Earliest political memories

By Legal Eagle

[Cross posted at Larvatus Prodeo]

Today my daughter was playing with her pink superball while my son was asleep (it’s small, so she’s only allowed to get it out while he’s sleeping). I heard her mutter to her toys while brandishing the pink superball, “This is the Prime Minister, and if you do something he doesn’t like, he will bounce in your eye.” My husband has pointed out that she may have learned the concept from a book entitled Blossom Possum (beautifully illustrated by Rafe Champion’s late wife, as it happens). I have also tried to explain to her what a Prime Minister does, but given the actions of the superball, I’m not sure if she quite “got it”.

Anyway, after I posted this incident on my Facebook page, the post started off a string of reminiscences about people’s childhood political memories. It transpires that an amazing number of my friends just loved Bob Hawke when they were kids. I don’t know if that means my friends’ families were generally Labor-leaning, or that Bob had a special appeal which made him loved by kids? When my sister was a little girl, she loved Bob. One general election, she asked Dad who he voted for, and Dad teasingly said he voted for Andrew Peacock because the Liberals gave him a shortbread round (actually he’d bought it at the school stall at the voting booth). My sister sobbed and sobbed, and said, “Now the forests will die because you haven’t voted for Bob!”

Mark Bahnisch commented that when he was in Grade 2, he wrote a poem about Gough Whitlam. Then Mark and I decided that we should write a joint post about what everyone’s earliest political memories are. I remember that I never liked Joh Bjelke-Petersen as a child. In addition, with a child’s merciless observation, I noted his head was shaped like a peanut, and thus I thought it was extraordinary that he was an ex-peanut farmer. Like my sister, I also loved Bob Hawke when I was little.

Do you remember whether you liked particular politicians when you were young? Or did you dislike particular politicians?


  1. Posted January 15, 2010 at 9:46 pm | Permalink

    I don’t remember how I felt about Bob Hawke when young – that’s all too muddled by now.

    But I do, very clearly, remember how my parents felt. My mother, in particular, adored him. She believed (mistakenly) it was he who let us into the country and so he could never do any wrong.

  2. Posted January 15, 2010 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

    As a Queenslander my earliest political memory is of course, Joh Bjelke-Petersen. I didn’t grow up in a particularly political family so my earliest memory of television news is actually the death of Elvis Presley. In terms of politics I think I can remember the banning of public assembly to curb political protests which was linked to a lot of strike action that had something to do with the constant electricity blackouts but other than that nothing specific until the Fitzgerald Enquiry that revealed all the corruption.

    My impression growing up was that Joh was a big happy man and a good premier who kicked ass when he went down south to negotiate with all the other premiers for federal money. I remember hating Russ Hinze though (huge obese chap who I thought looked like a cane toad on stumps) and thought HE was dodgy because he had something to do with horseracing.

    I liked Bob Hawke but wasn’t really aware of him until Australia won the America’s Cup and he scandalised my grandmother by a) appearing drunk and b) swearing on television saying that any employer who sacked someone for not coming into work the next day was a bastard.

    I have nursed a passionate hate for Paul Keating since my early teenage years, which won me many large stuffed animals when the “kicking donkey” stall at the Ekka inadvisedly replaced the painted bullseyes on their targets with images of leading pollies one year. Normally I couldn’t hit the ground with my hat, but with the correct motivation I achieved a throwing arm that a professional baseballer would be proud of. His close association as tutor to Tony Blair was a huge warning alarm that instantly put me off New Labour when it emerged in the UK.

  3. conrad
    Posted January 16, 2010 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    It wasn’t just kids that liked Bob Hawke, I think he was quite likable across the spectrum (I was a teenageer when Hawke was in, and I liked him — I’d be interested to know what people on the conservative side of politics thought of him). He just seemed so much more human and normal than many other politicians — although I’m sure coming in after a pompous git like Fraser no doubt made him all the better and my memory is probably jaded by the arrogance and rudeness of Keating who came after (although I didn’t mind Keating, he was very funny from time to time — but far less human than Hawke). I can’t think of any other politician that had a world record for drinking either!

  4. Posted January 16, 2010 at 11:21 am | Permalink

    Brought across from LP:

    I also liked Bob Hawke. I think everyone did. I remember being irrationally angry when Keating did a Brutus to Hawke’s Caesar and — Keating’s unpleasantness apart — I’m sure this coloured my view of Keating for all time.

    I do find people who have political memories from when they were little kids very impressive, because while I remember Hawke on the news over the America’s Cup etc, it wasn’t a political memory as such, but the fact that he was PM and said something funny. I was probably more lefty back in high school (insofar as a 14 year old can be said to have ‘politics’), mainly because I was in the process of becoming an atheist at a religious school, and I didn’t know any right-wing atheists.

  5. AJ
    Posted January 16, 2010 at 12:59 pm | Permalink

    My nephew has a thing for Kevin Rudd, including a favourite stuffed animal named Kevin Rudd and attempting to convince his parents to name the dog Kevin Rudd (they comprised and called it Ruddy). They have chosen to see this as cute; I think its genuinely weird.

  6. Posted January 16, 2010 at 4:28 pm | Permalink

    I remember running to my folks about what I’d seen on the TV (we’d only had one a short time). Mr Menzies was resigning. I knew it was important, but was a bit confused about what a country did without a PM. I must have had a notion that Menzies was a synonym for PM.

    The next two major memories were Harold Holt’s unfortunate swim, and Robert Kennedy’s assassination (I was aware of US politics by this time, and had been hoping he would be the next president, because he’d been trying to do something about racism).

    But the only political issue that REALLY mattered, and it’s hard to know exactly when I started getting concerned, because it was on the TV every night once we had a TV, was the Vietnam War. I remember seeing that napalmed girl running down the road, and the South-Vietnamese policeman shoot a bound prisoner in the head in the middle of the street and being outraged (the image of the fountain of blood is burned into my memory to this day)… no trial… no prison camp… that’s something WW2 Japanese and Germans did wasn’t it, something that made them the evil guys in all those movies? Australia supporting the bad guys? Did that mean WE were the bad guys? I think it was at that moment I became dead set against the Liberal Party for getting us into the war, despite my menzies-loving ba-santamaria-watching parents (who nevertheless believed in a large frank and fearless public service).

    But politics (apart from the war, and nashos you knew coming back all broken men) was WAY less important than knowing all the details of each new satellite or manned space mission.

  7. Stephanie
    Posted January 19, 2010 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    My first memory was of sitting in the car and asking mum why Paul Keating was now the Prime Minister. She said it was because his party didn’t like Bob anymore so they sacked him. I thought that that was mean and asked mum who we liked. She said we liked the Liberals but only the dry ones. Apparently the wet ones were annoying.
    Funny how I ended up being a dry Liberal! (And I like Hawkie too)

  8. Posted January 19, 2010 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

    Interesting post LE. I wonder what political consciousness obtains amongst people whose earliest memories of politics are dominated by Kevvie? What is a PM? King of the nerds?
    My earliest memories are of the adults (all Ike-type conservative-science people) shaking their heads and whispering about something called Watergate, then more whispers, frightened, about somewhere called Bangladesh, President Bhutto the First landing on our gold course and waving at me (a little while before he swung) and then, home on holdays, my first election campaign: Shame Fraser, Shame!
    And people wonder why I’m cynical. 🙂

  9. Posted January 19, 2010 at 7:35 pm | Permalink

    [email protected]… your “Challenger” corresponds to my “Apollo 1” (I was 6 then). And… you’ll be drooling…. we got a large envelope from NASA every couple of weeks, designed for mid-secondary kids, with details of upcoming and recent missions – manned and unmanned (remember, live broadcasts internationally were still in the future then). And the posters for the moon missions were as tall as I was.

    I’d also argue that the moon program was political, because it will end up big time in the history books, and certainly had an effect on how people viewed different nations (the first pictures of a small blue earth did that). I’d argue that dicking around in low earth orbit ISN’T that political.

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