The Hon. Bob Carr has never left the Randwick area. Born in 1947, Bob and his family started out in Matraville in a fibro home built on sandy scrubland that his father had acquired through a war service loan.
As a teenager, Bob was sent to the brand-new Matraville High School. It was there that a few influential teachers tossed some books his way, and some political ambition started to form: before leaving school he had joined the Maroubra branch of the Labour Party. After graduation, Bob’s interest in politics lead him first to journalism and then on to the careers for which he is best known, as Premier of NSW and Minister for Foreign Affairs.
Bob now lives in Maroubra and enjoys seeing the area flourish while trying to maintain an environment for people to enjoy.
About this episode
In Episode 4, Bob Carr talks about growing up in Maroubra and Matraville in the 1950s and 60s. His sharp memory recalls the smells of milk bars, beer, bread and horse-drawn carts. Bob describes in detail the physical landscape of the time and what it was like being a child in a more relaxed Australia than perhaps today.
Bob talks on his first encounters with TV and trams and the influences that formed his political views. We hear about Sundays spent listening to orators in the Domain, discussions with Keating and Beaton and finally, his journalism and political careers.
Duration: 49min 35sec
Former Senator the Hon Bob Carr. Accessed 22nd June 2020. Parliament of Australia website, Senators and members listing.
The Hon. (Bob) Robert John CARR (1947 - ). Accessed 22nd June 2020. Parliament of NSW website, members listing.
The Hon. Bob Carr. Accessed 22nd June 2020. Alliance for Journalists' Freedom website, advisory board listing.
RANDWICK LOCAL LEGENDS, EPISODE 4, THE HON. BOB CARR
Chelsea Hunter: Hi, you're listening to local legends, the podcast that explores the history of Randwick City through the recollections of locals who know and love the area. I'm Chelsea Hunter and with me is former Minister for Foreign Affairs and former Premier of New South Wales, Bob Carr. Thank you for joining us.
Bob Carr: My pleasure.
Chelsea Hunter: Now you were born in 1947 and your first home was in Robey St. Maroubra which was a nice, neat 1920s cottage I understand. What your earliest memories of this time?
Bob Carr: My memories of Maroubra Junction, people would talk, ‘going up to The Junction’ – ‘The Junction’, was low rise, it was nothing beyond a two-storey building, and the buildings were pre-war. I'm thinking of my earliest years, my very earliest memories. We left Robey Street to move to Matraville to a new house in 1956. But those earliest memories of Maroubra Junction, let's tick them off:
A big bakery on Anzac Pde and stables next to it. Because every morning the small horse drawn bakery carts would fan out from the bakery, loaded with fresh bread and the housewives would come out, they’d be waiting for the baker’s delivery and pay for the bread. It was milk delivery, of course, in the early hours of the morning the milkman put the milk on the doorstep. The smell of bread baking and horse manure was always in my nostrils, playing in what was then Robey Lane, the lane way between our house fronting Robey St and the buildings along Anzac Pde but especially the bakery and the stables. I don't know how many horses they had but I think that was the bakery that serviced the whole Maroubra, the Malabar area.
The ‘rabbitoh’, occasionally not regularly, was someone going around yelling out ‘rabbitoh’ selling rabbits in a horse drawn cart. There's a horse trough near the corner of Maroubra Road and Anzac Parade as a reminder of these days that lasted a long time. The big difference too, is the trams that ran along Anzac Parade and the Maroubra Beach Tram swung on off to run up the hill at Maroubra Road and around Mons Avenue, to service the beach. There's a lot of scrub, sandy scrub still around. I've got a vague memory, south of Fitzgerald Avenue of scrubland on the site of an old raceway before that red brick public housing estate was laid out. That must have been mid-50s. I've got a vague memory of some Aboriginal People inhabiting a humpy in that bushland, certainly, later on in the bushland at Malabar.
That brings me to the ethnic mix. Some reference growing up to a Jewish family or Jewish families living in Maroubra, Jewish names and Greeks were a presence because they ran one or several of the milk bars, including one my mother liked just near what is now a bus stop on Anzac Parade, the eastern side of Anzac Parade and the impression that Greeks were very good migrants, running immaculately clean milk bars was something I picked up. One of the few references to the mass post-war migration. So, I'm compressing these memories, so that I'm recalling things from when I was very young before we left Maroubra Junction to move to Matraville.
There were cinemas of course, the two cinemas, the Vocalist and the Amusu. Some people who lived around us would have, on a weekly basis, on Wednesday night their seats reserved to see a movie no matter what was on but we would go on Saturday afternoons to see a revival like a Marx Brothers classic, or an early 50s musical.
Beyond Robey Street towards Bunnerong Road, I've got the vaguest memory of some cleared land with houses that appeared, I'm guessing from the mid-50s. I’ve got the vaguest memory of some big event that may have been the opening of South Sydney High school. I think a lot of change comes around the mid-50s when I was eight or nine. And of course, that's when an electronic store at Maroubra would feature a TV set in its front window with a speaker and the arrival of television heralded so much. I still remember, goodness it was very early in the piece, families gathered looking at the picture in the screen and the speaker relaying it to them standing on the street to see the strange phenomenon of television. Now was that when we still lived at Maroubra? If so, maybe they were experimental broadcast before TV was officially launched in 1956, I just don't know.
The trams, the cinemas, the bushland close to Maroubra was open space not filled with housing. You know the other big change? There wasn't a restaurant or a fast food outlet apart from a single hamburger joint on the eastern side of Anzac Parade between Maroubra Road and the RSL club. The RSL club was the community centre where they put on; there’d be a Christmas party for the kids of members, a bit of a Christmas concert and some cheap-jack presents being handed out.
There was no hint of a services economy, people did not eat out, did not eat out! The arrival of that was Malabar RSL having takeaway Chinese and then sometime in the 60s, the appearance of a Chinese restaurant in Maroubra Junction.
The services sector of the economy as we know it now, those half dozen gyms you've got around Maroubra and all the eateries and take away food, fast food outlets and the Asian food restaurants, none of that existed. But over on the further side of Bunnerong Road you had the start of what's known in planning terms as the Randwick-Botany industrial zone, we were still a manufacturing economy. And that I guess that old bakery making bread at Maroubra Junction will remind us of a manufacturing not services economy. But the big difference I think, the low rise, the rattling trams running up Anzac Parade and down to the beach and the two big cinemas as the entertainment complexes of their era, they were the standout features, the characteristics of old Maroubra what I can dredge up from my memory from the pre mid-50s.
Chelsea Hunter: Are they warm memories, are they fond memories for you?
Bob Carr: Oh yes, it's the smell of milk bars, the smell of that bakery and the horse manure, my dad leaving home at Maroubra at all sorts of hours with his Gladstone bag to get the tram to the railway, he was a train driver, shift worker. I suppose the smell of beer coming out of the two pubs, the Golden Grove, which I think was a red brick mid-50s and the old Maroubra Junction pub and they are warm memories.
My parents as young people newly married, my father both having been in the army in the Second World War, living with my grandmother in that house and she died in late 1956. And again, that encourages me to think that big changes, arrival of television and so much else occurred round-about the mid-50s. And the old Australia, the hints of the pre-war Australia that was so heavy in that old 1947 to 1956 memory I've got of life at Maroubra Junction, that hint of the pre-war Australia is very strong but was to fade very quickly.
Chelsea Hunter: What were the mix of families like there? Did you have friends living on the road that you're able to play with?
Bob Carr: One was aware of bit the division between those who went to the Catholic schools and those who went to the public schools. You're looking for signs of diversity, that was a standout feature. In Robey St Maroubra I can't think of any migrant background families, what we're known in the time as Balts migrants from the Baltic States or Greek or Italian, or German or Dutch. I was to encounter the impact of migration after 1956 when we moved to South Matraville to live in Oxley Street and at the Matraville Soldiers’ Settlement School, I started fourth year there, after we made that move, was slap bang, next to a big airport hangar style building that was crammed with German and Dutch migrants.
In my first day, the first day of school at Matraville Soldiers Settlement starting my fourth year, there were a group, I'll never forget this, there were a group of girls who came into the classroom they had blonde hair in plaits, and they had embroidered, maybe even lederhosen blouses and dresses. It looks so exotic to me that I thought they'd come in as some sort of entertainment to welcome us to the new school to perform a folk dance. But in fact, they were young, they were German girls, whose migrants were installed in the hostel just across the road. And then, my father said to me. “So, this is interesting that they’ve got German and Dutch together they've been at war”. The Second World War being so fresh in everyone's memory and flavouring everything.
But by the time I was in high school at Matraville High School, I was friends with boys who were the sons of English migrant families and there was a huge English migrant hostel on Bunnerong Road. Again, the most primitive imaginable accommodation, huge storage buildings that resembled aircraft hangars, partitioned off, no separate rooms just partitioned off into family accommodation with communal dining, lousy food, shocking standard of shared bathrooms, and everything. And the fathers of my English migrant friends working say at General Motors or other manufacturing industries in that Botany industrial zone.
By that stage, by the early 60s I was aware of this phenomenon overtaking Australia of big post-war immigration. In the years at Maroubra Junction they're only the faintest hints of it in primary school, and an occasional Greek name and people referring to a Jewish family or two on Fitzgerald Avenue.
Chelsea Hunter: So, when you were nine years of age you moved, as you mentioned, to Oxley St Matraville and again that would have been still a fairly new suburb at that time, having previously been a settlement for returned soldiers and war widows. Was there much to entertain a young child at that time?
Bob Carr: Yeah, it was a terrific place to grow up. It was all new housing. My father had got a war service loan as a former serviceman. Bulldozers had cleared all the scrub from the hills over on this western side of Anzac Parade, at South Matraville the scrub had been cleared it was just sandhills. So our fibro house, Oxley Street Matraville was on a sand hill and the immediate challenge was to lay down strips of grass in what appeared a hopeless battle; and there's a debate about what species of grass was best, there’s one that was more genteel and elegant another that was more rough and ready to take off faster.
So, they're all new families. I think they're all ex-servicemen and their wives and young kids. We’d continued to get sent on Sunday mornings to Presbyterian Sunday school we’d reach it on the tram at Matraville in Robey Street. My parents sent me to that because they thought a bit of moral education would be useful, even though both had had somewhat distant Catholic influences in their upbringing. Out at Matraville, I suppose the focus of life was Malabar RSL or Maroubra. They were something of the cult of the ex-servicemen.
I got sent to Matraville High School, to the brand-new high school it wasn't finished on its current site opposite Long Bay Gaol so for two years we got the tram to Daceyville where the school inhabited this makeshift accommodation. For Catholics, there was the church and the school at Malabar. Television provided the culture, in our case we were slow to get a television set, we were a single income family, and my father didn't want my mother, who was very good at typing and shorthand, to enter the workforce. We had the radio on to ABC, we subscribed to the Sydney Morning Herald and these were our windows on the world.
Politically, people didn't talk politics but there's a subterranean tidal pool of Labor loyalties. Our Federal Member being Danny Curtin, a former boilermaker, who had won the seat after a bit of an upheaval in the split of the mid 50s, is the Federal member and the distinguished old State Member was Bob Heffron, who'd been Minister for Education from 1941 and was to have a few years as Premier, to get his turn as Premier, and he continued to represent the seat of Maroubra until 1968.
Chelsea Hunter: Quite a history there.
So, who was living in the house at the time, there was yourself, your parents and you have a younger brother?
Bob Carr: Yes, there were four kids in the family, me, my sister 3 years younger, then a brother four years behind her and then the youngest sister, Deborah. So, a train driver father, his wife, who was a full-time housewife and a family of four, two boys, two girls. My dad an ex-serviceman and I think that pattern was uniform in that area. We grew up with the qualification that you're beginning to see certainly and my friends at school, the impact of migration, in this case, the massive British migration, and they tended to live in Little Bay. Where in a cooperative effort, these English migrants had pulled together and built one another's houses.
Chelsea Hunter: Now, what was one of the things that you did to entertain yourself? As children, you had no TV, you had radio and you had newspaper. What were the things that you were doing during the day with your siblings?
Bob Carr: I think discovering, learning to ride a bike and being able to go on adventures on this peninsula with my friends on our pushbikes, exploring Malabar Rifle Range, the wetlands bushland which we now know has a high conservation value area, going out there with backpacks and exploring, pretending we're a secret army.
Chelsea Hunter: It would have been very exciting.
Bob Carr: It was a good space. There was a swamp, just off Anzac Parade there, with abandoned car bodies half subsided and there's Malabar beach and on the other side, of course, Yarra Bay where the water had a sort of oily flavour to it and where sometimes there were hot currents because heated water was disposed of from the Bunnerong Power Station.
La Perouse was a bit of a treat to go out there on a weekend to swim at Congwong. Our mother would take us there to see the ‘Snake Man’ at La Perouse, to see the little stand selling boomerangs, and fish and chips on the little wharf at La Perouse.
Chelsea Hunter: So, you’re La Perouse swimmer?
Bob Carr: Yeah, a bit of a reservation about the threat of sharks. We stayed close to the shore but going out there in the tram, and very soon the bus, was a bit of an excursion.
Chelsea Hunter: So, it was a weekend trip, a day trip?
Bob Carr: Oh no, it was just going out there for the afternoon to have a swim.
Chelsea Hunter: Wonderful.
The other thing I was wondering is, what is growing up in an area like this or how does growing up in an area like this shape a young boy? You're just talking about getting to explore lots of bushland and there would have been lots of military artefacts left there as well. Did that spark the imagination a lot? How did it shape you?
Bob Carr: The open space was a great opportunity; playing in the bush, the beaches, then there’s the oppressive weight of pollution. I mean, Malabar was gradually becoming clogged with the virtually untreated sewerage that would come out at the headland, we tended not to swim at Maroubra, that was heavily polluted too. And you had the smells that drifted over from the industrial zone, which at that stage had tanneries which were high emitters and at the end of our street there was from the day we moved in, in ’56, there was a huge brick tower, which vented from the huge sewer pipes, that was expediting sewage from the Western Suburbs under us, to the Malabar Headland outlet. One of the big three with Bondi and Manly the big ocean disposal outlets.
What I got out of this, I suppose, you could say we learned to keep ourselves amused we, we're off on our bikes on Saturday or Sunday there is a sort of a sense of community. For me, I did get some feel for the historical narrative, because I knew what had happened in Botany Bay. What we call today the first encounters. I was aware of an Aboriginal presence in Australia going back a long time. Because we saw the Aboriginal families living in La Perouse and they were in my school Matraville High, quiet, shy kids and School Principal, Robert Mobbs, had a quite paternalistic, I’m saying that in a neutral sense, paternalistic, protective approach to them. But they were shy, and they stuck to themselves.
There was no hint of anti-social behaviour from them, but I was aware that they were disadvantaged from seeing their housing at La Perouse. I never had any difficulty in accepting - one, that they were the original inhabitants of our land and two, we had an obligation to them.
I remember being very pro-immigration. I even wrote a letter to the Department of Immigration asking for material on our immigration program, and I thought that Australia needed to build up its population and, It was very good to have them, I suppose on the whole more well-disposed to the British migrant. I picked up this, this prevailing prejudice to North Europeans and my father was a strong supporter of white Australia. I thought our social peace would be rend asunder, would have racial conflict, if we ever got migrants from non-European parts of the world.
Chelsea Hunter: So what age were you at that point?
Bob Carr: I would have been about 14 ,15,16 when I imbibed this, but it faded out, it faded out by the time I was at university I was meeting students from Singapore and Malaysia. The prevailing ethos around us might have been that of the ex-servicemen, because the RSLs would be institutions, centres of the community, our fathers all had some wartime experience for the most part. The arrival of migrants, especially British migrants, I think and the sort of vague Laborism, which was there in my household, at least, and reflected the strength of the industrial base of the economy.
Chelsea Hunter: So, going back to your school years, were there any teachers that had a particularly strong impact on you? Particularly in high school, you started to have a bit of a political awakening, that's where your draw towards politics came in. Were there any teachers that inspired this? Or did this come from the family home?
Bob Carr: No, it came from a home, because the teachers were the adults who you were with, I loved to get into conversations and explore their political views. But hearing my father talk about politics, and my uncle predisposed me to it. I was precocious, I'd read, I dipped into a biography, the biography of the Labor Prime Minister 1945 to 1949 Ben Chifley. My father, my uncles, thought him something of a hero and spoke about him. By the time I was 15, I’d settled on the idea of having a career in politics. What was I going to do with my life? When I was younger, I toyed with art with a friend and I went to a Saturday morning Art School at East Sydney Tech.
Was I going to be cartoonist for a newspaper, I sort of toyed with that but I then remember it was in corridors of the Daceyville Primary School where Matraville High was located for the first two years, I remember round about that time forming the view, no, I want to be a politician and a Labor politician.
The school didn't have much in the way of debating but there had been one debate and I remembered doing well as the last speaker on our side and I had a sense of my voice filling the classroom and influencing people and I began to be attracted to speaking and writing.
Chelsea Hunter: You were quite into books at the time as well. That was one of your favourite pastimes…
Bob Carr: We have a debt to Randwick Council. I don't know who's responsible for seeing that a mobile library would call, let’s see, was every week or every second week, Tuesday, at the corner of Malabar Road and Anzac Parade, Franklin Street and Anzac Parade. But I remember the books I got out and then, when they finally got around to acquiring books for a library at the high school, I remember the books, my first encounters with the books there. I remember the first novel I read, written for kids by the American writer Herman Wouk, a book about a New York Jewish kid, who got sent to a summer camp and some adventures at the summer camp. It was an immensely skilful young adult, I think a children's book, I remember the first time in my life I had the experience of not turning off the light but saying I want to read one more chapter.
I'm very indebted to Doris Allen, who was our English teacher for the last three years of high school. She brought in at the start of fourth year high school, English; Matraville high school, she brought in a box of her own copies of modern classics and said these are not on the curriculum, but you're adults now, you should read these, and she said if you need to set your alarm for an hour earlier each morning to have an hour reading in bed, that’s probably the way you're gonna have to do it. And she planted the idea that one should read to improve oneself. The books are there, one should read them, her influence, the school library, the mobile library.
I remember once in the Sydney Morning Herald and it was an important influence in the house, reading a review, the book reviews Saturday morning of a book by Arthur Caldwell, who was then the leader of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party, called “Labor’s Role in Modern Society”. I thought goodness, a leader of my party has written a book. I remember getting the bus into town that morning to go to Angus and Robertson and buy it and then start to devour it.
The other influence on me was remembering that I'd heard reference to orators in the Sydney Domain and checking with mother, yes that happens on Sunday afternoons, political orators set up and I thought, well, that's for me. And after the baked lunch on a Sunday, tradition , a sort of baked beef and the predictable vegetables, very excitedly going down and getting a bus along Anzac Parade must have been a ‘120’ bus and going into the city crossing Hyde Park and entering the Domain, I can still remember the smell of the fresh grass of the Domain. And what really excited me as you rounded the corner along Art Gallery Road and swung into the Domain, I could hear the voices of orators and I went there every Sunday.
I loved listening to the Communists and there was one called the Socialist Labor Party which was an American based Marxist sect. God knows how they had a presence in Australia. There was the Catholic Evidence Guild under the first Morten Bay Fig and some sort of comic performers on their platforms with their followers around them, or people just drifting for entertainment from orator to orator. So, I love the tricks.
I remember an old Communist Party orator once, he was from the Tramway Union, either a driver or I think a fare collector, he was a gifted working-class orator and he stood up on his fold up platform and as he was about to talk, the bells of St. Mary’s started ringing out and they drowned him out, he was embarrassingly caught out, his mouth open to the bells around him, and I remember he turned that around when the bells stopped peeling. He said, “noise we've always got to have noise” and all of a sudden, he was off on noise pollution and pollution in general and condemnation of capitalism.
I remember one of his favourite tropes was to say, “get the homeless men down at Matthew Talbot, the homeless men” and then he would pause for effect and say, “no homeless men in the Soviet Union”. And inevitably, someone from the ground would yell out, “well Bill”, his name was Bill White, “Bill, why don’t you go live there” and then he’d slammed the entities ...”that’s the sort of stupid...” And then he was a warmup act for what they called the main Communist Party platform that would start, I’m guessing 3pm. There’d be a big crowd gathered then one or two of their star orators would come in. One was Rupert Lockwood, a very colourful journalist who had been the Tribune correspondent in Moscow for a period, a gifted platform orator. There was a guy with Jewish name called Bernie someone. They weren’t major figures in the Communist Party of Australia, but they were its orators, public orators so the Sydney Domain was part of my political education too.
Chelsea Hunter: I should mention also that you are the author of three books as well, so your love affair with books, favourite books has obviously continued throughout your life, one of your books is “Your Reading Life”, I believe.
Bob Carr: Yes!
Chelsea Hunter: I wanted to mention that. You talk in one of your books about growing up in the working class and how fantastic that was. Can you explain to me why you say that? Why, how did that shape you and your political leanings?
Bob Carr: I think it teaches you the value of things. If I'd had a privileged private school education, there would have been a real barrier between me and ordinary people, people who hadn't had that. And even though I got a bit of an education and a bit of training at the ABC in communications, which was my first job, I must owe a lot to the experience of growing up in a fibro cottage, bare feet on a lino floor, a fly screen door, patchy grass outside, and the small rooms, a hard-working father that kept us well fed, chops and lots of fresh fruit, who didn't abuse alcohol, loving supportive parents and stability; a stable household that was a working-class background. I didn't have to invent or romanticise working class people, that was the background I came from.
Once or twice, I had people say to me, when you turned up in Young Labor, I thought you must have had some middle class background maybe because my accent had been modified at the ABC, somewhat. Or I’d talk books a bit but I don't think I've ever lost that sense of where I started or who my parents were, and saw it as an advantage and I think, it taught one what is valuable in life, taught one to appreciate the good things that you might work for, including, the world of culture and creativity. And if I had grown up with a big library in the house and classical music being played and tickets to the Sydney Symphony, I might have taken these things for granted. But for me, it was a struggle and the experience is richer as a result.
Chelsea Hunter: You joined the Australian Labor Party at 15, which is quite a young age. Was it hard to get people to take you seriously? How did you establish yourself in the party at that young age?
Bob Carr: I was a kid in short pants going to a meeting at Malabar Public School and later in the Malabar District Hall. I was listening to adults, listening and I absorbed everything. Municipalism nearly stifled the branch, Bill Haigh was our local mayor and then he succeeded Bob Heffron the seat in the 1968 state election and he talked about road gutter, local development politics and even speaking at enormous length and that to me, that stifled the experience of being in this branch; I wanted to hear politics. I saw the flaw in the Labor Party branch structure. I saw good public minded working class men overwhelmingly and a few women turn up at a monthly meeting. I think they wanted an encounter with politics and public policy, but from our then State Member, Bill Haigh, they got municipal stuff. And from Danny Curtin they really got nothing except a bit of yahoo laborism.
So, I saw the flaws in this creation, the Australian Labor Party. I remember Neal Enright, who drove a truck for a brewery, he was president of the branch, he said you really should go to Young Labor, that’s where you'll hear policy discussed. I used to go to the annual State ALP Conference and sit in the gallery and listen to the report of the leader and something of the debates.
That introduced me to a broader life and at university, I made a beeline for the ALP Club and by my second year in university I was Secretary of the club, I quite deliberately used that to get me introduced to ALP head office and it was there that I was introduced to Paul Keating and in the Federal Electoral Council in Kingsford Smith that I met Laurie Brereton. They were the President and Secretary respectively, of Young Labour. That introduced me to the world of factions, and I was very quickly a delegate to the State Conference and on the escalator rising in that little sub-culture of Young Labor.
Chelsea Hunter: Now tell me about your time with Paul Keating and Laurie Brereton.
Bob Carr: Well, it was very good. They were more senior than I and they saw me as someone who would be first of all a number for their ticket, someone who turned up for Malabar Branch and voted for their ticket in the annual elections at Young Labor and helped them ward off the Left, defeat the Left and keep this right wing faction in control. I was happy with that. They saw me as someone the first job they gave me was to be Chair of the Foreign Policy Committee of Young Labor, this was in 1968. And that also meant I was being introduced to the world of the dominant faction and ALP Head office. That's an exact parallel with the people from Young Labour I see now that I spend a bit of time with.
Chelsea Hunter: Now Laurie was a local lad as well, wasn't he?
Bob Carr: Yes. Laurie had, unlike me, he had a family involved in the local Labor Party branch. So, before he had to think about it, he'd been recruited to the branch as soon as he was old enough and his sister had been in Young Labor ahead of him. When he started to go to Young Labor. He struck up a very important friendship with Paul Keating and they teamed up, they became very good partners in Young Labor and both Paul Keating and Laurie Brereton stood out in our generation. I think because they weren’t spending time at university, they were in the workforce. They were more grown up than those of us who were spending our years on a campus, they were more grown up working with adults, and more confident about building the numbers in their local branches and making an early run at a pre selection and both of them were favoured by opportunities that saw them win seats. Outrageously, they were still in their early 20s. Early to mid-20s.
Chelsea Hunter: So, you were having meetings at your house or at Laurie’s house at this point?
Bob Carr: ...Laurie’s house, to talk about his campaign in the pending by-election for the seat of Randwick and we'd have coffee and a pancake with Keating at King's Cross , coffee and a pancake was a treat, or in cafeterias before we trooped off to do battle with the Left at the monthly Young Labor meeting.
Chelsea Hunter: I'd love to know what were the discussions that were happening at the time.
Bob Carr: We were talking about the dilapidated state of the Labor Party, about the threat of the Left taking over, about the emergence of Gough Whitlam, then Deputy Leader, after 1967, the Leader. So I guess this was after Whitlam, this would have been from 1968 so it’s Whitlam having taken the leadership, a Labor Government had gone out of power in New South Wales. Maybe people were just beginning to talk about the prospect of Neville Wran coming in as a future leader, Don Dunstan in South Australia was a promising state level leader, who suggested state politics could be reformed and could be an area of reform, generating reform.
Our debates were serious. It was about whether the old Australian Labor Party had a future, how we would get back to government, how you'd have to reform it to get back to government. The challenge of the left, we're all interested in American politics, a romantic view of John F. Kennedy, the assassinated president, the emergence of Bobby Kennedy before his assassination in mid-1968 - the Vietnam War was the backdrop.
We weren’t in the front line of opposition to the Vietnam War, because we were opposed to the Left and the Left, that was a big crusade by the Left. We had more moderate views about the war, and we didn't see it as defensible, we didn't want to get caught up in a pro North Vietnamese stance, we were looking for a middle way.
Chelsea Hunter: How much of your opinions of the Vietnam War would have been shaped by growing up in an area that had such a strong military background?
Bob Carr: That’s a very interesting question.
I think the 1966 election confirmed that Australians bought the argument that this represented, in some way, a threat to Australia and the most, heard argument was if we don't stop them there, we're gonna have to fight them closer.
Menzies was Prime Minister who made the commitment to send Australian troops to Vietnam, had said, this war was necessary to “stop the downward thrust of Communist China”. We now know this is entirely bogus but in the 1966 Federal Election where Harold Holt, Menzies successor, had got a big majority, the election of being fought on the Vietnam War and we nearly lost the federal seat of Kingsford-Smith, Danny Curtin came close to being defeated. So, I think there was a lot of that ex- servicemen opinion that gravitated to the view that developments in Asia were a threat to Australian security with echoes of a Second World War that was only 20 to 30 years behind us. Within three years that had changed, Australian opinion had changed, and people had imbibed the resistance to the war that was running strong in the United States, even if it wasn't majority opinion.
Knowing what I know now about the Vietnam War, I should have been more vocal. I, we, all of us should have been marching. Our knowledge of the war tended to come from American sources, my case, Time Magazine had joined the Sydney Morning Herald and the ABC as my window on the world and I was well disposed towards America. And I guess I wanted to see, I might have accepted the mind that an American victory in South Vietnam was the best thing for regional stability, for defeating a Marxist Leninist enemy and for actually ending, rather than stretching out the suffering of the Vietnamese. Today, knowing, as I say, knowing what I know about the Vietnam War, I see it as an extended war crime in which Australia was implicated.
Chelsea Hunter: Moving to more modern matters, now you're still a Maroubra man.
Bob Carr: Yep.
Chelsea Hunter: This is correct? What are your favourite areas of Maroubra? What's kept you there?
Bob Carr: I think access to the beach, the view of the ocean and the breeze coming off the ocean at the end of a humid day, the prospect of swimming early in the morning, before breakfast going down to the beach or before dinner, at the end of a hot summer day.
Chelsea Hunter: Are you a strong surfer, a confident swimmer?
Bob Carr: No, no, absolutely not, and I did notice recently that at North Maroubra I seemed to be being tugged out, my heart rate spiked and I thought, am I having an attack of arrhythmia. It’s not a happy thing.
Chelsea Hunter: ...having a Harold Holt
Bob Carr: I want to say safety first and I wanted swimmers out beyond the breakers giving me assurance about any prospect of a random attack by a Tiger Shark or Bull Shark.
Chelsea Hunter: I understand that.
Bob Carr: I like the people at Maroubra, I think it keeps one anchored!
And one of the things wrong with Malcolm Turnbull was that he thought the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney represented a universe unto itself, and you could have a complete existence and you wouldn't know anyone who didn't live in the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney - which is defined, it doesn't include Bondi, it’s north of Bondi, and that offers a very comfortable existence for people, but I wouldn't want to be in that bubble. I like having a Cypriot neighbour who is a retired wharfie and people I've known and recruited for, to join the Maroubra branch, now in living in retirement, a couple of French neighbours there because of the school which I helped, I really facilitated and the people I meet in the local Labor Party branch I think it keeps one anchored.
Chelsea Hunter: One of the things that strikes me about people who live in Maroubra and in Matraville, so there are a lot of people who are born there, continue to live there and are now raising their family there and it just seems like it's their areas that once you're in there, you never want to leave. Why do you think that is?
Bob Carr: I think we're coastal people. I mean, the gravitation of the coast runs deep in human nature I think, the view of the ocean, the smell of the ocean, and it has got better. I mean I’m not boasting but, in my time, my electorate didn't ask me to do a great deal, but I did close, as soon as I became Premier, I closed an incinerator in the Malabar sewage treatment plant. They used to incinerate the organic stuff they found in the solids that came out of the sewer, they incinerated it there, so I promised to stop it and I stopped it.
The other thing my electorate asked me to do is protect half the site of the old Maroubra Bay High School for open space. I said we accepted the government, the previous government, previous to mine has sold it off, there's going to be medium density development there, town houses, but we think half of it should be public open space. I said alright, if I'm elected Premier in March 1995 we will revise the approval and I was able to do that, give effect to it. So there the two promises I made as local member going into the 1995 elections; incinerator went at Malabar and we've got a parkland Every weekend I walk past on my way to the beach with kids running in it and people walking their dogs and playing cricket.
The other big thing was for me to make it clear there'd be no development on the Malabar Rifle range, we haven't been able to get it in the comprehensive way we thought because the shooters had the support of the Federal Government and went to court but I made it clear, we were going to get it for conservation, open space purposes and that included the Western Bushland where I had played as a kid. So that's my other big specific local legacy and I think all that feeds into the idea that this is a nice place to live.
Chelsea Hunter: It is. What are your hopes for the future of the area?
Bob Carr: I think we got clean water for swimming. I just think that it has to be protected from overdevelopment, that's the big challenge as the population goes up, we can lose so much. I don't want that beach to be crowded, you know, packed out. I don't want our only mode of development to be apartment towers. We've got to have a mix of development, I think it's appropriate to have tower development along and Anzac Parade, which is a major transport artery, that's good planning. But I think keeping some of that sense of open space that I witnessed as a kid growing up around The Junction, some sense of it.
Chelsea Hunter: It’s incredibly valuable for the community to have access to that green space. Thank you so much for sharing your memories of the Randwick area with us. We really value your recollections.
Bob Carr: It has been very enjoyable thank you.