Community, Local History

The Inner North and the Undeclared War

May 3, 2018

In recent years much was reported about the centenary of the First World War, and Australia’s involvement in it. Another war that divided Australia is also experiencing anniversaries, these being their fiftieth. That war is Australia’s controversial involvement in the undeclared war in Vietnam.

Around the inner north of Melbourne there are sites linked to the actions of those who opposed this undeclared war.

Carlton certainly played its role in this history. On the corner of Canning and Palmerston streets, number 57, the Melbourne University based Students for a Democratic Society had their headquarters. It was called the Centre for Democratic Action. This location functioned as a meeting place; was also renowned for its printing equipment, as well as a residence.

La Mama Theatre at 205 Faraday Street is another Carlton location with links to this tumultuous period. On the 20th January 1970, an all-day conference saw the establishment of the Draft Resisters Union, an organisation opposed to and wanting to repeal the National Service Act 1964. This legislation saw young men drafted to fight in overseas wars such as Vietnam.

The Victorian Trades Hall building at the end of Lygon Street had links to this period. Despite the actual Trades Hall Council not being a major player in anti-war activities those involved with the ‘Rebel Unions’, a break away group, were active in supporting anti war activities. In the first moratorium the Rebel Unions slogan of stop work to stop the war, inspired many workers in following this directive.

The old Carlton Courthouse at 345 Drummonds saw a number of anti war actions occur. One of the most famous involved a meeting of the District committee of the Amalgamated Engineering Union, who gathered outside to show solidarity with a draft resister, Laurie Carmichael Jnr, who faced trial.

Even the Queen Victoria Market has links to this period. We’re aware of members of the Carlton moratorium group distributing leaflets in Greek and Italian to stall holders and shoppers, encouraging them to show their opposition to the war. This is one of the first times in Australia political leaflets in a language other than English were used.

Melbourne University campus in Parkville was a key place for opponents of the war. Student activists from groups such as Students for a Democratic Society and the Labour Club were active in this time.

Melbourne University saw some major events, including large groups of marchers from the second moratorium march (18th of September 1970), as well as the the third moratorium (30th of June 1971) who finished their rally at Melbourne University. The draft resisters conference conducted over the 18th-19th of September 1971 was held here, followed by the occupation of the Melbourne University Union building, where four draft resisters sheltering there were protected by 300 supporters. In this period from 27th-30th of September 1971, the occupiers defied the best efforts of the state to apprehend them. During this short time there briefly surfaced draft resister radio ‘Radio Resistance’ 3DR, broadcasting its message to a radius of 10 kilometres.

These events occurred in our neck of the woods around the inner northern suburbs of Melbourne. These sites stand, reminders of our proud democratic history.

Feature Image Credit: The Australian 

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