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The Margaret Bailey case: High school activism, the right to education and modern citizenship in late 1960s Australia

Isobelle Barrett Meyering (Department of Modern History, Politics and International Relations, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia)

History of Education Review

ISSN: 0819-8691

Article publication date: 6 November 2019

Issue publication date: 11 November 2019

510

Abstract

Purpose

In March 1969, Brisbane student and political activist Margaret Bailey was suspended from Inala High School – ostensibly for “undermining the authority” of her teacher – prompting claims of political suppression. Through a case study of the subsequent campaign for Bailey’s reinstatement, the purpose of this paper is to explain the emergence of the high school activist as a new political actor in the late 1960s.

Design/methodology/approach

The paper draws on newsletters and pamphlets produced by Brisbane activists, alongside articles from the left-wing and mainstream press, to reconstruct the key events of the campaign and trace the major arguments advanced by Bailey and her supporters.

Findings

Initiated by the high school activist group, Students in Dissent (SID), the campaign in support of Bailey lasted over two months, culminating in a “chain-in” staged by Bailey at the Queensland Treasury Building on 8 May. Linking together arguments about students’ rights, civil liberties and democratic government, the campaign reveals how high school activism was enabled not only by the broader climate of political dissent in the late 1960s, but by the increasing emphasis on secondary education as a right of modern citizenship in the preceding decades.

Originality/value

This is the first study of the campaign for Bailey’s reinstatement at Inala High School and one of the only analyses to date of the political mobilisation of high school students in Australia during the late 1960s. The case study of the Bailey campaign underlines that secondary school students were important players in the political contests of the late 1960s and, if only for brief periods, were able to command the attention of education officials, the media and leading politicians. It represents an important historical precedent for contemporary high school activism, including the global School Strike 4 Climate movement.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

The author wishes to thank the anonymous reviewers and the journal editors for their valuable suggestions, as well as Michelle Arrow, Leigh Boucher and Jon Piccini for their feedback on earlier versions of this article.

Citation

Barrett Meyering, I. (2019), "The Margaret Bailey case: High school activism, the right to education and modern citizenship in late 1960s Australia", History of Education Review, Vol. 48 No. 2, pp. 183-197. https://doi.org/10.1108/HER-05-2019-0014

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

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