Reflections from non-SOS women
Sue McCulloch was born in 1949 and was involved with protesting through connections at Melbourne University. She worked for CICD (Campaign for International Cooperation and Disarmament), as well as being the secretary and treasurer of the Draft Resisters Union. She was also the voice of a pirate radio station set up during the occupation of the student union building at Melbourne University.
I also met Jean McLean when I was about 11 – not 11, about 13 or 14. And I found Jean to be an absolutely inspirational young mother, who was really committed to the idea of not sending young men to war. You know, she was quite – I think, again, in her circle, she was pretty revolutionary, because she was – although a lot of her circle was also the art world, and a lot of people from Eltham who were more left wing, she was also involved in a fairly conservative society where they lived, in a bayside suburb. And I think she and a number of the women who didn’t share the same politics, necessarily, as Jean, but they all shared the belief that their sons shouldn’t be – or anybody’s sons shouldn’t be – sent off to wars. So it was the sort of birth of the Save Our Sons movement, which was pretty interesting.
I was too young to be a formal member of that. But I worked alongside them in subsequent years on demonstrations, and lots and lots of activities.
Martha Kinsman was born in 1947 and was involved in protesting against the Vietnam War from her early years at Sydney University, and then later when she transferred to Monash University. She identified as a Trotskyist, and got involved with the Monash Labor Club, including a stint as the president.
The conscription for me was something - was in a sense, a manifestation of Menzies' disregard, I think, for the actual political dynamics of Australian politics; he was so used by then - because, of course, he left in 1966, so he did the conscription thing between his last election, '63, and when he was going to go anyway - just his sort of disdain for anything that mattered to ordinary Australians. And it wasn't just the conscription. It was the lottery, you know, the barrel, the birthday lottery. I didn't see a need to be explicitly opposed to that, because as soon as that happened, the Save Our Sons movement - I mean, what that did was politicise and spread opposition to the Vietnam War across the Australian community, generally. It didn't sort of - of course, I opposed it. And I knew about the whole Labor thing, and Billy Hughes and all that and World War One, and I mean, I wasn't surprised that even Arthur Calwell, racist that he was, was against conscription, because that's the Labor tradition. But I suppose I was slightly surprised that Menzies was just either oblivious or completely... I don't know what the word is... contemptuous of that tradition in Australia. That's why I think the Save Our Sons women probably were the ones that moved the Australian community generally, to oppose it Vietnam, and the 1970s - 1970 moratorium, which I've read about and all my friends told me about in letters, that says a lot about Jean McLean, and also the Sydney women. I mean, I think that did mobilise mass opposition and beyond students and beyond the more radical unions far more than we did. I don't ever remember friction between those two groups. It was really anything that created and contributed to a critical mass of opposition was welcomed by the - even the Maoists, I mean, you know, that's what they were trying to do too, was to mobilise as much as they can an opposition to the war and Save Our Sons came from a different starting point, but the mobilisation of a lot of the community. And I think they were very important. Their starting point was conscription, but a lot of them were very highly politicised by it, and Jean McLean, who stayed very active in politics.
Notes: Billy Hughes was the Prime Minister of Australia during World War 1, and tried twice to introduce conscription.
Arthur Calwell was the leader of the federal Labor Party from 1960-67.
Maoists: there were many students at Monash University at this time who described themselves as Maoists. Some of them associate with the Communist Party of Australia (Marxist-Leninist) after the Communist Party of Australia split in 1964.
Fiona Lindsay was born in 1950, and was involved in protesting from when she was at school, and then particularly when got to La Trobe University. Her mother, Ruth, had been a member of the Communist Party, as had her father. Ruth joined SOS early on, as Fiona describes here.
My mother [Ruth] was involved with the SOS, right from the beginning being - and she was a party member, so - as were a number of women from the Communist Party. I did go to several meetings with her in the old ballroom at the Vic Rail ballroom up above Flinders Street Railway Station. And I remember my mother proposing several motions and so on to be adopted.
And we'd been part of the peace movement in the 50s and so on.
Do you think that was because of the communist connection or -
Yes. The party I think was far more in the public eye, and in the public square in those days, because there was the Yarra Bank, you know, and it really was the embankment where people would stand on their soapboxes, talk - and we'd go sometimes, because someone was speaking and my parents would want to catch up with them or something like that. Always a - continuing memory of gaberdine - gaberdine everywhere - all these men in gaberdine coats; not a very jolly recollection. Very sombre. Anyway.
So you - you're kind of then aware of the peace movement and those sorts of issues from very early on?
Very early on. Yeah. I mean, my - one of my earliest memories, it would have been in '53 I suppose - '52, '53 because I was too young, but my brother who was 15 months older than me, he was - it was the first time he went on the truck in the May Day procession! And, and we were watching as the truck went past and my father was holding me and I know I'd wet my nappy. So I guess I was two. Yes, you could say it was - we were born to it.
How was your mum talking about the Vietnam - like, was it in terms of imperialism? Was it in terms of the communist issues? Do you remember why she was opposed?
I guess - no, not really. I mean, the discussions were really around American expansionism and imperialism and - more than anything else. So anything that was opposed to that or fighting that was on the right side of history.
So then she gets involved in SOS, hears about it from Jean McLean or someone presumably -
No no no. Jean McLean was later. You know, there are a couple of - some people used it for their own advantage. I think Jean was one and Jim Cairns was another; because there was a lot of activity before then, that was foundational to getting these movements going. And, and, you know, okay, so I think one needs to be a little cautious about looking at time, timeframes and, and what happened when, what meetings were held when and so on; it was an accumulation of activity over... and a continuation of activities from one movement into another so - and of course, you always find people who are going to be, become spokespeople, appointed or not, and they have skills which are really valuable. But I think sometimes they weren't necessarily engaged with the nitty gritty, at the early stages of getting things going, from my recollections.
So your mum's involved right from the start then anyway.
I think so.
Note: Fiona’s interpretation of Jean McLean’s role in SOS is contested by other sources, and is not generally supported by them.
Andra Jackson was born in 1948 and became a member of the Monash Labor Club. She was involved in many of the protests organized by the Labor Club, wrote for the Club’s newletter Print, and supported raising money to send to the National Liberation Front.
How aware were you of other - what other groups were doing in the anti war scene? For instance, were you aware of the group Save Our Sons? I'm sure you came across Jean and Joan as part of the moratorium.
Yes. Jean McLean, who I saw recently.
At the time, what was your sense of what Save Our Sons were doing? Because they obviously had quite a different way of approaching the issue.
Yes, I personally thought they were very effective. There might have been some people in the Labor Club that, again, as I said, probably saw them as a middle class bourgeois movement, but wouldn't have come out and oppose them, but didn't really take them that seriously. I think they were very effective in - especially when they went to jail for their principles. I think, I think they were respected because they were prepared to go to jail. And it was an issue that mothers could relate to - the fact that they were mothers, it was a very effective campaign. And I think it was very much - I don't know if that happened overseas, but certainly, it got a lot of publicity here in Melbourne.