Vietnam Voices Exhibition --
Photographs and posters of Sydney anti-war demonstrations
by John Percy*
[This is the text submitted for the catalog of the Vietnam Voices Exhibition at the Casula Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. Most of the posters used in the exhibition are from my collection and are now available at the image gallery on the RSP website http://gallery.rsp.org.au/main.php?g2_itemId=1957.]
The two main protagonists in the 3-decades long War in Vietnam were of course the majority of the Vietnamese people on the one side, and the foreign invaders on the other. First were the French, until their ignominious defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. Taking over from them were the United States, with a small group of allies, including Australia, until the major withdrawal of the direct US military intervention was forced in 1973, and the final retreat and evacuation took place on April 30, 1975. The string of puppet regimes propped up in the south by the US were secondary players.
But there was also another player in this immense drama that had a material impact on the outcome — the enormous campaign against the US war in Vietnam by millions of people around the world, especially in the US.
The campaign against the Vietnam War here in Australia developed in similar ways to the movement in the US. Of course Australia was a junior partner, and tagged along behind the US. But the Australian ruling class had its own aims and ambitions and interests in Southeast Asia.
The Australian government had always supported the intervention politically. But needing to find the cannon fodder for a more active intervention, in 1964 Canberra introduced conscription, the "death lottery". Birth dates were balloted to determine who would be called up. In May 1965 they sent the first contingent of troops to Vietnam.
The size of the movement and demonstrations that sprang up in protest were proportionately as big or bigger than the actions in the US. The hundreds of thousands of people from all walks of life across Australia who participated in actions against the war helped make a difference. They helped force the withdrawal of Australian troops, they helped save many Vietnamese lives, and they aided the final liberation of Vietnam.
The photographs and posters and news clippings in this exhibition tell part of the story of that anti-war movement in Sydney.
The photographs were almost certainly all taken by Noel Hazard, the full-time photographer from 1964-1972 for Tribune, the weekly newspaper of the Communist Party of Australia.
Noel was an activist in the Kings Cross branch of the CPA, which at that time had its own bookshop and office in William St.. Towards the end of his time on Tribune, Noel was getting disillusioned with the CPA, noting the problems of bureaucratism and Stalinism in the movement. He later left the CPA, and for a period joined one of the Trotskyist organisations. Tribune ceased publication in XX, and the CPA dissolved itself in 1991. Noel is still active politically, retains his socialist ideals, is there on the streets for major political demonstrations, and is always there marching on May Day.
Many of the posters and clippings in the exhibition were collected in the course of my own involvement in the anti-war movement from 1965 on.
I don't know if there's a more thorough collection somewhere, but unfortunately mine is not a complete or even comprehensive record. For some of the most important posters, every last one would have ended up pasted up on the streets of Sydney. And some of the most colourful and striking posters that survived became casualties of decorating many meeting rooms and movement offices, or an activist's lounge room wall.
The first action in Sydney against the Vietnam War that I was aware of was a demonstration organised by the Eureka Youth League, the Communist Party of Australia's youth organisation, outside the US consulate in early 1965. The CPA was the overwhelmingly dominant force on the left in 1965, and heavily influenced the peace movement, especially the Association for International Co-operation and Disarmament (AICD).
I didn't attend that first demonstration, but at Orientation Week at Sydney University in 1965 I joined the Labor Club (controlled by the CPA, but I didn't know that when I joined.)
When the government announced in April 1965 that Australian troops were being committed to Vietnam there were immediate demonstrations in Sydney and other cities, and a demonstration of 400 outside Parliament House in Canberra on May 5.
A few weeks later I found myself in Canberra at the annual Australian Student Labor Federation conference, organised at that time by all the ALP and Labor clubs on campuses around Australia. The conference decided to hold a protest action against the Vietnam War. So the delegates marched from the ANU campus to downtown Canberra, and sat down on a pedestrian crossing, blocking traffic. Sixteen of us got arrested.
I think these were the first arrests on the issue of Vietnam. Thousands were to follow in the next seven years. The demonstration got nation-wide publicity, in the press and on TV. 
Vietnam Action Campaign
At that Canberra demonstration, in addition to learning more about the CPA (I shared a cell with a CP student) I first met Bob Gould, also one of those arrested.
Gould had been in the CPA in 1956 as a teenager, but became a Trotskyist following Khruschev's revelations about the crimes of Stalin. The Trotskyists in the early 60s had done some solidarity work with the Cuban revolution, and were also in the leadership of a modest-sized Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, modelled on the British campaign. In 1965 with the escalation of the Vietnam War and the beginnings of protests against it, some of the younger members of the Trotskyist group used the resources of CND, mainly its mailing list, to establish the Vietnam Action Campaign. Bob Gould became the secretary.
The first VAC demonstration was called for September, in collaboration with the Youth Campaign Against Conscription led by two young ALP members, Wayne Haylen and Barry Robinson. It was soon followed by a further demo in October in response to the call for an international day of protest from the movement in the US.
The Vietnam Action Campaign drew in a range of individual activists from different political backgrounds — Trotskyists, some Maoists, anarchists, some people in the ALP, and some from the CPA, especially the youth. The CPA had an ambivalent attitude to VAC. They had to participate, but they were very uncomfortable with Trotskyists in the leadership of it, and they wanted AICD to remain the main anti-war organisation, where their control was guaranteed.
VAC initially operated out of Bob and Marie Gould's house at Woollahra, where meetings would be held, mailouts organised, and leaflets and newsletters cranked out in their thousands on the Gestetner duplicator. VAC's mailing list built up, and more names were added at each action, until we were organising mailouts of the newsletter to more than 10,000 people and groups. VAC must have organised dozens of actions, large and small, in its own name or in coalitions.
There seemed to be an action nearly every month. The demos grew in size, sometimes helped along by publicity from civil disobedience actions such as sit-down protests. Sometimes the burning of draft cards provided the focus for the demos. There were many actions supporting draft resisters and conscientious objectors like Bill White.
Johnson demonstration 1966
Opposition to the Vietnam War grew. When U.S. President Johnson visited Australia in October 1966 he was met by protests wherever he went.
In Melbourne his car was splashed with paint. In Sydney 10,000 demonstrated at Hyde Park corner as his motorcade came into the city from the airport. We broke onto the road, some lay on the road to block the cars. This is when Liberal Premier Askin uttered his infamous words ``Ride over the bastards.''
At the demo we had a running battle to try to drown out the Mormon Choir who had been allocated the same corner for the official welcome. They were belting out ``The Yellow Rose of Texas'' and ``Deep in the Heart of Texas'' (Johnson was from Texas ...) and we were screaming out ``Johnson Murderer,'' ``Hey, Hey LBJ, How Many Kids Did You Kill Today'' etc. However, they had the advantage of a powerful amplification system rigged up in the park — we only had thousands of unassisted lungs. Nevertheless, we did manage to dig up a pair of pliers. We cut their power. They repaired it. We cut it in another spot. They repaired it again. We cut it again, and fortunately we were on top at the crucial time when Johnson came into view!
Well, after the motorcade got past our demonstration most of the demo ran through the park to the Art Gallery, and got there before Johnson. (The press reported two lots of demonstrators — really it was the same crowd, we moved fast.) The motorcade also moved fast after its scary confrontation with us, so fast that the little kids who'd been dragooned out of school to line the streets didn't realise he'd gone past. But the editorials the next day railed at the cold-hearted demonstrators who forced the President to speed through the city, spoiling the day for the school children who had come to see the President.
In January 1967, South Vietnamese dictator Marshall Ky visited Australia, and was met by demonstrations around Australia. In Sydney, the action on the day was led by Arthur Calwell, the federal Labor leader. He was an old-style ALP politician, a catholic, and although against the rabid right wingers in the National Civic Council, still very conservative himself. But on the question of Vietnam he took a militant, principled position.
In 1967 Gough Whitlam replaced Arthur Calwell as ALP leader, partly because he'd been too outspoken on Vietnam. Whitlam pulled the ALP back from that outspoken stance, ditching the withdraw the troops line in favour of ``withdraw to holding areas.''
VAC was clear and unequivocal about what the anti-war movement's aims should have been — immediate withdrawal of all foreign troops. Others equivocated on this, wanting to restrict the demands we placed on the government to "negotiate".
The socialist youth organisation Resistance was formed in August 1967 from this milieu mobilised by the campaign against the Vietnam War, the central issue in world politics. We rented premises in Goulburn St, the Vietnam Action Campaign started the Third World Bookshop in the front room, there were meeting rooms and a room for silk screening posters, and activists lived upstairs. One of the first posters Resistance screen-printed was "Ho Chi Minh to Win!" 
The Resistance centre from then on became the organising focus for many of the actions against the Vietnam War.
The year that epitomises the 60s radicalisation is 1968 — so much happened, all around the world. The main international hot spots were France, Mexico, Czechoslovakia, and of course Vietnam. The Vietnamese launched a massive offensive against US bases and the cities during the Tet holiday period in early 1968. 1968 saw the biggest anti-Vietnam demonstrations up to that time. In London, 100,000 marched.
The ending of conscription was a continuing demand of all demonstrations against the war, and there were also specific actions. On May 19, 1968 a sit-in at the Prime Minister's Lodge in Canberra, campaigned for imprisoned conscientious objectors and for the repeal of the national service act. On June 10, 1968, a march from Liverpool Station to the Ingleburn army barracks demanded the release of conscientious objector Simon Townsend.
Perhaps Resistance's biggest ever scandal and national publicity windfall resulted from a little pamphlet we printed, ``How Not to Join the Army,'' consisting of advice and practical hints on how to avoid conscription, and how to stuff up their system if you got in there. (Sugar in petrol tanks, make a pass at the recruiting officer etc...) It was mostly gathering dust on our shelves for months until a rabid Liberal MP cottoned on to it and raised it as an issue in Federal Parliament, demanding that the government and police act.
Well, the police raided our headquarters, grabbed the offending pamphlets, our battered typewriter, and the Gestetner duplicator on which it was printed. But the weird thing was, we had received a tip-off half an hour before the raid. So we phoned the TV stations, tidied up the headquarters, made sure posters advertising an upcoming high school teach-in on Vietnam were very prominently displayed, stashed away the bulk of the pamphlets, and waited for the cops.
The publicity was immense. There we were on TV, there was our duplicator getting carted out of the Third World Bookshop by the cops, there were the posters advertising the teach-in. It was front-page news in papers around Australia.
We had to print tens of thousands more copies. The cops eventually returned all our equipment, even the pamphlets, without any charges being laid.
The high schools Vietnam teach-in that received free publicity during the raid was attended by about 500 people, and we received great follow-up publicity in the Sunday Telegraph after it. Membership of High School Students Against the War in Vietnam grew rapidly.
After the teach-in, students started publishing a news-sheet, Student Underground. The number of schools where it was distributed steadily rose. Soon we were lucky enough to get red-baited again. Our subversive undermining of the official brainwashing that takes place in schools was denounced in parliament, and circulation skyrocketed. We couldn't churn them out on the duplicator fast enough. Eventually it was getting distributed in 100 Sydney high schools. Principals and politicians called for its banning, but of course that only increased demand.
Eventually Student Underground graduated to a four-page printed tabloid format for its last two editions in 1969. This was the immediate precursor of Direct Action, the precursor of Green Left Weekly, and it gave us training in producing a newspaper.
There was somewhat of a lull in the demonstrations here in late 1968 and 1969, partly because the older peace movement was taken in by a lull in the war before the November 1968 US elections. Many in the US movement were taken in by Democrat "peace" candidates before the election, and by Nixon's "peace plan" afterwards.
Protests continued though. On Sept 20, 1968 demonstrators marched from Hyde Park to Kings Cross to distribute leaflets to US servicemen staying there on Rest and Recreation leave. Demonstrations outside US consulates on July 4, US Independence Day, became regular events, especially large in Melbourne, but in Sydney also.
On April 12, 1969 a demo from Sydney Uni to Chifley Square Govt offices resulted in considerable police brutality, and 112 people were arrested. A militant breakaway group had occupied the nearby Philip St offices, and drew the rest of the crowd in support away from the staid rally in Chifley Square presided over by SRC president Jim Spigelman.
The next large demonstration was held on December 15, 1969, with a clear demand to withdraw the troops. It was called by the Vietnam Mobilisation Committee, the backbone of which was VAC, Resistance, and HSSAWV. Several thousand people attended, it was very militant, very colourful. It was followed up by a national radical anti-war conference on January 23, 24, 25 1970, Sydney.
The biggest, most effective demonstrations against the war were organised in 1970-71 through the Vietnam Moratorium Campaign. People remember the anti-Vietnam movement as the Moratorium, but it was only set up in 1970, following five years of hectic activity in other structures, other coalitions.
The first Moratorium march was held in May 1970, with 100,000 on the streets in Melbourne, 30,000 in Sydney, thousands in other cities.
Resistance's founding National Conference took place in September, launching a monthly paper, Direct Action. Immediately after the first issue was published I moved to Melbourne to help build a Resistance branch there and a branch of our embryonic party, now the Democratic Socialist Party. DA was out just in time for the second big Vietnam Moratorium demonstration in October, with 60,000 people marching in Melbourne.
A national Moratorium Anti-war Conference was held in Sydney, February 17-21, 1971. The conference reaffirmed the VMC as a broad coalition around the central demand of immediate withdrawal and with the main purpose of organising massive marches. There was another big successful Moratorium action on June 30, mobilising 80,000 in Melbourne, and tens of thousands in other cities.
Plans for peace were being negotiated. Nixon's visit to Peking was announced, and the McMahon government promised on August 18 to withdraw Australian troops by December. Nixon returned from Peking on February 28, 1972. On March 1, US bombing resumed!
On May 11 DA published a special 8-page Vietnam edition to protest the further escalation and Nixon's announcement of the mining of Vietnam's ports and the extension of the air war. The cover headline was: "Our one point peace plan — Out Now!"
The massive bombing continued. The dykes of Hanoi were threatened, but the anti-war movement was defused by the election campaign in the US. Nixon was re-elected on November 7, peace negotiations were going on, and people had the feeling the war was over. Bombing continued until the signing of the peace agreement on January 27, 1973.
But it was two more years before the real end of the war.
With the US and Australian troops out, the anti-war movement went into recess, but the struggle in Vietnam continued, until the final liberation of the country on April 30, 1975.
At the time I had the good fortune to be working on Intercontinental Press, the Marxist weekly news magazine based in New York, from 1974-75. I had the responsibility for following political events in Vietnam, and had the pleasant task of chronicling the final collapse of the Thieu regime.
Beginning with the capture of the capital of Phuoclong province on January 7, 1975, by the forces of the Provisional Revolutionary Government, the whole military position of the Saigon regime collapsed like a pack of cards. Their retreat from the Central Highlands and northern provinces of South Vietnam became a rout. Discipline evaporated as soldiers and officers fought American "advisers" as well as civilians associated with the Thieu regime for places on planes and ships to flee.
In many places the PRG units could not keep up with the retreating Saigon army. Huge stockpiles of US-supplied weapons fell into PRG hands. Washington started making plans to reintroduce US troops into South Vietnam but the Saigon regime melted away too fast for any such plans to be seriously considered.
A sustained propaganda campaign was mounted in the US and around the world about the impending "bloodbath". The touted "bloodbath" didn't occur of course — the victorious National Liberation Front troops were welcomed into Saigon by the majority of the population.
What "bloodbath" occurred took place around the US Embassy, as hangers-on of the imperialists fought with each other to get on the last helicopters lifting off from the roof of the building. And fantastic scenes followed as these evacuees were crowded onto the 40 US naval ships standing off the Vietnamese coast. People were crushed, some fell overboard and weren't picked up, helicopters were ditched in the sea.
A special issue of Direct Action on May 2 welcomed the liberation of Saigon with a banner headline — "A Victory for All Humanity."
That's what it was, not just for the Vietnamese, but for all of us. The Vietnamese finally won their independence and freedom after decades of brave struggle. They showed that a people, united in its just aims, could stand up against the most powerful military force on earth.
They were assisted in no small measure by people in the US and Australia and around the world who raised their voices, organised, leafleted, put up posters, held teach-ins, resisted conscription, and demonstrated on the streets in their millions, demanding an end to the war and the withdrawal of US and Australian troops.
* John Percy was an activist in the movement against the Vietnam War from 1965, and a founder of the socialist youth organisation Resistance and the Democratic Socialist Party. He is currently the national secretary of the Democratic Socialist Party .
 Shortly after Noel Hazard left Tribune, the CPA lost or destroyed the file system he had built up of the approximately 30,000 photographs he took in that period. He'd like to see the photographs preserved as a valuable historical resource, and available for the whole of the left to use.
 Photo #B7 and others
 The Australian, May 27, 1965, p.1.
 Poster #32 April 15, 1966, Vietnam Conscript Protest, Martin Place and Garden Island.
Vietnam Action Campaign Newsletter poster cover.
Poster #25 Larger poster for same event.
 Photo eg, placard in Photo A25.
 Poster #34. Stop Killer Ky, May 20, 1966 protest Wynyard St (US Consulate).
Poster #6, Vietnam Protest, Hyde Park to Sydney Stadium August 7, 1966.
 Sit Down protest, Pitt St. Paddy George in Photo A38. Leader of Eureka Youth League, married to Jenny George.
 Poster #30 Project Vietnam Protest Meetings.
Demo at Martin Place. Perhaps Photo A22
 Tribune photo A18.
Poster #31. Being Conscripted? Stop and Think. Conscientious Objectors Discussion Group. Bill White auth.
 Sydney Poster #14 Johnson Murderer Demo Oct 22, 1966.
 Tribune Photos B12, B22.
Sydney Daily Mirror, Sat Oct 22, 1966, p1; Sydney Sunday Mirror Sun Oct 23, 1966, p.1; Sydney Daily Mirror Mon Oct 24, p1.
Sun Herald poster, October 23, 1966.
 Poster #15, Not Wanted Killer Ky, VAC demo January 21, 1967.
ALP leader Arthur Calwell speaking at the rally under the Sydney Harbour Bridge, Photo C8 Ky demo.
 Poster #10 .
 Poster #11. October 22, 1967 October Mobilisation, Hyde Park to Stadium. Brig Gen H.B. Hester, Charmian Clift, Prof C.P. Fitzgerald, Senator Hanaford.
 Poster #13.
 Poster #8,
 How Not to Join the Army: Advice for 20yr olds.
 Herald June 22, 1968; Brisbane Sunday Truth June 23, 1968.
 Sydney Morning Herald, June 27, 1968; The Age, Melbourne, June 27, 1968;
 The Melbourne Herald, June 22, 1968.
 The Canberra Times, Fri June 28, 1968.
 High School Teach-in Poster #—
 Student Underground #11. Nov 1969.
 Poster #9, July 4 demo 1969, Chifley Sq and US Consulate.
 Daily Telegraph Sat Apr 12, 1969.
 International Vietnam Protest: Withdraw All Troops from Vietnam Now! VAC initiated. Speakers: Jim Cairns, Allen Myers (ex GI who came to stay) Alan Roberts, Stewart West. Poster #18, Poster #27.
 Poster #16.
 Poster #1 Vietnam Moratorium May 8, 9, 10.
 Cover of first issue of Direct Action, Sept 1970, Mags #4.
 Poster #3 Anti War Rally Feb 17, 1971.
 Direct Action No 19, May 11, 1972.
 New York Daily News, April 2, 1975.
 Cover of Direct Action No 84, May 2, 1975, Mags #5.