Covering an assassination attempt

BY BRONWYN BARNETT

Shot at close range

On 21 June 1966 Australia was shocked when Labor and Opposition Leader Arthur Calwell was shot at close range after attending an anti-conscription rally at Mosman Town Hall, Sydney. Peter Kocan approached Calwell, who was sitting in his car, and fired the sawn-off rifle. The bullet was deflected by the car’s closed window and lodged in Calwell’s lapel. The 19-year-old Kocan was chased down and held until police arrested him.

Calwell was taken to the Royal North Shore Hospital for treatment. News footage of the time shows him lying in a hospital bed with lacerated chin from glass fragments when the bullet shattered the window. Peter Kocan faced court the next day for a bail hearing.

Calwell was released from hospital amidst a heavy police presence with media warned not to approach him or they would be arrested.

Live broadcast

Upon arrival at Essendon airport Calwell was surrounded by a tight circle of news reporters questioning him about the incident. Obviously tired, he answered their questions but couldn’t wait to get home to ‘see [his] wife and daughter’.

Channel 9 Melbourne went live to air with this impromptu media conference. Calwell is almost totally obscured from shot because of the camera used by Channel 9 being a large outside broadcast (OB) camera on a pedestal or tripod. Movement of the camera, cables to the OB van and the lighting restricted the ability of the camera to move. Smaller, portable film cameras (an Arri ST and a Bolex) can be seen in shot but these were recording excerpts of the press conference to be later edited into a news story. Audio can also be heard in the background of one of Channel 9’s OB technicians asking the studio if they were recording.

Because of the limitations of the OB camera, Michael Schildberger succeeds in drawing Calwell over to where 9’s camera is set up for capturing a one-on-one interview. An initially reluctant Calwell looks directly at the camera and points to his lapel showing where the bullet lodged. He states that he forgives Kocan, believing him to be mentally ill. Calwell also notes that assassination attempts in Australia are very rare (the only other one at that time being the Duke of Edinburgh in 1868).

While Calwell is being interviewed, the Channel 9 technicians battle to maintain an uninterrupted shot. You can hear shouts of ‘get out of the way’ and yelling when large television lights are moved, dramatically altering the lighting of the scene; flaring in the lens and overloading of the camera tubes affects the contrast of the picture. Another large outside broadcast camera can be seen in the background as Calwell moves off to his car.

‘That’s the shot’

In the following days, GTV9 political reporter Tom Jones interviewed Arthur Calwell’s wife Elizabeth about how she is coping with the stress of the incident. The interview ends on a lighthearted note as Mrs Calwell shows off a lottery ticket given to her by her nephew, which he has titled ‘That’s the shot’.