Anti-Vietnam War Demonstration in Victoria Square, Adelaide, 1971
Moratoriums and Opposition - Australian public dissent: An anti-Vietnam War demonstration in Victoria Square, Adelaide, 1971. In the early years of Australian involvement in Vietnam, opposition, even to the policy of sending conscripts to a war zone, was limited. The National Service Scheme did attract opponents as soon as it was introduced, but it was only when the government increased the size of Australia’s commitment to the war in Vietnam in May 1966, making the use of conscripts necessary, that significant public opposition arose. National service’s early opponents included the Parliamentary Opposition, religious groups, trade unionists, academics, and young men affected by the scheme. From within this disparate anti-conscription movement groups began to form and organise, some becoming prominent and forming branches across Australia. Among them: Youth Campaign Against Conscription (YCAC) formed in late 1964 and closely aligned to the Australian Labor Party (ALP), and Save Our Sons (SOS) founded in Sydney in 1965 shortly after the government announced an increase of troops to Vietnam. The announcement gave the protest movement some momentum, but it built slowly as anti-war groups began working together and learning lessons from similar groups in the United States. By 1969 those who opposed the war had increased in number and become sufficiently well organised to coordinate Australia-wide mass protests, known as the moratorium marches of 1970–71. Involvement in anti-war activities politicised many previously disinterested Australians. Opposition to the war was a radicalising experience for some people such as the middle-class women, members of Save Our Sons, who were arrested during peaceful protests outside national service induction centres. Despite the eventual strength and widespread nature of the anti-war movement, its effectiveness in Australia is open to question. The Australian Government had followed the United States lead in Vietnam since the early 1960s and continued to do so until the last Australian troops were withdrawn in 1972. When the United States began removing its troops from Vietnam, Australia followed suit, irrespective of the well-attended protests of 1970 and 1971.
An American anti-Vietnam War poster produced in 1971 by artist Edward Sorel. President Nixon is depicted as a Napoleon-like figure. He is flanked by former Vice President and presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey, and United States National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger. The maniacal Napoleon-Nixon is placing symbols of bombs on the map. Image reproduced with permission of Edward Sorel.
Protesters in Melbourne’s City Square Regarding Corrupt South Vietnamese Government Asylum
At the end of the Vietnam War former members of the South Vietnamese regime, long seen as corrupt, self-serving and ultimately ineffectual, fled the country en masse and sought residence in the west. Shortly afterwards, these protesters in Melbourne’s City Square made plain their feelings about those who had served the South Vietnamese Government seeking asylum in Australia.
Australian Public Celebrating the Communist Victories in Indo-China
Most who protested against the Vietnam War were simply against Australia’s involvement in a conflict increasingly seen as immoral and unwinnable, others opposed the use of national servicemen in the war, and some were active supporters of communism and hoped that its North Vietnamese adherents would prevail. Just a few days after South Vietnam’s fall John Ellis, himself a strong supporter of anti-war causes, photographed this banner in Melbourne’s City Square celebrating the communist victories in Indo-China.
Protest at Parliament House in Canberra, Australia, 1970.
A protest at Parliament House in Canberra, 1970. The Canberra demonstration was held two days before the main one around Australia and it was a very cold, wet, blustery day and we marched from Civic over to Parliament House… It was a feeling of marching along with people all of like mind, a sense that finally opinion was starting to flow our way… On the day itself one was gladdened by the sight of secretaries from departments, young secretaries from departments, public servants, some people from blue-collar sections of the community, all marching together. Quote by Alan Gould, Vietnam War protestor.