Australian Biography

Jim Cairns - full interview transcript

Tape of 12

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Could you tell me what you forgot to tell me?

Yes, I think that in part Whitlam's attitude towards me was that I made him very self-conscious about his attitude to Kerr and Kerr's to him. When we came back from the cyclone in Darwin, Gwen and I went to Kirribilli. I think we stayed there only once. Kerr arrived on the Sunday morning in shirts and shorts for morning tea. He stayed for morning gin: a full bottle in two hours, and began to tell me about how he disliked Whitlam, [like], 'Whitlam could never be trusted, never be trusted. I wouldn't trust him, and if I get a chance I'll get rid of him'. So when Whitlam came back on the 19th January I told him exactly what Kerr had told me. 'Ah,' he said, 'Get rid of me? He couldn't do that,' he said. 'He's my man. He'll do what I tell him to do'. And I said, 'Well I think Gough, that's the main trouble. He wants to be bigger than you, if that's possible, and he won't accept that position'. However it happened and he did sack Whitlam, and that was a strong motivation that he was living in.

Now, back to what we were talking about before. When you met Junie Morosi and she put this different way of looking at things to you, how did she come to do that?

She came to see me. See, she was in Canberra, and she's never been able to get anywhere much. She's attractive, she's got ability, but she was always too sexually dangerous for anyone to have around. She worked for Grassby and Grassby couldn't risk it. She worked for Murphy, and Murphy did risk it to a certain extent, and she couldn't get any sort of recognition, and I suppose I thought: give her a go in a way. That was at first. She came to see me one day to talk about China. She was born in Shanghai. Now looking back over it, it was a mistake on my part.

Well, you could have perhaps indulged in this dialogue with her about philosophy?

I don't think so. That wasn't involved then, I didn't know at that time. When I decided to give her a job and when only a fortnight later the response around was such that many said, 'She's ... You'll have to sack her.' Murphy for one. 'You'll have to sack her'. He'd done that already and I agreed and she agreed, but then I reappointed her about a month later.


Because she was, for me at that stage in my thinking, the only person that I could talk to. The only person that I knew that I could talk to who would develop my thinking. That was the reason.

And why do you think she was the only person that could do that?

Hardly anyone now is able to do it. I hardly know anyone now that I can talk to about repression, the psychological theory of repression. I read an excellent book by Karen Horney. It's superficial really but it's the best one I can find.

There was also an emotional connection with Junie, wasn't there? It wasn't simply that you were having an intellectual dialogue of a kind that you'd have with an academic colleague. Is that correct, that there was a connection there that gave a different meaning, an intensity to it ... a conversation with her?

Yes I suppose so, but don't forget I had hardly ever had a very close relationship with anybody.

And why is that?

Why's that? There's Linda Gardner, whom I've known for eighty-five years, as long as I've ... eighty-three years, eighty-one years ... [She] said the night before last, 'You were always there but you were never with us'. The stand-awayness I think is on my part. To withdraw is on my part. Now does that mean I'm afraid of human relations? I think it does mean that.

You explored with a psychiatrist, before you met Junie Morosi, some of your own psychological origins in some taped interviews done on behalf of the Political Science Department at the University, and you stuck with it because you got interested in what he was uncovering. Did that give you any clues to why?

No. People mention those interviews. John Diamond wasn't it? It was interesting. He had some good points, but I don't think I was terribly influenced by those three or four talks I had with him. I don't think so.

But he dealt a lot as that type of psychoanalysis does, on the relationship with your mother and the way she treated you. What were your thoughts on that?

Ah yes, of course, that's all consistent with it. You see, my mother had syphilis which she got from my father. It wasn't treated for many years. She knew she had some illness. I don't know if she was ever told what it was, but she was afraid of passing it on to me. We always shook hands. I never got close to my mother, and I suppose if that doesn't happen to you in the first ten years, it's never likely to happen to you.

What about the other adult members of the family? Did they kiss and cuddle you?

No, nor did they kiss and cuddle each other. I had a very ... a family that functioned very much alone by pleasant association, but not close associations. Patriarchy is an organically phobic culture. We are afraid of close contact. Very much of that is subconscious. It's impossible to tell [in that] photograph of mother, aunt and mother, grandmother and me, sitting under the mulberry tree, [that] I have. You'd have thought we were happy , pleasant people. We were, but there wasn't any organic contact.

And what do you think that Junie was able to do to break through that?

Oh, not much really. It was coming anyway. Her main value to me was telling me how important Reich's four or five books are. I think the two that I've got in there, they were her's. She's got her signature in them. It was as it has been with everybody. With me it was words, it wasn't organic contact so much that influenced me. She was an excellent conversationalist, first rate teacher - should have been a teacher in that area, if she could have stuck at it.

But she wasn't someone who could stick at things very well?

Didn't stick at things much.

Was she a good office organiser?

No. She wasn't supposed to be an office organiser. The criticism that has been levelled at her is made by very jealous and envious people, who were supposed to be organising the bloody office themselves. She wasn't supposed to be doing that. I think at times she was a bit authoritarian - more than a bit. And I think she expressed that sometimes around the office in Canberra. Canberra was the only place she ever met anybody around me - never Melbourne or anywhere else.

As things got hotter over that and there was a lot ... a lot of speculation about your relationship and a lot of innuendo. Why didn't you then act to terminate the appointment?

Well, I don't go to where I'm driven. They didn't do the same for anyone else. Look I know senior members of government. I know men who got above the rank of Prime Minister who have children by another woman ... whose children carry their names. I met the mother and the son of one at Frankston only a fortnight ago. I met and worked with a lady called Cowan, who was a prostitute in Little Lonsdale Street. She told me her son, Zellie Cowan, was going to Scotch College. Look there's things all over the place. The media doesn't tell you about all this stuff.

One of the reasons they were so interested in it in your case Jim, was that you had such a reputation for being somebody ...

Impeccable, yes. So if they good throw mud over me what great pleasure it was for them. The question you should be asking is about the people in the media who do this sort of thing and why. Why do they want to damage and hurt people? Not why I didn't run away from it.

And what do you think is the answer to that question you've just put? Why did you think they did want to damage and hurt you?

Retaliation, getting even for being down graded and treated like shit, as they are in their jobs every day. It's their own motivation, their own function as a person - not the people they're criticising, not the function of those people who cause it.

Can I put this to you: had there not been such a fuss about it, do you think you would have been more prepared, rather than less prepared, to act to end the situation that had arisen?


But you made ... you were determined not to do anything out of expediency?

In the circumstances I don't know whether I'd call it expediency, but I wasn't prepared to give way to pressure.

Was there an element in you that even at that stage you were getting disillusioned with the possibilities of the political system?

Yes very much so.

And where had that really come from? Can you characterise what was the frame of mind?

Two things happened in the Morosi time. The failure of the Whitlam government and it failed badly. I could see nothing in that future - in the Whitlam government, and beyond that again, because of the Morosi factor, there was no alternative. I couldn't have succeeded Whitlam. There was no way through parliament ... It's not worth worrying about much. Get and start what I did do. I started two things. Early 1976 I said it was time we looked for alternatives and it's time we got together over that. So there were two or three things which became known as Confest. 15,000 people attended the first, it was a miracle, 15,000 the second. I suppose 50,000 people have been influenced by what was done at those Confests. It was almost as significant, in a sense, as Vietnam. And then I began to study. My work since 1975 would be the equivalent of two university courses, and I've written fifteen books.

And I think we'll talk about it tomorrow, because we've done enough today, but that was terrific ... [break in tape]

As your interest in your political career faded and you in fact left the ministry, what sort of things began to take up your time?

What became known as the Down to Earth movement. It is true that I had felt that there was just no prospect of any achievement of the things that I'd been aspiring to in parliament, in the Labor Party. It was a complete end of that, just like that, in a week or two of time. And then it took me about three months to think of an alternative. Now in those days, there was a great deal of thought and newspaper and media reporting [about] communities, alternatives, beginning with Nimbin in 1972 and going on in many parts of Australia. The first thing I thought I'd like to do was to find out really what that was: what were they doing, what were the people like? So how could I do that? I could have travelled around in a caravan and gone here and there, but that didn't attract, so I thought it might be a good idea to try and get a good many of them together in a conference: bring them together and see what they were like there. So that idea emerged. It got a little bit of publicity in the media but not much. I wrote about four or five hundred letters to different people, who I thought were interested, and the response was amazing. The number of people and the degree of participation at the Cotter River, near Canberra, at the end of 1976, beginning of 1977, was literally amazing. There must fully 14 or 15,000 people assembled there in the full sense of the alternative, and it appeared to be extremely promising as a way of life. Now what I began to search for was not only a just a way of life, not just only a way of living, but an attitude to the rest of society. What did they think of the rest of society? The prospects of making it better, the prospects of making it like they were. That was a disappointment because I felt there was a withdrawal. It was a drop out. It was a movement away from something they didn't like, that they rejected. It was a movement away from something that rejected them and the things they did, including the drugs they took, because drugs were very common and very significant at the Cotter and elsewhere. And so I saw ... I felt doubt even at the first Confest that it was not a way of reform. It was not really what I was searching for. But however we decided we'd have a second Confest. We looked for ground to have it on all up and down the Murray and we found a very unfortunate place really: Bredbo, at the junction of the Murrumbidgee and a couple of semi-rivers, creeks, but it was very barren, dry, rough, unpleasant, unattractive country. And that kind of harshness of the country really tended to come out amongst the 14 or 15,000 people who turned up. We did all the things they had done at Cotter but not with the relaxation, with the ease, with the pleasure that Cotter had produced. So Bredbo was a disappointment. It was decided to try and buy the land. There was a130 acres. We bought it. And I paid I think about 30,000 down for that, and as far as I know it's never been paid off, and I don't know what's happened to it since. I know that for quite a while some dozens or fifty people lived on it in a very primitive way. I've never been there since about 1984 at all, and I don't know what's happening there now. Now those festivals went on, up and down the Murray in South Australia, and I went to three or four of them, but they were no way for me to do the things I wanted to do. So by 1984 I had finished with that. And then the only thing I had left was study and research. As I said I had come across new ideas, new interpretations about 1975, and I had to work on them. Now in truth I worked many, many hours, many, many days. I wrote eight or nine books altogether. I think all the academic work I did on that was almost completely alone, apart from a few authors, many in the past: Freud and Reich, Montague, quite a number of others. There was no contemporary literature to really help much. This new way of looking at things, this New Age, is not a thing that has been studied much. You can't find much of a psychological explanation for it. And I think it took me about two years or three to realise I had to work out my own and present that, and see how that went. Well, it went all right, but I was not able to get a publisher, because it was not the vogue. It was not what people wanted to publish, not what people thought they could sell. So I had to publish, that is pay the printer, pay the costs and all that, and sell the book myself, and I think I've done something pretty unique. I think I've sold roughly, personally, over a little small table, directly to the buyer - I've sold something like eight or nine thousand books in that period.

Does that give you a lot of satisfaction?

Oh, yes. The buyers of the books seem to be very pleased with them. They say that they're good, and they're very pleased they bought it and they've learnt a lot. However many there are and there are not that many. There wouldn't be more than seven or eight thousand, with each book being read at most twice, in the whole of Australia, and largely in Victoria. Not too many have been sold elsewhere.

But do you feel more at home, studying and writing and communicating directly like that with the public, than with other things that you've done in your life?

I have always felt at home, only really in writing and communicating with the public. Parliament was writing and communicating with the public in so far as I felt at home with it, and everything else I've done really amounts to that. It's a career of writing and communicating with people, one of teaching if you like, but not teaching in the sense of me knowing what it is and telling you, but teaching in the sense of developing it together by an exchange of ideas.

When you were an academic, that was in fact your official job, to do that sort of thing, and that would have given you some kind of status with which to approach the promotion of a book, or the communication of ideas.

Well, experience, I don't know about status. It gave me an experience and therefore a view that it worked. It was successful.

I mean, had you stayed as an academic, you would have had probably a better base from which to promote your developing ideas.

That's shared by Gwen. I think it is. But you see, I got a long way in the police force and a long way in the University of Melbourne, so far that so many people were predicting I was going to be a commissioner of police and a professor, but I never was. I never got to the top of them in any of them for that matter. I never became Prime Minister. I was always a very promising person who never got to the top, and it seems to me that ... that must have been appropriate to the way I used to work.

Well, people said of you, when you were in parliament, that you lacked the killer instinct - that was the phrase that was often used about you - that was needed to get to the top. What did you feel about that comment?

Well, I ... I opposed Frank Crean for Treasurer and defeated him. I almost defeated Whitlam. Are they examples of the killer instinct? I don't know what the killer instinct really is. It's a pleasure in beating somebody or putting someone down or killing somebody. Well I had no pleasure out of that. I have always felt regret that I opposed Frank Crean as Treasurer. Always wish I had never done it. I don't feel any regret about opposing Whitlam in 1968 when he resigned over the Harradine issues. That seemed to me to do very much to produce the sort of policy that we won the election with, instead of a policy tending to the centre or right, otherwise we would have won the election. It wasn't a matter of getting rid of Whitlam. It was the matter of getting rid of a policy that was always easier to kill for me, than a person.

You had a certain ambivalence too, didn't you, about elevating yourself, putting yourself into a role that put you in a position of prominence? I mean it seems as if there was a kind of approach avoidance about that.

Yes that's right.

Would you talk a little bit about that?

It wasn't something that I thought much about, or was conscious of, or decided about, and I don't like the word instinct because it's far too basic for anything like that. But it was the way I felt without having to think much about it. It was just something that I seemed to do without thinking it out, without deciding to do it. Just did it because it was getting out of the way if you like, and doing something else.

But you had the experience for that brief time that you were running against Whitlam of suddenly realising that those elevated positions bring great opportunities. Did you feel that was a sort of temptation?

That's right. Yes.

In what respect did you see it as a temptation?

Well, I thought there was enough in it to make it very significant. Now it didn't lead me to say, 'Look I'm going to plan to get rid of Whitlam soon, or as soon as possible, or at all'. In 1969, 1970, '71, '72 and so on, all the way, right at the end, up to Darwin and all that, I never had a thought of opposing Whitlam. Never mentioned to anyone that I might - never, not one person - that I might oppose Whitlam. I can see the value of it, but it didn't lead me to take action to achieve it.

Looking back, do you regret that a little?

Yes, I think so.


Well, the alternative that followed by not doing it, was a pretty inadequate one. You see in many ways after 1973, the Whitlam government collapsed. It was a failure. In 1974 ... in the second part of 1974, it was very inadequate. It broke up. About four ministers and a speaker were sacked. We spoke about ... hardly ever about policy, about what we would do. We were existing on our achievements already, 'It's Time', and we'd been there and we'd made it time. We were existing on our achievements of less than two years. And then of course when Kerr stepped in, we didn't campaign on the value of the Labor Party so much, the value of Whitlam or the value of the government, we campaigned against Kerr. We asked people to vote for us because they should reject what Kerr had done, not because of our value. Our last year, 1975, was a very negative year. Now having been through that and looking back over it, I tend to think it might have been better for me and even better for the Labor Party, if I had tried to become Prime Minister. Now whether I could have done or not, I don't know. I didn't even try. I doubt if I could have succeeded in 1974. I don't think so. But had I been able to, it would have given ... it might have given a better result for all.

Going back to when you challenged for the leadership in opposition and lost by three votes, if you had won those votes and you had led the Party in 1972, do you think that A. you would have won and what difference would that have made to the kind of government that would have been the Labor government from 1972?

I don't know. You see, I had a very bad media really, basically. They may have campaigned much more strongly against me than they did against Whitlam. In 1972 there wasn't much they could find to use against Whitlam. He was well-behaved, he was middle class, his policy was reasonable, his ideas were not deep but reportable. He was able to get in the 1972 election a very good press. Now my feeling is I wouldn't have got one.

You were too far to the Left?

Yes. Not only that, I was likely to go further still. You know, I'd have had a head office in Moscow! Only come to Canberra every second week or something. So, no, I doubt if I could have won. If I had beaten Whitlam I certainly would have tried. Now what Whitlam would have done, I don't know. Would he have stayed in the Cabinet, the Shadow Cabinet? Probably would have. How much would he have worked with me? How much would he have had an ambition to get back again, and take over? How much would he have felt to beat me to do that? These are all uncertainties.

[end of tape]

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