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    1964: A Year of Change and Challenges for Australia

    Military Voice
    Posted by Military Voice on May 14, 2024 7:47:00 AM

    In 1964, Australia faced various challenges as the country navigated a rapidly changing world. The assassination of US President John F. Kennedy in 1963 shook the world, and Australians were still grappling with the shockwaves of this event. The Vietnam War was also starting to loom large, with the Australian Government's decision to send troops to support the US-led coalition causing controversy and growing division at home. 


    Life and Times

    29 January saw the Royal Australian Air Force take delivery of its first two Mirage fighter jets. The Dassault Mirage III was a French single-seat, single-engine fighter jet introduced in the early 1960s. The aircraft had a maximum speed of Mach 2.2 and could reach a height of 17,000 meters. This was a significant development for the Air Force, as the Mirage was a highly advanced and capable fighter aircraft. 

     Mirage RAAF

     Left to right: A Mirage 111-0 fighter jet and a CS.5 Deperdussin training aircraft


    10 February, the Melbourne–Voyager collision was tragic when two ships, HMAS Melbourne and HMAS Voyager, collided off New South Wales, Australia. The crash resulted in the sinking of Voyager and the loss of 82 lives. HMAS Melbourne was an aircraft carrier, while HMAS Voyager was a destroyer. The two ships were conducting exercises when the collision occurred. The impact cut the Voyager in half, and she sank within minutes, while Melbourne suffered minor damage. The incident was the subject of a Royal Commission, which found that a series of errors and miscommunications on both ships caused the collision. The Commission also identified a need for proper training and communication procedures as contributing factors. 


    15 March, the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist) was founded as a Maoist organisation. The party emerged due to a divide within the Communist Party of Australia during the Sino-Soviet split. It was initially called the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist) but later changed its name to the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist) in 1965. 


    The widespread practice of surfing was on the rise as an increasing number of youthful individuals began to engage in the activity, forging their distinct subculture. A gathering of 60,000 onlookers congregated on Manly beach on 17 May, where they witnessed Phyllis O'Donnell and Midget Farrelly make history by claiming the title of world surfing champions. 


    Spectators pictured on the final day of the 1964 World Surfboard Championships at Manly Beach., taken by a staff of the Sydney Morning Herald


    08 June, The Minister for Defence announced that the AAATV would be increased to 83 advisers with an expanded role. The team's rules of engagement expanded to include advisory duties on operations. This change meant advisors began accompanying ARVN units, Regional Force units, and Popular Force units on combat patrols. In effect, this meant that the advisors led the patrols, and naturally, it meant a significant increase in risk. 06 July, Australian Army Warrant Officer Class Two, Kevin Conway, becomes the first Australian to die due to enemy action in South Vietnam. 


     One of the biggest turnouts during the Beatles tour in Australia was in Adelaide, where an estimated 350,000 people flocked to the city to catch a glimpse 


    In 1964, The Beatles embarked on a world tour that included several countries, including Australia. The Beatles arrived in Australia on 11 June for their first-ever time. The time began with a concert at the Adelaide Town Hall on 12 June, followed by concerts in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, and Perth. Two hundred thousand people attended the Beatles' shows in Australia. The band was greeted by thousands of screaming fans at each of their Australian concerts, and their arrival in Adelaide was even declared a public holiday. 


    Robert Menzies reintroduced the national service in Australia in 1964


    On 10 November, Robert Menzies announced the reintroduction of national service in Australia. This decision directly responded to the prevalent geopolitical turmoil to bolster the nation's troop numbers. Per the new policy, every male aged 20 must register for a birthdate lottery. The selected few were forced to commit to two years of full-time service, which could involve deployment abroad. Following this, these individuals would be committed to three years of service in the Army Reserve. 


    On 14 December 1964, The Prime Minister received a message from President Johnson that suggested that Australia provide more than just advisers. Johnson recommended that Australia send 200 additional combat advisers, minesweepers, LSTS salvage and repair ships, and hospital ships. The Australian Government responded to requests from the US President and South Vietnam Prime Minister with 200 additional advisers. The Menzies Government also offered to send ground troops to South Vietnam in support. This significant decision marked Australia's entry into the Vietnam War. 


     Tokyo Olympics 1964

    A view of the final day of the 5.5 class yachts racing on Oct. 20, 1964, in Sagami Bay during the Summer Games. In this event Australia won gold, Sweden silver and the USA took bronze. (AP Photo)


    Amid all this change and uncertainty, one thing remained constant: Australia's love of the sport. In 1964, the country played host to the Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan, and Australians once again embraced the event with enthusiasm and pride. Australia won 18 medals at the games, including four golds, six silvers, and eight bronzes. The success of Australian athletes at the Olympics helped reinforce the country's sense of national identity and pride. In addition, it demonstrated the power of sport to bring people together and inspire a sense of community spirit.  


    Australia faced various challenges and changes, both domestically and globally. Introducing the advanced Mirage fighter jets was a significant development for the Royal Australian Air Force. The tragic Melbourne-Voyager collision highlighted the need for better training and communication procedures. The founding of the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist) and the rise of surfing as a subculture were also significant events. The Beatles' arrival and Australia's success at the Olympics reinforced the country's sense of national identity and pride. Ultimately, 1964 was a year of significant shifts and developments that shaped Australia's future in various ways. 


    Music of 1964 

    In 1964, The Beatles shaped Australian culture and inspired artists amidst uncertainty over the Vietnam War. Billy Thorpe's "Poison Ivy" captured the nation's optimism and paved the way for future Australian rock musicians. With its catchy lyrics and infectious beat, the song became an instant classic, solidifying Thorpe's influence on fashion and youth culture. 



    Song Title 



    I Saw Her Standing There / Love Me Do 

    The Beatles 


    I Feel Fine / She's a Woman 

    The Beatles 


    Can't Buy Me Love / You Can't Do That 

    The Beatles 


    A Hard Day's Night / Things We Said Today 

    The Beatles 


    All My Loving (EP) 

    The Beatles 


    I Should Have Known Better / If I Fell 

    The Beatles 


    Ain't That Loving You Baby 

    Elvis Presley 


    Have I The Right? 

    The Honeycombs 


    You're My World 

    Cilla Black 


    Oh, Pretty Woman 

    Roy Orbison 


    Roll Over Beethoven / Hold Me Tight 

    The Beatles 


    My Guy 

    Mary Wells 


    She's a Mod 

    Ray Columbus and the Invaders 


    Requests (EP) 

    The Beatles 


    Viva Las Vegas 

    Elvis Presley 



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