Facing up to the prospect of Gaol

Ever since November 1964 my mind had been churning with moral and existential questions.  Should I register?  If I did register, and then was balloted out and called-up, should I comply?  Would I be game enough to resist?  How far would I be prepared to resist? Would I resist to the extent of going to gaol?   I wrote

‘Now that January 25 is due I wonder if I’ll stick my ground - I wonder if I’ll be tough enough to write to them and tell them that I am staying here - not pack my bags and give in to the soldier’s mighty fear’.

Several of my songs at this time nevertheless conveyed a grim bravado and a presentiment of possible civil disobedience:

For they will hear my peaceful cause – in corridors – on jailhouse floors
And I won’t be lying down
Although I be in Pentridge Gaol
I won’t be lying down 15
We must complete our twelve months time before we are adults
But when it comes to defending them we are far from being colts
They say that in Democracy we’re all allowed free speech
Yet I’ll get shoved in jail because I practice what I preach16
They can put me in the strongest jail and in the darkest cell
And call me dirty traitor and damn my soul to hell
They can make me out an imbecile and hang me on the line
But I will know my mind is free – they never brainwashed mine
You’ll find me not for sale – you’ll find me not for sale
You can buy my life for a marble price but I’d rather die in jail17
Oh you who would have me blind to your wars
Don’t tell me my duty!  Don’t tell me my laws!18

Because my objection was now political – an objection towards a particular war – rather than religious or pacifist, exemption as a conscientious objector was unlikely. To qualify for conscientious objector status the 1964 scheme recognized only religious convictions or absolute pacifism.   The first reported attempt to avoid National Service on non-religious grounds was the application for ‘hardship deferral’ by Sydney folk-singer Sean Cullip whose case was heard on September 24, 1965.

There were stiff penalties for non-compliance with the terms of the National Service Act. Failure to register could result in a fine, gaol, call-up, and the loss of one’s job.  Failure to report to an army induction centre after receipt of a call-up notice could incur two years gaol.

The opinion polls of 1965 indicated that conscription was popular in the wider society. Since November 10 there had been little resistance or defiance (individual or organized).  As the August 11 deadline for my own registration loomed, there was still no Save Our Sons (SOS) or Youth Campaign Against Conscription (YCAC) in Melbourne.19

Nor, apparently, was I aware of the Conscientious Objectors Advisory Committee. There was also a dearth of anti-war literature at this time. The first tract on Vietnam published by the ALP’s Dr Jim Cairns, the most outspoken and articulate Australian critic of the escalating war, did not appear until late August 1965.20