Women’s History Month: Margaret Williamson

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Margaret Williamson got involved in Young Labor in her late teens. She worked in various roles in the union movement, including as the Bendigo Trades and Labor Council secretary. Margaret participated in anti-Vietnam War activities through both her Labor and union connections. In this excerpt, she discusses her initial introduction to Young Labor, and her experience demonstrating in front of the American Embassy.

Margaret Williamson interview

Transcript

Margaret: It was my mother who got me involved in politics. She listened to the conversations with myself and my father. And it must have been pretty hard to shut me up, I think. So she actually rang the Labor Party and asked them, Did they have anything for a young woman? And so they said, Yeah, we’ve got Young Labor. And, and without me even knowing that she’d done that, I did get a phone call from a young man inviting me to go to a meeting. Well, the first meeting I went to with them, was about chemical warfare. The first time I’d ever stepped foot inside a university, Melbourne Uni. It was a very romantic sort of evening, you know, it was dark, and there were lights, and it was a beautiful building. And then we went after that to – I’m just trying to remember the name of the restaurant, there was a lovely restaurant where – in Carlton there. And I should remember the name… and it was like being inside the tower of Babel, because there were, you know, a stack of people in there, and everybody yelling at everybody else, talking about how to change the world. Talking about the latest on the war, the young group of people that I were with – I was the only girl – they were all on about what the latest was; I just had to get involved. I – there was no, no ifs, buts, or maybes. You know, to me it was a responsibility that I had. I know that sounds a bit severe for a young woman of those times. But, you know, I didn’t even think twice about the fact that I was the only woman in the group. I can remember not even thinking twice about the fact that in that cafe, I couldn’t see another girl like me. I can remember once being told by fellow at a dance that his mother wouldn’t approve of my politics. And that – that sort of inspired me to have a few words with him. And I can remember other young people, young men, actually suggesting that I might have had a mental problem because I was so anti war, and so anti conscription, and so politically motivated. So clearly they’d not struck a person like myself. I never gave it a second thought. I started going – I can remember that we went to meetings, I’m pretty sure, it was at a place called Assembly Hall in Collins Street, which I think is still there. I can remember there were meetings – not so many – but there were meetings in the Labor Party, and certainly huge discussions in Young Labor among the young people. But I can remember going to meetings at Assembly Hall. And I can remember then going to the very early rallies, which were quite small; because the first ones around Fourth of July demonstrations and things like that they were quite small, and at times quite dangerous. I remember at – 

Alex: This was at the American Embassy?

Margaret: Yes, yes. 

Alex: I’ve heard of those.

Margaret: Yes, I can remember being sort of pulled out of the way by a friend, as they rode police horses in on top of people that were sitting in the driveway. One of my friends got – a horse walked on her, which wasn’t good. And I can remember, I can remember another night when we’d been to Assembly Hall. And then people had been arrested. So we marched up to the City Watchhouse, which was sort of up where the old magistrate – behind the old magistrate’s court, Russell Street police station over the road. And there was a lot of brutality that night; a lot of brutality. People were hunted across the city of Melbourne. You just … there’s things that slip into your understanding of what’s happening, about where you are, and where society is. 

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

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