Tag Archives: history

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!

Women’s History Month: Helen McCulloch

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Helen McCulloch started her political activism at the University of Tasmania, drawing attention to apartheid in South Africa. When she moved to Monash, she got involved in the Labor Club there, including serving on the Club’s committee, and supporting the idea of sending non-specified aid to the North Vietnamese. Here, she discusses the importance of women being involved in the anti-war and anti-conscription movement.

Helen McCulloch interview


Alex: So I mean, as I said, I’m interested in the actions and the motivations of the women who were involved, partly because it is leading into quote, unquote, second wave feminism and those things. But it’s not, I guess, I’m not just interested about it as – from that perspective, but more as, as you said, at the start, you know, because women couldn’t be conscripted. There have been people that I’ve read from the time who are like, you’re not personally involved – their words not mine – so why do you care? 

Helen: I was personally involved. It was my friends who were threatened.

Alex: Yeah. So this is I guess what I’m trying to get at is, clearly it’s a personal and political issue. So – 

Helen: The issue is so – bites so much harder, if it is personal. But even if it’s not, you know, like the apartheid in South Africa, you still stand up for principle.

Alex: Do you think that it would have been different if women had not been involved in the demonstrations and the posting up of posters?

Helen: It may well have been – the cops might have hit harder.

Alex: Interesting. Do you think maybe women being present, there was still a little bit of chivalry? 

Helen: Yeah, there was a little bit of chivalry, you know, when we were caught sticking up posters – there were four of us – we took shelter in the car. The cops surrounded the car. They said, Out of the car, gentlemen; we all got out and said oh, one of them’s a girl. No, I think there was a little bit of chivalry still involved yes. 

Alex: Do you think there would’ve –

Helen: But they didn’t, they didn’t quite know what to do with it.

Alex: Yeah, I have wondered that. Because it feels – I mean, obviously the World War One women were involved then. But women hadn’t really been on the streets so much in terms of protest, really, until the ’60s with anti apartheid and so on. 

Helen: But there’s also appearance, you know, I think a lot of it – this was the time when the boys grew their hair long and their beards and dressed in bright coloured clothes. And the girls had long hair, they didn’t have beards, but they dressed in bright coloured clothes, too. So we all looked very similar to each other. And I think that’s a good thing, basically, because people don’t make this big distinction as much. You know, I’ve heard older people look at the hippies and say, Ah, you can’t tell who’s a boy and who’s a girl. But, you know, if you’re one of them, you know.

Alex: Do you think that there was a difference in the way the public saw the issue because there were women involved as well?

Helen: I don’t know. I don’t know. Jean McLean was the respectable end; she was saying save our sons. She was appealing to mother instinct, which you can always rely on mother instinct to tap. Yes. And we were talking about the justice or not attacking of Vietnam, which is a different question.

Alex: Do you think both of those were necessary or important in that time? 

Helen: Everything’s important to help get it done.

Alex: I think those are the questions that I had.

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

Women’s History Month: Kay Setches

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Kay Setches objected to the Vietnam War and conscription for a variety of reasons. Her main involvement in protesting against them was participation in the later moratoriums, which she discusses here.

Kay Setches interviews


Kay:Wwe were doing those marches. And we used to just take the children in the car, and – the babies really – and put them in the pusher and… push.

Alex: So you went to the three moratorium marches, or just the first one – 

Kay: I know that we went to the last. And I think we went to the one before.

Alex: But what was it like to be at those moratoriums when there was so many thousands of people with one goal?

Kay: Well, I was up near the intersection… where we were in the middle of Swanson and Flinders Street once on one of the marches. And I was scared. I was – I was scared because I was – there was so many people. So many, many, many people. And that, you know, there was a flash of scare there, I’ll always remember it. But really, it was very uplifting to be walking with people that had the same view as you. It was so neighbourly as well, when you’re going along, we were very hopeful that this would lead to a change. A huge change. You know, we had been under a Liberal National government for 23 years by ’72. And it had to stop.

Alex: From what I’ve seen of the pictures of the moratorium, it looks like there are a lot of women there. Did you feel like there were lots of women present on the day? 

Kay: Yes, I did. Yes, I did. 

Alex: Aside from the marches, were there other things that you were involved in?

Kay: I didn’t do anything. No; I went home. And I thought I’d done well, and then I cleaned up the kids, and then we went to bed. That’s what we did; no I didn’t do anything much afterwards.

Alex: Was it the sort of issue that people would talk about at parties or gatherings?

Kay: Always, always because your friends were not that different to you, you know. And so it was uppermost on everyone’s mind, we knew that they were bombing the hell out of Vietnam. We had seen the pictures, the pictures, and we didn’t want our soldiers there.

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

Women’s History Month: Vera Boston

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Vera Boston was involved in protesting against the Vietnam War largely through Melbourne University connections, having been concerned about the issues since high school. In this excerpt she speaks about being involved with SDS – Students for a Democratic Society.

Note: the sound quality isn’t great, because my recorder got very enthusiastic about picking up all the ambient noise…

Vera Boston interview


Alex: what sorts of things were you involved with? What did you – – – 

Vera:    Oh, everything. I mean, you know, from printing posters and, you know – the thing that strikes me as bizarre, well, only, I guess, as an indicator of how different the world was then, but one of the early posters that I remember silk screening was one that said, “Girls say yes to boys who say no.” It was an absolute – and it was a very (…) 

Alex:     That’s amazing. 

Vera:    It’s amazing. And it’s amazing that women like me and Diana, and everybody else I know, didn’t think anything about that. That was just the – that was us quite consciously, in a way, using our sexuality to encourage young men not to register. 

Alex:     As a political statement.

Vera:    It’s just unbelievable. To me, it’s unbelievable. What else? Well, I joined SDS right away, which was the Students for a Democratic Society. So, you know, I was involved in all of that stuff, you know.

Alex:     Was that through Melbourne University? 

Vera:    Yeah, yeah, Melbourne. 

Alex:     Yep. 

Vera:    So it was, you know, organising rallies, speaking at rallies, you know, I was one of the few people in that group who had a car, so the car was very useful for taking things to and from demonstrations, you know? 

Alex:     I can imagine. 

Vera:    Like the PA system, you know. Boxes of paper, you know. Not long after that, we got our own press, we had a printing press, so I was involved with the printing, all of that type of thing. 

Alex:     Wow, that’s incredible. So you spoke at rallies?

Vera:    Yeah, yeah. 

Alex:     And that was fine? The guys were happy to let you be up there, and so on? 

Vera:    Yeah, no, it wasn’t like that. 

Alex:     I’ve read a little bit of stuff by Harry Van Moorst and Michael Hamel-Green, and, I guess understandably, they’re a lot focused on their own actions. But often, the women kind of seem to be ignored. You know, Jean McLean and SOS get a line, and so on, but when they’re off avoiding the police, surely it was the women who were kind of organising stuff a lot of the time. 

Vera:    Some of the time. But, to be fair, SOS was considered by people like us, like Harry and Michael, quite a middle-class kind of – – – 

Alex:     Yeah, of course.

Vera:    not terribly revolutionary (…) progressives, you know. Yeah. So – – – 

Alex:     Quite different spheres of action, then.

Vera:    Yeah. 

Alex:     And so, the printing press was run or owned by SDS? 

Vera:    Yeah. 

Alex:     Was it housed at somebody’s place, or did you have an office? 

Vera:    No, SDS – place up in Palmerston Street, 57 Palmerston – that was the headquarters, but a number of people lived there. I never did. My brother did. Harry and Di did, of course, for a long time. You know, Michael Hamel-Green and Frances lived there so, you know. And there was a big garage, and the printing press was in the garage. 

Alex:     Were you designing posters as well as printing them? Or is that other people? 

Vera:     Not really. I don’t think I was designing stuff. I think it was more arty people than me. And, well, look, I might have, but they would have been really simple ones, like, you know, “Stop the war now” kind of thing. 

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

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


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!

Women’s History Month: Marion Harper

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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 Harper interview


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!

Women’s History Month: Sherryl Garbutt

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Sherryl Garbutt grew up in a “fairly political” family, with discussions about the Vietnam War happening around the dining table. She was involved in protesting against the war when she went to Melbourne University, and later when she was teaching. Here she discusses occasion of LBJ visiting Melbourne.

Sherryl Garbutt interview


Alex: Do you remember how you got involved in taking it beyond, I guess, discussions around the family table to actually being on the street and expressing your displeasure in that way? Was it just, you were part of a group and that’s what everyone was doing? 

Sherryl: Well, it was certainly a bit like that. I mean, word just spread around the campus when LBJ did his drive-by. And we all got out there. I just listened and read and heard. I wasn’t in any leadership role at all. Nor were my friends. We were all pretty busy trying to pass our exams. I was on a studentship, and, you know, we needed to pass. Certainly when the opportunity came, we got out there. But others led the effort, and organised, and did it. But there were plenty of opportunities to participate, so that’s what I did.  

Alex: So you were part of the group that, as you said, greeted LBJ as he came past? 

Sherryl: Yes, yes. 

Alex: That must have been very interesting. 

Sherryl: Oh, well, it was, yeah. I just remember the huge hordes of people, and the car going – a big, black, shiny thing, I think, and going pretty fast – well, as fast as it possibly could. Dangerously fast, I suspect. So that was pretty amazing. There were kids climbing up on the gates, and I think there was a fence, I don’t know. Don’t remember. I remember a fence. But it was out on Grattan Street. So it was a big open space behind us. A great big garden or something. So it was perfect for people to gather. But he went, and I can remember Harold Holt saying, “All the way with LBJ,” which I just thought was outrageous. It’s just such a cringeworthy statement. Worthy on its own for a protest, let alone what was going on. And there were some people being outrageous, but, good on them.

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

Women’s History Month: Erika Feller

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Erika Feller did a combined Law/Arts degree at Melbourne University and was a journalist for the university newspaper during the Vietnam War era. In this excerpt she discusses attending demonstrations in her capacity as a journalist, and the importance of doing so.

Erika Feller interview


Erika: I did a fair bit of journalism at the University – I mean I studied law but I also studied Arts, I did a combined degree. And I was the news editor of the university newspaper, Melbourne University newspaper, Farrago. And it was under, at the time the editor was Henry Rosenbloom, who you may know – he’s quite, he has his own publishing house now. And he’s quite eminent in that area. But Henry was always, you know, encouraging the university newspaper to pick up causes outside – not just what was happening with the SRC, the student representative council, or the Union Building or whatever, but really, so we were encouraged to go out and report these things. And I – a lot of the demonstrations that I attended, I attended actually on behalf of Farrago writing it up. And, you know, you’ll see I mean, if you ever go back into the history of Farrago, and some of the articles – one I used to keep with me for a while, because it was just funny, the headline was “Feller at the demo,” as the principal headline. I can remember some quite violent demonstrations actually, just on the corner of Commercial Road and St Kilda Road where they had police horses breaking them up and tear gas. And so it was quite active. But a lot of my activity came from belief in what I was reporting, but also enthusiastically being the news editor and wanting the Farrago to cover these sorts of stories.

Alex: Why was it important that Farrago cover it – was it simply because there were so many students who were involved in them?

Erika: Well, I mean, the university has traditionally always been – I don’t know if it still is, with everybody working and holding down jobs, and only going to the campus for tutorials and things – but in those days, it was, you know, you were at the university full time. And it was always a place where there were a lot of, you know, demonstrate – a sort of sense of social justice, and an enthusiastic taking up of social justice causes. So for me, it was important that the, that the university newspaper was reflective of this aspect of university life. And if I, I mean I can’t – I can’t remember the conversations, but I’m sure I had many with Henry – and I’m sure that was pretty much his view as well. There were also some quite strongly left wing student movements at Melbourne University at the time. And I can remember being challenged by the head of – just trying to remember the guy who was, you know, he said, Well, what do you know about all of this, you come from one of these red brick university – one of these red brick schools? And I said, Well, you know, I’m happy to challenge you, anytime, any place to a public debate about that; which he never took up. So – but there was, as I said, there was a lot going on. And then there were things happening in the outside world as well. I mean there was Vietnam, but there was also Biafra in in Africa, and I was the treasurer of the African Australian Association. So I also did – I mean, I was always internationally oriented.

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

Women’s History Month: Tony Dalton

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Dorothy Dalton was a member of Save Our Sons (SOS), and a strong supporter of her son, Tony, being a draft resister. She had been a member of the Communist Party in the early 50s, along with her husband Les; she got involved in many community projects throughout her life. In this excerpt, Dorothy’s son discusses some of her involvement in anti-Vietnam War action.

Tony Dalton interview


Alex: Courtesy of the news articles that you and I think your father collected – there’s a couple that I’ve found looking through them where it’s – because your mom doesn’t seem just to have sort of stayed at home and supported you. There’s stories of her standing up in court, actively supporting you, there’s this great one – “Mothers: we give backing to resistors” was the was the headline. 

Tony: That’s right. 

Alex: Had you expected her to be quite so publicly in support? Or was that because of the newspapers actively asking her?

Tony: No – I mean that was just what she did. Just what she did, she became a member of Save Our Sons. But you see, she doesn’t become a part of the Fairlea Five, which is interesting. I think there was probably a hesitancy there about going and getting arrested. I never asked her. There’s just so much going on at the time. I never said “Why weren’t you there?” I think it would have – there would have been a bit of hesitancy from my mum. I don’t know. That’s my guess, is that she was hesitant about making that sort of civil disobedience step.

Alex: But she’s obviously involved in other sorts of things.

Tony: She’s involved in driving other draft – you see Barry Johnson was a draft resister and he stood for parliament, while being a draft resister.

Alex: Oh yes, I have read that. 

Tony: She was very involved in that – 

Alex: In supporting his campaign. 

Tony: There was a network of them down in Moorabbin.

Alex: Did your couch ever get used for other draft resisters? Or was that too close to home.

Tony: I doubt it. I suspect it was partly – you never knew, in a sense, as to when, what – when the police were looking. So that’s the ’72 election. Barry Johnson’s underground, and they’re providing active support. And my parents are still living in Moorabbin; as I say, later on, they moved to Carlton, but I just – my hunch is that there was just a little bit of hesitancy there.

Alexandra Pierce  

Did she march in the moratorium marches? 

Tony Dalton  

Yeah, yeah, did all that. And then later on the movement against uranium mining. 

Alexandra Pierce  

Okay. So she continued that… 

Tony Dalton  

She was, again, as part of that; again, my father was sort of, you know, became quite prominent in that in the sense that he was organisationally involved. On whatever committee structure was for, for MORM[?]. And then he wrote a – was like a self published booklet for MORM at the time, which is, you know, about the nuclear fuel cycle.

Alex: Do you think your mum would have got involved in SOS and so on, if you, for instance, had been much younger or much older?

Tony:  I can’t say. I mean, certainly, my involvement was, yeah, was a real spurt. And in some ways, my involvement in – because I’m older than my brother to start with, and he actually gets involved in other things; he goes to Adelaide to do his university degree, which is very unusual, and gets involved in what I’d call cultural politics as well as anti-war stuff – but I’m really at the frontline, because – partly because of my age at the time. But I think it’s really my involvement that gets them going again, politically, yes. That’s my sense of it is, that my involvement in the anti war movement, anti conscription movement, stimulates them.

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

Women’s History Month: Margret RoadKnight

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Margret RoadKnight was, and is, a folk singer. She credits (or blames!) folk singers Glen Tomasetti and Malvina Reynolds for bringing her into the folk scene during the Vietnam War period. She performed at many rallies protesting the war; in this excerpt, she reflects on the May 1970 Moratorium.

Margret RoadKnight interview


Margret: I don’t look back and say, Oh, we were young and foolish. No, no, we weren’t that foolish. It’s almost the done thing to look back and say, Oh, yeah, well, silly me when I was young. No: it was the exact opposite for me, I was branching out and discovering things and people and issues and what have you, because I never went to university, so I even blame the folk music scene for being my university, because really through the songs, and the scene was, well, that’s how I got to study, study in quotes there politics and poetry and parody and, and history and geography and whatever, through the scene and the songs. And then you’d get tapped on the shoulder to come and sing for various causes. And usually, well, if I agree with the cause – almost always I did – happy to do it. You look back and think, should have stamped my foot occasionally and said production values should be up a bit higher than that. I look at the classic photo of me on the back of a truck in Bourke Street, I think – and the whole of Bourke Street is locked down with half a million… 

Alex: That’s the first moratorium I think? 

Margret: Yeah the moratorium, yeah. And I mean, there’s a few photos of that, and one of them you can see Jim Cairns behind me on the truck. But if you look closely, you know, there’s one microphone. I’ve got an acoustic, we didn’t do plug-in guitars back then. And I have an acoustic guitar and one microphone. And well, for start, you needs a minimum of two, outdoors with you know, rather large gathering on the back of a truck. However, that seems to work. That was part of the tapestry that obviously did the trick.

Alex: So aside from the shocking production values, what was that like to perform at the moratorium? 

Margret: Look, if it wasn’t for the photo I wouldn’t even remember, I mean, I remember being – really it is the photos, thank goodness some people took photos or whatever. We didn’t tend to document things like everything is documented now from womb to tomb, you know. So it is rather good to go through them; I have heaps of photos. I wish I’d been clever enough to write on the back of them where and when and who. It works as a “Oh, yes. Oh, that’s right.” I don’t remember who asked me to do it. I don’t remember who else was on the back of the truck apart from you know, knowing that obviously, Jim had a few words to say. I mean, it was also one of you know – that was the beginning of the women’s movement sort of era, you know, you’d be singing for this that and the other but I never went to a consciousness raising group session or anything. You know, I was, I never was also one of those other people who did all the hard work, like the organising or the licking of stamps, and all of that sort of thing. I just, I did the glamour stuff. You know, the – you do something for three minutes and people clap. It was good to be involved, happy to be involved. And if I felt like it was helping the cause, so much the better. 

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