Martha Kinsman was a president of the Monash Labor Club, and identified as a Trotskyist. Throughout her time at Monash she participated in many demonstrations and contributed enormously to the political discussions around Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War. In this excerpt she talks about the decision to actively support the NLF (National Liberation Front, whom Australian soldiers were fighting in Vietnam). The ‘Albert’ mentioned below is Albert Langer, a well-known (one might even say notorious) figure on the Monash campus.
Martha: We got, yeah, we got some hate mail. This was after we decided to support the NLF, rather than just protest against the war, which was a big, big step forward. And I don’t think it was to do with me being president. I think … let me go through what I remember. Dave Nadal was president from 1966 to 1967. And – but there was an ASLF … there were two – ASLF was the Australian Student Labor Federation, Australia wide. There was – and they used to meet, I think in the May holidays, from memory, because I can’t remember ever going to one in summer. There was one in 1966. And then there was one in May 1967. And that’s where the idea first came up – and it was in Sydney from recollection; it must have been in Sydney because I wouldn’t have gone otherwise. I certainly didn’t have the money. It was always in Melbourne or Sydney, I think; sometimes it was in Brisbane. That’s where, and I can’t remember whether it was formally raised, but that’s certainly where the first discussions came up about, not just protesting the Vietnam War, but in fact, not necessarily supporting the NLF, but recognising that right was on their side, that it was their war, not ours. I’m sure Dave Nadal went to that ASLF one. And I’m sure because he’s been involved in Victorian politics all his life, that he will remember that better than I do. So that, when I came back from that – must have been about June, there’s a huge amount of press about it, in the Victorian press, in particular. That meeting of the Labor Club, which I went to just as an ordinary person, you know, member, there was – somebody moved a motion about protesting against the Vietnam War, or, you know, confirming our opposition to the Vietnam War. And I got up and said, That’s not good enough, what we should be doing is actively supporting the NLF. And I don’t think anything happened at that stage. It wasn’t accepted as a motion or anything. But after that meeting, Peter Price came and talked to me and said he and John Price, his older brother, had been thinking along the same lines and they from recollection had been influenced by – they certainly weren’t Maoists – they had been influenced by Bertrand Russell. So I went and had a look at Bertrand Russell and found that, you know, this great philosopher was also saying something similar. So then there were a number of meetings about getting this motion together. And I can’t remember whether I moved it and Price seconded it, or Price moved it and I seconded it, anyway it was the two of us together, and it got through. And immediately, the Maoists sort of got interested in us, you know, they couldn’t allow this to happen. I think – there were a number of meetings and sort of committees and groups of people, and Albert was certainly involved in it as was Nadal. I don’t recall, however, that the other famous Maoist, Mike Hyde, was at that stage involved. I don’t think so. And then we moved this motion. And then because Dave Nadel’s term was up, there was a whole issue of who would get to be president and Albert, who been vice president didn’t want to be president and didn’t think he’d have the support – thought, I think, you know, wanted to stage manage it. And so they organised for me to be president.
If you know a Melbourne woman who was involved in protesting against the Vietnam War, please leave a comment!