Travel, Politics and the Limits of Liminality During Australia’s Sixties

Jon Piccini


Victor Turner describes the individual experience of travel as ‘liminal’. Opening new vistas of possibility, it upturns ordinary social conventions and codes, constructing in their place new communities of hope and change. Such utopian moments of encounter are, however, just that—moments that are fleeting and generally inconsequential. This paper seeks to understand and critique Turner’s ideas of liminality, pilgrimage and communitas within the context of Australian social movements in the ‘long’ and ‘global’ 1960s. Though often ignored or marginalised in local and international scholarship, Australia had a much more complex and interesting experience of this period than the paucity of scholarly work would indicate. In fact, a variety of activists in areas ranging from Indigenous rights to the peace and workers movements pushed the boundaries of political discourse during a period marked by stultifying social and cultural climates. Through a focus on three travel narratives—those of Brisbane radical Brian Laver and young Communist Party of Australia (CPA) members to Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria during 1968, Sydney Trotskyite Denis Freney to Algeria in the early 1960s and five Indigenous activists to a Black Power conference in Atlanta, Georgia in 1970—this paper will highlight the importance of global connections to Australian social movements. The notion of liminality will initially be critiqued through a focus on pre-histories to travel: the ideas, rumours and local problems that can be glossed over in work heralding the power of the moment. Such moments of encounter were, however, still transformative for these activists, with their variety of experiences facilitating what Turner called communitas, spontaneous affinities and solidarities across borders of race, culture and understanding. The pilgrims’ return concludes this discussion, with their ‘translation’ of global ideas into new, local contexts giving them the role not just of a missionary, but also a mediator—disrupting travel’s supposed fleetingness and locating its importance to the transnational flow of ideas during the Sixties.


liminality; the Sixties; transnationalism; Australia 20th Century; travel and politics; Victor Turner; Indigenous Activism

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