The Sydney Vietnam Moratorium Marches
A digital history project from Addi Road’s Living Museum
Fifty years ago, change was bubbling in the streets of Australia’s cities. Hundreds of thousands went outside, into the streets and squares and parks of their cities, to express their dissent. They wanted to stop the war in Vietnam, a war that Australia had committed to fighting, alongside the United States, in 1965. At first, in tiny numbers, they stepped out against the conscription of young Australian men to fight overseas, but by 1970 the anti-war movement had exploded and crowds of up to 200,000 people filled the streets of state capitals. The huge protest marches of 1970 called for the end of Australian involvement – a halt, or ‘moratorium’ – to the Vietnam War.
To commemorate 50 years of the Vietnam War Moratorium, Addi Road Living Museum presents an online exhibition showcasing the stories of some of those who were part of the Moratoriums, the anti-war and anti-conscription movements and in particular, stories and people that have connections with Addison Road. Several of the stories featured are from people whose names are engraved on the Honour Roll for Peace that stands at Addison Road Community Centre today.
We share images from our Living Museum collection and special objects ‘on loan’ from other cultural institutions, including anti-war badges and images of Addison Road Community Centre during the Vietnam War – when Addi Road was an army base and both soldiers and protestors gathered around its gates.
We also hear from an historian and activists about how the techniques and spirit of the anti-war movement is echoed in more recent Australian social campaigns. While it’s now 50 years since the Vietnam Moratorium movement passed, many of the changes it reflected and helped to create are still rippling through our nation.
The Early Anti-War Movement
From Little Things Big Things Grow
When the Defence Act was amended in 1965 to allow draftees to serve overseas, most Australians were supportive of the decision, but small portions of the public were already voicing their opposition to the draft and to Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War, mostly pacifists and mothers of drafted young men. The early days of protest were a time of engaging others in moral and political debate and recruiting sympathisers. At universities, progressive academics were inviting students to ‘teach-ins’, informal lecture and discussion groups, and new organisations were founded. However, it was not easy to bring many around to the idea of protesting government policies. In this section, you can hear short stories from Helen Jarvis and Rowan Cahill about their experiences in the early days of the Anti-War Movement.
Dr Helen Jarvis is honoured for her Asia-Pacific solidarity work on the Honour Roll for Peace at Addison Road and Dr Rowan Cahill is a renowned draft resister and author of the book Radical Sydney.
Image: Part of the crowd, predominantly students, attending the first Australian Vietnam War teach-in
Anti-Vietnam war demonstration at Martin Place, Sydney , Tribune_SEARCH Foundation, 1965
In The Thick of It
As the Anti-War movement gained momentum, more people joined the marches on the streets of Australian cities. As the number of people involved increased, activists worked around the clock to organise rallies and, among other things, raise funds for logistics and legal aid for people arrested at protests or disobeying orders to register for national service (the ‘draft’). Other than public protest, direct action was taken in many, often creative ways, such as creating fake data to slow down the bureaucracy of conscription. As with any anti-government movement, conflict with the authorities was unavoidable. Tactics to evade or minimise damage during conflicts were developed. In this section, you can hear stories about how people organised and the diversity of voices within the Anti-War movement.
Images: Anti-War Movement Posters
The Save Our Sons Movement
Protestors in Pearls
The first protests in the Anti-War movement began in 1965, a year after the federal government The Defence Act, which permits conscripts to serve overseas. In the beginning, the movement consisted of, unexpectedly, concerned mothers and pacifists from past generations. These mothers were motivated to prevent their sons from being sent to a war that is not theirs to fight. Bear in mind, the young men drafted into the Vietnam War were not old enough to vote. In time, a movement called ‘Save Our Sons’ was founded in Sydney. The movement was founded by two women: Noreen Hewett and Joyce Golgerth. Save Our Sons protested tirelessly against the draft. One of the places where they regularly protested was in front of The Marrickville Depot, the future location of ARCO.
In this section, we present you with an interview with Noreen Hewett, co-founder of the Save Our Sons movement. Several accounts about the movement were also available for you to listen to.
Noreen Hewett – A Fighter of the Times
Noreen Hewett (nee Emerson) was an activist who co-founded the Save our Sons movement, among her activism in various causes. She was born in 1920 to George and Alice Emerson (nee Gilroy) as the fourth child out of five. Noreen had hands-on experience about how war traumas affect a family, particularly after her father, a First World War veteran, committed suicide in 1934 from war-induced trauma. She married Sydney Hewett in 1944. They started a family with his young son Roy, and the next year she had her second son Rex.
Noreen co-founded the Save Our Sons movement with Joyce Golgerth in 1965. One of Noreen’s son, Rex, has been drafted a year prior. Although her son is a conscientious objector of the draft, Noreen stated that she would have joined the movement even if her son is not on the line for Vietnam.
A few days after formally starting Save Our Sons, the movement went to Canberra to voice their aspiration to the politicians there. Save Our Sons quickly became a national movement as mothers from outside New South Wales joined the protest in Canberra. Right after Canberra, the group decided to hold their protests at the gates of Marrickville Barracks, future site of Addison Road Community Centre. The Save Our Sons movement protested there for every day until the last intakes of the draftees were taken.
During these times, Noreen went through many moving moments and met unexpected comrades in her plight against conscriptions. These stories can be read in her interview with us, taken in 2009, three years before her passing. This includes a time when she was surrounded by a mob of civil servants in Canberra and ended up having a public debate with them. And when conservative mothers who normally wouldn’t dream of becoming political are marching with her to save their family.
Image: Save our Sons Protests
Image: Poster, Mothers in Mourning
Silent Loudspeakers, Mini-Megaphones
During the anti-war movement, protesters and supporters of the movement would decorate themselves with anti-war badges. These badges are designed with slogans calling for the end of war, draft, and pro-peace messages. One of the most recognisable logo of the movement is one depicting radiating white lines on an orange background. Designed by Bob Daly, the logo was inspired by the Hindu wheel of life.
Other than to express support towards the anti-war movement, the badges also identifies which factions of the movement its wearer belongs to. By 1971, the anti-war movement had split into several factions. Each with its own idea of what direction the movement should take. While some factions continued to adopt the logo designed by Daly, they often added their own slogans.
Here we can see the badges with the logo designed by Daly. While the images of the badges here are reproductions from the digital collections of Museums Victoria, we do have a considerable number of activism-related badges in the ARCO Living Museum collections.
 (The Guardian, 2019)
Designed by Bob Daly, the logo was inspired by the Hindu wheel of life.
Badges and Activism
The use of badges to convey ideology and identity could be traced back to medieval Europe, where pilgrims wore badges signifying their destinations. Badges also hold an important part in military tradition, signifying rank and accolades. In the 19th century, badges were used to express opinions on general elections or social issues such as the abolition of slavery. The 20th century saw the popularisation of badges as a medium of expression, with a wide range of social movements using badges to get their message across.
Here in Addison Road Community Organisation’s Living Museum, we have a collection of around 300 badges from various social movements. We are in the process of digitising our collection. Currently, over 90 of our badges are available for you to see on our website. Other than the badges from the anti-war movement, you might see badges supporting the anti-nuclear movement, Aboriginal Rights movement, and even pacifist movement from the First World War.
In this segment, you could listen to clips from our interview with Hannah Middleton. Hannah’s collection of Peace Badges became a fundamental part of our Living Museum collection.
 (Lee 2014)
 (The British Museum 2017)
After The Anti-War Movement
After The Moratorium
The Anti-Vietnam War movement was one of the biggest social awakening ever seen in Australia, and the western society in general. In Australia, it ended a decades-long era of conservatism and brought social progress into the mainstream narrative. It was proven that direct action through social movements were effective in changing public perceptions on a government’s policy.
The know-how around organising and bringing social change, proved to be useful in inciting new social movements in the country. During the decades after The Moratorium, various sections of society would employ similar methods to bring social change. This would include, among many, Women’s Liberation movement, LGBTQIA+ Rights movement, Indigenous Rights movement, and Environmental movement.
In this section, you could listen to discussions about how the Anti-Vietnam War movement changed how Australia engages with social movements.
Posters representing Post-Vietnam War social justice movements