IN 1989 I was party to a writ sought by a number of historians to prevent the destruction of Special Branch records. The writ was provoked by the decision of the Queensland police, with the agreed and required authority of the State Archivist, to destroy the files that had been maintained by the state’s Police Special Branch. The writ faded away in circumstances that are lost to me. But the incident holds a retrospective fascination. It points to the strangely ambivalent status of the Special Branch in the history of the 1950s to the 1980s, during which the threats of a political police in Australia were more imagined than realised.
As historians, we thought it important that this controversial part of the state’s history should be preserved. Over the years, some of us had found the records of earlier intelligence agencies and political policing invaluable – to illuminate the conflicted histories of Australia in wartime, for example. At least one of us was party to another legal action, joining with other activists in seeking access to their files. The Special Branch was the target of our contempt – but, in a perverted way, an object of desire, the visible demonstration on the streets of Brisbane of an oppressive and secretive state that had finally tumbled into a vortex of its own making.
Already a subscriber? Sign in here
If you are an educator or student wishing to access content for study purposes please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org