no guys want to commit to a permanent relationship. They have to be dragged into it, or entrapped through pregnancy, or be happy being a single mother.

    This is the landscape that came from “freedom” of the 60’s. I see this a lot among baby boomers that I hang around with. They glorified their youth and never repent for the destruction they caused.

  • BalancedObservation says:

    Of course the intellectual groups themselves thought they were enormously influential.
    However let me give you a very minor illustration of the how the influences of these sorts of groups referred to here were actually exaggerated. They spent a lot of time influencing each other but having less influence on the wider community. My example is very minor but I think nevertheless illustrative

    I went with my partner to an absolutely amazing performance in Melbourne’s La Mama theatre in the 1970s. It was a performance called “Smog Poetics”, where people recited poetry, sang folk songs, gave speeches, told stories etc – most with a fairly strong political message. A wine flagon was passed around the audience.

    However the quality of the performances was extraordinarily high. Far higher than in some well-heeled theatre group you might find on say Sydney’s North Shore.

    The place was packed to the rafters with a very enthusiastic audience. When I entered with my partner there was thunderous applause for something which we thought we’d apparently just missed. I asked a woman next to me: “What was that about?”. She said: ” You two. You’re the first paying customers tonight!”

    Apparently the widely advertised event had failed to connect with the wider community. Those present were all performers or event organizers. They were all influencing or perhaps confirming each other’s political views but obviously having little impact on the wider community.

    I don’t relate this story to disparage the event. It was incredibly good, unpretentious but of enormously high quality.

  • andrew2 says:

    Balanced Observation, similar things are occurring right now. I recently stumbled across some magnificent young musicians from Newcastle who independently fund their own music productions to put them on Spotify, Soundcloud etc. They participate in podcasts and collaborate with each other, yet their music does not get the wider recognition it deserves. It is something that they are aware of. One singer recently left our city to try and activate her career in Sydney, so we lost a wonderful young woman out of our community.

    In some respects there is no better time than now to have art accepted by your local community. It is far easier to learn the skills needed thanks to endless online tutorials and resources. The ease with which it can be created and distributed is incredible compared to even 10 years ago. You can have a professional quality Digital Audio Workstation in your bedroom.

    With apps like Spotify, the requirement to create music suitable for commercial radio is over (the trick was always to produce a song that kept people listening to the radio until the advertisements started). However, to nurture talent there has to be a hyper-localised passion for that talent so the algorithms can be beaten. Rather than being elitist, as the “push” seem to have been, the key is to be parochial.

  • BalancedObservation says:


    Thanks for your comment.

    There were predictions back in the early 1970s that micro computers would bring freedoms and possibilities for greater democracy that were not then available. Our phones are the microcomputers of today. They haven’t quite met the democratic promise held out then but there are new possibilities they do bring and technology and the internet bring.

    What you’re saying is part of that for music. It can be freeing and open possibilities. Of course there’s also been criticism that it’s deprived artists of revenue as well. I guess that’s still playing out now.

    These are powerful social influences today. Some of them negative, some positive. We often read about the negative impacts of social media but less about the positive ones like those you’ve mentioned. It may give greater power to smaller cities and regions. Greater power for individuals to express themselves artistically directly to their audience.

    I’ve been amazed in recent times at what’s on YouTube for example. There’s a lot of slick expensively mass produced stuff not unlike our major media offerings but there are also quite a few high quality offerings for fairly niche markets from individuals. I’ve been watching a lot of travel ones. It’s now possible for very modestly resourced individuals to connect to a mass market. This has great potential as you imply.

    It also presents potential for highly talented individuals to access a mass market without the backing of elites or without being part of some elitist group. That’s directly relevant to the supposed influence of elites mentioned in this article.

    I also believe it’s a potential long term threat to media empires. Obviously it’s already massively affected newspapers but I think we’ve only just seen the start of that threat so far. The media bargaining laws the government was pressured into legislating were aimed to protect legacy media not to protect the quality of journalism as their proponents argued. However they’ll probably be counter productive for both aims.

    On a slightly different tack Gutenberg publications online can be seen as part of those new social influences bringing valuable publications and opinions free to individuals. There’s a very interesting publication relevant to this article available free online which was written around the 1850s which addresses ( among other things) the cultural and social differences between Sydney and Melbourne in those times. For me many of the same differences outlined in the book are still recognizable in 2021.

    The book is called “Town Life in Australia” by R. E. N. Twopeny.

    It’s available free online at:

  • Elizabeth Beare says:

    Andrew2, I hope my story in comments of how impossible it became to have a normal married life was a clue to how damaging the general ideology promulgated by the Push and similar ‘free thinking’ eras concerning sexuality became to women in particular. Any nostalgia about the Push relates largely to people’s ‘coming of age’ experiences during a period of rather stultifying social conformism in the wider Australian society. The Push was just an early signal to the social and demographic whirlwind to come. Young women seeking husbands in their later reproductive years from free-wheeling men is just one sad result of the feminist outlook that overtook the world from the 70’s to the present, where marriage and having babies was a back-burner issue. In fact, it is the main game for most women and always will be. Two marriages, four children, six grandchildren, a career of sorts and the experiences I have seen for many women have all led me to that conclusion.

  • bendle1 says:

    Dear Elizabeth Beare, you and the other valued interlocutors here may find interesting an article that will shortly be submitted to QI for consideration on “All you need is … Love? The Rise & Fall of Love in the Sixties”

  • andrew2 says:

    Elizabeth, thanks. I appreciated those comments. It is difficult to segregate natural love for youthful life from social movements that have ultimately wreaked havoc on younger generations.
    It was always the responsibility of older generations to create appropriate social situations for the younger generations to meet and form relationships. Before my time, it used to be dance halls, where my wife’s parents met at a Catholic youth dance. By the time of my youthful days, all that was long gone. Those halls now sit as an empty relic of abandoned responsibility, never to be taken up again.
    A number of years ago I helped create a Eucharistic Adoration group, the leadership of which was taken up by some young local men. Within a few weeks, a larger number of young women started showing up. It was quite obvious that the young women were looking for good young Catholic guys to form relationships with. At least one marriage came about from that group. There is something wholesome about seeing young love flourish. Like being a fan cheering on your favourite sporting team, you can share in the joy without stepping outside your appropriate place. Today, with dissolution of marriages, their is a perverse desire to take that young love for oneself rather than see it grow in it’s rightful place, among the young. It is vampiric.
    The group continued for a number of years but with no subtle and humble assistance from elders, the changing faces of the youth brigade meant it would ultimately fizzle out.
    I really don’t get what Baby Boomers are about. Like my discussion with BalancedObservation above demonstrates, so much life and culture can be sustained with just a simple plan and a desire from an organising committee of elders to be the stake in the ground needed for the stability for life and culture to flourish. What are the Baby Boomers doing with all their spare time? They should have so much of it now.

  • andrew2 says:

    Balanced Observation, I think the internet has created new gatekeepers/middlemen, which requires a new mode of commercialising creative works. These middlemen also need to have their power moderated.
    Spotify does and doesn’t care what type of music is produced. For the free version of the app, like radio, it needs content that keeps people listening through the advertisements. For the paid version, it also needs niche communities and playlists that would be hard or impossible to achieve through previous distribution channels ie. you need to keep paying your monthly subscription to keep access to your music community.
    Artists are crowdfunding the production of their art. “Right Wing” comic artists such as Ethan Van Scriver had astounding success raising money through IndieGoGo ($720,000 from 8,500 backers) for his breakaway Cyberfrog comics after DC/Marvel went “woke”. He made more money than most paid comic artists, who looked along with a lot of jealousy.
    Production houses like Vox Day’s Castilia House/UnauthorizedTV/Arkhaven Comics are able to generate profit by bringing in artists who have a stable 10,000 + fanbase and who provide monthly subscriptions and fundraise for artwork that they want to see produced. Vox Day spearheaded a reprint of the pre-woke 1918 version of the Collier Junior Classics children stories and raised $803,000 from 1910 backers.
    There is definitely money to be had from a small number of very committed supporters/backers.

  • BalancedObservation says:


    You seem to be a caring person to me Andrew but I think you’re rather harsh on baby boomers.

    I notice that has been a trend in the Fairfax press before and after the change of ownership. There has been a fairly regular flow of articles which have been negative towards baby boomers.

    I’m not suggesting you’re part of that particular trend but just pointing it out.

    I’d like to relate a beautiful story about what a couple of baby boomers did in Bendigo recently.

    They contacted a toy shop there and paid off all the lay-by accounts which had outstanding balances. Most would have been for Christmas presents. Now these days most people who put something on lay-by are likely to be less well off. Others would simply use credit cards or the necessary cash. So the baby boomers would have known they’d generally be helping the less well off.

    And that’s how it turned out according to the toy shop owner when he called to tell people what had happened and they didn’t need to pay any more. A number were in tears and so grateful because they were wondering where they’d find the money to make the final payments before Christmas.

    The couple who made the payments didn’t post their photos to Instagram to let everyone know what they did or anything like that. They wanted to remain anonymous. In the publicity-seeking generations of today that’s a pretty rare approach. It’s something you’re more likely to find in older generations. Among baby boomers.

  • BalancedObservation says:


    I’ll be looking with interest to see what that article ” All you need is … Love? The Rise & Fall of Love in the Sixties”, contains.

    The above story I related is an example of love.

    There’s a tendency by some to relate the word love simply to sexual or romantic love. Or to disparage the use of the word love by some.

    My view is in today’s world there’s a tendency to undervalue love in all its glorious forms.

  • BalancedObservation says:

    Andrew 2

    Gatekeepers or intermediaries have always been a part of free enterprise economies. They can become a problem when they are monopolists or partial monopolists.

    They’re certainly not something new. Venice for example was build on the wealth of traders, intermediaries or gatekeepers.

    I don’t see the word gatekeeper necessarily as a pejorative term.

    The media bargaining code legislation was an exquisite example of moderation backed largely by our local media near monopolists against international ones. It looks like it’s turning out to be a big fizzer.

  • andrew2 says:

    Yes I am harsh on them and sometimes deliberately so. I have nothing to do with the Fairfax press so I’m not influenced by them. Slightly influenced by Vox Day’s comments regarding the “day of the pillow” that awaits the Baby Boomers. They should all be a bit concerned about the appetite for Euthanasia in our society.

    But it is more from impartial observance of the generation and it’s effect (my parents were pre-Boomer, and I am Gen-X so I have no emotional attachment to that generation).

    The Baby Boomers are the biggest voting block, so our politics is their politics. The Baby Boomers didn’t pass the culture down from their parents so our culture is their culture. The Baby Boomers abandoned religion so our spirituality is their spirituality. The Baby Boomers didn’t mind house prices rising relative to household income so our housing crisis is their housing crisis. Even regarding this pandemic. They are the age group where risk of death from the virus is significant. They could have stood for freedom and demanded that those of working age be allowed to be free while they voluntarily lock themselves away, but we all had to be dragged into this totalitarian nightmare.

    Their level of direct charity pales into insignificance in comparison to their virtue signalling and legacy they are leaving for Western culture and for the world.

    Now this isn’t hatred of Baby Boomers, it is frustration! I still hope they wake up. In one conversation I had with a Baby Boomer, I said I hoped they would return to the Church as they retire and have more free time to see death looming closer. She completely disagreed and said that “we are more likely to turn to Buddhism”. I think she was more right than me.

    In the conversation above, I still hope that they will use some of their free time to create frameworks for young people to live good lives rather than relying on Tinder or pubs. See how John Anderson was able to influence a younger generation. You guys could help restore things. All those empty that you can rent for $20 an hour from the Scouts or local council.

    Please give me some cultural examples of what Baby Boomers are doing for younger generations and not for themselves.

    I’ll give you another example of the type of thing young people look for. A local group here created a thing called a “Frassati Society”. It was based on a young Italian Catholic man, Pier Giorgio Frassati who loved the outdoors and providing direct help to the poor, so much so that he died young of polio. The group pursued outdoor adventure coupled with prayer and charity. The Baby Boomers who run our Diocese will have been well aware of this group and could have helped it to be sustainable (as young people inevitably grow up and move on) but they didn’t and it died.

  • andrew2 says:

    Correction: last line of third last paragraph should have been “All those empty halls…”

  • Rebekah Meredith says:

    I think you’re a little too harsh, Andrew, especially considering that many of the readers and contributors to this magazine are boomers who are NOT fans of the panicdemic, current politics, etc. (though some, in their youth, would have contributed to the slide to where we are today.) But I certainly sympathize with your frustration. Just as it is possible to say that women have helped degrade our moral standards and that millenials are often lazy and wimpy, without blaming every individual in those groups (in both of which I am), it is possible to say that baby boomers have helped lead to our current state without blaming every individual. I have felt betrayed by previous generations, who allowed things to get to the state that they’re now in–in morals, socialism, and so on–without doing enough to fight it; again, I speak of the whole, without accusing every individual.
    I don’t think that the older generations initiated the idea that the rest of the population should be sacrificed to save them from the wuflu; but I agree that more of them should have said, “Don’t do it!” At one time, I was puzzled how people who went through the Depression and the War could have become so cowardly. Then I realized that most of the current older people didn’t go through those experiences; most of those who did, like my mother’s parents, are gone (or largely invisible, in nursing homes). It’s the baby boomers–the ones who DIDN’T go through those fiery trials, who grew up with the materialism of the prosperous post-war years–who make up most of our current older people.
    Then again–it was that tough war generation who raised them. Perhaps, after all, that generation bears a lot of the blame for spoiling their children instead of teaching them what they’d learned?

  • Lonsdale says:

    Andrew2, you should be writing for the magazine.

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