Women’s History Month: Judy Maddigan

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Judy Maddigan went to Melbourne University and participated in several demonstrations against the Vietnam War. In this excerpt she discusses her motivations for being involved.

Judy Maddigan interview


Judy: I came from a family that wasn’t interested in politics at all – my parents would have voted Liberal all their lives; we used to live out in the seat of Kooyong which of course  was Robert Menzies’ seat – so I wasn’t interested at all in politics. When I went to university I didn’t – wasn’t involved in any political activities except for the Vietnam War. And I think a lot of people were involved in the Vietnam War – apart from the practice of war, we should never been fighting because it had absolutely nothing to do with us – but the system of selecting young men to go and fight, which was in my view it was extremely unfair – and the fact that they couldn’t get enough volunteers, I would have thought would show that most people in Australia think it’s totally inappropriate.

Alex: So if you came from a family that was, I guess, relatively conservative for the time, and so on, what made you I guess, aware of Vietnam? And what made you think that it was a war Australia shouldn’t have been involved in – like was the news, was it friends? 

Judy: I think it was probably more – more being at Melbourne University and all the newsletters came out, and other people talking to us about it. So – and there was huge amount of publicity about in the time, and the guys who refused to put their name in a hat, who got into terrible trouble. I think if I hadn’t been at university, I’m not sure it would have been different or not. But certainly, I think being at university and like, there were discussions about it all the time, people talking about it all the time. But even on the news, like there were so many – continually people disagreeing with us being there. And there’s still people saying you shouldn’t do that; if you want to send people you should have a national service system, so everyone has to go for six months or something. But just – I think the fact that it was so unfair, just, you know, bad luck. And if you think like in the time, so… ’60, bit over ’60, middle ’60 – most of us would be hard pressed to find Vietnam on a map if we’d been asked where it was. And I think the other thing – but I have a bit to do with RSLs – so I have corrected them on some cases, because a lot of those soldiers think that all those marches were against them. So I try and make it clear, it wasn’t about you. It was saying you should never have been sent there in the first place. I’ve never met an ex servicemen who fought in the Vietnam War, who thought was a good idea. And it’s very hard to meet an ex servicemen who thinks any war is a good idea. Which I think is the truth about it. And I think – but some of those people I think were devastated. And I think once again, that’s because the government put – kept putting out media about doing your service for the country and all of the rest of it, which was absolute crap of course, had nothing to do with Australia at all, Vietnam was never going to bomb Australia, and we lost the war anyway. What was the point?

Alex: And do you think at the time you were more concerned with Vietnam or conscription, or were they just so intertwined it’s a pointless question?

Judy: Well, they were very intertwined I suppose. I think it was mainly in Vietnam more because of the unfairness of it, which brought in, you know, the way they were conscripted, which, as I said, I think many people thought it was awful, which – it was awful. And I think – and even I’m thinking when I went to work, you know, people who are sitting there petrified on the day they used to draw the lots – numbers – out of the hat or whatever they did, you know, that one of their family members or their boyfriend or the man next door or something got drafted – so it made, it made the community really anxious and nervous, and that stuff was there till they stopped doing it, which was a great relief to all. 

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

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