A pop petition

Patrick Ferry and Alison Lettin
Friday, 8 December 2023

When Popstar Normie Rowe was conscripted, one teenage fan was determined to stop him going.

From 'King of Pop' to 'Nasho'

Normie Rowe was one of Australian music's brightest stars in the 'Swinging Sixties'. In 1967, his teenage fans voted him Australia's 'King of Pop'. However, 20 year-old Normie's chart-topping career soon hit a hurdle. In September 1967, he was selected to do 2 years' national service with the Australian Army. 'Nashos' could also to be sent to fight in Vietnam.

Saving Private Rowe

Normie's young fans were devastated by the news. One decided to do something about it. Cathy Flucker, a 14-year-old Brisbane schoolgirl, began a petition to save Normie. Her petition began with: 'We Protest! We want 'Normie' to stay (it's very unfair)'. What followed was an impassioned plea to spare her 'king' from being sent to Vietnam. Cathy deployed a range of arguments, including the potential impact on Normie's career and the impact on his fans:

We won't be able to concentrate on anything properly for instance – our schoolwork etc. Things won't be the same if 'Normie' has to go. There will be millions of fans everywhere crying …'

At one point, Cathy's arguments became political: 'Why should he have to give up his career to fight for the Americans? Let them fight their own wars'.

Cathy also explained what motivated her to start the petition:

'Normie' means so much to me. I really love him with all my heart … I am only 14 but I thought this petition would help all NORMIE fans to have Him with us again.

She finished the petition with this hope:

Well I guess the main part is up to you now and I hope you will put our minds at ease once again. Please let KING 'NORMIE' stay. Leaving it up to you now, I will close. Please don't disappoint us.

Cathy ended up gathering over 300 signatures for her petition. Some signatories added comments of their own. One wrote: 'I don't want him to get shot or anything cause I love him too much' (sic). The petition was then sent 'straight to the top': to the Governor General. View the full petition.

A terse response

The Governor General's office sent the petition to the Department of the Army for a direct reply to Cathy. In turn, the Army sent the petition on to the Secretary of the Department of Labour and National Service.

In response to the petition, an official in the Department of Labour and National Service noted:

I am sure someone with a teenage daughter can provide a more effective and understanding reply than consigning it to the W.P.B. [waste paper bin] which would be my disposition.

Perhaps it proved difficult to find someone like that to reply, as the Department of Army sent 2 follow up letters over the next 2 months. A response does not seem to have been provided to the Army until the following July. What it contained is unknown. However, the following was tersely recorded on the file: 'Discussed with Army. N.F.A'. [no further action].

Ultimately, Cathy's petition was in vain. Normie was enlisted as Private Norman John Rowe in early 1968. He was deployed to Vietnam from January to December 1969. Unfortunately, the file is silent about how Cathy reacted to her petition's lack of success.

After his return from Vietnam, Normie resumed his entertainment career. However, as Cathy had predicted, he wasn't quite able to regain the dizzying heights of his early career. Now in his seventies, Normie continues to perform and has become a strong advocate for Vietnam veterans.

From noisy protest to quiet persistence, Disrupt, persist, invent explores the many ways people have achieved social change in Australia.

Disrupt, persist, invent is on display at the Victorian Archives Centre from 8 December 2023 until 5 April 2024.