Women’s History Month: Jean McLean (again)

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I’m not sorry that I’m featuring Jean McLean again, because she just has so many amazing stories. The generally-acknowledged leader of the Melbourne Save Our Sons, McLean was a delegate to a Paris conference for women of the belligerent nations; and she also visited North Vietnam, while Australia was fighting in Vietnam…

Jean McLean interview


Jean: And then there was a conference in 1968, the Paris meeting. … I went via the Soviet Union. Then, off I went to Paris. The conference was in a fantastic chateau. Never seen anything like it. Anyway, so they were all women from belligerent nations. The conference was called that. And out of that connection, those connections, it also got involved in the moratorium, which was, you know, the movement started there and then came here. But it was there that the Vietnamese women, Madame Binh from the south and Madam Cam from the north, invited me to visit North Vietnam. Which I did. Which was a pretty incredible exercise. 

Alex: How long was the conference for? In Paris? Was it just a few days? 

Jean: A week long. 

Alex: And was it organised meetings, or just, sort of, hanging around with all the women?

Jean: Well, yeah, no, it was meetings. We discussed the various conscriptions and things in the different countries. The Japanese were – there were quite a few of them there, and they were very vocal. Yes, so we –

Alex: Did you get to speak very much?

Jean: We only had one presentation. The rest of it were group meetings, trying to work out what to do and how to do it. But in Paris, at that conference, I met Jean-Paul Sartre – he was running a draft resistance! He had this little office in an old French building. 

Alex: That’s incredible. 

Jean: I went up the stairs – you know, so I’m sitting there, talking to Jean-Paul Sartre about draft resistance. But he was just like everybody else. He was working away. …  

Alex: So you went to Vietnam a couple of years later, was it?

Jean: In 1969. The next year. 

Alex: Just the next year. How long did you have in North Vietnam?

Jean: Two weeks. You know, I’d think twice about tearing into a war zone now. It didn’t seem – I thought it was perfectly all right. Well, because they said, “We’ll keep you safe.” And I thought, they’re such nice people, they’d know what they were doing. And, of course, they did. But I travelled right up with them, right up to the Chinese border. And to Hai Phong. Something like that. Where there was a Russian ship and a Chinese ship, and they were both giving aid to Vietnam. To the north. But they weren’t talking to each other. So when – it’s marvellous – when the Chinese were getting off the boat, they all walked that way, and when the Russians got off the boat, they walked that way. And they were taken to separate areas.

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

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