Women’s History Month: Marion Harper
Marion Harper was a member of the Communist Party in Melbourne for several years; she was and is a member of the Unitarian Church as well. Marion worked for the Victorian Peace Council in the 1960s, and was actively involved in protesting against the Vietnam War by speaking, writing, and attending rallies. Here she speaks about ‘handing out’ pamphlets, and the women of the Communist Party.
Marion: I worked at a place called Kodak. And there was a young guy there who was a conscientious objector. His name was Alex Manzoni – I still remember, he was only a kid, about 18-19. And I worked in – with him in his department. He was conscripted. And I went to court to speak on his behalf. And I argued the theory of just and unjust was at that court hearing, and he got off. So it was I was really very proud of that.
Alex: Did you get involved with many other conscientious objectors or draft resistors?
Marion: No, he was the only one that I met through work.
Alex: Did you keep up your writing and being involved with publications across that whole period?
Marion: I think I did. I can’t remember. But I mean, I’ve always written. I’m one of the editors of the Unitarian Beacon now. I’ve always written but I can’t remember – I used to write for the party and newspaper. Really, my memory of it’s not as sharp.
Alex: The pamphlets and so on that you were writing, did you hand those out on the streets like that Communist newspaper back in the day?
Marion: We did. We did. And one one day we did – another lady and I went into, I think it was the Manchester Unity building in those days in Swanston Street. And there was an empty office up on the top floor. And we took a whole wad of pamphlets and threw them out of the window to the crowd. And they just all went fluttering down and people were picking them up. It was great. Yeah. I tell you, I was petrified. I was not – I’m not brave. I was really scared to death that we were going to get arrested. But we didn’t. So how did you have the courage to do it then if you were so scared? I don’t know. You just do, don’t you – do things. I grew up in the war in England in the blitz of London. And you just do. Don’t you; you just do.
Alex: Such I guess courage of your convictions that it…
Marion: I guess – I guess that plays a part.
Alex: In the Communist Party here in Melbourne when you were involved, were there many other women also in the party?
Marion: Oh, yes, loads. [unclear] in Richmond. In fact, the Communist Party headquarters were in Richmond at that time. And the couple that lived in the house there, he was a wharf – waterside worker. And yeah, and we used to, we did all kinds of things like – that’s why we went broke in the fruit shop because there was a big recession at the time. And people in Richmond, it was a really poor suburb in those days. And nobody had any money, people couldn’t afford food. And so the party would come down and say, Could you make up a food parcel for somebody in such and such street? Because they’re really hungry. And we used to do that. And in the end, we just went broke. I mean, we weren’t – we’d never run a business. So we were no good at it. But we did go broke in the end.
Alex: And the other women in the Communist Party: were they also as involved in protesting against the war as you?
Marion: Oh, yes. As much and more in some cases, yes. Oh, yeah. They were all involved.
If you know a Melbourne woman who was involved in protesting against the Vietnam War, please leave a comment!