Bob Hetherington interview, 24 January 2013

Dublin Core


Bob Hetherington interview, 24 January 2013


Political science


Bob Hetherington joined UWA in 1966 from Adelaide University. He established the first year course in the Politics Department. He was a Labor member of the Western Australian Legislative Council from 1977 to 1989. In 1987 he introduced a private member's bill into the council to legalise homosexuality, which was narrowly defeated.


Hetherington, Bob


University of Western Australia Historical Society


Copyright holder University of Western Australia


MP3 files


Oral History

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Julia Wallis


Bob Hetherington


Highgate, W.A.


44 minutes, 53 seconds

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbs

Time Summary

Track 1
00:00 Introduction by Julia Wallis

Track 2
00:00 Robert Hetherington. Born 8 January 1923 at Mount Gambier in South Australia.
00:15 6 July 1951 married Penelope Loveday. They had twin boys and a girl.
00:29 1951 – graduated from the University of Adelaide with a Bachelor of Arts with 2nd class Honours degree in History and Political Science.
00:45 1951 – employed by the Commonwealth Public Service
00:51 1952 – research scholar at the University of Adelaide
00:56 1953-1956 – History master at Kings College, Kensington Park, South Australia. A Baptist Congregationalist School
01:26 1957-1966 – Tutor and senior tutor in Politics at the University of Adelaide. The Acting Head of the Politics Department was Leo Blair. His son Tony was 4 years old at the time. Met Leo at a party and he asked Bob if he would like to tutor in the Politics Department and he agreed.
02:10 The students were taught about John Locke, Mill (John Stuart) and the Westminster system of government. Bob brought these ideas with him when he came to WA.
03:04 May 1977 – Lecturer in Politics at UWA
03:14 The first professor of politics at UWA was Gordon Reid. He used to be sergeant at arms at Parliament House in Canberra. He was recruited by Professor Duncan, the professor of politics at Adelaide University as Reader in Politics. When the Professor of History and Politics at UWA resigned, he applied for the position and got it.
04:25 Bob Hetherington was employed as the first course controller for the politics course at UWA. He also taught Australian Politics and Democratic Thought.
05:07 Before this the History Department ran a second year course in political science taught by E D (Ted) Watt who came across to the Politics Department. He taught the second year course.
05:36 When Bob taught politics he would not reveal his own personal background and politics leanings until the second half of the year to prove to the students that he could be impartial.
06:31 Bob developed a whole lecture on the fact that the State makes you the way you are. When he finished the lecture, he told the students that if they believe that, they were fascists!
06:59 Communism was on the wane at this stage. It was more popular when Bob was a student. Bob regarded both the Catholic Church and the Communist party of exercising intellectual tyranny over their adherents.
07:37 When Bob was tutoring in South Australia it was not long after the Second World War and he had many middle aged students. He learnt a lot from them. He put forward an idea one day to have it denounced as “nonsense”.
08:16 One day he totally opposed everything a student was telling him. The student argued that he had told the class this the other day. Bob informed him that since then he had changed his mind due to having a discussion with one of his students. He enjoyed having students that argued with him.
08:48 He used to tell his students not to sit at his feet and expect to be told truths. They were there to argue and debate.
09:16 Later on, Bob tutored at Murdoch. In his class was the son of the professor of Classics at UWA. He was very disappointed when they were not able to get Bob back the next year to teach as he was “the first person who made him think”.
10:20 The University of Adelaide was land locked and tightly contained whereas Perth had a beautiful campus.
10:58 When the Hetheringtons arrived in Perth they were accommodated at a university house on the campus. Eventually they bought a house in Claremont. They had a car and Bob drove to Uni.
12:15 The Politics Department was located in the Arts Building. Later on they were moved to the Social Science Building. This was probably due to a lack of space. They were quite close to the History Department in many respects (not just proximity). Brian de Garis was in the History department at this time. When Fred Alexander retired the Chair of History was split in two and Bert Hallam and Geoffrey Bolton appointed.
14:33 The History and Politics departments were closer in Adelaide as they shared a tea room and knew each other very well. They were no crossover lectures between the history and politics departments at UWA.
14:56 When Bob arrived the staff included Professor Gordon Reid (3rd year course in public administration); Ted Watt (2nd year course) and Bob. He was expected to have 70 students and do all the lecturing and tutoring. However, it was during the Vietnam War and he ended up with 182 students.
16:05 Bob thinks that there was protest on campus but cannot remember anything specific.
16:34 He could not do the tutoring on his own and asked Geoff Bolton for help. He sent along Barbara Hamilton who stayed for year and eventually became a lecturer. Later Sandra Penrose came and tutored. Both ladies eventually demanded that they be allowed to do some of the lecturing.
17:33 This changed the course a little bit. The crux of the course was the Westminster system; the Australian political system and. Students also studied a book by Walter Bagehot, the Australian constitution and the party system. Democratic thought covered the writings of John Locke, John Stuart Mill and other writers who believed in democracy.
18:24 Bob’s former professor in Adelaide, Professor Duncan, said it was the best course he had seen. Bruce Stone was until recently the Head of the Politics Department and would be able to supply further information on courses. He was formerly a student of Bob’s and very bright.
18:57 Many students went on to get a job in Foreign Affairs. Some became academics. Other did it before they did a law degree.
19:41 Marika Vicziany was another very bright student who went to London as is now a professor of Asian Political Economy at Monash University, Melbourne.
20:24 Bob was a notoriously hard marker and failed a third of his students. The assessment was by essays and examination.
20:49 The students would choose an essay topic and would have to research and write a paper. They were able to argue points in their essays. One student wrote a brilliant essay on the American Constitution. He argued that it existed to keep to bourgeoisie in power.
21:41 One student was not doing so well. Bob told him that he had reached rock bottom and could only go up from that point and he did!
22:22 Many students found the transition from school to university very challenging. The men wrote scrabbly stuff – the writing and the English was bad. The girls wrote in beautiful round handwriting but the work wasn’t very good. An ex student of Bob’s in Adelaide was Anne Cooper (now Anne Summers. Bob told her that her first essay contained better polemics than analysis.
23:53 There were more middle class women and ex-service people in his classes than was the case at UWA in Perth.

Track 3
00:00 At one stage Bob lectured at the Octagon as it could hold 300 students. Others did not enjoy lecturing here. He used a table instead of the rostrum. He handed out summaries of the lecture and ad-libbed from his summary. There was no technology in these days – just word of mouth.
01:30 Ralph Pervan was also in the Politics Department and regarded as a “reasonable person”. After the Whitlam Dismissal in 1975, a rally was held in the Entertainment Centre. 6,500 people attended and Bob was told to warm up the crowd. He addressed them as “Fellow Democrats”. Ralph Pervan commented later that this was more like the Nuremburg Rally
02:49 There was flexibility to incorporate current affairs into the political lectures.
03:38 Bob said that he learnt a lot from lecturing. The students appreciated him getting out from behind the table to meet the audience.
04:05 There would be about 10 in a tutorial. They liked to keep the numbers small in order to relate to the students. Bob was a good tutor and engaged with the students. They would have to discuss a topic.
06:03 The male/female ratio at UWA was just about 50/50. Mature aged women started to attend in the Whitlam era.
06:45 Ted Watt was very helpful when Bob cased the joint in 1966 and drove him around Perth as a pillion passenger on his motor bike. At this time, they were tearing down the Barracks. It was suggested that a bridge should link the Barracks and Parliament House. This is being canvassed again for the upcoming State Election in 2013.
08:08 The students did not visit Parliament House as part of the politics course. When Bob was a member of parliament he would show students around.
08:34 One of Bob’s first speeches in Parliament attacked Charles Court. Bob left UWA to enter politics. Bob was beaten for preselection by Fred Chaney and Bob McMullan talked him into going into the Legislative Council. A new two member seat was established and he was the member with Fred McKenzie.
11:27 Bob’s academic background was not a great help in his political career.
12:00 Brian McKinnon was the Leader of the House. One day Bob had not had time to distribute notes to accompany his speech. Bob argued that this was not mandatory. Mr McKinnon argued that the notes might make the speech understandable. Bob said he did not expect to make the leader any wiser but he was trying to inform him!
14:06 Bob was not aware of internal university politics. Gordon Reid ran the department without any outside interference.
15:06 The department did not mix socially outside work. Bob would visit Gordon from time to time. Gordon was very proper. They would visit Ted Watt and his wife. Ted was a right wing devout Catholic.
16:14 Morning and afternoon tea was taken in the department. Lunches could be eaten and/or bought outside the department.
16:42 Pat Carruthers was the department secretary. She was devoted to Professor Reid. Her husband converted part of the pantry in Claremont into a toilet. Bob wrote an article about Gordon. He has since misplaced this. Gordon was an ex navigator in a bomber during WW2. Ruth was a war bride that be brought back from England. Bob was in the army for 4 years and 6 months. Both had a military background.
18:58 Some people wore gowns but Bob just wore a smart shirt and trousers. Some students thought Bob was a Liberal because he often wore a blue shirt. The students wore what they liked.

Track 4
00:11 Conclusion



Hetherington, Bob, “Bob Hetherington interview, 24 January 2013,” UWA Historical Society: UWA Histories, accessed April 20, 2024,