Women’s History Month: Ceci Cairns

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Ceci was probably the youngest member of the Melbourne SOS (Save Our Sons). She was a young mother when she first joined. The Jeanie she mentions in this short excerpt from our interview is Jean McLean.

Ceci Cairns interview


Ceci: I came from a family – my father was a conscientious objector in the Second World War. And my family were Labor Party supporters. My father probably would have been a Communist, except he had differences with the way the Communists were behaving in Europe, and he never joined the Communist Party. 

But he was – he basically believed in, sort of, socialism, and in peace, and he was totally anti-war, obviously. And he was an official conscientious objector. Which meant you were officially in the army. 

And so I come from that sort of background, which I’m still dedicated to, that idea of freedom and peace, and anti-war. I mean, I’m anti the whole idea of armies anyway, I think they should be – I mean, I think the way they’re trained, which is to kill – basically to kill people, they have to be trained to – they have to be brainwashed into thinking the people they kill aren’t actually human beings like them. And so they become monsters without even realising. So perfectly normal people can become terrible people. As we keep finding out about army generals and things, who go wrong. 

And so that’s my position. I very deeply feel all that. So when – I remember when I was at school, and I was about seventeen years old, reading then about – in the early days of Vietnam, when America actually was very influential in the politics of Vietnam, and put – I can’t remember the history of all that … So I was interested from an early age in Vietnam, anyway. To do with being at school, I suppose, and what was interesting in that era was, there was a great deal of information out there about what was going on in the world. I think, despite all our media, and despite our flash, flash, flash of information, we actually – there was a deeper understanding of the politics, if you bothered to read it, at that time. 

And, of course, over the period, sort of, ten years after that, the papers were full of terrible photographs which illustrated what was happening. And I think everyone who became anti that war learnt a lot from those photographs, which I’m sure everyone says. 

So that’s my kind of position. I wasn’t particularly – I mean, I had feminist sensibilities, but I didn’t come at it because I was a feminist. I came at it because I wanted justice for everyone, and justice for the Vietnamese. I wanted justice for the young men who were coerced into being in the army. The cruelty for those young men, putting them in a situation that they had no idea what they were going into, just seemed to me so unjust. 

So that was where I was coming from. So when I realised how much I was – I knew I was on the side of the anti-Vietnam people, and I must have met up with Jeanie somewhere, and said, “Hey, I want to join you.” [laughing] 

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

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