Saturday, April 23, 2005Queensland Australia’s Sir Joh Bjelke Petersen, a controversial figure who served as the State’s Premier for 19 years and reigned over the government that later became the subject of the Fitzgerald Inquiry, has died in hospital at Kingaroy, aged 94.
“By any measurement, Sir Joh was an exceptional state builder who will be remembered for consistently placing Queensland first,” said the Australian Governor General, Major General Jeffery, in a statement.
Australian Prime Minister, John Howard: “He was certainly a strong political figure and I extend my condolences to his wife and his family.”
But not all voices were sympathetic, prominent Queensland Aboriginal activist Sam Watson for example: “Aboriginal people will always remember him as a racist, a thug and a dictator.”
Having suffered severe ill-health for some weeks, and declining health for years, Sir Joh passed away at around 6pm AEST. He was surrounded by his family, who had been summoned yesterday by Lady Flo, his wife and one-time Senator, for final goodbyes.
Phrases such as “Don’t you worry about that” and “Goodness gracious me” were like trademarks to the maverick leader.
Known simply as ‘Joh’ to many, he would famously describe press conferences as ‘feeding the chooks’. Today Kingaroy locals taunted waiting press with cries from “You’re chooks, you’re chooks, ha ha” to “Go home, ya vultures”, and some obscenities, reported the Courier-Mail of Brisbane.
His fall from power at the end of the 80s was surrounded in controversy, with the state embroiled in corruption findings going to the level of his deputies, and Bjelke Petersen’s claims of ignorance coming under challenge with charges of perjury. The case was never heard due to a controversial hung jury: the foreman of the jury, Luke Shaw, had been an office-bearer of the Young Nationals — an arm of Bjelke Petersen’s National Party — as well as a member of a group calling themselves ‘Friends of Joh’.
Having had his start in life as a peanut farmer in remote Kingaroy, the former Premier was fit up until the very end, but palsy was paralyzing his muscles and organs, to which he eventually succumbed.
“Throughout his life Sir Joh combined enormous energy, vision and an immense capacity for hard work, most especially during his 19-year term as Premier of Queensland,” the Governor General said.
“What looked to us to be huge risks at the time turned out to be nation building,” said Bob Katter, a former minister of Joh’s Government, who credited Sir Joh with starting the Queensland coal, aluminum and tourism industries.
He is also remembered for dismantling many of the State’s unions, and for a somewhat totalitarian and heavy handed style of keeping control.
Under Joh, street protests were banned and Special Branch monitored extensively those the authoritarian leader saw as subversives, measures prompting Queenslander, Australian Civil Liberties Council, Terry O’Gorman, to comment Sir Joh was “the most appalling premier Queensland has ever had in terms of civil liberties and human rights”.
In his last years as Premier, he had taken his cause to the nation’s capital, with the “Joh for PM” campaign. But this distraction has been credited with the downfall of his government, with corruption investigations at last being conducted by his stand-in, Bill Gunn.
The body of Sir Joh, who was of Lutheran faith, is to be buried at Bethany, the family property near Kingaroy.
Unsolicited quotes from ordinary Australians, many ex-Queenslanders seeking refuge in southern states, on hearing the news:
“Outrageous bastard! Oh God! That was polite!” — “Karen”
“Guilty as Hell. And that’s where he is now.” — “Michael”
“Yay! Good riddence to bad rubbish” — “Liza”
“The dictator is gone our time 2 sing” — “John. H.”
“Yeah he took a while — about 90 f*cking years overdue!” — “Hose Man”
“The pope an joh at least somethin going right” — “Helen”
“Corrupt f*cking sh*teating Bible-bashing f*ckw*t is dead. And thank f*ck. I haven’t been so happy since September 11!” — “Greg”
“I don’t drink but I’ll be having a red whilst dancing on his grave.” — “Cellest”
“Ding dong the d*ck is dead!” — anon.
“Yeahhh!!! Fucking finally” — “Leo”
“It’s a great day today the Rednecks are silent a great victory has been won” — “Zenner”