Women’s History Month: Jean McLean

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Following in the footsteps of those who have gone before me, here I am highlighting Jean McLean first. The truth is, though, that she really is and was awesome. I’ve included here a short excerpt about some of her motivation for protesting, and the story of how the Melbourne SOS (Save Our Sons) initially started.

Jean McLean interview


Jean: Menzies announced in December 1964 that he was going to bring in conscription for overseas service. Now, I had always – and still am – very interested in our region. So I knew a lot about Vietnam, I knew the history of Vietnam, and I knew about the secret war that America was carrying out in Laos and creeping into Vietnam and Cambodia. 

And Australia had been – Australia asked, actually, whether they could go and kill some people in Vietnam. And they finally invited us – not straight away – the Americans. And then the government said it was through ANZUS. And it wasn’t through ANZUS. Again, if one understood the history of all this –

So I knew that this was why he introduced conscription, to join the war in Vietnam. And so I obviously opposed it. I spoke to women that I knew. I was a young mother. I was doing a pottery class, and I spoke to the women in the pottery class. And a couple of them had fourteen-year-old sons, and they said, “God, this could affect our children.” And they were pretty upset. 

And so I said, “Well, let’s have a meeting, call a meeting, get as many people that we know together, and see what we can do.” I mean, I’d never done that sort of thing before, and nor had they. But anyway, we had a house meeting. And I invited a minister of religion called Bruce Silverwood, who was the – the Uniting Church had just combined, with the Methodists and Presbyterians. I think he was Methodist. I think – but anyway, he came to the meeting, because he was – he spoke out about peace and this sort of – and I think he had a letter to the editor, or something like that. So I asked him to come, to tell us what to do. How to oppose things. Not religiously, but just to speak. 

Anyway, he suggested to hire a hall in the city called the Assembly Hall, because it only cost $9 or £9 to hire it. And it was a public hall, you know, so you could invite people. Which we did. And we put a little ad – I wish I had it. A little ad about that big in the Herald or The AgeThe Argus – no, The Argus had had it by then. The Age or the – anyway, we put this little ad in. And we had over a hundred people turn up. We got the shock of our lives. Because we didn’t have a network. We didn’t have anything. 

If you know a woman who was in Melbourne and protested against the Vietnam War, please leave a comment!

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