Australian Screen

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Or Forever Hold Your Peace (1970)

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clip High school students against war in Vietnam education content clip 2, 3

This clip chosen to be G

Clip description

A pupil from Castle Hill High School delivers a speech about the support from students from the steps of Sydney’s town hall to a huge crowd of protestors against the Vietnam War at a moratorium rally.

Curator’s notes

The student is impressively articulate in front of the large crowd. The speech gives a sense of the divisions being caused in the broader community as a result of the war.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This clip shows black-and-white archival film of an anti-Vietnam War street demonstration and meeting. Marchers are gathered in front of the Sydney Town Hall where a dais with microphones has been erected for speakers to address the large crowd. A school student is introduced. She addresses the crowd, and while she is speaking the camera shows various views of the crowd and the other speakers on the dais.

Educational value points

  • The school student speaker featured in the clip was from the group High School Students Against the War in Vietnam. In 1965 the Sydney University Labor Club played an increasingly active role in the growing campaign against the Vietnam War. In the late 1960s members of the Club organised high school students to form High School Students Against the War in Vietnam, establishing contacts in 100 Sydney high schools.
  • This clip shows scenes of the anti-Vietnam War protest movement in Australia. Opposition to the War grew from 1963, predominantly on university campuses. Televised images of the War strongly influenced antiwar feeling. A Gallup Poll in August 1969 revealed that a majority of Australians favoured bringing Australian troops home. In May 1970 more than 200,000 people marched in street protests. After the announcement by the Australian Government that Australian troops would be withdrawn, protest against conscription continued.
  • In Australia, opposition to conscription was a powerful aspect of the peace movement. In May 1968 legislation providing much more severe penalties for youths who evaded compulsory military service and for those who helped them do so was introduced. Failure to answer a call-up notice or to undertake military service could incur 2 years’ imprisonment, imposed by a magistrate without the option of a jury trial.
  • As in France, Germany, the USA and the Western world in general, the late 1960s in Australia saw a dramatic rise in the level of student militancy and political activity. Student organisations spearheaded the 'freedom rides’ of the 1960s to expose discrimination against Indigenous Australians. Hundreds of students led anti-Vietnam War protests and hundreds were involved in the Franklin Dam campaign in the 1980s. However, the Australian Election Study conducted in 2001 found that one-third of those aged from 18 to 24 at the time had 'not much’ or no interest in politics.
  • When thousands of Australian school students attended antiwar rallies to oppose war in Iraq in 2003, the media likened their actions to school student participation in street demonstrations opposing the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 70s. In Victoria, according to The Age newspaper, an estimated 4,000 school students absented themselves from school to attend a rally against the war in Iraq and in Sydney 5,000 students marched. Many marched under the slogan 'Books not bombs’. Some, according to The Age, faced the threat of punishment from their schools for truancy.
  • Australia’s participation in the Vietnam War is claimed by some to have given rise to the greatest expression of social dissent and division in Australia since the conscription referendums of the First World War. During March and April 1969, 302 people were arrested in street marches and sit-ins across the country. The protest movement reached a peak in May 1970 when the first Moratorium was organised, with up to 70,000 participating in Melbourne and 20,000 in Sydney.
  • Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War, the subject of this demonstration, began in 1962 when 32 military advisers were sent to Vietnam. By 1965 it was apparent that South Vietnam could not hold out against communist insurgents and the USA increased its commitment of troops and asked for the assistance of its allies. To provide the personnel to support the USA in the War, conscription was introduced in Australia in 1964. Australia’s commitment continued until 1972 when the Labor Party won office and withdrew Australian troops from Vietnam.
  • Opposition to Australia’s participation in the Vietnam War increased from 1967 as opposition to conscription and awareness of the War grew. Many protesters asserted that the War was a broadly based war of national liberation fought by the communists, first against the French, then the Japanese, then the French again and finally the Americans. As a result of the War, 520 Australians died and almost 2,400 were wounded. The conflict resulted in 58,000 American deaths and it is claimed that as many as 3 million people died as a result of the hostilities.

This clip starts approximately 45 minutes into the documentary.

A man addresses a crowd on the steps of Town Hall, Sydney.
Man It gives me great pleasure to introduce Miss Helen Voisey from Castle Hill High School.
The crowd applauds.
Helen Voisey The high school administration didn’t like it when we took the moratorium into the schools. It bugs them to see the kids that they are training for their society turn around and question the values of that society. Not only did they not like it, they tried to suppress it. They tried their hardest to stop us bringing just basic democratic rights, like discussion, like wearing a moratorium badge, into the schools. As we are here in numbers, we want to stop this rotten war in Vietnam, and we are doing our best within our schools to talk about this, to show other kids what we think is the truth about Vietnam. Support us. We need your support in fighting against the administration that is trying to keep discussion and debate out of the schools. Thank you.
The crowd cheers.

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