Australian Screen

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Walking Through a Minefield (1999)

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clip The right to protest education content clip 1, 2

Original classification rating: G. This clip chosen to be G

Clip description

Anti-uranium mining protestors explain their role in the Jabiluka blockade. A woman recalls her first arrest and the mines security officer says that he is in favour of protesting for a cause that he may believe in.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This clip shows Australians, in a variety of settings, being interviewed about activism. A woman speaks of becoming blasé about being arrested for her involvement in protests. Another woman talks about her concerns that being arrested as a protester could affect her future employment and travel plans. A woman and a man both reflect on how the Vietnam War galvanised them into protest action. Finally, a Vietnam veteran who works for the Jabiluka mine describes how he would encourage his son to hide or to protest if called up to fight in a war.

Educational value points

  • At a basic level, participating in a democracy involves voting for a political party, but most of the subjects of this documentary have taken participation further by taking direct action against government decisions that they oppose.
  • Most of those interviewed describe their concept of active citizenship as evolving through the civil rights and anti-Vietnam movements and public demonstrations of the 1960s. In the late 1960s and early 1970s when young Australians were being conscripted to support the USA in the Vietnam War, many Australians became disillusioned with the nation’s involvement in the War and joined public protests.
  • In the 1960s and 1970s, people who had never protested before joined mass rallies (known as moratoriums) and openly displayed their opposition to the Government’s actions. The Australian Labor Party was firmly opposed to the Vietnam War and Labor’s electoral win in 1972 can be partly attributed to its stance on the War. As some of the activists interviewed in this clip reflect, the open display of opposition to the Government by members of a democratic society, in which protest is allowed, can lead to a sense of empowerment.
  • Activists have much to gain and lose by participating in public activism and the filmmaker chooses here to highlight what those who openly express political views may stand to lose. Arrests and convictions may limit future career choices and the ability to travel freely. Standing up for the freedom of others may, ironically, lead to the infringement of the activist’s own liberties.
  • The clip showcases the early work of Cathy Henkel, who has been a writer, director and producer of documentaries since 1988, and who has also worked in the industry as a cinematographer. In 1992, Henkel formed Hatchling Productions to create documentaries, educational videos and short films. Her 2003 documentary The Man Who Stole My Mother’s Face won a number of accolades and awards.

Interviews with various protesters.

Woman 1 I remember the first time I was arrested. That was pretty scary stuff. But I have to admit I’ve been arrested quite a few times since then and you get a bit blasé almost about it. Perhaps one of the ultimate sacrifices you can make in the Australian scene, in our own environment – you go to jail for your principles. That’s pretty strong stuff still.

Woman 2 I mean, I’m still unsure whether I’m prepared to get arrested, which I feel like I’m a bit of a wimp because it’s like, something I really believe in and I should just put my … you know, put myself on the line and not worry about – 'oh, I can’t just get a job as a teacher or go overseas’.

Woman 1 For me, the Vietnam war did a couple of things, it really galvanised me because I was a housewife in the suburbs, you know, three young kids, very nervous of political action. Remember the moratorium, they said there were going to be riots, people were going to be pushed and shoved, and I was very nervous, but at the same time, I was inspired by the people power.

Man 1 When the Vietnam war got going, as far as Australia was concerned, I became active because I could see my kids were going to get called up in a couple of years and I wasn’t going to let that happen.

Man 2 (Unseen) In 1969 I went to Vietnam. I was 19 when I went over there. It did a fair bit to shape my life.

Man 3 I’d hate to see my son called up now by a government and then sent away to fight a war. I just wouldn’t – I think I’d encourage him to go bush!

Interviewer Or protest?

Man 3 Yeah, or protest, yeah.

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