(Re)thinking 1968 and its legacy in Australia

Evan Smith, Jon Piccini

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Did Australia have a 1968? This might at first seem a fairly counterintuitive question. None dispute the year’s significance: a new Prime Minister took the reins after Harold Holt’s disappearance off Cheviot beach, the Vietnamese Tet Offensive shattered myths of American superiority, W. E. H. Stanner’s Boyer Lectures broke the “great Australian silence”, and the nation’s first Women’s Liberation group formed. Yet, for most commentators, the action lies elsewhere. For Robin Gerster and Jan Bassett, 1968 arrived “via airmail subscription” while social commentator Hugh Mackay proffered the year’s late arrival in the form of Gough Whitlam’s triumphant 1972 election.11 Robin Gerster and Jan Bassett, Seizures of Youth: The Sixties and Australia (South Yarra: Hyland House, 1991), 35; Hugh Mackay, “Australia: A Nation of Lotus-Eaters,” in 1968: Memories and Legacies of a Global Revolt, ed. Phillip Gassert and Martin Klimke (Washington D.C.: German Historical Institute, 2009), 73.
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The articles collected here, which sit alongside those collected in the editor’s The Far Left in Australia Since 1945 (Routledge, 2019), challenge such easy assumptions. Russell Marks begins by tying 1968's “New Left” not to its American and European counterparts but to an engagement with Australian nationalism. While critiques of nationalism were in and of themselves a transnational phenomenon, Marks finds Australia’s New Left engaging in a scholarly and political demolition of the Old Left’s “radical nationalism”. Rather than being inherently progressive—anti-authoritarian, anti-imperial and inclusive—scholar/activists such as Humphrey McQueen revealed deep wellsprings of chauvinism, racism and elitism. Marks then takes an additional step, complicating views of a clean break by revealing the deep ambivalence many New Left thinkers held towards ideas of Australian nationalism and their potential recuperation into a left project.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)143-144
Number of pages2
JournalJournal of Australian Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 3 Apr 2019


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