This might seem like a very strange object to have in a museum. It looks more like the owner has been out playing paintball. But it is actually a very poignant reminder of a turbulent time in Melbourne.
In 1966, the Australian Prime Minister, Harold Holt, invited the American President, Lyndon Baines Johnson, known affectionately as ‘LBJ’, to Australia. He wanted to show the people of Australia that America was an important ally of ours, and we should continue to support their fight in Vietnam by sending over more troops.
When LBJ visited Melbourne in October 1966, he was met by tens of thousands of people out on the streets - many of them waving American flags and yelling messages of support such as: “Australia will go all the way with LBJ”. As well as all these well wishers, however, there were many people in Melbourne who were against the war, and they used this opportunity to make their objections known.
Two university students decided to take their protest a bit further, and they pelted the presidential limousine with paint bombs. They covered the President’s car, and three of his security guards with red and green paint.
The security guards were taken to nearby Prince Henry’s Hospital, where they were cleaned up and given fresh shirts to wear by a hospital orderly. He couldn’t bear to think that these shirts would be thrown out, so he took them home to try and clean them so he could wear them himself. The paint wouldn’t come out, but fortunately he decided to hang on to the shirts as a souvenir of a dramatic day, so over 40 years later we are able to display one of the shirts here at Melbourne Museum.