Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Dare To Struggle, Dare To Swim–The Save the Lemmings Campaign of 1970

A long time ago in a faraway galaxy, ie my past,  I was associated with the Melbourne Anarchists.

At that time it was de riguer to belong to a political club at University and I chose the Anarchists, because their philosophy appealed to my rebellious spirit, and they also had a cool badge: a simple red button with TREASON written across it in black letters. TREASON is an acronym of “The Revolutionary Emancipists Against State Oppression and Nationalism.”

The other political groups to choose from were the Maoists, Socialists and the University Labour Club.

The anarchists regarded the other leftist groups as too serious, so set about organising a festival dubbed Carnival Anarchism in mockery of the earnest SDS supporters.

I believe it was my long time friend David who thought up the Lemming Campaign, where it was decided to storm the Swedish Consulate in protest against their treatment of the lemmings, ie driving them to commit suicide.

The demonstration was set down to take place on 25 July 1970, and the Anarchists, with help from the Goon Club were busy producing manifestos and revolutionary flyers. I contributed by composing an anthem – A Hymn for Lemming Aid:

The lemmings fate it haunts us yet,
In these dark days could we forget
That they in deep despair do bide
And drown their hopes in suicide.

Upon the tundra long ago,
A lemming tree stood in the snow
Where every five years at its roots
The lemmings held their lemming moots.

But oh to tell the saga sad
The tree was felled by men so bad
And every lemming far and near
Drowned itself in grief and fear.

Chorus (after each verse)

We raise our lemming banner high
Without our help they still might die
Though men may rant and men may rave
Perforce their fate we still may waive.

To finish the dirge rightly it is customary to chant the haunting refrain known long ago in the book of lemming folklore as "The Lay of the Last Lemming" which they all sing as they fling themselves into the cold north sea.

It is passed down to us, corrupted by the years as "Lemon Tree".

Lemming tree very pretty
And the lemming flower is sweet
But alas for the poor lemmings
No longer can they meet.

The song was sung to the tune of the revolutionary song The Red Flag.

I recorded the Lemming day of action in my diary and I give my verbatim account below:

We made it a pretty early night on Friday, in order to be up early the next morning for Lemming Day.

I managed to stagger up at 8.30 and was ready, lamingtons*, megaphone** and all when David & Christine came to fetch me.

The demo was great fun. There were about 20 to 30 people who came, laden with placards and balloons, to romp up and down Toorak Road, down to the Village and back to the Consulate in St George’s Road.

We created some impression on Toorak and they thought us all mad or irresponsible. My lemming song was sung countless times – practically at every street corner. Someone had brought their guitar and could play “Red Flag” so we had a good accompaniment.

A few people objected to us – “Go out to work”,  snarled one woman, “justify your existence!” “If you’re educated , then I’m glad I’m not”, screamed another.

There was a lovely lady who followed us in her car and brought us more balloons and a long horn to blow outside the Consulate.

We did the usual demo stuff – chanted slogans like “Ho, ho Lemming power”. Cries of “To the consulate” echoed down St Georges Road in mockery of July 4th.***

When we got back to the Consulate after wandering about Toorak, a cop car was parked in the driveway. They were very nice coppers. We sat down in front of them and sang “The Hymn for Lemming Aid”. Someone distributed Lemming newsheets to them. They conducted us from their car and let us write lemming slogans in the dust on their car.

“Where are you going now?” they asked after speeches and summonses for a confrontation with the Swedish Ambassador. “Dunno” we said, “Where do you want to go?”

Everyone decided to disperse after that. The cops escorted us to our cars, and waited till we’d all gone.

Everyone, except the Wizard, was for Lemming Aid. He held a counter revolution on the other side of the road.

“Marxist Lemmingists!” he yelled, “Go home you commie bastards” He’s a natural idiot, the Wizard. He’s resident in Melbourne for a couple of months. He has formed his own group at Uni, called “Sons of Albion”.

When checking out the internet for this post, I was astounded to discover that the Wizard, aka Ian Channell is still going strong and is just as eccentric as I remember him.

* Lamingtons were a natural addition to the Lemming Day Of Action, their name being so reminiscent of the animals we were supporting. There was some idea of throwing them at the Consulate, but I think they all got eaten before that could happen.

** Megaphone -  this ideal haranguer somehow came into my possession, how, when and where I now can’t remember. It accompanied me and the Anarchists on many demonstrations.

*** July 4th is of course American Independence Day and back in the 1960s and early 1970s, due to the ongoing Vietnam War, we used to hold demonstrations outside the US Consulate on that day. At that time the American Consulate was in Commercial Road, South Yarra.

The Melbourne Anarchists still exist and have a shop front in St Georges Road, Northcote. They were recently in the news with their stubborn refusal to move from the property, with high rise appartment blocks being built on either side of their establishment.

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