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What happened to The Peacemaker?

The Peacemaker ceased publication at the end of 1971, when young men were still being imprisoned for their beliefs. Perhaps the lack of finance became insurmountable. The Minutes of the managing body, the Federal Pacifist Council may provide a clue. The Federal Pacifist Council's Annual General Meeting on 18 October 1969 reported that The Peacemaker had been posted to 1,326 subscribers, and that distribution figures were similar to the previous year. The Business Manager’s report for 1970 stated that 603 subscriptions were paid up or paid in advance, 43 were due that issue and 236 were overdue – totaling 882. The January-February 1970 issue was posted to 886 subscribers and 385 outlets, and the November-December issue went to 908 subscribers and 482 outlets, indicating that numbers of subscribers and other purchasers were actually increasing in 1970, although the figures also show that one-third of the subscriptions were unpaid.

Apart from issues sent to subscribers and sale outlets, extra copies were printed for sale at special occasions such as during the Moratorium campaigns. The Federal Pacifist Council printed 2,250 copies of the March/April 1970 issue and 2,500 of the May/June/July 1970 issue (Federal Pacifist Council Minutes, 18 August 1970). This was about twice the number posted to subscribers and outlets and it represented a significant financial outlay. Under new postal regulations, introduced towards the end of 1970, The Peacemaker was reclassified as a “Category A” periodical, which meant that the postage increased from five to six cents a copy. With around 900 subscribers, postage must have risen by $12 or $13 per issue, while the annual subscription remained $1.50.

There were other difficulties besides a shortage of cash. In October 1970, when the honorary Business Manager Don Fraser asked to be relieved of his duties, no one was prepared to step into his role. There was also a lack of distributors, resulting in an “urgent need” for people to promote the paper in all states (Federal Pacifist Council Minutes, August and October 1970).

A generational shift was occurring among PM supporters. The Abrahams, Don Fraser, Lex Turnbull, Don Fallding, James Somerville and others had been involved in working for peace since World War II. Some had been conscientious objectors. Now, it seemed, there was no one to replace them when they wished to stand down after years of unpaid service. So, while the relatively steady subscription base suggests that there was not a marked decline in support during 1971, it was difficult to find volunteers willing to undertake the month-to-month commitment of running the paper, distributing and selling it.

A change in the subscriber base, with conscientious objectors and non-compliers signing up, may have been another factor. The focus on war resisters and their views, rather than broader international news of peace movements, may have caused some supporters to cease subscribing. In the final issue, Abraham heralded further change by announcing that if sufficient money came in through subscriptions, sales and donations, The Peacemaker would “appear regularly and with a more radical, a more constructive content in the future.”

This was merely a focus on the direction in which the paper had been heading since 1969. Other than the fairly static numbers, there’s no sound evidence to suggest that “old subscribers” ceased to take the paper. Nor is there anything in the final issue to suggest that the paper did not intend to continue publication. It had adopted a new format as a 16-page journal and had introduced a full cover photograph, and coloured print in its masthead and on the back page.

As editor, Vivienne Abraham carried a heavy burden of responsibility in an already busy life. She was so devoted to the cause of objectors and non-compliers that she sometimes neglected her editorial work. The retirement of her sister, Shirley, from the role of co-editor at the end of 1968 had an impact on both the content of the paper, which increasingly focused on non-compliers, and the number of issues that Vivienne could find the time to prepare for publication.

Did the FPC decide to stop committing resources to PM? Unfortunately, the series of Federal Pacifist Council Minutes in Vivienne Abraham’s papers ceased in mid-1971, so any decisions regarding The Peacemaker remain unknown. But the Federal Pacifist Council itself was having difficulty finding a Secretary, which may have resulted in the absence of minutes, or possibly even of meetings.

External factors may also have contributed to the paper’s demise. From 1968, a series of increasingly radical, anti-war groups such as the Draft Resistance Movement, Students for a Democratic Society and the Draft Resisters Union operated on university campuses around the country. Members of these movements either infiltrated or founded radical student newspapers, such as National U, the magazine of the National Union of Students, and individual university publications. Even at conservative campuses, such as The University of Western Australia, student radicals and draft resisters dominated the pages of Pelican. At Queensland University, radical students produced Impact, which they sold on the streets of Brisbane for five cents a copy, in protest against the lack of freedom of speech in Queensland. Other student newspapers that published anti-war material were Monash University’s Lot’s Wife (begun in 1964 as a feminist response to the student paper Chaos) and Melbourne University’s Farrago (founded 1925, which also went through a period of radicalism in the 1960s).

Probably, these primitive newspapers, with their offensive, in-your-face style of journalism, including jokes and cartoons that were designed to shock and offend, created by the young men who bore the brunt of the National Service ballot, had far greater appeal among students than The Peacemaker's moderate language, which reflected the Federal Pacifist Council's liberal Christian views. The Peacemaker's dependence upon subscriptions and outlets to reach the public disadvantaged it in an era of free newspapers, which could simply be left around campuses for students to pick up or be handed out on street corners.

Political events may also have contributed. In late 1971, the Australian government staged a withdrawal of combat troops from Vietnam, and these were not replaced. Although two further “birthday ballots” were conducted, it was clear to the Australian public that the commitment to sending troops overseas was at an end.