February 2014


Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Joh Bjelke-Petersen & the Shah of Iran

On the face of it, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi and Joh Bjelke-Petersen had very little in common. One was an arrogant despot who ruled without regard for democracy or the law, his regime buttressed by a corrupt elite and a brutal police force. The other was the premier of Queensland. But when the two men happened to meet, they found they shared a fear. The occasion was the Shah of Iran’s state visit to Australia in September 1974.

The Shah was riding high. His reign assured by a CIA-orchestrated coup, he’d declared himself heir to the kings of ancient Persia and lavished millions on confabulated grandeur. Admired in the West as a suave and sophisticated moderniser, he was flush with oil money. He increased Iran’s military capacity and sought to extend his influence to the Indian Ocean. Australia was hoping to sell him stuff, including uranium.

No sooner had the King of Kings and his fashion-plate wife, Empress Farah, been greeted with regal pomp in Canberra than they were off on a whirlwind national tour. The first stop was Queensland.

Joh Bjelke-Petersen, then in his sixth year as premier, took personal care of the imperial dignitaries. After a quick turn around historic Cairns, the Shah donned his white shoes and embarked for nearby Green Island. Surrounded by bodyguards and protected by 86 police officers, the visitors inspected tropical fish and curious tourists. Joh stuck close.

According to the premier, they talked about the threat of communism. Like him, the Shah was deeply worried about the red menace. Not only was Iran a potential market for Queensland mutton and minerals but its iron-fisted ruler was a man after Bjelke-Petersen’s own heart.

The next month, the premier called an early state election to be fought against the “socialist, communist-inspired policies of the federal Labor government”. By then, the Shah had returned home, but not before he had signed a trade agreement with the federal government that opened the way for Iran to purchase Australian uranium.

By late 1978, the deal to provide uranium to Iranian nuclear power plants – modelled on a secret US–Iran nuclear co-operation agreement – was ready to be signed. But the Shah was on the skids. Iranians were responding to his repression and corruption with an Islamic revolution, not a communist one. His regime collapsed, he fled into exile, and the many statues of him were torn down. The uranium deal was abandoned.

Thanks to a massive gerrymander, Bjelke-Petersen won seven state elections. He then ran for prime minister, notwithstanding the absence of a federal poll. On his own recommendation, he was knighted for services to parliamentary democracy.

Both the Shah and Bjelke-Petersen are gone, but the leftist threat remains as potent as ever. Rumour has it Clive Palmer wants to erect a statue of Sir Joh in Brisbane.

Shane Maloney and Chris Grosz

Shane Maloney is a writer and the author of the award-winning Murray Whelan series of crime novels. His 'Encounters', illustrated by Chris Grosz, have been published in a collection, Australian Encounters.

Chris Grosz is a book illustrator, painter and political cartoonist. He has illustrated newspapers and magazines such as the Age, the Bulletin and Time.

February 2014

From the front page

Green tensions build

The Batman by-election loss cannot be swept under the carpet

Image from Dark Mofo 2018

Dark Mofo: an easy cell

Incarceration is a recurring theme at Mona’s 2018 winter arts festival


A song cycle in 5 parts


Curing Clarksdale’s blues

A music-loving Melbourne economist is revitalising a Mississippi town

In This Issue

Lest we go over the top

How should we remember World War One?

ASIO photo of Gary Foley with Black Panther Denis Walker. Courtesy of Haydn Keenan

ASIO surveillance in ‘Persons of Interest’

Documentary series charts the history of Australia’s intelligence-gathering operations

Why climate change defeats our short-term thinking

On science, religion, politics and ideology

Wally De Backer (aka Gotye) with a still from the ‘Somebody That I Used To Know’ video. © Mark Gamboni / ACMI

Music videos: a personal history

From Saturday-morning ‘Rage’ to ACMI’s ‘Spectacle’ exhibition

More in Arts & Letters


A song cycle in 5 parts

Image of The Cure in Brazil, 1987

The Cure’s permanent twilight

Robert Smith and co. are celebrating 40 years of the band. Why do they still inspire such love?

The elevated horror of Ari Aster’s ‘Hereditary’

This debut feature will test the mettle of even the most hardened genre fans

Image of Rhonda Deans exploring “the Squeeze”, Koonalda Cave, South Australia

‘Deep Time Dreaming’ by Billy Griffiths

This history of archaeology in Australia charts our changing relationship with the past

More in Encounters

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Rupert Murdoch & Kamahl

Mark Oliphant & J Robert Oppenheimer

John Monash & King George V

John Howard & Uri Geller

Read on

Image from Dark Mofo 2018

Dark Mofo: an easy cell

Incarceration is a recurring theme at Mona’s 2018 winter arts festival

Image of ‘Miss Ex-Yugoslavia’ by Sofija Stefanovic

Storyteller Sofija Stefanovic’s ‘Miss Ex-Yugoslavia’

A vivid account of growing up in a time of war, between two worlds

Image of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and US president Donald Trump

Seriously scary times

What are the implications of the Trump-Kim summit for America’s allies?

Image of ‘Spiegelenvironment’ by Christian Megert

ZERO is the beginning

A new exhibition at Mona brings the light to Dark Mofo