Australian Biography - Jim Cairns

Shot Vision Audio In Point
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Film Australia's Australian Biography series opening
Fade to black

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Fade up from black

Jim

Freeze-frame at end of sync dialogue
Super:
Jim Cairns
Born Melbourne, 1914
Politician

Dissolve to:

Jim sync: The sum of total of harm done by -- to people to the human race -- is done by and with the authority of authority, whether it's religion or state or what I hate authority.

Music

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Photo. Jim as small child on horse

Jim v/o: When we lived at Sunbury, we lived at the end of the Gap, and may be you don't know Sunbury, but the Gap is

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Jim

Jim sync: three miles out of Sunbury on the Bendigo Road. And right at the end there was a small old house fronting the road, occupied by the Murphys, and there was Steve Murphy.

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Photo. Men standing outside shop

Jim v/o: Now, Sunbury and its districts was very much torn by Catholic-Protestant rivalry and dislike

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Jim

Jim sync: at that time, very much. And Murphy was a Catholic and I was a Protestant.

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Photo. Jim as child leading horse

And I used to ride my pony down past his place and

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Photo. Jim on horse

Jim v/o: many times I had difficulty in getting past, in escaping you see.

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Jim

Jim sync: So one day I decided I'd do something about it. So I bought three meat pies in Sunbury for threepence each and went up with the three meat pies, and Steve Murphy came out as usual. And I said 'G'day Steve, would you like a meat pie?' 'Oh, yeah'. So I gave him one meat pie, and I ate the other. And I said 'Hey Steve I've got a second one, would you like a second one?' 'Yeah,' he said. So that was a change and we never had a harsh word after that, for the next two years that I lived there.

Robin v/o: Was that a principle you used at all later in life?

Jim: Yes. Doctor Yes they used to call me.

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Photo. Jim as child

Robin v/o: When you were growing up with your mother and grandparents there in Sunbury, what was the atmosphere of the household?

Jim: Very much one of equals.

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Jim

Jim sync: I had got an education and I knew all sorts of things, like the length of the Ganges and the height of Kosciusko, the population of New York. All sorts of things like that I knew and no one else knew so I was the authority,

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Photo. Jim as child with his dog

Jim v/o: and I used to be the little lecturer, I think.

Robin v/o: You were the only child

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Photo. Jim on horse. Woman stands nearby

in this household of adults.

Jim v/o: Yes.

Robin v/o: Did that make you very much the centre of attention?

Jim v/o: Well, some

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Jim

Jim sync: people would say so, but I had a lot of time on my own, by choice.

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Photo. Jim's mother

Jim v/o: I did miss my mother a lot, because my mother and aunt both continued

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Photo. Sunbury Mental Hospital

to work at the mental hospital at Sunbury and later at Royal Park. And I

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Jim

Jim sync: can remember as it were until this day sitting on the gatepost watching them go off, on the Sunday night, knowing they wouldn't be back for a fortnight,

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Photo. Jim with his mother and aunt

Jim v/o: and I'm sure that made me feel very sad.

Robin v/o: Your father went to the First World War and never came back to Australia. Does that mean he stayed in Europe?

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Jim

Jim sync: No, it doesn't mean that. It means it's a tragedy. He didn't want to come back, he didn't want to take the responsibility of a wife and a child, and he went to Africa,

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Photo. Jim's father. Tilt down to Jim as baby with his mother

Jim v/o: And I didn't get an account of all this until right up into 1952.

Robin v/o: What were you told?

Jim: Nothing.

Robin v/o: When you

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Jim

went to school, did you play with the other kids?

Jim sync: Not very much.

Robin v/o: Did that change in 1929 when you went

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Photo. Northcote High

to Northcote High?

Jim v/o: School to me then was 77

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Photo. Boys looking out of window of school

miles a day away from home,

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Photo. Kids in school yard

and I travelled there every day.

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Photo. Suburban street

So I never spent much time at Northcote High School playing.

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Jim

Jim sync: But I did get into the playing area quite dramatically.

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Photo. Jim in sporting trunks beside cup

Jim v/o: I had always had the reputation of being a fast runner, so not having broad jumped

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Jim

Jim sync: before, I borrowed a pair of spikes and entered the Northcote District High School broad jump championship.

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Photo. Young men in football team

Jim v/o: When the other kids of my age were doing 16 to

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Photo. Detail of previous. Jim in sport photo

Jim v/o: 17 feet, I jumped 20 feet 2 inches,

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Jim

Jim sync: and won the championship. Well it wasn't school work or anything else that made my name at Northcote High School, it was that single jump. I jumped to fame. And so,

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Photo. School boys

Jim v/o: I became house captain, prefect, wore a green cap instead of a blue one,

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Jim

Jim sync: all on the strength of one single jump. Now that's been my life. I've got somewhere on the strength of one single jump,

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Photo. Jim hurdling

Jim v/o: very often.

Robin v/o: What was it like for you after you left school, when

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Photo. Russell St Police Headquarters

in 1935, you joined the police force?

Jim v/o: I was in

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Photo. Jim as young man

a very special part of the police force known then as 'the dogs', shadowing squad.

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Jim

Jim sync: And I was involved in a number of very dramatic arrests. I got eight commendatory entries in five years. I was promoted to be a first constable in four and three quarter years.

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Photo. Jim as young man

Jim v/o: Those are still records. It was an important part

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Photo. Jim and Gwen standing beside car

of my development as a person, that first six years

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Photo. Detail of previous. Jim and Gwen

in the police force.

Robin v/o: While you were there you studied

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Photo. Jim in academic gown

part time at the university too, didn't you?

Jim v/o: Yes.

Robin v/o: And after serving

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Photo. Melbourne University

in the war, you taught economics at Melbourne University. Was it your interest in economics that led you into politics?

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Jim

Jim sync: They weren't -- they were connected to a certain extent, but

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Photo. Jim

Jim v/o: I became more notable about Vietnam, I became notable in politics at the university not about economics, but about

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Jim

Jim sync: relationships between America and Russia. Yes, I lectured and tutored

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Archival. Students in lecture theatre [2 shots]

Jim v/o: as many as 800 students a year, public lecture theatre full. Yes,

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Photo. Jim. Zoom into ECU Jim's eyes

what I had to say had a very big influence on very many people.
But I was more involved in that first phase of the

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Jim

Jim sync: peace movement in public activity than I was in economics as public activity.

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Photo. Jim and parliamentary colleagues . Zoom in to Jim

Robin v/o: When you entered federal parliament in 1955 as the Labor Member for Yarra, what did you want to achieve through politics?

Jim v/o: Mainly I thought I knew what

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Jim

Jim sync: social and economic reform was and how to bring it about. And that was the most important thing of all to me to do. So in a sense I had to weigh up, 10 years, 15 years, 20 years on the university staff trying to teach people about that, or go into parliament and begin to do something about it.

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Photo. Jim meeting electorate - older couple and child

Jim v/o: Now at that stage I think I thought I could do more than I turned out to be able to do. I think I overrated what could be done

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Photo. Jim beside campaign caravan

in parliament. But I went into parliament because of a belief that by going there

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Jim

Jim sync: I could do the most I could possibly do about getting a better society.

Robin v/o: You were the leader of the Left in the Labour Party,

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Photo. Jim and Gough Whitlam

and when you stood for the leadership against Whitlam in 1970, you lost by only three votes. Yet you emerged

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Jim

from that fight looking rather pleased. Was it because you really didn't want to be Leader?

Jim sync: No I was pleased by then for another reason. I was pleased by then because of the power in three days that a number one figure appeared to me to have. I think I was on the media every 20 minutes and I thought, gee being Prime Minister can give you some power can't it?

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Photo. Jim and Gwen at press conference

Robin v/o: Did you start at that point to really want to be Leader?

Jim: No, it had gone, it was an experience of a week, it had gone.

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Jim

Jim sync: I suppose I've never been ambitious as it were, and I hate ambition. I have never been ambitious and I just can't want to be something.

Robin v/o: Why do think ambition is such a grievous fault?

Jim: Because it does so much harm. Perhaps I could have been ambitious, succeeded and I wouldn't done much harm. But ambition and harm are two things that I can't separate.

Robin v/o: You've always worked very hard in the court of peace, and many people remember you best

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Photo. Jim sitting on ground at Moratorium March

for your opposition to the Vietnam War through the Moratorium marches. What was your role

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Photo. Moratorium march

in the Moratorium movement?

Jim: Well, I had been working on my own for several years about Vietnam.

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Jim

Jim sync: I had written 'The Eagle and the Lotus'

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Jim's book, 'The Eagle and the Lotus.' Zoom in to Jim's name on title page

Jim v/o: which was a legitimate academic study of the history of the

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Archival footage. French soldiers boarding ship

invasion and occupation of Vietnam

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Archival footage. French flag

by the French.

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Jim

Jim sync: Almost whenever I become involved in anything it's been writing a book or reading a book. I've always been a student in action as much now as ever. Now as a result of that

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Photo. Jim in front of sign about Australia and Vietnam

Jim v/o: a number of people including me formed the CICD, Conference for the International Co-operation and Disarmament. Our decision to have

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Jim

Jim sync: a march into the city and to sit down in Bourke Street was made by me on a Friday night.

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Archival Vietnam Moratorium march [6 shots]

Jim v/o: The papers were full of terrible predictions of what was going to happen. The streets were going to be flowing in blood. And I was identified with most of it. Now I was full of tension and fear that day.

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Jim

Jim sync: There had been information passed on to us that someone was going to shoot from up on the tops

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Archival. [5 shots] Vietnam Moratorium march

Jim v/o: of the buildings and so on. There were two men who never moved away from me all that time. The wanted me to wear a metal waistcoat. But when we walked into the top of Bourke Street I saw what the response was, Bourke Street didn't have a motor car or a tram in it. The police had moved them all out

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Jim

Jim sync: and they'd opened the city and cleaned the city out for us to use, wherever we wanted to go.

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Archival. Vietnam Moratorium march

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Archival. Gough Whitlam

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Archival. Jim Cairns speaking to crowd at Vietnam Moratorium March

I think it was the most satisfying public experience I've ever had by far.

Music: Labor Party Campaign jingle

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Archival. Audience at Labor Party campaign gathering

Robin v/o: When the Whitlam government was elected in 1972,

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Archival. Gough Whitlam, John Kerr and Jim

you were given the portfolios of Overseas Trade and Secondary Industry. Did that work out well for you?

Jim v/o: Both of them satisfied me very

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Photo. Jim with Asian man

much, I had a very, very good two years in those

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Photo. Jim with Asian man at table

jobs. First of all I set out to

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Photo. Jim with Sukarno

reach trade agreements. The one with

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Jim

Jim sync: China was most satisfactory. In 1974 I announced that I was going to do that and I asked Australian leaders, business leaders, to come with me to China and 27 of them did.

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Photo. People gathered at formal dinner in the Great Hall of the People, Beijing. Pan left to Jim and woman standing at microphone

Jim v/o: Now, we were doing about 200 million dollars worth of trade with China before that visit, and it rose within a year to over a thousand

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Photo. Jim with men during Chinese trade mission

million dollars. Trade with China, very significantly Australian exports there,

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Jim

Jim sync: went up very much.

Robin v/o: You've always promoted the idea that if an Australian government needs to borrow, it should borrow from the Reserve Bank.

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Archival. Jim with members of the Whitlam government on lawn [4 shots]

How then did the Whitlam government, with you in it, come to try to borrow from rather unusual sources overseas?

Jim v/o: The loans affair

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Jim

Jim sync: was initiated by Connor, Rex Connor, Lionel Murphy and Gough Whitlam. I was not treasurer then, I was quite unaware of it. Frank Crean was hardly at all involved. I first became aware of it

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Archival. Australian flags. Zoom out to WS Lodge [2 shots]

Jim v/o: when I attended a meeting of the federal executive of the Labor Party at the Lodge and I asked

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Jim

Jim sync: the staff 'Where's Whitlam?' and they said 'He's in the dining room, having a meeting', so I opened the door and I went in. And they were having a meeting over the loans affair. They decided to authorise

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Archival. Rex Connor at press conference

Jim v/o: Connor to borrow four billion dollars

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Archival. Journalists interviewing Khemlani

and his representative in that borrowing was a man called Khemlani. And Whitlam

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Jim

Jim sync: came out and said 'We have just authorised our comrade to borrow four thousand or two thousand million, whatever it was, overseas. I'd become treasurer three days before. He said 'Are you going to sign it with us?' and I signed it with them.

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Photo. Whitlam and Jim

Jim v/o: So then Whitlam went away after Christmas.

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Photo. Jim and Lionel Murphy

So I said 'Well, what are you going to do about it, gents?' And

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Jim

Jim sync: we decided to cancel the Connor authority to borrow in the loans affair. That was to be the end of the loans affair. Whitlam came back on the 19th January and on the 27th January they had restored Connor's authority. I was treasurer and they didn't tell me.

Robin v/o: Yes you yourself signed a letter authorising

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Copy of Australian newspaper with headline relating to loans affair

Melbourne businessman George Harris to make inquiries about overseas

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Letter to George Harris reprinted in newspaper

loans. How did you come to do that?

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Jim

Jim sync: There were about 50 letters on the table. I signed them fairly quickly, and I signed one to George Harris, completely unaware that I had, so when I was asked in parliament had I ever signed a letter to George Harris, I said no.

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Newspaper with headline: 'Cairns out' [2 shots]

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Archival. Jim with reporters

Robin v/o: When Whitlam decided that you were to go as Treasurer, you had such strong support in caucus, why do you think that they didn't stand up and defend you at that time? It was left to the other side of the house

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Jim

to defend you.

Jim sync: Yes it was. Well, they didn't defend me because they thought I was a bad political risk now. Junie Morosi,

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Archival. Jim and Junie Morosi at airport

Jim v/o: they didn't do much about it.

Robin v/o: How did you meet Junie Morosi?

Jim v/o: She came to see me. She was in Canberra, and she'd never been able to get anywhere much. She's attractive, she's got ability,

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Jim

Jim sync: but she always too sexually dangerous for anyone to have around. She'd 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.

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Archival. Junie Morosi and press reporters

Jim v/o: She was born in Shanghai. Now looking back over it, it was a mistake on my part.

Robin v/o: Why do you thing you made that mistake?

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Jim

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

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Photo. Jim. Pan right to Junie Morosi

Jim v/o: Now, what I learned in 1975 from her and from her alone, was psychology. And unless

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Photo. Jim and Morosi

you understand theory of the formation of human

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Jim

Jim sync: character and behaviour you can understand nothing. She was the only one who brought that to me.

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Archival. Jim and Morosi leaving parliament house [2 shots]

Robin v/o: There was also an emotional connection with Junie, wasn't there. It wasn't simply that you were having an intellectual dialogue of the kind you'd have with an academic colleague?

Jim: Yes I suppose so, but don't forget I'd hardly

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Newspaper Headline: 'Morosi stays'

Jim v/o: ever had a very close

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Newspaper Headline: 'Cairns digs in'

relationship with anybody.

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Newspaper Headline: 'Whitlam tells Morosi to go'

Robin v/o: And why is that?

Jim: The stand awayness

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Jim

Jim sync: 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.

Robin v/o: Do you think this goes back

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Photo. Jim and his mother

to your relationship with your mother?

Jim v/o: That's all consistent with it. You see,

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Jim

Jim sync: 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.

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Photo. Jim as little boy

Jim v/o: 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.

Robin v/o: What has it meant to you

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Photo. Gwen

that your wife Gwen has stayed with you through everything?

Jim v/o: Well, you see for sixty years

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Jim

Jim sync: next February, that is a long time, isn't it? There are not very many marriages that have lasted that long. Gwen's been there almost every day.

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Photo. Jim and Gwen

Jim v/o: I don't say we've got along perfectly, not at all. But

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Jim

Jim sync: no one, no single person, no one person has been so much, has involved so much time in my life

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Photo. Jim and Gwen

Jim v/o: than she has. Not a fraction of it. It was an active thing,

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Photo. Jim and Gwen

a participating thing, not just a feeling, not just an affection,

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Jim

Jim sync: not something that you might say was emotional.

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Photo. Jim and Gwen with Indira Gandhi

Jim v/o: It's not so much emotional as real, and there can be a difference.

Robin v/o: You went into politics to do good.

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Jim

You wanted to improve society, you wanted to bring about changes that would make people happier. Do you think that it's possible to do that in politics?

Jim sync: Yes I do. My own reassessment in recent years has made me less sure of that.

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Archival. Interior parliament. Zoom in to Jim making speech

Jim v/o: I overrated the importance of being a member of a parliament and a minister, in what I can do to achieve what I thought should be done.

Robin v/o: Was there an element in you that

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Jim

even at that stage you were getting disillusioned with the possibilities of the political system?

Jim sync: Yes very much so.

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Archival. Jim on microphone at Confest. Zoom out to crowd

Jim sync: We're part of the revolution for friendship, the revolution of love. Thanks very much.

Jim v/o: Early 1976 I said it was time we looked for an alternative it and it's time we got together over that.

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Jim

Jim sync: So there were two or three things became known as Confest.

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Archival. Jim at Confest

Jim v/o: 15,000 people attended the first, it was a miracle, 15,000 the second.

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Archival. People at Confest.

Jim v/o: I suppose 50,000 people have been influenced

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Archival. People at Confest

by what went on at those Confests.

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Jim

Jim sync: It was almost as significant in a sense as Vietnam.

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Jim's reading glasses next to a number of his books

Jim v/o: And then I began to study, my work since 1975 would be the equivalent of two university courses and I've written 15 books.

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Jim writing

Robin v/o: Had you stayed as an academic, you would have had probably a better base from which to promote your developing ideas.

Jim v/o: That's shared by Gwen

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Photographic portrait of Gwen as a young woman leaning on bookcase

that view, I think it is. But you see I

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Jim

Jim sync: 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

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Photo. Whitlam, Jim and members of the Whitlam government

Jim v/o: and it seems to me that that must have been appropriate to the way I used to work.

Robin v/o: Looking back at the whole sweep of your life, do you feel pleased with what

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Jim

you have accomplished?

Jim sync: There's a critical contradiction in that. Yes I feel pleased and I feel disappointed. I can separate the two of them quite well.

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Archival. Jim leading Moratorium march

Jim v/o: I feel pleased in all those impersonal relations, those distant, public, campaigning, public activity relations, talking to mass meetings, walking in

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Photo. Jim at Moratorium march

front of tens of thousands of people in the streets. I have to feel pleased about all that.

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Photo. Recent photo of Jim in hat. Zoom out to 'Jim Cairns Books' sign on table.

Credits roll

But so many of my purely personal relations, I feel disappointed about.

Music

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Interviewer
ROBIN HUGHES

Editor
KIM MOODIE

Director of Photography
JENNI MEANEY

Sound Recordist
TIM PARRATT

00:27:15
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Additional Stills Photography
PAUL REE

Production Manager
JEANNINE BAKER

Sound Post Production
MICHAEL GISSING
DIGITAL CITY STUDIOS

Online Editor
ROEN DAVIS
VISUALEYES

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IAN ADKINS

00:27:25
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FIONA WHITE

Research
JEANNINE BAKER
BRIGID PHELAN

Archival Sources
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THE AGE
AUSTRALIAN LABOR PARTY
THE CAIRNS FAMILY
CHANNEL 7 -- AUSTRALIA
DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION, VICTORIA
FILM AUSTRALIA
GEORGE EVANS MUSEUM, SUNBURY

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HERALD & WEEKLY TIMES
NATIONAL FILM & SOUND ARCHIVE
NATIONAL LIBRARY OF AUSTRALIA
THE NATIONAL PRESS CLUB, INC.
NORTHCOTE HIGH SCHOOL
STATE LIBRARY OF VICTORIA
UNIVERSITY OF MELBOURNE ARCHIVES
VICTORIA POLICE

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Produced and Directed by
ROBIN HUGHES

Executive Producers
MARK HAMLYN
MEGAN McMURCHY

Made in association with SBS TV

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