SAVE OUR SONS/VIETNAM WAR
On this page: Zelda D'Aprano; Edith Morgan;
Yvonne Smith; Marion Harper; Joan Coxsedge; Jocelynne Scutt; Molly Hadfield
Taken from ZELDA The becoming of a woman - Zelda
VISA 1977 (reprinted Spinifex Press). Permission
pending 1,000 words
The Women's Action Committee was five months old when late one Saturday
afternoon I picked up the phone to hear Bon (Hull)'s voice saying "Oh
Zelda, I hope you won't be ashamed of me."
"Why should I be ashamed of you?" I asked.
"I was arrested this morning and I've just arrived home
from Russell St. Police Headquarters" she replied.
"What on earth for?" I gasped and she proceeded
to relate the events.
Bon, after gazing in the windows of several shoe shops,
wended her way through the various city arcades ... . She reached the
General Post Office and was about to cross the road when she realised
that a young man was speaking through a megaphone from the steps leading
to the Post Office.
It was almost impossible to discern what he was talking
about for the traffic noise almost drowned the voice emanating from the
instrument, but after several minutes of standing in the background it
became obvious that an anti-Vietnam was conscription meeting was taking
place. Bon stood in the background beside another
elderly woman and they began to converse and observe the proceedings.
Within minutes a brawl broke out and the woman beside Bon said "You can
always on drunks to start a brawl."
"They're not drunks lady," a voice said, "they are plain
The fighting became vicious and the crowd surged around
and on to the road.
Bon who intended going to the races following (this) got caught up in
the crush and was only able to extricate herself after losing her hat.
She was appalled by the violence and when she saw
a policeman continue to punch a young woman in the breast in order to
force her into a police car, she lost control and pointing at a man opposite
her, yelled "Stop him, stop him, is this South Africa?" ...
Bon was arrested and charged with offensive language
and resisting arrest. The barrister told her not to be concerned, for
in his opinion the charge of resisting arrest would be dropped, although
he thought a ten dollar fine might be imposed for offensive language in
order to justify the charges being laid. The barrister
was stunned when the magistrate fined her fifty dollars on each count
or a month's jail on each of the charges if she defaulted. He immediately
advised her to appeal against the judgement, for he was a distinguished
man in legal circles and did not take kindly to what was an obvious judicial
blunder on the part of the magistrate. No judge, he assured her, would
permit this travesty of justice to go through.
Several of the women attended the county court for the
appeal hearing and despite the evidence which was irrefutable and the
obvious perjury on the part of the police, the judge upheld the magistrate's
decision. The barrister was shocked and white of
face and said that the decision was political.He
was severely shaken and I realised this was his first experience in political
railroading. Bon told him she had no intention
of paying the fine and would go to jail. She explained that had she been
guilty of the charges she would have faced up to the consequences, but
she was entirely free of guilt concerning the numerous swear words the
police had accused her of using - nor did she resist arrest. Never
would she pay the fines.
"You are a very courageous woman" was all he could say.
Jan (Mullerworth?) who came from a religious middle class
background sobbed when the judge gave his verdict. I placed my arms about
her when leaving the court and tried to console her.
"I am not crying for Bon, I am crying for my country.
Justice was on trial today and justice was defeated.
Anyone could see that Bon was telling the truth. Where are we heading,"
Time passed and although the period had elapsed for Ban
to pay the fines, the police made no attempt to apprehend her. By coincidence
Bon decided to present herself to the local police station at 11 am on
the 11th November - Armistice Day. Jan and I went
to the police station.Our dear Bon looked tense and strained. We embraced
and as she was taken away, Jan and I gazed at the departing vehicle with
heavy hearts and tears in our eyes. We were later
informed of the "special" man who interrogated her for three quarters
of an hour in order to pressure her into paying the fines. He attempted
every ploy and trick in the book, but was unable to break her spirit.
She was, after the interrogation, taken to Fairlea Women's Prison. Bon
was the first Victorian woman to enter prison because of the Vietnam war
and had been just two or three years prior to becoming involved in the
women's movement a liberal party voter.
The strength and courage of women was becoming more and
more apparent to me. We had no-one on our side, no political parties,
no governments, no armies, no police, no trade unions and no religions.
All we had were ourselves - women - and we had
our backs to the wall for there was nowhere we could go. We were forced
by sheer need to combine with each other for what we wanted and the only
way forward was the possible unity of sisterhood among women.
On the big day of the rally to stop the Vietnam War,
people were invited to leave work and come to the rally. People in the
Social Work Department were asked to staff the kitchens at the Royal Melbourne
Hospital because of those who had gone to the rally. I was the only one
in the department who said
"I am sorry, I won't accept that and I will be going
to the rally".
Now, all of the other workers - except one woman who
stayed with the head of the department - came with me!
The question of justice has always been important to
me, all my life. I think that is my mother coming out in me. That is,
fairness, seeing that no section of your community is suffering. Not that
you can do much about it! But by being involved in certain campaigns,
some of it may have some positive effects. Look at the things women in
the Union of Australian Women have done.
They weren't allowed to march carrying placards in the
1950's, when carrying placards was banned, so they wrote the messages
they wanted to get across on aprons, and marched in single file so they
couldn't be charged with obstruction, wearing the aprons! ...
I think one of the catalysts for women getting involved in issues was
certainly the Vietnam War. We only have to look at some of our members
of the Union of Australian Women who were arrested at a rally and charged
with obstructing. I think there were six of them. They were, actually,
recently invited back to Vietnam.
That rally led to quite an action out at Fairlea where
they were imprisoned. Huge crowds were outside the prison. The women inside
were supporting our women who were there. It was just wonderful. Then
we all marched around to the Governor's place. That
rally joined together people who were concerned about what was happening.
I think that as a catalyst for action, that was one of the most successful
things that were done. And those women, "Save Our Sons", would be there
day after day after day.
These things act as catalysts for political action and
The feeling was that Australia was being more and more
led by USA. Five SOS leaders were arrested and jailed. They were known
as the Fairlea Five.
Because of the conscription the young people formed their
own movement: Youth Campaign Against Conscription, I think it was called.
That was the first time I got picked up by a policeman. Not arrested,
literally picked up. There was a demonstration
at the Swan Street army depot at the induction of the conscripts. Some
of the young men chained themselves to the fence rails. A big crown of
supporters went along and just sat down, refusing to move and the police
came and just picked us up. I was frightened out of my skin actually,
I think we all were. This was the beginning of
the movement which became the moratorium against the war. I remember the
huge demonstration out at Fairlea prison where so many people came along
to support the release of the 'Fairlea Five' women who were imprisoned
from Save Our Sons.
It was a glorious day and I remember how my sixteen-year-old
son stood out, with his gleaming, long red hair shining in the sunlight.
And really appreciating what a wonderful thing those women had done for
our children. In those early days, and I am going
back further, UAW was very active in the peace movement of the 1950's
and against the atomic testing in Australia, the blasts at Woomera and
Maralinga as well as the French tests in the Pacific Islands. We organised
demonstrations in the city. We walked through shops carrying placards
saying – Don't buy French Goods, for example
They were all actions that preceded public awareness.
I think we can be proud that we did do those things when other people
weren't speaking out, even though we were not listened to – at least
not to the point of action being taken on what we had to say. Even
though circumstances were against our being seriously heard, we proceeded
with what we believed in, and I think that is all you can do.
back to when we moved here - I needed to go to work. Jim had become a
tram driver. The pay was not very big and we had a lot of expenses with
4 children, as a result of my involvement in the peace movement, through
the Party, II became involved in the Unitarian Church.
James was the minister of the church at the time and I was involved in
the planning of the big meeting with the Red Dean at the Exhibition Building.
I became very involved with Frank Hartley, Victor James and Alf Dickie
- who were the three ministers who worked together in the peace movement.
As a result
of working with them, Frank Hartley offered me a job in the Victorian
Peace Movement. So I worked for the peace movement for quite some time.
Early on there were some great campaigns there. It was interesting.
Joyce Clayton - who was the honorary secretary of the Unitarian church
- used to organize a few of us to walk around the city with placards,
defending the Soviet Union. It was during the cold war. The city council's
rules were that you could not impede the flow of pedestrian traffic, so
we had to walk single file. I
remember we walked with placards in our hands, defending the Soviet Union
and condemning the cold war, and people would call out to us
BACK TO RUSSIA, YOU TROUBLE MAKERS, GO BACK TO RUSSIA". or 'BETTER DEAD
THAN RED', I was pretty nervous, I must say.
young, but we would take these walks around the city regularly, Joyce
striding ahead of me and me hiding behind her rather large form, hoping
people wouldn't see me.
And then there was
the Vietnam War, which accelerated the process. I was so angry at our
involvement in this US war and so outraged at what we were doing to the
Vietnamese - at the napalm and defoliants they were raining down, not
only on defenceless people, but against the earth itself. I thought it
was obscene and revolting.
It was an assault
on life, so although I am not a great joiner - I don't particularly like
meetings - I ended up joining and becoming active in the anti-war movement
and the Labor Party. I read everything I could lay my hands on, which
made me even more angry as I learned about the lies that were used to
justify the war - like in Iraq - and developed a profound dislike of US
foreign policy, which I still have. At
that stage I was painting and exhibiting reasonably successfully, which
I was thoroughly enjoying, but felt I couldn't carry on and ignore the
destruction being perpetrated in my name. I packed away my easel and oil
paints and went back to drawing, spending time in Melbourne's inner suburbs,
drawing old houses and streetscapes, a good mix with what I was doing
The Vietnam War taught
us many things. As a protester, it taught us how to suss out the facts,
marshal them in a coherent way and persuasively argue a case. I lived
in a very conservative area where people had a tendency to cross over
to the other side of the street when they saw me coming. At
that time I was in and out of gaol and prominently named in the newspapers
as a result of various protest actions, so you can imagine how they loved
me! It was therefore important to know what you were talking about. An
excellent way to improve writing and public speaking skills, although
I was always nervous talking at large public meetings and rallies, but
when you talk about things that really matter, you usually manage to put
butterflies to flight.
when I went to law school, I realized there was something terribly wrong
in the world. This was the middle of the sixties and we didn't talk about
sexism then. I found it very interesting, but the whole thing was patriarchal
very male dominated. I resisted that, but I had no support within the
law school or even within the university for any real feminist action.
I did get active. We used to have a thing called "prosh", the procession
at the beginning of the year. I was always in that and on one occasion
we had a float about the Vietnam War and I was a Viet Cong soldier lashing
an American GI. Then we did one about prostitution and about women's rights
as prostitutes. That was a student form of activism.
We need a new peace movement. I just found a booklet
the other day. It was from the early sixties - leading up to the Vietnam
War - advertising meetings. CICD set up meetings I attended in the fifties
and sixties. We met in our homes and used with a telephone tree to communicate
and support each other.
We had a march from Frankston to Melbourne protesting
nuclear war in 1963 and again in 1981. Then, when the Vietnam war was
taking place, we had that wonderful day when one hundred thousand people
sat down in Bourke Street - it was led by Jim Cairns and Sam Goldbloom
with many activists from CICD and elsewhere.
They were great people. A lot of them have died now,
but there are young people who are really good.
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