Censorship, Vietnam and the Politics of Gore

not even the dead

Today, revelations have emerged that Facebook censored famous image ‘The Terror of War’ – otherwise known as ‘Napalm Girl’ – citing its policy of not allowing nude imagery. This move, called out by the Norwegian journalists who first posted the image, reminds me of attempts to censor brutal images from the Vietnam War during the conflict itself. These images were seen as particularly powerful by anti-war activists, while they were condemned as pornographic by the same governments who were inflicting the violence pictured. Recently, plenty of scholars have begun writing on the uses of images of suffering and violence by humanitarian organisations, so I have posted a condensed section of one of the chapters of my book Transnational Protest, Australia and the 1960s: Global Radicals that deals with this question in Australia, and the troubled relationship activists had with what has been termed ‘the politics of gore’.


Eric Norden’s American Atrocities in Vietnam

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#CorbynofCairns: Rob Pyne and the history of Far North Queensland radicalism


State Member of Cairns Rob Pyne’s resignation from the Labor Party in March 2016, leaving the Palaszczuk government on an equal footing with the LNP in State parliament, soon saw him branded as a product of the “State of Mind” afflicting Far North Queensland – a “cargo cult mentality” as one commentator put it that saw regionalist pork barrelling take precedence over ideas and political realism.

It is widely believed that Queensland has a peculiar “state of mind” – as Humphrey McQueen first put it in the late 1970s – but it is said to get more peculiar, and reactionary, the further you travel north. Today, this is perhaps best embodied by Bob Katter, the eccentric federal member for Kennedy whose mix of agrarian socialism and reactionary social ideas – there are no gays in his electorate, apparently – is said to typify the North’s tepid concoction of state-subsidised conservatism. News today that nine out of the country’s ten most conservative electorates lie in regional Queensland fits well into this narrative.

Continue reading “#CorbynofCairns: Rob Pyne and the history of Far North Queensland radicalism”

“The wrong side of the river”: Expo ’88 and the Right to the City

Text of a talk I gave at the Right to the City/Brisbane Free Uni organised ‘More that Steel and Concrete’ event, held at the Bearded Lady on 31 May 2016


I was invited here tonight to give some thoughts on the history of struggles in West End and surrounds against over development. Just by way of introduction, I am a historian of social movements. I did a PhD a few years back at UQ, looking at Australian protest movements of the 1960s/70s and their global imagination and connections. Currently, I am writing a history of human rights discourse in Australia. What we call ‘Urban history’ figures large in my writing. I’m interested in how people imagine their city and construct meaning of it, particularly through what Henri Lefebvre, who coined the term ‘right to the city’, calls ‘producing spaces’ of opposition and contestation.

My comments will revolve around some documents I have looked at recently in the Fryer Library at UQ on opposition to Expo 88. In so doing, I want to explore what this opposition was, who was involved, what they wanted, and whether they can be seen to have succeeded in any meaningful way. But equally, I want to look at the experience of opposing Expo as a case study in how the past informs activism, and draw some general conclusions on what place ‘the past’ has in contemporary social movements – particularly the importance of historical memory but also the danger of what social scientists call ‘over-likeness’. Continue reading ““The wrong side of the river”: Expo ’88 and the Right to the City”

Global Radicals: The Transnational Imagination of Australian Sixties Activists

Imperial & Global Forum

Third World Bookshop. ©Russ Grayson, pacific-edge.info Third World Bookshop. ©Russ Grayson, pacific-edge.info

Jon Piccini
University of Queensland
Follow on Twitter @JonPiccini

Ever since 2009, when the so called ‘Green Revolution’ in Iran mobilised disenchantment over rigged electoral processes via social media websites such as Twitter and Facebook, pundits have marveled at the ‘hashtag revolutionaries’ of the 21st century. Hashtags such as #BlackLivesMatter and #RhodesMustFall have come to define movements for African American dignity and the decolonisation of higher education, while the media have awarded popular ‘tweeters’ such as Deray Mckesson spokesperson positions in these otherwise leaderless movements.

However, some dispute the level to which these websites and social media celebrities were central to protest organisation, and broader questions of temporality are equally posed. The marvelling in Twitter’s spontaneous and instantaneous communication leaves little allowance for previous forms of transnational communication that, while perhaps not as quick or easily mediatised, created global movements long before the…

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Four theses on ‘green bans’ and the contemporary right to the city

Photo: Rennie Ellis. http://www.rennieellis.com.au

The ‘right to the city’ is back on the agenda. In Brisbane, hundreds rallied this past Saturday against rapacious development in the city’s migrant and student heavy West End. In Melbourne, houses resumed for the construction of a now scrapped tunnel in Collingwood are being occupied by the homeless. These and other movements are asking questions: why is Australia’s construction boom – a part of the shift from the mining industry to other forms of investment – leaving so many out? Why are high-rises being built, and left largely vacant, while people go without shelter at night? And why are ordinary people in the suburbs these towers are being constructed, over whom giant cranes now perpetually linger, being left out of the debate on how they want to live?

Similar questions were being asked forty years ago in Australia. In Brisbane, freeway construction was threatening inner-city working class suburbs with destruction. In Sydney and Melbourne, rapacious development was similarly remaking inner suburbs and CBDs with new construction. The value of construction projects approved throughout Australia increased from $1.7 billion in 1966 to $2.9 billion only 5 years later. Historic suburbs were threatened – Carlton in Melbourne and the Rocks in Sydney – yet the concurrent demand for labour also made this a prime time for construction unions to flourish. The Builders Labourer’s Federation in NSW, and the federal equivalent based in Victoria, both gained in members and power during this period, allowing the NSW branch in particular to re-think the role of unionism and to successfully challenge building booms that put profits ahead of people through a famous campaign of ‘green bans’.

Continue reading “Four theses on ‘green bans’ and the contemporary right to the city”

Three things the 1967 Referendum tells us about a potential same-sex marriage plebiscite

It seems that the vast majority of Australian progressive opinion is against a plebiscite on same-sex marriage. It will be divisive, costly and give conservative forces like the Australian Christian Lobby and its handful of parliamentary backers significantly more air than they deserve. Many campaigners would have the government simply pass the changes through parliament, and avoid this mess.

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#TheRighttotheCity: The Battle for Bowen Hills, 1972-5

Recent discussions on the Brisbane left have brought the idea of the ‘Right to City‘ back to public prominence. A spirited conference was recently held to discuss the issue, and the reclaiming of public space outside the Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital to stop the deportation of baby Asha has led to some reflecting on spaces of encounter and politicisation. So, we have decided to put up a few posts over the next few weeks and months considering the successes and failings of previous Brisbane movements who fit within what we would now call the Right to the City


On Monday, 3rd of June 1973 twenty police with a sledgehammer descended on 13 Markwell Street, Bowen Hills. They were responding to a group of protestors, who had occupied the building a day earlier. Promised to the housing commission, it had been left idle by the State Government’s Main Roads Department (MRD) for months, who had resumed it as part of freeway construction. That the house was not needed for freeway construction in the short term meant little, the house still had to go. As activists put it at the time, “The Main Roads Department’s determination to see this house remain empty or demolished has no rational foundation.”

So, three activists decided to do what the government wouldn’t – occupy the house, make it habitable, and turn it over to one of the many families then being made homeless by Government freeway construction. The cops, who didn’t appreciate such moral arguments, “grabbed the three and forcibly threw them out the door”.

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“Malcolm X Exploded in My Mind”: The Transnational Imagination of Australian Indigenous Activists

My latest on the international imagination of Australian indigenous activists, then and now.

Imperial & Global Forum

The Black Power salute given by Chicka Dixon, Paul Coe and Bob McLeod Source: Audio Visual Archive, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Canberra. Courtesy of the National Museum Australia website. The Black Power salute given by Aboriginal activists Chicka Dixon, Paul Coe, and Bob McLeod in 1972. Source: Audio Visual Archive, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Canberra. Courtesy of the National Museum Australia website.

Jon Piccini
University of Queensland
Follow on Twitter @JonPiccini

Recently, an upturn in indigenous struggles in Australia have seen the legacies of colonialism and genocide forced back onto the national radar. Protests against the closure of indigenous communities, the continued forced removal of Aboriginal children by welfare agencies, and the birth of youth-led groups like Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance (WAR) are but a few examples of this. Instead of the sanitised government-sponsored campaign to ‘Recognise’ indigenous peoples in the Australian constitution, many of these activists are looking back to the global struggles of the 1960s and 1970s for their political inspiration.

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#shutdownRSD, progressive activism and the border – a historical perspective

Wendy Brown, in Walled States, Waning Sovereignty argues that globalisation has not seen the dissolution of national boundaries, but rather the reinvigorated imposition of technologies of exclusion. Governments have responded to the loss of their practical powers with what the author terms the “theatricalized and spectacularized performance of sovereign power”. In the Australian context, being ‘girt by sea’, this has meant enforcing technologies of immigration restriction and exclusion against unwanted migrants and visitors.

In the 1970s, those being barred were new leftists, black militants and women’s liberationists, and activists responded with public calls for the open movement of people and ideas across borders. Today, however, it seems the opposite is the case. Recently a host of individuals have been excluded, at least partially at the behest of Australian progressives, mobilising through friendly members of the political class and social media.

Continue reading “#shutdownRSD, progressive activism and the border – a historical perspective”

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