Panel Two: ‘Film and student protest: Beginnings’ With Scott Murray, Gordon Glenn, Rod Bishop and Peter Beilby, chaired by Rolando Caputo
Rolando Caputo: Welcome to panel number two. We didn’t actually think of structuring the panels in this way, but in the Q & A session of panel one there was so much discussion about the points of views from the staff and students, and the difficult interpretations of how each saw the campus and the politics of the time. It just so happens that the people on this panel actually represent the student point of view, so let me introduce Rod Bishop, Scott Murray and Gordon Glenn, who were part of the so called ACME Group responsible for making the documentary film we watched last night, Beginnings.
There was to be a fourth member, Peter Beilby, who unfortunately is not able to attend today. But Peter’s role was very crucial and so I hope the others will, in a sense, speak for him and fit him into the picture. Another person I hope they will speak about is Andrew Pecze. He too was a crucial member of the group who unfortunately passed away some time ago.
We won’t organise this panel like the last one. We will give everyone a chance to speak, but mostly we’ll prompt them with a series of questions because they actually had quite diverse activities and roles both as students here at La Trobe and in terms of working with the School of Media.
This photo was found in La Trobe’s archives of the time. I don’t think they have a copy themselves and this is probably the first time they’ve seen it. It shows these guys at the premiere of Beginnings at Glen College.
The first thing I’d like to ask you guys to do is talk about how you gravitated to La Trobe University. You clearly weren’t here to take up staff positions. You made a choice to come to La Trobe. What we would like to know is why La Trobe?
Rod Bishop: It was the only university I got into. In fact, I started a course at RMIT in Interior Design and I had been in it for a couple of weeks when I got the offer from La Trobe and thought, “Well, yes, I think I would rather go to a university.” I came here on the first day of the term in 1967. In those days there was Glenn College, the moat, and the library, and that was it. And, boy, did we have a good time in that first year. In fact, I remember that the fail rate at the end of the first year was quite astronomical. I think 70 per cent of the students failed at something, at least one unit, but also a lot of people did fail most of their subjects and actually dropped out.
I also remember towards the end of that year, Professor Whitehead of the Economics Department, who was an internationally renowned economist, standing on the steps of the library pleading to students to come into the library as they walked passed on their way to the car park. He was standing on the steps outside of the library because, from Glenn College, you had to cross the moat and go passed the library to get to the car park. Anyway, we misbehaved badly in that first year, and a lot of people misbehaved subsequently.
On my first day I was wandering around near the library and there was a poster up saying, “Anyone interested in joining a film society, please meet here at 5pm.” At 5pm I went to this pillar and there I met Peter Beilby for the first time, Philippe Mora for the first time, Howard Willis and Andrew Pecze. I can’t remember who else but there was quite a group of us. Everyone here knows who Philippe Mora is? I’m sure you’re pretty acquainted with him.
Rolando Caputo: It’s probably worth you telling us anyway.
Rod Bishop: Philippe is one of the children of Georges and Mirka Mora. He and Peter were friends at University High School and they both came to La Trobe. I had come straight from Zetland Road, Box Hill, and I had never met anybody like Philippe. He was charismatic. He looked like an Australian-Jewish version of Bob Dylan. He was small and had very curly hair and perhaps a bigger nose than Dylan. He wore stovepipe pants and he sort of had oil paint dripping off him. He spoke with utter authority and confidence about everything in the world. This guy was amazing and he invited us all to go back to his home for a cup of coffee. Well, that meant going down to Fitzroy Street in St Kilda and walking into Tolarno Gallery and being served a cappuccino. I had never heard the word cappuccino. I had no idea what it was. This was an entirely new world and obviously the beginning of a really great change in my life. This wasn’t Zetland Road, Box Hill anymore and things changed quickly.
We created a film society. I think Philippe stayed at La Trobe for only about a year, but even then he had already made a couple of 16mm films around Tolarno and in the back lanes of St Kilda, and he was very intent on creating a film magazine. In that first year, towards the end of first term, it might’ve been a bit later, we created the first edition of Cinema Papers, which was a photo-type thing that was run off after hours in the Sociology Department. I was doing sociology and politics at that time and I must say the Sociology Department seemed to me to be the most radical department in the university, and remained that way for some years. Anyway, we started a film society and started screening films, and, as it turned out, helped Philippe to make films.
The first year was a party year really. The politics weren’t a great influence in 1967. By 1968 things had changed, as everything did that year. Apart from anything else, I got called up in 1968 and became a draft resister and refused to go. That politicised me quite considerably. I started to take a lot of interest in the politics being talked about on the campus, and there was, as you could probably gather from this morning’s conversation, quite a divide between students and staff. There were staff who were quite sympathetic, who were anti-war, but there weren’t too many staff whose politics went beyond that. Mind you, there weren’t very many students whose politics went beyond that either. In fact, it wasn’t until what was called ‘The Waterdale Road Massacre’ in 1970 that things changed. ‘The Waterdale Road Massacre’, which was led by Inspector Plattfuss, occurred between not so long after we had starting shooting Beginnings and the second moratorium in September. We were marching back from Northland and had turned into Waterdale Road, which looks pretty much like it did then. The road is in a light industrial area with buildings on either side, a perfect place to trap and ambush the students, and that’s what happened. We got the shit beaten out of us. What happened after that was a major change in student politics at La Trobe. The people who were anti-war and that’s as far as their politics went, shifted considerably at that stage and moved very much in sympathy with the hard-core students. Not that everyone turned into a Maoist or a Marxist Leninist, but it did become a much more politically conscious place and there was a gravitation towards what politics was about. It was like what Jean-Pierre LŽaud talks about in Jean Eustache’s The Mother and the Whore (1973), the moment when a crack in the consciousness opens up, meaning that in 1968 there was sort of a crack in the world consciousness in terms of politics. Well, that certainly was what happened at La Trobe, but as Patricia pointed out earlier, things were always a couple of years late here, so it happened in 1970 rather than 1968.
The circumstances of making Beginnings really happened because the politics in 1970 were getting quite severe, and those of us at La Trobe who were looking at film as a career decided that we should try to make a film about what was happening, particularly after the occupation of the administration building, which is seen at the beginning of Beginnings. It’s all in still photographs, which I think were all taken by Phillip Taylor, because we weren’t shooting the film at that stage. But we ran around a few of the political clubs and societies, and other people that we knew to be sympathetic, who are listed on the credits, and asked them for donations and got money together to start shooting the film. We shot it over the next nine days. We were very fortunate to have Phillip Adams offer his Steenbeck at Monahan-Dayman-Adams, the advertising agency, to edit the film. Peter Tammer, who was a quite well-known filmmaker at the time, as far as I can remember gave us his Pixie to cut the negative. I think we cut the negative. There were all kinds of people prepared to help out and give us bits and pieces to finish the film. We had never made a film before and we had no idea what it was going to go down like.
The screening at Glenn College was packed of course. Jim Cairns was there, as were other important political figures from the time. It went down like a bomb; it was just fantastic. There are moments of elation in your life and I remember this one as being one of the peak points. People just loved the film; they just thought it was fantastic. Looking at it all these years later, it’s very difficult to follow all those bloody general meetings and what people were talking about, and who cares who scratched the car? All of that kind of stuff. But in those days, those incidents were absolute peak incidents, and everybody knew everything about everything and everyone had an opinion. As I as said earlier, there were Marxists-Leninists, there were Maoists, and there were spies, there were counter spies, there were students who were spies, and there were staff who were thought to be spies. As Hunter S. Thompson once said, “Paranoia is true perception.” The level of paranoia was incredibly high. There are a lot of stories to tell about what happened to Beginnings subsequently, and how we’ve remained a tight-knit group, but I think I’ll leave those stories for others to tell. It is very sad that Andrew isn’t here because he was an integral part of the team. He was an integral part of everything we did in those days, whether it was putting out editions of Cinema Papers or Rabelais (La Trobe University’s student magazine). I was the editor of Rabelais and Andrew worked on that. He was a real team member. And when we say the film was made by a collective, we all obviously had different parts to play but nobody actually directed the film. The film directed itself. The incidents just seemed to fall into place in a logical fashion, and we’ve felt very proud about our effort. Dave Jones of course pinched everything from us for Yackety Yack, all of that stuff about the film director going crazy and trying to create a collective experience. That was entirely taken from us, I’m sure.
Rolando Caputo: Dave will get to have his say in the later sessions this afternoon. Can you tell us how you got here, Scott? And fill us in on how you met Rod and whether friendships with others pre-existed you getting here.
Scott Murray: I went to a Christian Science School in Glen Waverley called Huntingtower. That’s Christian Science, not Scientology, a religion founded by Mary Baker Eddy in Boston, and it was very Indian in a lot of its philosophy, but it was also very puritanical. You were told you couldn’t hold hands until you were engaged, or kiss until you were married, and you didn’t have alcohol. I came from there to here, which was bit of a shock. I was an obnoxious mathematics child prodigy, and the reason I came here was because the department had a person running Formal Logic, who was considered one of the three great people in the world. I came to do Formal Logic and I hated the place. I thought it was the ugliest place I had ever been to.
I went to a Christian camp before I started where someone talked to me about films and said, “You should go to see Rod Bishop at Rabelais.” Rod hates this story, but anyway in the first week of orientation I went to the Rabelais office and said to Rod, “Oh, such and such said I should come.” Rod just looked at me and said, “Explain yourself,” and so I muttered away. Anyway, I started writing reviews for Rabelais, which was designed by Keith Robertson, who makes up the six people who constitute ACME. The four who made Beginnings were the three of us, plus Andrew Pecze and Peter Beilby, and Keith did the poster of Beginnings.
I became great friends with Rod and Keith, and I was looking to make a short film. I was looking for a lead actor and saw someone across the diner at Glenn College at lunch one day, and that was Gordon. Gordon became my lead actor in a film which remains banned in Australia. It wouldn’t be if I re-submitted it, but it’s so nice having a banned film. The Melbourne Film Festival showed it, I think purely because it was banned. My father was a film producer and I just wanted to make films when I came here.
I was a conscientious objector. I was drafted. I went to court. At the time, almost everybody just deferred because you could defer a university course for as long you liked. You deliberately failed a subject to do that. It was a skill. The majority of people at university who didn’t want to go when they were called up just kept failing one thing because the view was that we would be out of the Vietnam War and wouldn’t have to go. The people who were conscientious objectors went to court and basically objected to the Vietnam War. I objected to all wars and I wanted it on record that I could never be conscripted for anything. I didn’t want to go through this process again. And at the time, I think I was the third or fourth person to get through on the grounds of ‘against all wars’. That was close to impossible to win at that stage. It changed very quickly, but I really thought I was going to gaol for two years and was just comforted by the thought that word around town was that if you were a conscientious objector or draft resister they didn’t rape you in prison. It was not an experience that I was looking forward to! Fortunately, the prosecutor was drunk at 10 in the morning on Whisky, asking such questions as, “If your mother is being raped in an alley by a Negro and you have a gun in your hand, what are you going to do?” Everybody knew these sorts of questions were going around. I won the case and didn’t have to go, but I was never political.
My interest in Beginnings and the situation was completely non-political. I basically took no interest in the demonstrations and what was happening. It was film. It was the chance to cut pieces of celluloid together and make a movie. I just love the process of making film and I have been doing it ever since, or when I get the chance. That was what motivated me. I was political in the sense that I was against the Vietnam War. But I was against all wars. I was never a member of a political party. I never chanted “Ho ho ho ho Chi Min!” I thought it was ridiculous. I thought he was not a nice person, but I have never changed my mind. I was sort of the odd person in the group because I wasn’t there for the politics. I was there for making a movie and that was really it.
Rolando Caputo: Gordon, would you like to say something about your background?
Gordon Glenn: Yeah, this is getting a bit ahead of why I came here, but it’s interesting to hear about the role of Philippe Mora. It seems to me now that he obviously played quite a critical part in establishing this group at La Trobe, who were interested in film, drew people together to focus on film, and also the sophistication he brought to the group, and out of that came so many things. If Peter Beilby was here today he would back that up about Philippe. I think Peter was completely enthralled with Philippe all through their University High School days. And it was a pretty magical thing in Melbourne, I think, to have Tolarno and Georges and Mirka and the sort of salon they operated, firstly at the top of Collins Street. It’s interesting that it sort of flowed out to La Trobe, and I’ve often wondered why Philippe came here in the first place because presumably he did have choices. Yet he chose to come here, possibly because it was a small pond that he could dominate and create his own world in.
But my story is that I went to Melbourne University to do Law. I think that like a lot of people who end up in the film industry, Law in those days used to draw humanity students. If you did reasonably well at school but you didn’t have a language and you weren’t interested in science, you did Law. You couldn’t do arts if you didn’t have a language. I went into college at Melbourne University and that was a most wonderful experience, being drawn into late night discussions about politics and the arts, and being drawn into the Melbourne University Film Society. But like Rod said, there wasn’t a lot of work done in the first year. That would’ve certainly applied to me and I think I had just scraped through first year Law.
But halfway through the second year, or by the end of the first term in second year, I realised I didn’t want to do Law. I was a long way behind anyway by then. But through this experience of coming into contact with film, particularly European film, which was not something I had been aware of, I decided I wanted to go into the film industry. I managed to get a job as a camera assistant at Crawford Productions, which was then making Consider Your Verdict (1961-1964) their main long-running daytime television show.
Crawford Productions was dominated by Hector Crawford, this silver-haired impresario who would storm into the office every morning and behave like it was an opera company rather than a film company. I worked as a camera assistant for three or four months on Homicide (1964-1977), and then I went to work on a show called Hunter (1967-1969). The interesting thing about working at Crawford’s, and I think this has relevance to what happened later on here at La Trobe, is that in those days you had to understand film was quite a difficult mechanical process. It was this sort of secret business of loading magazines in black bags, knowing about lenses and lighting, and things like that. You had to do an apprenticeship, and I did that apprenticeship even though I only stayed at Crawford’s for a year. Then I realised after my time there, that being an assistant cameraman at Crawford’s was a very long way from going to the ‘Bug House’ in Carlton (The Carlton Moviehouse) and watching an Antonioni film and discussing it later on. It was really a form of basic manual labour, a lot of the work entailed lugging equipment around, and so I decided I wanted to go back to university.
The reason why I chose La Trobe is because of the language issue. I couldn’t go into Arts at Melbourne, which probably would’ve been the logical choice, but I could get into Social Sciences at La Trobe with my results and without a language. I had done Law in 1966 and for half of 1967, and came here in 1969 and I think I was probably just very lucky. Scott maintains he cast me for his film over the lunch queue at the college but …
Scott Murray: You call that lucky?
Gordon Glenn: However it happened, I came into contact with this cell of people interested in filmmaking and based around Rabelais, and because I had this skill and knew about cameras, I was able to sort of facilitate people’s aspirations to make films. Talking about how Beginnings got to be edited, for instance, is an illustration of how difficult it was in those days. This was before the Media Centre created more opportunities by collecting equipment, collecting people and having a studio. Filmmaking equipment just really wasn’t available. We had to hire the camera to make Beginnings. We hired a noisy camera, as those of you who’ve sat through the screening will attest. But even editing the film was a difficult thing, and I don’t know who had the contact with Philip Adams …
Scott Murray: I did through my father (John B. Murray).
Gordon Glenn: That’s right, through Scott’s father, and Adams had a film editing machine down in his office so he could look at the rushes of advertisements his company was making. That’s how we were able to edit it. A lot of things started out like this and we have all gone on to make films in different ways. But the genesis of it all was here. Especially when Patricia arrived back from America and I met her for the first time. I think it was in a small tutorial room at the back of the college, and I became aware that she was also interested in media and film. Then she established the Media Centre and it became another focus for us. It became an employment opportunity for me and for Peter Beilby. We went from being students to working there. I worked as the cameraman and Peter did the editing and the sound, and so the opportunity was there to make films, which led on to a lot of other things.
I, like Scott, wasn’t particularly political. I think everybody was political to the extent that the Vietnam War had made us political, and as soon as you got involved in things like demonstrations, you were politicised. Rod talked about The Waterdale Road Massacre, as it was called. It was a seriously shocking event to be on this march and all of a sudden to have the police come down on you. Someone had made a decision, “Okay, get your batons out. They’re not going to be allowed to make it back to the campus without being taught a lesson.” I took a lot of photographs of that. I was in involved in Rabelais, taking still photographs. I took a lot of photographs of that day, the negatives of which disappeared from the Rabelais‘ safe over the following weekend, which was more than paranoia. We were being watched in some way. It seems a bit far-fetched now, but I do think that the suspicion that we were being watched was true.
Scott Murray: You know it’s true. The producer of one my films turned out to be an agent in ASIO and he knew all of what was in the files. I didn’t know he was an ASIO agent when he was the producer.
Gordon Glenn: Right.
Rod Bishop: It’s probably worth also mentioning that there was a point after Beginnings was made when Cyril Pearl, who had a program on the ABC called …
Gordon Glenn: See It My Way or Through My Eyes, or something like that …
Rod Bishop: Pearl wanted to show the film or part of the film on the ABC and we allowed him to do that. Some time later, whilst watching an entirely other ABC program, one of us noticed that footage had been used from Beginnings without our permission. Gordon knows this story better than I do, but we contacted the ABC and it seemed that what happened is that some sort of master had been made of Beginnings and then put into the ABC archive and classified as ABC material. They were no longer able to know what was our footage and what was their footage. But we knew because, as you saw at yesterday’s screening, our footage was shot inside the marches rather than outside, which is what most news camera crews did. They’d get a high position on a building and look down and get all of these long shots. But Gordon was in the middle of it all with the police horses coming up over him. This was pretty dramatic footage. So when the ABC wanted to use a bit of moratorium footage for a program, it was never moratorium footage they were using. It was footage of the July 3rd and July 4th Marches. It was never from the moratoriums, but they thought it was and they would take this dramatic footage and just stick it in a program. Well, we said, “You can’t do that. You’ve got to pay us for it.” And so this game took place whereby we would spot the footage in a program, use Keith Robertson’s wife, who was a lawyer, to threaten to sue the ABC, and then we would come to a negotiated agreement about the amount of money we would then receive for the footage.
This went on and on and years later, around the end of the ’70s into the ’80s, money was starting to come in. We all said, “What are we going to do with it?” We decided we would spend it on dinner and we’ve been spending this money on dinner for the last 40 plus years. At one point the ABC said, “Okay, we give up. You come into the archive and you go through all of the footage and sort your footage out from our footage.” We said, “No, that’s not in our interests.” It was much better for us to carry on the way we’re going. I don’t know the actual figures because Gordon is a kind of fascist Treasurer. He doesn’t let anybody know anything really. We occasionally get a receipt with a note that says, “Please declare this on your tax.” Mr Fascist over there holds all of the money and only allows us to spend it on dinner.
Gordon Glenn: It was quite a lot of money, because we said to them, “Look, we’re reasonable. We will just charge you what you would charge us if we wanted ABC footage.”
Rolando Caputo: One thing that flowed on from Beginnings that we haven’t covered is of course Cinemas Papers, which Rod mentioned.
Scott Murray: There was the phototypeset Cinema Papers in 1967, one issue that was printed in the Sociology Department without their knowledge. Then in 1969 or 1970 there was a fortnightly tabloid, for which the editors were Peter Beilby, Rod Bishop and Demos Krouskos, famous for the Molotov Cocktail sequence in Beginnings. I was one of the writers on that version, which went for 11 issues. Then in 1973 Philippe Mora was again in town and said to Peter, “You should revive Cinema Papers.” Philip Adams was then the head of the Film, Radio and Television Board, of which my father was the Chief Executive. Philip of course never took any interest in process and said, “Put in an application by Friday for some money to start it up. I will give you a decision on Monday.” He took it to the Monday meeting of the Film, Radio and Television Board and declared that he had made a decision as Chairman and it couldn’t be discussed, which put my father in an impossible position, and also led to incredible rivalry and hatred between people in Melbourne and Sydney. Filmnews wrote articles saying I was unemployable and my father had to give me the money for Cinema Papers. It got quite nasty. My father didn’t speak to me for 18 months because he didn’t know we’d put an application in and he felt he had been compromised, which of course he had. The editors of the new Cinema Papers were Peter Beilby and myself, and that continued for the best part of 25 years, with one or two breaks in those years because Peter and I continued to make films with Gordon. Cinema Papers was kind of like a glue for a while, and even today with Senses of Cinema, Peter came in with Rolando and I there. The links and connections have continued over 40 years.
Rolando Caputo: Did you guys ever go to any classes?
Scott Murray: No. In the second and third terms of my second year, I didn’t go to a single lecture or tutorial. There was this gracious boy I’d met who had gone to Uni High, I can’t remember his name, but he took notes and would give them to me two weeks before the exams. I would copy them, and that’s how I went through the process. In second year I got better marks in every subject than I did the previous year and, to his unbelievable credit, he did the same thing for me again in third year. It was one of the greatest acts of generousity from one human being to another.
Gordon Glenn: I remember staff here were far more understanding than at Melbourne Uni.
Scott Murray: You weren’t expelled if you didn’t turn up.
Gordon Glenn: Yeah, they tried to get you through no matter what.
Rolando Caputo: I wasn’t trying to be humorous. In fact, it seems there was so much activity that in one sense the real learning was happening outside of classrooms, or at least more outside than inside classrooms.
Rod Bishop: That’s pretty much what Martin Munz says at the beginning of Beginnings. If the real action is happening outside, then take the classroom activity outside. Martin is the one who does the very long speech to camera. We had a 10-minute 400 foot roll of film, that was it, and you get everything there. We had broken it into two pieces, but when Martin is given the question, boom!,10 minutes later he was still talking. He was just like that. He still is exactly like that; he hasn’t changed a bit. He lives up at Murwillumbah now and does the same thing to the hippies up there.
Scott Murray: The film ran out and he kept talking. That’s why we started the film with the black because of that long speech of his. It seems a very bold decision looking at it yesterday, and ending in black for quite a long time. But we had no image of him and that was at the end of his 10 or 11 minutes. He really had a great summary position, thus his speech opens the film too.
Gordon Glenn: I think virtually every frame shot for Beginnings is in the final film. Everything was precious; no one wanted to throw anything away.
Rolando Caputo: Let’s open out the discussion to the audience because I know John Fox wants to say something about Beginnings.
John Fox: It was great to hear some genuine student voices and to be reminded that all the student voices were different. I think it would’ve been quite impossible really to make Beginnings so that each event was intelligible and so I’d just like to add a bit of context to try to answer a couple of questions like, What exactly were the kids charged with? Why did the Vice Chancellor back down so quickly? How did the students win so easily? How come that never happened again? The ‘beginnings’ were not really the ‘beginnings’ of what a lot of people, Martin included, felt were the beginnings of.
There was this meeting after which people went to John Waterhouse’s Careers and Appointments Office and said, “The authorised Student Representative Council meeting has decided we don’t want Defence Department people recruiting on campus.” John, who is a very nice man by the way, and 40 years later decided he was wrong after all, very wrong to have supported the Vietnam War. He later became a radical and unionised Catholic Teacher and defended them against the Bishops and was involved in all sorts of human rights issues. There are no black and white divisions that last in this business. Anyway, John did his block and said, “Get out, get out, get out,” to the students. They stood there and he rushed off and complained. But it wasn’t the damage to the car that was the complaint. The accusations were “disobeying a reasonable order given by a member of staff”. That was one charge. The other was “acting in a way not conducive to the good repute of the university”, or something like that. Ridiculous charges! The students were given two and a bit hours to front up, were not told whether they could have witnesses and weren’t given a detailed account of the nature of the charges and the charges were pretty vague. There was another meeting in which people said, “Don’t turn up,” and they didn’t, except for one who got off. But six of them were suspended. I was outraged by this and I was telling people about it.
No one believed me. David Myers, the Vice Chancellor, was a decent man but he covered up – and some of us conspired with him – the fact that it was the Deputy Vice Chancellor who’d done it. It was the Deputy Vice Chancellor who was a right-winger and politically na•ve, and didn’t know anything about due process and who’d set this thing up so badly. That was why they lost. There was this big public meeting and Brian Ellis went to the Vice Chancellor, they were mates, and said, “David, people have got this incredibly wrong idea about what happened. Turn up to the meeting and explain to them and sort it all out.” Jerry Guild chaired the meeting, a very well behaved meeting except for one person, where David Myers explained everything that could be done under his powers of summary jurisdiction. Ian Robinson queried him and said, “But weren’t they told that they could have witnesses?” David didn’t know and said, “I’m sure they would’ve been.” The registrar said, “No, they were told they’d find out at the hearings.” David looked appalled but he went in to bat for insubordination. He explained it was not a trial. But Ian kept saying, “Surely at a trial there should be due processes,” and insisted, “It is an undesirable Act, we are trying to get it changed, get better procedures. Under the Act we have powers of summary jurisdiction, we don’t have due process, but at the appeal due process is guaranteed. All you’ve got to do is appeal and it will be over.” It went very quiet at that point and I shrieked out, “If it is not a trial Dr Myers, why did you pass sentence?” He looked rather taken aback.
Then Reg Henry, who was a conservative little senior tutor in Politics decided that tenure was not worth it. He wanted tenure and had been trying to suck up to Hugo Willis, but decided he would chuck in his chance of a career at La Trobe and said, “May I have the microphone? I move that this informal meeting of staff and students of La Trobe has no confidence in the Vice Chancellor”. David Myers looked ashen and started walking out, and I, being a nasty little bugger, and I have no pride in this, said, “You better stick around David, your vote may be needed”. It wouldn’t have helped; it was unanimous. Even Brian Ellis voted no confidence in the Vice Chancellor.
Now, why within a week were Brian Ellis and Reg Henry appointed to the committee? Well, basically, it was because a couple of us – Pat Williams from English and myself – decided we would not take the heat off the administration over this and had to persuade the students not to appeal. It took a while to persuade Andrew Giles Peters and Jan Carney, and then the rest of them. Grant Evans was the most difficult because he wanted to make sure he’d get back in. But we persuaded them basically by saying, “While the heat’s on the administration, more and more people will come to support you.” What we wanted to do was bring out why there was such a rush to suspend them in the first place. Well, we had reliable leaks that it was because BHP and some other big company had heard a distorted account of what happened on the day involving the Defence Department people, and the companies said, “We’re not going to give grants to a university that can’t control its student body”. We wanted this to come out, all these capitalist connections to come out, but we lost on that because a third legal person was added to the committee and he said, “But that’s ridiculous. I’d be a laughing stock in the legal profession if I took this on the assumption these suspensions were legal. There’s no legality in these suspensions at all”. The Vice Chancellor must have thought, “I knew I was up shit creek, but I thought I had a paddle”, because he withdrew everything and didn’t give us the full enquiry. We wanted the charges brought again, but to widen the scope so we could examine everything that led up to what happened. That was the last thing the Vice Chancellor wanted.
We won because we got the staff and students upset on a conservative point of due process. Some other people had a different analysis, they believed, “If only you refuse to cooperate with them, don’t cooperate with a corrupt system, and they kick you out, the staff and students will rally behind you and we’ll win”. And so next there were a whole series of stupid occupations on no pretext whatsoever. Some of them were on the grounds that (Chancellor Archibald)] Glenn was a war criminal. The most ridiculous slanderous idiocies were going around. Anyway, people got kicked out at a great rate. People got so bored with this. People obviously wanted to get kicked out. They weren’t going to go and demonstrate to stop it. In the end, students were put in gaol for coming on to the campus in defiance of being kicked out. At that stage, I started getting active again and for a while I was the only active academic who thought that Barry (York) and Fergus(Robinson] and Brian (Pola) should be got out of jail.
Rod Bishop: Between 1970 and when the students were gaoled, which was 1973, the university seemed to have sorted things out. You’re quite right, the Administration Building was getting occupied on a daily basis; it basically belonged to the students most of the time. Charges were being laid against the ringleaders who were causing the occupation. But it seems as though the reason that these students went to gaol is that they had been charged with things like occupying the building and were suspended from the campus. When they reappeared on the campus, and this is hard to believe now, it was possible for the University Administration to call the police to come pick them up and take them straight to Pentridge and put them in a cell. And they stayed in that cell for an indefinite period; they stayed in that cell until they were prepared to back down, or until the university and the students were prepared to come to a compromise. Even at this distance, that was absolutely shocking. We lived in a police state. That it was possible for the state to goal students on whatever basis for an indefinite period with no representation, no nothing, was unbelievable.
John Fox: They got a Supreme Court injunction against them coming on campus and when they came on campus they were automatically in contempt of court. And there’s no set time for that; they had to purge their contempt. But they were the most pig-headed people in the universe, they weren’t going to purge their contempt and so in effect it became an infinite sentence. It was outrageous.
Rolando Caputo: Thanks John, it’s good to get that on record. I want to ask Gordon, because you’re the only person on our panel who had some involvement in Got At, Beginnings and Yackety Yack, to say a few words about your recollections of making those three films?
Gordon Glenn: As I said before, my skills put me in a position to be able to work on people’s films. At that time also, filmmaking was really only just starting here again, and I think Homicide might’ve been the only Australian program on television. I just felt very lucky to be able to make a contribution. It put me in very interesting places and I met interesting people. To work with Dave on Yackety Yack was, as you can see from the film, a pretty amazing experience.
Rolando Caputo: You lived through the experience? He didn’t actually shoot the crew?
Gordon Glenn: No, he didn’t shoot the crew. Working with the Media Centre and Patricia was a great opportunity. Patricia had secured funding to make a series of films. The equipment was there and interesting people were coming forward to make them, films that Ian Armet apparently has in his cupboard. I remember Dave McCray, a DipEd student who was sent to Birchip in the Wimmera in his first year out as a teacher, and he came up with this wild film script full of dream sequences. We went up to Birchip and shot it.
Things were changing and interesting things were happening. With 16mm cameras and small crews we suddenly had the ability to go out and record places and people, to make films about them and bring them to an audience. It seems ridiculous now in the days when thousands and thousands of video cameras record things all the time, but visual information was scarce in those days. The means of production belonged to the television stations, which didn’t do much, or the Commonwealth Film Unit which certainly would not have been involved in documenting things like the birth of the women’s movement, or the politics happening here on campus. And you could record spontaneously; if something was happening, you could go and shoot it. I think that has really bedevilled the government funding processes over the years, because film is expensive and the process of getting the money together takes so long, that when things come up quickly it is impossible. Beginnings was pretty amazing because, as Rod said, just to go around and ask various student bodies for enough money to buy the film stock, hire the camera and to get it was very lucky. Rod’s role at the early stages was getting the money together and it probably was students’ funds. Was it? I don’t know.
Rod Bishop: Both from staff and students.
Gordon Glenn: Yeah, just a few hundred dollars was put together, and, as Rod said, we missed the first event, but then it was quite miraculous that we were able to follow everything that happened over that nine-day period.
Rod Bishop: And looking at it now, it’s interesting to see how even-handed we tried to be. Why those the priests are in it are beyond me now. Forty years later, I’ve no idea why.
Scott Murray: They probably gave money.
Rod Bishop: They probably did. And there certainly was an effort made to get students who felt ambivalent about what was happening, or even antithetical to what was happening.
Scott Murray: Watching it again, there’s so much subversive stuff that we put in the editing. It’s just mildly gentle, like what always brings a laugh is the cut to the mowing of the lawns. There are a lot of things like that, saying it doesn’t matter how passionate you are, life is going on in different ways. And there are other things like the cutaways to Grant Evans rolling his cigarette and smoking while there’s a passionate discussion going on, and in the cutaways you can see my obsessions, or restrictions, the Neanderthal nature of me at the time. The shots of the audience are basically romantic images of couples, or whatever. It’s a very interesting balance because cutaways are the worst thing cinema has ever offered up – they’re lies unless you have multiple cameras. The chances that a cutaway is actually true to the moment of where it has come from is close to zero. You can see in a lot of films that a cutaway was shot an hour or half an hour later, because the ‘look’ is not reacting to what’s being said. There are some moments, because you can actually see me with the other camera behind the bench shooting, that when the cutaway comes, it’s correct. But most of them are not. It seems to me that there was a fine balance of being slightly cheeky, but pointing out that not everybody at those meetings were as passionately involved as the people on stage who were talking. For everybody, the thing to do was to go to this meeting, but relationships were still continuing, people were still touching each other and people were still looking at each other. I really adore that aspect of Beginnings.
Robert Newton: Looking at the film last night, it is wonderful material, but if you look at it in filmic terms, and you guys have admitted this and said it several times, that things like the editing and the direction you wouldn’t judge highly in terms of film production. But you do judge the film very well because of the material in it. One of the things I’m thinking is whether this was a kind of deliberate anarchism, a rejection of film conventions in the way you went about producing it? Or was it just that you had the camera and you had the pictures and because things were happening, you put it together in that way? Another part of the question would be to Rod, do you think that some of those conventions and the film training you get at film school actually interferes with the ability to express what you want in a film, and therefore there’s something anarchistic in its approach, and perhaps, like Dave’s film, has a certain virtue?
Scott Murray: Can I answer the first bit? I think the first half of Beginnings is very clunky and it was limited by the resources we had. From a filmmaker’s point of view, however, when watching the sequences of the gathering for the walks and the demonstrations, and the change in mood of the demonstrations, I have to disagree. I think those sequences are quite brilliant. I would not change anything in those sequences. We’ve been working as filmmakers on-and-off for 40 years and this is the first film we all made, and yesterday I was in awe that I was 19 and I still wouldn’t change a frame. I think even the flow-on ending and the scene of the demonstration at night with the silence of pushing the police car back, are pieces of craft. Maybe that’s because I’m so disassociated from it now; it was so long ago. I think it is really quite extraordinary, and that’s got nothing to do with ego, because I don’t know how the process of a film is made. I don’t know why when you put two shots together that you have to remove one frame. It’s mystical to me. There’s just a sense that that is how you create the poetry of film. I think a lot of Beginnings is tough to watch and is a bit dull, but I think the best of it are the parts where the lot of us played with the craft. With Martin Munz, for example, sitting there for 10 minutes, the only decision was, “Are you going to let him sit there for 10 minutes and talk?” I think it is still radical, but some things were deliberately radical, like the black at the beginning and the black at the end.
Rod Bishop: It’s a long time ago and I was incredibly influenced at that time by people who were making all those amazingly boring films that none of us can watch now. To quote Yackety Yack, “They’re the great Brazilian filmmakers.” There were people making very radical political films around the world, which we saw, and I think in terms of the film language in Beginnings, that influenced us a lot. The fact that we had to use every single piece of footage influenced us a lot as well. As, for instance, at the end of the film where we had this great footage and we had this great song. So, we started with that amazing shot of the two horses and the flag, which is one of the great shots in Australian cinema – we’re not at all sort of reticent about this film, which probably says something about the films we went on to make afterwards. Anyway, you start laying that song over footage, but the song goes for eight minutes, “What are we going do? Well, we’ve got to put the titles in, so let’s space the titles out every two or three minutes to try and fit it in”. You get this really long title sequence, which everyone loves, because the music is so great. But then you run out of footage, what are you going to do? Are you going to actually compromise the rest of the song by just fading it out, or just let it go on? That’s how we made the decision on that sequence. It sort of made itself.
Rolando Caputo: Rod, in answering that question you should talk about your role as Head of the Australian, Film, Television and Radio School.
Rod Bishop: Well, I think the reason why Rolando is directing this to me is that I was Head of the Australian Film, TV and Radio School for seven years, and before that I had run a program at RMIT, which included filmmaking. Like Dave Jones would recognise, anybody who has actually been in a position where you’re trying to run a creative institution, like a film school, and want students to be amazingly free, open and radical, is potluck. One student will walk through the door and will be open-minded and will take up the challenge, while the others will do what they have to do to pass.
The other problem is with staff. Going from RMIT where I had Les Walking teaching photography and I had Phillip Brophy teaching sound, to the AFTRS where I had really nice people but they were not the world’s most radical and innovative thinkers as teachers. Now, you may disagree but you do run into the history of an institution when this happens. To be fair to the council, my brief was to do whatever I could to change the place. They said that, “We want it to be a real film school. We want it to be dirty. We want posters on the wall. We don’t want any of this crappy kind of stuff where you bring in an international guest”. Well, that’s fine to say, but actually changing that around is an incredibly hard job and it takes a very long time. Appointing the staff is the key to it all, because the staff in turn will select the students, and so their position and their state of mind becomes very important.
But there are an awful lot of very conservative students out there and from what I hear it is getting worse. I don’t know what the answer to it all is. I don’t know whether new technologies have actually done a lot to solve that problem, but I’m convinced there are masterpieces sitting on computers in people’s houses that no one has ever seen. And I wonder how you get at them, I wonder how you find them, because there will be a version of Yackety Yack in somebody’s computer that no one has ever seen. I’m positive of that.
Rolando Caputo: I agree and I think there’s an energy running through all three films that collapses that past 40 years for us. There’s something inherently interesting about Got At, Beginnings and Yackety Yack which time cannot take away.
John Benson: I am interested in another issue. You said you gave your film to the ABC. Roughly what year was that?
Rod Bishop: In 1974 or 1975?
Gordon Glenn: Yeah, it was around then.
John Benson: The reason why I asked that question is because I was a student at Melbourne University while this was going on, and what was happening there was that a lot of footage and material was shot by different people, including the media and ASIO, and it was being examined incredibly closely and files were developed on students who attended these demonstrations. Some of them had incredible files just from having attended these moratoriums. At one stage there was a huge staff just given over to looking at this footage and trying to identify people from the images. You mentioned you knew something like this was going on at the time, and I am wondering whether you realised that maybe your film was involved in that kind of process, or could’ve been?
Rod Bishop: No doubt about it. The people in Beginnings, the ones we focus on, Fergus, Demos, Barry York, these people were hard-core radicals. The fact that we juxtaposed those things about Demos and Molotov Cocktails with the footage of them in the marches, we were clearly trying to draw a line there, “Hello ASIO”. They were the ones who threw the bombs. They were not real good at making them and they didn’t go off, but it looks all a bit dramatic now in Beginnings. I suppose that’s because terrorism has become such a big issue since those days, although it was pretty big in those days too. You look at it now and think, “Is this responsible filmmaking, or what is it?” But we thought it was a huge joke the way Demos did his Molotov Cocktail. We played that for laughs; that’s why there is a sign saying don’t make a bomb like this because it won’t go off.
Gordon Glenn: We claimed responsibility?
Rod Bishop: Yeah, we did. But on your question about the files, as I said earlier, I had been a draft resister and probably been one of the people put on file. But the true heroes of that situation were the conscientious objectors, like Scott. These were the people who went to gaol. The draft resisters were the people who deferred and waited until we got chased, and then went to the Medical Centre and did things to fail the medical. If anybody wants to know how to fail a medical for National Service, I’m your boy. I can tell you exactly how to do it. But there was a lot of putting yourself out there, making a stand, and if you asked any of those people in those shots whether they wanted to be there because they might get identified by ASIO, they’d all say, “Oh, I hope I do”. They felt very positive about it.
Completely off that subject, I want to say that from my point of view, and I’m sure it’s the same for everybody here, the arrival of Patricia Edgar and the Media Centre here at La Trobe was a major event for those of us who were trying to make films. Patricia was incredibly supportive of everybody in terms of that process, and I think the link has to be made between Beginnings and then what happened afterwards at La Trobe with the arrival of Patricia, the great John Flaus and Dave Jones and the rest of them.
Scott Murray: I was going to make that very point just a few minutes ago because I went from La Trobe to teaching at Brinsley Road, an experimental school known as the Camberwell High Annex, and had no connection with the Media Centre during my time here. But Patricia allowed me, incredibly graciously, to edit two films here, a half hour short film and a short feature. I hope you remember, Patricia? I didn’t sneak in. I think that was brave of you. There was no gain for the Media Centre to allow me to do this. But there was a continuation with La Trobe to what I was doing even though I wasn’t here. I was teaching in Camberwell and driving up at night. I was given a key and allowed into the building over night to work, and it took months to edit Summer Shadows, the short feature film I made in 1975. I am incredibly grateful, because even if you could scrape the money together to shoot some footage, there was still the editing to do, and it takes basically 10 weeks to edit any doco or film, I find. I was incredibly lucky and so thank you again Patricia.
Gordon Glenn: The Media Centre probably was the sort of model Rod is talking about for a film school. The equipment was here and so on, and this is probably a good time to confess that the Media Centre’s Arriflex BL did shoot a lot of people’s early films. The equipment was made available. You have to realise how difficult these things were to get hold of at the time and to realise what an advantage the Media Centre was. If you tried to do it now, to go out and hire commercial facilities to make films is just near impossible.
Scott Murray: It’s like Tim Lewis helping us on Beginnings; it’s just the way the film industry works. Tim has edited every film I have done since, and has worked with Gordon. Particularly at that time in the early 1970s, there was an incredible community spirit. It basically still exists in the film industry. If there’s dead time on gear or talent, people are unbelievably generous, particularly for the people starting out. If you’ve had a career in film for a long time, there’s the feeling, “Well, you’ve been helped, it’s time to return the favours”.
Rod Bishop: I also think that the existence of Yackety Yack is probably the pinnacle of what Gordon has been saying, because it would have been a hell of a movie to take to the Vice Chancellor to explain what the studio was used for.
Gordon Glenn: It still is!
Rod Bishop: It doesn’t get any better than that.
John Benson: I want to go on record and say that Beginnings is a necessary film for anybody who is trying to understand the history of Australian film. I think it is a title that you can’t ignore and I don’t want to read in the next history book a token sentence or paragraph about it. It’s a film that has to be addressed and wrestled with. The other thing I want on record is that for anyone who wants to study the history of the times, you can’t avoid this film for research. But now comes my question, why were they all men? At the end, when we’re hearing the music, there is a woman standing addressing the group, but we get the music and not her words. Is that an accurate representation of what was going on, that it was all men?
Scott Murray: Jan Carney is there.
John Benson: Yes, but for how long?
Rod Bishop: Well, she was charged. She was one of the students in the group that was charged, but I take your point and I’d blame Scott. He has already admitted to the fact that he was doing cutaways like at the tennis and that a lot of women were only there to be fill in between the shots.
But honestly, John, I can’t really remember. I think we certainly didn’t have Ian MacDonald-style women who were training to be politicos. As Got At showed us, they wouldn’t have thought that way because they wouldn’t have thought there was a possibility of them getting the job.
I also think the hardness of the politics, the hardness of the Marxist-Leninists and the hardness of the Maoist politics, sort of attracted a macho type thing. There was a lot of that. I’m glad Fergus isn’t here now, otherwise he’d be jumping up and down.
Scott Murray: The discussions at the time among the Trotskyites and the endless divisions among the Trotskyites, and their sense of betrayal, was almost like it could be sparked just by sitting next to the wrong person in a cafŽ. There was such face-to-face violence in people. There was a form of debate in the early 1970s, as you know, which I sometimes drift into even today, of an extraordinarily aggressive way of speaking, and it was just unbelievable here.
In terms of the sound in Beginnings, all the footage was shot with a spring-wind Bolex, which you wind up and it goes for 25 to 27 seconds. The sound was just clearly random and in the heat of filming there was no connection between Andrew Pecze walking around with the microphone and Gordon filming. There is no sound of anybody speaking there. There is one absolutely appalling attempt to link a bit of sound with someone with a megaphone. It’s just embarrassingly bad. I said I wouldn’t change a frame, but that’s not true. I’d change that immediately. It just reflects that we didn’t have the gear to do it properly. But I’d back what Rod said, because my memory is that everything we shot is there. If it’s not there, it basically didn’t happen. And I don’t think the camera, by chance, was turned off at the wrong moments.
Gordon Glenn: But it’s interesting picking up Robert’s (Robert Newton) point before about how it’s constructed. There was a feeling back then, probably more among the newer filmmakers, that you didn’t use close-ups all the time. You didn’t try to construct things too much like a documentary. You wanted the audience to be able to be there in a wider shot and pick up what they would pick up, and then you would guide that, build on it, but you wouldn’t use a restrictive structure. I think that’s why the demonstrations are so good, because you don’t sense any artifices. There’s no sense that we are playing up the violence artificially to make the cops look bad. You just really feel like that’s what happened.
Rod Bishop: It’s like what Scott says, if you have a wide shot and you don’t like something in it, just look somewhere else.
Angie Black: I’m a filmmaker and I also teach Production here at La Trobe now. I was just curious to know if you still make documentaries? Which I hope and assume you all still do, and I’m also interested in knowing how you’ve adapted to having release forms and ethics approvals, jumping through the hoops that the ABC and SBS have you do with treatment writing?
Scott Murray: Yeah, and you have to get them signed on the spot. You can’t afford to film anything really, because of the legalities. That’s mostly for close-up interviews and following people. I did a documentary where I spent a year following women body builders, and they were non-steroidal but it was very controversial because of the politics within any given moment. It was very important to get all of the releases and there was a series of them required at different points because there was the feeling some people were wondering whether their presence might reveal things they didn’t wish to reveal. That was because they were not used to cameras around them for such a long period of time. But that’s really a function for the producer.
There have also been some advances, especially if you’re filming in a street. For example, in the old days, say 10 years ago or even less, you had to have forms going from country to country if the camera was a certain size because you were also going through customs and needing to get releases. It was very hard to film in the street. The cameras were so big that you got arrested or stopped if you didn’t have a permit. I was arrested in France for just filming a statue because I didn’t have a particular permission for that corner of the park that I was standing in. But with the new HD cameras, it means you can just go anywhere, to any city, and film because people won’t stop you when you have small gear. And the quality is unbelievable; it’s like you’ve shot with a 35mm camera. So, there have been great advantages, as well as hindrances, because of legal issues.
Gordon Glenn: The point is valid though. You couldn’t go out and easily make Beginnings in the street now. Certainly, if you were commissioned by a broadcaster, there would be a thing called ‘the deliverables’ and permission forms are one part of it. Mind you, the ABC didn’t seem to have any trouble nicking our footage to show it.
John Fox: I would like to make one comment. The women were not encouraged to be activists, and most of them didn’t want to be. But they did an incredible amount of the work on the Left. The other thing that happened in 1970 was La Trobe’s huge organisation and involvement in the Anti-Springbok Tour demonstrations. Nearly all of the organisation for those demonstrations were done by women, by Kate Mowbray, Rosie Jones, Julia Ahern, Bernie Delaney. None of them got up and spoke at public meetings. They were much more effective at organising things than most of the prominent orators. I just wanted to put that in.
Rolando Caputo: Thanks John. Tell us a bit more about Cinema Papers because it became the premiere film journal in Australia and the seeds for it were planted here at La Trobe University.
Scott Murray: It was a La Trobe publication in 1967 …
Rolando Caputo: Named Cinema Papers?
Scott Murray: Yes, although technically, the tabloid version in 1969 and 1970 wasn’t a La Trobe publication. The tabloid was put out at Demos Krouskos’ house in Richardson Street, Carlton. Then it started again in 1973 and it just took off from those days. It reflects other things that we see with Beginnings because Cinema Papers used to get into trouble with people in Sydney for not having a point of view. It never said, “This is the cinema that should be supported”, or “These are the type of films we champion”. It published articles expressing all points of view, political and otherwise. That’s a personal reflection but also one that comes out of our filmmaking here at La Trobe. I think that type of stance is in Beginnings. As a critic writing for Cinema Papers, and later as an editor, I never understood why people like a film because it has a particular point of view. I’m only interested in whether it’s well made, whether the editing is good or whether the use of lenses is good. I only see things from a craft point of view because I’m really a filmmaker writing about other people’s films. That’s what Peter is too, and that’s what Cinema Papers wanted to be because the magazine came out of us making films together. Something that Peter and I could never understand, for example, is if you are a literary critic then you need to know the difference between a colon, semi-colon and a full-stop. But there has never been a requirement amongst film critics to notice the difference between a 50mm lens and 35mm lens, and that the whole meaning of a film can be found in the choice of a 50mm lens and 35mm lens and how they edit together, or how people use zoom lenses or would just choose random things like 37mm. You can’t cut a 37mm fake lens with a 50mm. It doesn’t work! These were the sort of passions that went into Cinema Papers. At the same time, it was an open journal, just as Senses of Cinema is an open journal, that whatever came in was published if it was good. I’m actually perverse in the sense that I would rather print articles I totally disagree with, than articles I agree with. Cinema Papers had that freedom and there was a lot of that freedom at La Trobe too.
Rolando Caputo: A good note to end on, and to thank you all for being here.