Memory is a fragile thing. If anyone had asked, ‘Did you and Jean Bedford ever write to Al Grassby, Minister for Immigration in the Whitlam government, in protest against a move to prevent the Rolling Stones from touring Australia?’ I would have denied it. But I’d have been wrong; we did.
A colleague of my daughter’s at the National Archives, who was browsing an Immigration Department file, came across our names and alerted our daughter. Apparently we had protested in early 1973 at reports that the Stones were to be kept out due to convictions against some members for drug offences.
In fact the sentences had been quashed and the ban was never implemented. When this became clear, we wrote again about a news report that another, unnamed, musician was facing a similar exclusion
Cheekily, we (Jean was using her then married name of Gollan) noted that we’d received two copies of the telegram responding our first letter. We went on to deplore the secrecy surrounding the reported second prohibition:
Presumably, the child-molesters, axe-murderers and acid-throwers are in institutions, from what other categories of persons do we need to be protected? We urge you to make public the reasons for this prohibition and to reveal the identity of the person concerned; such thoroughgoing secrecy can only breed suspicion that the reasons are invalid and that the person is being victimised.*
Although our letter strives for a sarcastic humour, it has an embarrassingly self-righteous tone and our argument was effectively slapped down by a reply saying that it would be an invasion of privacy for the identity of the person to be revealed.
Whether Al Grassy, the man given to wearing metallic-threaded dinner jackets and who one reporter described as having patent leather hair and a head-waiter moustache, ever saw our communications, is doubtful. It was handled at secretary level in the department.
It was the early heady days of the Whitlam government and we obviously thought the new administration would be responsive. We would not have written to a minister in the McMahon government. To some extent we were right, but has the fear of drugs and the impulse to bureaucratic secrecy diminished? Circumstances surrounding the government’s asylum-seeker policy suggest not.
The formality of our letter looks remarkable in this day and age. Any such letter we wrote now would be much less stiffly phrased. Thirty-nine years is a long time.
Another question: who was the other musician, apparently a member of another rock group, and was the ban applied? No use asking Mick Jagger. He was given a huge advance to write his memoirs and handed it back saying he couldn’t remember enough to do it. Keith Richards’s Life, co-written with James Fox and over-long, doesn’t mention the matter. Do any rock historians out there know?
*Series 96980, item S 250736 National Archives of Australia