Student activists at Sydney University 1960‐1967: a problem of interpretation

Alan Barcan (University of Newcastle, NSW)

History of Education Review

ISSN: 0819-8691

Publication date: 24 June 2007


The student revolt of 1967 to 1974, which finally expired about 1978, retains its fascination and much of its significance in the twenty‐first century. But the seven or so years which preceded it are often passed over as simply a precursor, the incubation of a subsequent explosion; they deserve a higher status. The concentration of interest on the late 1960s and early 1970s arises from the driving role of students in the cultural revolution whose traumatic impact still echoes with us. As late as 2005 some commentators saw federal legislation introducing Voluntary Student Unionism as the culmination of struggles in the 1970s when Deputy Prime Minister Costello and Health Minister Abbott battled their radical enemies. Interest in these turbulent years at a popular, non‐academic level has produced a succession of nostalgic reminiscences. In the Sydney Morning Herald’s ‘Good Weekend’ for 13 December 2003 Mark Dapin pondered whether the Melbourne Maoists had changed their world views (‘Living by the Little Red book’.) In the Sydney University Gazette of October 1995 Andrew West asserted that the campus radicals of the 1960s and ‘70s had remained true to their basic beliefs (‘Not finished fighting’.) Some years later, in April 2003, the editor of that journal invited me to discuss ‘Where have all the rebels gone?’ My answer treated this as a twofold question: What has happened to the former rebels? Why have the students of today abandoned radicalism?



Barcan, A. (2007), "Student activists at Sydney University 1960‐1967: a problem of interpretation", History of Education Review, Vol. 36 No. 1, pp. 61-79.

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