The Margaret Bailey case: high school activism, the right to education and modern citizenship in late 1960s Australia

Isobelle Barrett Meyering*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: In March 1969, Brisbane student and political activist Margaret Bailey was suspended from Inala High School - ostensibly for "undermining the authority" of her teacher - prompting claims of political suppression. Through a case study of the subsequent campaign for Bailey's reinstatement, the purpose of this paper is to explain the emergence of the high school activist as a new political actor in the late 1960s. 

Design/methodology/approach: The paper draws on newsletters and pamphlets produced by Brisbane activists, alongside articles from the left-wing and mainstream press, to reconstruct the key events of the campaign and trace the major arguments advanced by Bailey and her supporters. 

Findings: Initiated by the high school activist group, Students in Dissent (SID), the campaign in support of Bailey lasted over two months, culminating in a "chain-in" staged by Bailey at the Queensland Treasury Building on 8 May. Linking together arguments about students' rights, civil liberties and democratic government, the campaign reveals how high school activism was enabled not only by the broader climate of political dissent in the late 1960s, but by the increasing emphasis on secondary education as a right of modern citizenship in the preceding decades. 

Originality/value: This is the first study of the campaign for Bailey's reinstatement at Inala High School and one of the only analyses to date of the political mobilisation of high school students in Australia during the late 1960s. The case study of the Bailey campaign underlines that secondary school students were important players in the political contests of the late 1960s and, if only for brief periods, were able to command the attention of education officials, the media and leading politicians. It represents an important historical precedent for contemporary high school activism, including the global School Strike 4 Climate movement.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)183-197
Number of pages15
JournalHistory of Education Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 26 Sep 2019


  • 1960s
  • Australia
  • Citizenship
  • High school activism
  • Inala High School
  • Margaret Bailey
  • Radical education theory
  • Secondary education
  • Students in Dissent

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