Bidders have paid record-breaking prices at auction for Joh Bjelke-Petersen’s personal possessions, which included a large collection of kitsch souvenirs.
The estate of Queensland’s longest-serving and most controversial premier and his wife, Flo, went under the hammer overnight with the more than 800 items listed all selling.
“Last night we saw some special and important pieces of history and memorabilia sell for prices not seen before,” Lee Hames of Lloyds Auctions said on Wednesday.
One of the most sought-after items was a signed 1969 post-moon landing world tour luncheon schedule signed by the astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, as well as Australia’s former prime minister John Gorton. It sold for $39,000.
Sir Joh’s Stetson swagger hat fetched $5,000, his 1982 Jaguar saloon sold for $14,500 and the briefcase he used on a daily basis as premier went for $3,000.
Flo’s cake tins also caught plenty of attention before selling for $410 for a set of two. A ceramic soup spoon with her famous pumpkin scone recipe inscribed on it sold for $224.
A silver platter presented to the couple by the Queen and Prince Philip to commemorate the 1982 Commonwealth Games sold for $7,250.
“The items tell many important stories about Australia’s history and, in particular, Queensland’s growth and how it came to be the state it is today,” Hames said.
The auctioneers received thousands of bids for the items, including some from across the Tasman in Joh’s native New Zealand. But many items could be deemed “Australian protected objects” by the federal government and may not be allowed to leave the country due to their historical significance.
Joh became premier in 1968 and led the Country party then National party government for 19 years. He was knighted in 1984.
He was a controversial political figure, attracting strong backing from conservative supporters who praised his tough “law and order” stance and infrastructure plans. But critics railed against his authoritarian style and later revelations of institutional corruption.
Joh retired from politics in 1987 after damaging findings from the Fitzgerald inquiry into police corruption. He died in 2005 aged 94.
Flo also served in politics, spending 12 years as a Queensland senator. She died in 2017 aged 97.
Their children sold the collection, which was kept at the Bjelke-Petersens’ home, Bethany, near Kingaroy, north-west of Brisbane.
And just in case Joh and Flo’s collection of tchotchkes makes you forget how terrible the Bjelke-Petersen government was for the people of Queensland, here’s Guardian Australia’s list of its achievements:
The Bjelke-Petersen government wielded “state of emergency” declarations as a political weapon to put down dissent.
It declared a month-long state of emergency to head off anti-apartheid demonstrations during the Springboks’ 1971 tour.
It banned street marches entirely in 1978.
It encouraged the creation of a police state, where opponents and journalists were regularly harassed by uniformed police.
It openly supported police strong-arm tactics, including the raid on a north Queensland commune where officers burned huts for being “poisonous”.
It launched publicly funded defamation actions against opposition MPs.
Bjelke-Petersen told one of his ministers (who later forced him out as premier) to allow HIV to wipe out Indigenous communities.
The government emboldened the police commissioner Terry Lewis (later jailed for corruption) to crack down on the gay and lesbian community; it attempted to ban gay men – who were denounced as “deviants” – from entering pubs and clubs; it encouraged raids (and the closure) of premises suspected of being LGBTI-friendly; it arrested men suspected of being gay; it considered banning gay men from swimming pools, claiming there was a risk they would contaminate the water with HIV; it tried, as other states were decriminalising homosexuality, to make Queensland the first jurisdiction to make being a lesbian illegal.
It demolished historic buildings, including Brisbane’s much loved Bellevue hotel, which was destroyed in the middle of the night after public outcry.
It oversaw raids on suspected abortion clinics and tried to ban women from flying to New South Wales or Victoria if it was suspected they wanted to terminate a pregnancy.
It was responsible for large tracts of infrastructure, including dams, major expressways and universities (which most likely would still have been built) but oversaw the culture that created the “white-shoe brigade” among developers, particularly on the Gold Coast, where bribes for special treatment became common.