Book Review: Bjelke Blues edited by Edwina Shaw

Bjelke Blues: Stories of Repression and Resistance in Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s Queensland 1968–1987…

About the Book:

‘Bjelke Blues gives heart and soul to the remembrances of the men and women who were at the end of police batons… at the front line fighting for justice and decency’ – Matthew Condon, journalist and author of Three Crooked Kings, Jacks and Jokers, All Fall Down and The Night Dragon

With stories by: Nick Earls, Melissa Lucashenko, Bob Weatherall, Sam Watson, Raymond Evans, Anne Jones, John Willsteed, Matt Mawson, David Margan, Dan O’Neill, Mandy Nolan, Andrea Baldwin, Sean Mee & many more

My Thoughts:

‘Joh was not a Premier that Queensland should be proud of. He reduced it to a state ridicule in the 1970s and later brought it into disrepute. He set out to harm the lives of many people. He used the legal process to cower his opponents with unaffordable costs. His regime was a rapacious destroyer of some of Queensland’s most wonderful assets. That any survived is a tribute to the Queensland conservation movement. He was a fool who supported a quack with some snake oil cure for cancer, and a charlatan who claimed to be able to run cars on hydrogen. He corrupted what had been an effective, efficient bureaucracy committed to serving the public into an organisation which was only to serve the political party in power. He used his position to gain favours for himself and his favourites. He was corrupt and he appointed corrupt people to high places.’

You know how sometimes you read a book and you need to constantly remind yourself that it’s fiction? Well, with this one, I had to constantly remind myself that it WASN’T fiction. I moved to Queensland towards the end of 1987, but I was still in primary school and oblivious to politics, as the majority of eleven-year olds often are. As I got older, I of course became aware of Joh Bjelke-Petersen, but only in the sense of him as a former premier who farmed peanuts in Kingaroy and had a wife named Flo. We moved to Queensland from Victoria in the late 1980s for a ‘better life’. I’m wondering now what memo my parents got that farcical notion from. Don’t get me wrong, Queensland is my home and has been ever since then, but it seems odd, that as so many were leaving Queensland to escape the tyranny of Joh Bjelke-Petersen and his police state, that we would be traveling in the opposite direction. Must have been the sunshine.

Bjelke Blues is all about resistance during the nineteen years that Joh Bjelke-Petersen reigned as Premier of Queensland. It’s the kind of book that has you laughing while also crying and beating your head against the table. This was Queensland? It beggars belief. Countless remembrances written by a wide variety of Queenslanders make up the content of this book. Ordinary people who protested for a better Queensland; people who were openly harassed in the most appalling manner and subjected to violence, arrest, surveillance, and financial penalty by the police for the most ridiculous reasons. This is the sort of stuff that you read about under police states; life in the USSR during the Cold War. But no, this was Queensland from 1968 through to 1987. A democratic state within a democratic country. Like I said, I had to frequently remind myself this wasn’t fiction.

There’s a lot of ground covered within this book and it’s all utterly fascinating, yet also horrifying. It’s also kind of uplifting and hopeful, particularly when you consider those who relentlessly ‘fought the good fight’, despite knowing that the police were not ever going to be on their side. The corruption was astounding, the bogus laws appalling, the archaic views of Bjelke-Petersen horrifying. The racism, sexism, homophobia, and widespread prejudice against youth, certain religions, creative people, university students, people with a modicum of intelligence…the list goes on. What a frightening time to have lived in Queensland. This book tells so much, and at times, yes, it’s downright distressing to read about how certain people were treated. But it’s so important, as people who live in a democratic nation, to read a book like this, a history from within your own country that is not too distant, where the echoes can still be heard within the voices of politicians getting voted in today, not just in Queensland, but all over Australia.


Thanks is extended to the author for providing me with a copy of Bjelke Blues for review.

Read for #2020ReadNonFic hosted by Book’d Out

Category: History

Bjelke Blues
Published by AndAlso Books
Released September 2019

10 thoughts on “Book Review: Bjelke Blues edited by Edwina Shaw

  1. I’ve been looking forward to your review of this.
    I remember those years, and since there was nothing I could do to change it, I decided that I would never spend a tourist dollar in Qld until he was gone.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh, I’m so glad you read this one, Theresa! ❤️ As a fellow former(ish) Queenslander, I have much the same response to it.

    Liked by 1 person

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