Almanac Literary – ‘Moratorium’ by Neil Anderson: An extract



Following Glen’s article about the 1970 moratorium, I mentioned in the comments that I had recently written a play entitled Moratorium.


For me it was a great example of writing what you know. As I approached twenty years of age, I too had waited to see if my birthday marble was drawn out which meant I could be enlisted as a National Service conscript.


It was one lucky-dip I was glad to lose. I could continue to party as a twenty year-old while some of my mates reported for duty at various army-bases. I was not politically aware and didn’t attend Monash Uni until years later. Ironically the same place that was a centre of protest against the Vietnam war.


While I waited for my marble to be drawn, I worked at Albert Park Barracks in the Army Department. The only footy connection in my story was to see the passing parade of a number of footballers who had been conscripted. These included Stan Alves and Carl Ditterich who had a ten-minute walk to the Junction Oval for training. Alex Jesaulenko had arrived down from Canberra and worked in the Navy Department. Richmond premiership player John Perry was stationed there and volunteered to umpire our matches between Army and Navy. He also broke the neutral rule of umpiring when he pointed to where I should position myself at the ball-ups.


The worst part of my job in the Army Pay Centre was having to deal with financial disbursements to families of deceased soldiers. It should have made me more politically aware and join those moratorium marches, but it didn’t. Life for us civilians was just too easy.



I haven’t had a chance to see my play performed as yet, but at least the Almanac gives me a chance to provide a sample of the play which ties in with Glen’s article. I have tried to give an idea of the various attitudes and opinions towards the Vietnam war and conscription, even amongst people of the same age-group.



   SCENE 1


It’s 1970. The lights come up showing a lounge-room in suburban Melbourne. Three friends meet to discuss tomorrow’s moratorium and the current state of the Vietnam war. The two university students, MARGO and COLIN who are a couple sit on the sofa while the musician GARRY sits in the lounge-chair. GARRY dressed in buckskins and wearing a bandanna looking like Denis Hopper from the film Easy Rider is the only one smoking. MARGO and COLIN are dressed more conservatively, but both wear flares. There are beer-bottles and a wine-cask on the coffee-table as well as ash-trays and scented-candles.


                Music plays ‘ Fortunate Son ‘ by Creedence Clearwater Revival.


MARGO:  So, are you coming with me tomorrow or not?


COLIN:  Where?


MARGO:  (nudging him in the ribs) You know where! The moratorium!


COLIN:  Oh, right. Is that what those placards are doing on the kitchen table.


MARGO:  (giving him another friendly nudge in the ribs) Colin! I’m serious!



GARRY:  Who came up with that stupid name for a protest-march anyway?


MARGO:  Probably Jim Cairns. He just wants everyone to think how bad it is in Vietnam.

Someone has to make a stand.


GARRY:  It sounds like crematorium. Is it something to do with death?


MARGO:  It’s got everything to do with death. (pause) So Colin, do you want to meet Jim Cairns?


COLIN:  What is he? A doctor and a politician?


MARGO:  A Doctor of Economics I think. He’s been in the Labor Party for a long time.


COLIN:  Sorry, I’ll be in the library tomorrow.


MARGO:  You’re unbelievable! Anyway, the uni library will probably be closed. The staff will be

at the march with the students.


GARRY:  I’ll go if you like.


MARGO:  Thanks Gaz. (looking at COLIN) Nice to see someone has a social conscience.


GARRY:  Sorry. No real conscience. I just wanted to go to the booze-up afterwards.


MARGO:  Urgh! You’re as bad as Colin. Don’t you two watch the news?



 COLIN:  I do. They show all the bombs being dropped and the Viet Cong being rounded up, but

they never tell the public how much progress the Americans are making. They should.


MARGO:  That’s because there is no progress. The war’s at a stalemate. That’s why we’re

marching tomorrow.


SPOILER ALERT:  SCENE 2 was set one year later on the eve of the second moratorium.


Margo was still deciding to march again feeling the marchers had not achieved their goal of stopping the war. They were branded as communist agitators by the establishment and a lot of the public.


Colin was conscripted and meekly joined the Army as his parents expected him to do. He had just finished jungle-training and was leaving for Vietnam after visiting Margo.


Garry was called up but went on the run to Western Australia. He did develop his social conscience


Read Glen’s Moratorium article HERE


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About Neil Anderson

Enjoys reading and writing about the Western Bulldogs. Instead of wondering if the second premiership will ever happen, he can now bask in the glory of the 2016 win.


  1. Given the restrictions are now being slowly lifted (ending a moratorium of sorts), hopefully you get to see your play performed soon, Neil.
    Looking forward to Scene 2, but until then I guess you’ll keep us all in suspenders.
    Thinking mathematically, I wonder what the chances of a 20-year-old having his marble drawn were.
    It would be interesting to see a VFL team of conscriptees from that era.

  2. Neil Anderson says

    Only a man of stats like you Peter could wonder about the odds of twenty-year olds being called up. But a good stat to consider.
    Of course the government would play down those odds as they somehow pushed the idea that it is a fair system to ‘draw your name out of a hat’ to potentially disrupt your lives as you entered the workforce, or for the elite, tertiary education. They also played down the fact that you could be sent to Vietnam to fight in the unwinable war. The same war that the Americans could have withdrawn from much earlier but were worried about ‘losing face’.
    Yes, a team of VFL conscripts would be interesting. Me thinks the top players were looked after and stationed close to their Clubs.

  3. Peter Fuller says

    I too hope your play will be performed, preferably somewhere that I can see it. It’s a fascinating topic, as indicated by the variety of responses to Glen’s post.
    Pete, I don’t know how reliable my information is (or for that matter my memory), but I seem to recall that it was something like 1 in 11.
    There are tales of funny buggers being played with the ballot. I understand that singer Normie Rowe was called up, but that others with the same birthdate weren’t, that Normie was being used as a PR exercise.
    The suspicion that footballers might be ‘looked after’ has a tradition. There was a tale that during the earlier version of universal national service, Ted Whitten was in camp at Puckapunyal; Prime Minister Menzies intervened to ensure that he would be given leave to take his place in a final for the Dogs. Obviously they weren’t playing Carlton.

  4. Good stuff Neil. Just a quick perusal of those lines gets me thinking of Don’s Party. Yep it was set the year prior but it reflected a new Australia breaking from the stupor of the Menzies years. ( It does peeve me Menzies admiration for Hitler gets very much airbrushed from history.)

    I noticed on the comments on my re-posting where Smokie mentions the very scant public mention of the event(S). I’d almost forgot until i saw Michael Hyde’s posting on Facebook reminding us.

    I look forward to the play, as it’s an important , quite recent, event in who we are. Like the two conscription plebiscites just over half a century prior it gets downplayed in our history. I wonder why/

    FitzroyPete there’s a posting of mine from a few years back re footballers and the ‘undeclared’ Vietnam war. Do yourself a favour, have a sticky beak.


  5. Neil Anderson says

    Good to hear from you Peter. Last time you attended my play I won the competition so it brought back good memories. We were about three weeks into rehearsal for another play of mine when the social gatherings were stopped. It was in Terang, your old stomping ground, so it’s a bit much to get you down for that one when it’s reactivated.
    I remember reading about Menzies getting Ted down from Pucka for that final. Definitely not against Carlton.
    Gidday Glen. As teenagers during the Vietnam war under the Menzies regime most of us went along with the status quo. The information highway never existed then which would have made us question what was really going on instead of relying on the 6 o’clock filtered news. I think I would have been a combination of the two characters in my play. Colin who accepts his lot after being called up because his parents continually voted for Menzies who pushed the idea that the Red Menace would sweep down and take over Australia. I would also have a bit of Garry in me hoping I wouldn’t get called up to continue a pretty slack lifestyle. Like Garry I would have come good later in life after many years of part-time study.

  6. G’day Fitzroy Pete, this article may be of interest to your question.


  7. Neil Anderson says

    Gidday Glen and Peter. By chance there was an article in the HeraldSun Friday 15th May showing a photo of a ‘conscription’ draw in 1957. Apparently the National Service call-up for eighteen year-olds was first introduced in 1951. That was probably the draw Teddy Whitten was part of when Menzies allowed him to get leave form Puckapunyal to play in a final.
    The article said,” But from 1957, numbers were reduced by introducing the birthday draw, and the scheme was abolished two years later, before it was reintroduced in 1964 for the Vietnam War”.

  8. HI Neil, Lets’ hope you’ll be able to see it live, at some point! And thanks for bringing it to my attention. Always very interested in that period in our history – powerful times. Thanks.

  9. Neil Anderson says

    Thanks for your interest Jan. I might submit another extract of the play. Perhaps the final scene set 40 years later at the funeral of one of the characters. I have also dug out a primary document that I can include. My conscription notice indicating I wasn’t required to report for duty. That story in the paper I mentioned above had a photo of the general supervising the draw using the Tattersall’s barrel full of birthdate marbles. That was one time we hoped our numbers never came up.

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