Motivation to protest

The people involved in protesting against Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War, and the National Service Act, had many and varied reasons for doing so. Some were motivated primarily by political reasons, others more by personal reasons. Some felt moral and ethical objections to all wars, while others were particularly outraged by this particular one. Some began with an objection to the war, and objection to conscription developed from that, while others began with opposing conscription. Some came from apolitical families, others from conservative backgrounds, and a few had parents in the Communist Party. Some protesters objected to the war and the draft right from the beginning, while for others it was a gradual process of learning about the situation and developing their personal perspective. From these different backgrounds, these members of the community converged on the same stance: that Australia needed to withdraw troops from Vietnam, and that the National Service Act needed to be revoked. 

Note: “conscription” and “the draft” are used interchangeably for “the National Service Act”.

 The interview excerpts you will find here were recorded by Alexandra Pierce between 2018 and 2022. Some of them were conducted in person, while others were done via Zoom or Skype. They form part of a larger project dedicated to documenting the role of Melbourne women in protesting both the National Service Act and the Vietnam War between 1965 and 1972. It is important to keep in mind that these women are recalling events from more than fifty years ago.

Oral history sources can be used in the same way as a written history source, and should be referenced appropriately. Consideration should be given to their context – both the context of the person at the time they were speaking, and at the time they are discussing. Oral history has a vital place in recording previously overlooked historical voices. 

These sources are particularly designed to address key knowledge from the VCE study design for Australian History, Outcome 2: War and upheaval (1950–1992). Key skills that can be applied include: 

·      ask and use a range of historical questions to explore continuity and change

·      evaluate sources for use as evidence

·      analyse the perspectives of people and how perspectives changed and/or remained the same over time

·      analyse the causes and consequences of continuity and change 

·      evaluate the historical significance of changes to and continuities in Australian society

·      construct arguments about continuity and change in Australian history using sources as evidence.

Suggesting reading and viewing: 

Ken Mansell, timelines and articles on the Vietnam War, Labour History Melbourne:

Michael Hamel-Green, “Opposition to the Vietnam War” exhibition, Australian Living Peace Museum:

The Victorian Labor History Foundation, “The Safe House Project: An Oral History”, Victorian Labor: