The man inside the banana needs no introduction to those of us who grew up in Queensland, the sunshine state of Australia, during the Joh era.
He is Joh Bjelke Petersen, the premier of QLD from 1968 to 1987, which meant that he was in power for almost all of my formative years. He was also the leader of what has been exposed as one of the most corrupt and brutal governments in Australian history. Joh was famous for his country-style witticisms “Look like a crow, fly with the crows, don’t complain if you get shot!” and for his fierce anti-union sentiments and appalling attitudes towards women “Don’t you worry your pretty little head about that!”
Under his rule Queensland became a police state where surveillance, harassment, beatings and outright brutality were every day occurences. As a teenager I was often stopped and questioned by police in the city as soon as I got off the bus, just for looking different. The Special Branch had files on just abut everybody, particularly if your hair was too long or too short, or God forbid – you went to university or belonged to a union.
Some good came out of living under this repressive regime though. Disparate alternative groups united against a common foe. Incredible creativity flourished as artists, musicians, actors, dancers and writers used their talents to expose the corruption and violence. We all lived in fear though and many people fled the state, scared for their livelihoods, and sometimes their lives.
Now however, all these years later, it’s safe enough to tell our stories.
For a long time I’ve been wanting to bring together a collection of stories from this era, detailing the reality of living in Queensland during the Joh years. I’m thrilled to announce that AndAlso Books, a small independent Brisbane publisher, is just as excited by the project as I am and publication is slated for September 2019.
We’re calling for submissions from anyone who lived in Queensland during the 70s and 80s and has a good Joh story to tell. If that’s you, please leave me a message and I’ll send you more information.
Pieces can be as short as 300 words or as long as 3000. Anecdotes, memoirs or fictionalised accounts are all welcome. Pitch ideas by 15 Jan 2019, with full drafts due by 25 February 2019.
Great stories are already pouring in. It’s as if I’ve unplugged a dam that was just waiting to burst. Looking forward to seeing what you come up with!