Right-wing extremist violence and the shooting of Arthur Calwell

Arthur Calwell

Contributed by Glen Davis

Recently, we have seen worrying signs in Australia, with the extreme Right mobilising in the streets, against efforts by Governments to bring in measures aimed at getting us safely through the Covid pandemic.

There have been gallows, nooses, signs calling for violence, as well as actual violence during these ‘freedom’ demonstrations. Australian Labour Party (ALP) premiers such as Dan Andrews in Victoria, Mark McGowan in Western Australia. Both have received death threats.

Way back in 1966 the federal leader of the ALP was Arthur Calwell. He opposed the undeclared war in Vietnam, as well as being a long-term opponent of conscription for overseas service.

On June 21, 1966, Calwell addressed a public meeting at Mossman town hall. When leaving the meeting he was approached by Peter Kocan, a 19-year-old armed with a sawn-off rifle.

Kocan walked up to the car where Calwell was sitting in the passenger seat and shot Calwell at point blank range, through the closed window. Calwell was sprayed with glass, though it broke the impact of the bullet, probably saving his life. Kocan was quickly wrestled to the ground, then handed to the police. A subsequent trial found him guilty of attempted murder and gave him a life sentence.

Injured Arthur Calwell being taken to hospital

When Kocan was later asked why he shot Calwell, he replied, “Because I didn’t like his politics.” Inspired by the assassination of the U S President John F Kennedy in 1963, he wanted to kill a public political figure: Calwell was chosen.

Kocan had also written to the Australian National Socialist Party expressing admiration for Adolf Hitler’s actions.

Calwell survived the assassination attempt, and he eventually visited Kocan in prison, where he forgave him for what he did.

Kocan was diagnosed as a borderline schizophrenic, and after a brief stint in Sydney’s Long Bay Jail, he was moved to ward 6, for the criminally insane, at Morisset Mental Hospital near Newcastle.

Peter Kocan being led away after the shooting

During this period in Morisset, Kocan immersed himself in reading various writings, before turning his hand to poetry. Released in August 1976, almost a decade after his attempt to assassinate Calwell, he reinvented himself as an author, and went on to win literary awards.

In light of his attempted assassination of an ALP politician there’s some irony in him receiving these awards from ALP state Governments.

In a time when there’s an explicit growth in Right-Wing extremism, encouraged and supported by powerful players in the ruling class, especially the corporate media, the potential likelihood for behaviour like Kocan’s is heightened.

In recent years, the United Kingdom has seen the assassinations of MP’s Jo Cox, and Sir David Amess. In Aotearoa Australian born right – wing extremist Brenton Tarrant massacred 51 Muslims at prayer.

We need vigilance in our actions to counter these threats. The extreme Right has not always had this overt, violent presence. It doesn’t need to be allowed to have it.

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