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The Calwell Shooting – “Goodbye Jerusalem: Night Thoughts of a Labor Outsider” – Bob Ellis

September 11th, 2011 · 1 Comment · Australian, Australian Labor Party, Australiana, History, Politics

I lunched with the man who shot (Arthur Calwell) a few years back (the way one does) and, intrigued by both his subsequent career as a published poet and novelist released from detention and given a literary grant by addled Balmain allies of his writing (would Lee Harvey Oswald have been given a literary grant, it was rightly asked in Parliament, on similar grounds?) and his stark, murderous appearance, like a crazy-eyed James Joyce with red hair and freckles, I asked him why he did it.

Well, he said, or something like it, his life was going nowhere and to do it was a more elaborate form of suicide. He knew he’d be gunned down as he ran from the scene of the crime and all that was left was to do it and go out in a hail of bullets, the way one does.

He approached the car as Arthur Calwell had just got into the passenger seat.

He pointed both barrels at Arthur’s surprised crustacean countenance, and pulled the trigger.

But the window was up, and the bullets deflected by the glass ricocheted round the inside of the car and one wound up in Arthur’s lapel and the flying glass cut his chin.

Peter Kocan, the assassin, turned and ran.

He kept running, and there was no sound behind him. No scream of sirens. No submachine-gun fire.

But soon he heard the puffing of a single overweight pursuer, Wayne Haylen, Les’s son, who brought him down with a fair to middling Rugby tackle, and held him down.

An old party worker came to the car window.

‘What’s up, Arthur?’

‘I’ve been… shot.’

‘Are you alright?’

“I hope so.’

Kocan looked up and saw above him Pat Kennelly, the stuttering Senator.

‘I h-h-hope You r-r-realise, y-young man, you’re in very s-s-serious t-t-trouble.’

And that was it, the assassination. Calwell wound up with a crossed piece of plaster on his prognathous chin and a lot of national merriment around him as he went on to fight an election on Vietnam with a man who a year later drowned in a frogman suit, and Kocan in various mental institutions with the Kingsgrove slasher and other eminent psychopaths began to write a novel called The Treatment and its sequel The Cure and to undergo what the Americans called Redemption and Labor lost by a landslide and life went on.

‘Did you ever hear from Calwell?’ I asked his would-be assassin.

‘Yes,’ he said, ‘he wrote me a letter. The burden of it was I too have been a young man alone and sad in the big city and I think I know how you felt. I suggest we forget the whole incident.

Imagine that.

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  • old mate

    Calwell was a bigger man than we all gave him credit for at the time. What would have happened in modern times? The Pollie would have sued for compensation for pain and psychological distress. The young man, and possibly bystanders, would have been brought down in a hail of gunfire. Everyone for miles around would have been counselled.