Women’s History Month: Helen Rowe

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Helen Rowe became more aware of the Vietnam War and the protest movement against it after she met her husband. She discusses that here, and how support for the protests doesn’t always mean going to all of them.

Helen Rowe interview


Helen: And I met my husband at the end of 1970. And he had gone into the raffle, you know, and so he’s got the ticket in his filing cabinet, where his number didn’t come up. So that was new. So here’s a person who missed out, you know, and then he was pretty actively involved in protest movement and things, but just as a regular citizen, not out there as a leader. And look, I think I marched in a moratorium. But it’s funny. I don’t know whether it’s the photos, you know, you remember the photos, I actually can’t remember, to tell you the truth. Because, because it then filled our lives. It became – I became involved really through him. I’ve marched in plenty of other anti nuclear and all sorts of stuff. But, you know, did I match in the moratorium? I don’t know.

Alex: Before you met your husband, did you think much about the conscription issue? one way or the other?

Helen: Oh, no, because I’m the second of three sisters. And then my brother was born nine years younger than me. So in our family, in our big wide family, no one was impacted by war. So even in my parents’ family, father and mother, neither of them – and they came from big families – there was no male siblings who went to war in the First or Second World War. And then my own brother was not the age. And then I’ve got three brothers, but they’re also all younger. And at the church we went to, the youth group and everything, I’m just not aware that anyone had – was called up. It’s quite possible there were people there who missed out. But it wasn’t talked about, as I said, it was – the church didn’t speak about it. Probably individuals in the congregation did, with each other, but certainly wasn’t something we got collectively. 

Alex: Do you remember seeing or hearing very much about Vietnam on the news at the time?

Helen: Probably didn’t watch TV, because, you know, shifts precluded that really in the times and things; and I wasn’t drawn to political, you know news if you like. Quite naive really. 

Alex: After you did meet your husband and you got that bit more involved do you think you did go on some of those protest marches in the in the early 70s?

Helen: Yeah, definitely. But we weren’t there with other – we weren’t part of a group that was political activists; we would have gone along as individuals I think and supported as you do right perhaps with some of these family violence things at the minute – all walk together in that way. I think he didn’t talk about his engagement with some of the individuals who were called up and who were quite public figures just because he’s a quiet person. But also I wasn’t in an inquirer. But he went to school with John Zarb at Essendon Tech and a strong influence of my husband’s was one of the teachers there at the school. If you go to school with someone that’s called up and imprisoned because it was he jailed… I do remember on the train in from Box Hill into the city – I worked in the city for a while – his name, John Zarb’s name, was all across the you know, the graffiti that was in the – going through Camberwell and Alamein and everything you know – where there’s a big cutting: “John Zarb” and “Free John Zarb”. I remember all that. It’s interesting in my involvement was actually noticing that – it’s funny how you can be supportive through noticing. You identify with it quite strongly. It is interesting thinking about it because I was a protester, but I was a quiet supportive protester and would never have – would never have spoken against what the protesters were doing, so I was for what they were doing; I mightn’t have, you know, been there – well I was long haired, we were all long-haired. Anyway.

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

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