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Bjelke Blues

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by Lee Ellwood (EllWords) (subscribe)
A Brisbane-based editor and creative communicator who loves free weekends, when they happen! Visit me at or
Was life so great in the Sunshine State?
Joh Bjelke-Petersen was premier of Queensland from August 1968 to December 1987 and the longest-serving premier in the state's history. Regardless of the Fitzgerald Inquiry in the late 1980s, many Queenslanders still remember Joh fondly for 'putting Queensland on the map' and refusing to kowtow to either the media or 'troublemakers'.

Cover of Bjelke Blues
Bjelke Blues cover image courtesy AndAlsoBooks
There are many others who have far less pleasant recollections of life in Queensland under the Bjelke-Petersen government. Forty-five of those people have shared their memories in a locally published book launched this month in West End.

Bjelke Blues: Stories of Repression and Resistance in Joh Bjelke-Petersen's Queensland will be featured in panel conversations at the Brisbane Writers Festival on Sunday, 8 September and at Avid Reader on Tuesday, 24 September.

Contributing editor Matthew Wengert
Contributing editor Matthew Wengert at the Bjelke Blues launch
The anthology, a joint project by contributing editors Edwina Shaw and Matthew Wengert, is the culmination of an idea Edwina had considered for 'a number of years now'. Each with their own personal experiences of life in what came to be known elsewhere as the 'police state', Edwina and Matthew teamed up, emailed 'a few mates who had good stories to tell' and sought contributions through Facebook and the Queensland Writers Centre. The response was unexpected.

''I knew I'd hit a nerve", says Edwina, "when instead of the few submissions I expected, I received an avalanche of emails from interested storytellers." And some stories were just too good to leave out, so forty-five went into the book.

Bjelke Blues is at times funny, shocking, insightful, incredible, uplifting, impactful. Each contribution describes a different aspect of life under Joh, in a time when it was illegal to gather in public in groups of more than three people, no one went outside after 6 pm and having long hair or dark skin was enough to get you thrown into a paddy wagon. The individual stories each stand alone and could be read separately, but put together they create something much bigger, more powerful and striking.

To a reader, forty-five stories sounds like a lot to get through. But they all vary, in length, tone, voice and style, which makes Bjelke Blues accessible. Some pieces are just two pages, others more like a short story. A couple are fictional narratives based on real experiences; others are pure memoir. Some are more journalistic in style, while others are very personal and painful testimonies.

The narrative variety reflects the diversity of people who wrote them. Some of the contributors are experienced writers or speakers, but many aren't. 'Back then' they were public servants or teenagers, university lecturers or students, 'new Australians' or creative artists; some of them still are. But the common thread is that all experienced Queensland in ways that were, perhaps, not fully represented in the official records and media accounts at the time. There is a lot of deep feeling captured on these pages.

Bjelke Blues book launch
Edwina Shaw (holding book) and some of the contributors at the launch

Bjelke Blues: Stories of Repression and Resistance in Joh Bjelke-Petersen's Queensland was launched at Kurilpa Hall in West End with readings by several contributors, including Angelina Hurley, Nick Earls, Paul Richards, Anne Jones and Raymond Evans.

Hear more about Bjelke Blues in panel conversations at the Brisbane Writers Festival (Sunday 8 September, 2.30 pm) and Avid Reader (Tuesday 24 September, 6 pm).

The book is available online from AndAlsoBooks ($30).
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*Lee Ellwood (EllWords) was invited as a guest
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Why? To hear about Queensland’s recent history from people who were there
When: Brisbane Writers Festival 8 September, Avid Reader 24 September
Cost: Varies - click article links for details and bookings
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