The Burial of Recent History

My project for the Addison Road Community Centre seeks to memorialize and honour the women who protested the ‘death ballot’ conscription for the Vietnam war in the late 60’s to early 70’s. These mothers were present at every single intake of soldiers, predecessors to the radicals and students from Sydney Uni who joined the resistance later on in the war when public sentiment was flailing. They held vigils, they wore gloves and reverently upheld signs marked “remember Nuremberg”. Despite being branded as communists – these women, mostly 40 and over, took on the job with unfettered determination.
When speaking with the centre’s historian, the scope of the project began to dawn me. Tracking down the descendants or associates of a group of older women who campaigned in Marrickville 50 odd years ago, to create an oral history, would not prove an easy task. Her words sunk in, ‘this is primary research’, ostensibly no one has ever tried to collate these diminishing second-generation accounts and recreate the dynamic political scene. I was left with a barrage of unanswerable questions. Where would i find them? How would i get them to agree to speak with me? (having expressed her own trouble in doing so) What were my hunches? What specifically did i want to find out? Who may know-someone-who-would-know-someone who could refer me? How many of this ‘x-john doe’ lived in the broader area according to the white pages? I was left perplexed and filled with dread. This was an ambitious undertaking.
After all, these protests were within living memory. Why then, was this contemporary history left uninterrogated? Whilst the annals of white, colonial Australian history, as evidenced by our lecture from Judith, remain seared in public memory and actively pursued. These women and their fight to save the nation’s sons competes with the carnival-like celebration of Anzacs and all who have served in the military for Australia. Upon further research, peacemaking, at home and internationally, is one of the few public arenas in which women have always had a decisive and initiatory role. These themes simmer above my research, recasting the information i find. This history is important. Not only as a landmark in social justice for Australia, but for the human rights issues we encounter today. No movement ever succeeded with only the anarchists, the radicals, the scholars. Ordinary Australians and older generations imagined outside the parameters of social rebellion need to be included. The women of S.O.S remind me of a group I see rallying today, dismantling the idea of what a protester is. The ‘grandmothers against the detention of refugee children’. They never miss a rally, they come in impressive numbers, they wear matching shirts and they bear witness.
Noreen Hewett, the groups lead organiser in one of her final recorded interviews, when asked as to why she founded Save our sons, said, “I have always had a general interest in the question of peace.” Indeed this is all one should need.
Teresa Singh

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