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Friday, 22 November 2013

Momentous moments and memorials

Do you remember when...

The media is certainly making sure we do not overlook the 50th anniversary of the assassination of JFK. Footage of that fateful motorcade moment must have been replayed in the last few days almost as often as it was back in November 1963!  I was almost 11 back then, it was Saturday morning our time, and I was out shopping in Canberra city with my parents, when we met some friends of theirs, Mr and Mrs Levy, who told us the incredible news of what had just happened a few hours earlier. I think I even know what street corner we were stopped on. The previous year my primary school teacher Mr Harvey had given us lessons on the Cold War and the drama of the Cuban Missile crisis, and had instilled upon me at least the perilous state of the world in which JFK played such a dominant role. All the revelations since then have not diminished the drama or tragedy of what occurred.

There is actually a family history connection here. Arthur Augustus Calwell was the Leader of the Australian Labor Party prior to Gough Whitlam. He was also a first cousin of my husband's grandmother Grace. In July 1963 when Mr Calwell was Leader of the Opposition, he was granted an audience with the President in the Oval Office. Apparently during their meeting Mr Calwell told Mr Kennedy that his Calwell ancestors had left the States 100 years earlier in 1853, around the same time that Kennedy's ancestors had arrived there from Ireland, and Kennedy joked that he hoped it wasn't a case of cause and effect! Arthur Calwell was a keen family history researcher, and managed to get in touch with and meet some of his remaining American relatives during his American trip.

When Parliament met following the Presidential assassination a few months later, Calwell said, inter alia,  in an eloquent eulogy, that "A great and good man died and a generous and noble heart ceased to beat," when the US president "fell before an assassin's bullet". "When that death comes with the meaninglessness of assassination, then its sadness takes on a horror never to be obliterated from our memories."

It was ironic that on 21 June 1966 Calwell himself was to be the victim of an attempted assassination, when he was shot at point blank range when leaving a political meeting. The bullet was fortunately deflected by the car window and lodged in the lapel of Calwell's coat. He was slightly injured and spent the night in hospital. He subsequently wrote a letter of forgiveness to his attacker and continued on with his election campaign, but retired as leader of the ALP in January 1967, after suffering a substantial electoral defeat, and died in 1973.

The grave of Arthur Calwell and family at Melbourne General Cemetery
 I visited  the Kennedy monument at  the Arlington National Cemetery in 2005, and it is indeed a solemn place of reflection.
On that same trip in 2005 we also visited New York, and during a wander through Central Park we came across Strawberry Fields, which is effectively a monument to John Lennon, who was murdered in his nearby apartment building on 8 December 1980, almost 33 years ago now. I don't remember exactly what I was doing that day, apart from the fact that as it was my sister-in-law's birthday we may have been helping her celebrate, but I know it was certainly a shock, and there was an outpouring of grief from all his fans and admirers world-wide, and a similar wave of sadness and  incredulity at how such a terribly tragic thing could possibly have occurred. The late great John Lennon, mourned for both his music and his work as a  peace activist.

Another death of an individual which resulted in world-wide mourning was of course that of Diana, Princess of Wales, 16 years ago, and it appears that the cause of her death is still in dispute. So much investigation, so many rumours, and yet no final resolution as to exactly what or how it happened! Diana was greatly admired by the general public for her grace and her humanity. The shrine created to Diana and Dodi in the stairwell of Harrods is tacky but somehow poignant at the same time. Is it still in place there, now that Mohamed al Fayed no longer owns the iconic store? Of course there are other monuments in Diana's memory, such as the attractive memorial fountain in Hyde Park, but I can't locate my own photograph of that either, so this one taken when we visited Harrods in December 1999 and the shrine will have to suffice. 

Probably the momentous event to which I've personally been closest was in Canberra, our national capital,  on 11 November 1975, when the Australian Governor General saw fit to dismiss the Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam, only three years after he became leader, and to appoint the leader of the Opposition in his place, pending a general election, which Labor was to lose.  To see a memorable photograph from that day, taken on the steps of what was then Parliament House click  here.  This was effectively a bloodless coup. It was unbelievable that such a thing could have happened, and was to have huge repercussions for  Australian politics. Gough believed he would be re-elected by the Australian people who would see the injustice of what had occurred, but it was not to be. I was in the middle of studying for my final law exams, only three or four kilometres away in a nearby suburb, where we were renting a government flat, and although I thought we went down to the steps of Parliament later that afternoon to join the crowds of protesters and others, I'm assured by my better half that in fact we did not. Exams must having been pressing, but still, I doubt I could have concentrated on studying after seeing the news!

At home relaxing, circa 1975, in knitted vest and 70's style flares or bell-bottom trousers, and clearly not studying right at that moment either.
                                          For more momentous moments in time, please click here.


  1. Growing up in fairly remote country Victoria, nothing much touched us. We had limited TV stations and everything else seemed so far away. Canberra was much more 'happening'.

  2. Fascinated by the Caldwell connection. I haven't thought of him for years and had forgotten the incident you mentioned. thanks.

    1. ps. No 'd' in Calwell, although the Americans and Google invariably add one in. There's even a headstone of a relative there with an extraneous D chiselled off, obviously br someone who knew how it ought to have been spelt :-)

  3. You continue to surprise me Jo. Your family are going to treasure these stories from your blog.

  4. I don't know anything about Australian politics, but it seems strange that the prime minister could be dismissed like that.

  5. It's amazing how many deaths continue to fascinate us - Kennedy, John Lennon, Princess Diana. Even Marilyn Monroe.