Cahill, Damien & Rowan Cahill: Bowral

Cahill, Damien & Rowan Cahill

The 1978 military occupation of Bowral‘, Illawarra Unity: Journal of the Illawarra Branch of the Australian Society for the Study of Labour History, 6, 1, 2006, pp.24-37

Describes the response to the Sydney Hilton ‘terrorist’ bombing 1978, particularly the deployment of troops to Bowral, NSW, whence the Commonwealth Heads of Government Regional Meeting was relocated after the bombing. Despite what the authors describe as ‘a long standing Australian cautionary emphasis on the primacy of civilian authorities in maintaining peace-time domestic order’ some 2000 troops were deployed in Bowral and elsewhere.

The paper looks at media (national and local) and resident reaction to the deployment and notes how the presentation of the deployment as a response to terrorism helped legitimise. They draw parallels with the ‘war on terror’ nearly 30 years later and conclude

the fact remains that for three days in February 1978, armed Australian military personnel occupied the town of Bowral and its surrounds and, in so doing, helped to establish a precedent for the future use of the military against civilians in the name of counter-terrorism.

It would be foolish, we submit, to dismiss the possibility that emergency powers and military force could be used by the federal government against civilian dissenting groups in Australia in the near future. Using the “war on terror” as pretext, the Federal Coalition Government, with the support of its Labor Opposition, has extended the range of civilian activities against which the use of the military by the government might be legally permitted. Such activities include, potentially, numerous actions likely to be undertaken by trade unions and labour movement activists. Analysing the responses of Australian civilians during the precedent setting 1978 call-out is thus a useful exercise. At the very least it throws into doubt the notion that “it couldn’t happen here”.

The notes to the article contain extensive references.

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