Monster meeting is a quaint, old-fashioned term describing protests and demonstrations and 1968 was a vintage year. Lately I’ve been thinking about the incredible impacts of the 1968 demonstrations and musing about my time in Australia where I spent that fateful year. Maybe it was the January 30th anniversary of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam or, perhaps, it was the recently released National Security Archive cautionary tale of the Tlatelolco Massacre before the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico. Mostly, however, it is the recent homeschool-driven, in-depth study of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which protects the right of ‘people peaceably to assemble’. Around today’s world, including in the U.S. where the citizen’s rights are supposed to be protected, demonstrations by the people are being met with terrible violence. In Australia, a bastion of several great experiments in democracy, at least one politician wants to “place the power to decide what is ‘legitimate protest’ in the hands of police”. Monster meetings are important catalysts of change. They spark fierce debates that tear at a country’s soul and may change its direction for better or worse. If proof is required, the protests of 1968 stand now in mute testimony.
Forty-six years ago (January, 1968), I was sweating in a blue bungalow in a new housing tract in Adelaide, South Australia reflecting on my immigration adventure and contemplating a beach day, when news of the Tet offensive in Vietnam flashed across the airwaves and through the radio to which I was half-listening. Vietnam seemed much closer in Adelaide; just an island’s hop, skip and jump away. Australia’s political and military establishments supported the U.S., but lately its people were beginning to rebel. I recalled the late Prime Minister Harold Holt’s battle cry, ‘All the way with LBJ’, and now wondered how this latest escalation would sit with Australians. The month before, December 1967, Harold Holt had apparently drowned while swimming and Australia was in a political uproar. Conspiracy theories surrounding his death were spawning like mushroom spore and growing in the same medium. Australia’s political system was in turmoil as each political persuasion posited its ideas for Holt’s replacement and the newspapers were experiencing a windfall of storylines.
I immigrated to Australia from Africa for £ 10, and when I arrived in Sydney the government sent me to Adelaide, South Australia. There I joined thousands of other immigrants from
England, the Ukraine, Europe and Colonial Africa. Times were tough in the 1968 Australian trenches. A disagreement between Holt’s Liberal government and the agricultural community had driven produce prices through the roof and the legacy was a terrible inflation. During this period, my neighbors and I paid $1.00 (Australian) for a potato and shared the cost of inexpensive cuts of mutton to feed our families. I do hope I never have to eat mutton again. Meeting the challenges of daily life in Adelaide was not without its rewards, however. We were a collection of immigrants who brought our recipes and our cultures to the neighborhood table. Somehow there was always plenty of red wine and laughter, while we chased our neighbor’s escape-artist wallaby or took turns buying the local newspaper for a community read. Maybe in Sydney, they would protest, but in Adelaide the game of survival was being played in earnest.