Almanac History: Moratorium

On Friday May 8 1970, more than 100, 000 people took to the streets of Melbourne to march in the Moratorium; an event organised to show public opposition to the undeclared war in Vietnam. Compounding the involvement in an undeclared war there was much anger about the National Service Act (NSA) of 1964 which saw 20 year old males drafted into the armed forces. 19,000 of these drafted saw action in Vietnam. On top of the NSA, in 1965 amendments to the Defence Act saw Australian conscripts sent to Vietnam from 1966 onwards.


A moratorium is best described as a temporary cessation of activity. It can be interpreted as interruption to business as usual. The origins of the Australian Moratoriums can be traced back to the United States of America in 1969 with the establishment of their Vietnam Moratorium Committee, (VMC). Their first Moratorium was held on October 15 with around 1,000,000 participants taking action in different cities and towns. A further Moratorium followed, spread across three days, November 13-15, with large scale turn outs showing their opposition to the conflict in Vietnam. Inspired by this, meetings were conducted in Australia in late 1969 aiming to organise a Moratorium here. We also established our own Vietnam Moratorium Committee.


Within our VMC different political viewpoints were expressed with the demands and goals being constantly debated. The Australian VMC was ostensibly established to provide a vehicle for the more established groupings such as the peace movement, parties like the Australian Labour Party and the Communist Party of Australia who sought to control/minimise the influence of the more radical groups. The latter, were often led by the members of the Monash Labor Club. As is the wont in politics compromises were obtained. The VMC planned a moratorium to be held in all states in early 1970, demanding the withdrawal of all foreign troops from Vietnam, as well as the repeal of the NSA. After much debate of the Moratoriums goals, the radicals managed to get the word immediate included in these demands. This gave greater emphasis to the Moratoriums goals.  Open meetings conducted in the Richmond Town Hall saw attendances of around 400 people working to set the goals/politics of the moratorium.


One area debated was the actual nature of the day, what actions would highlight the importance, and strength of the moratorium? Radicals pushed for an occupation of the city streets, the more conservative elements opposed this. After extensive debate, and various political machinations, an occupation of a section of the Central Business District (CBD) with a sit down was agreed.


Following many months of hard work and political debate about the shape and direction of the Moratorium the big day dawned. Across Australia events were held on Friday May 8 to show opposition to the war. These dates coincided with events in the USA.  Melbourne saw the largest turnout of people. The Melbourne Moratorium on May 8 1970 saw over 100,000 people participate making it the largest demonstration then seen in Australia. City streets were peacefully occupied with demonstrators sitting down to hear speakers, as the CBD overflowed with the big turnout.


Despite hysterical commentary from Members of Parliament, such as the Federal Minster for Labour and National Service,  Billy Snedden who described the demonstrators as ‘bikies pack raping democracy ‘ as well as derision in the corporate media from outlets like the Age, and the Herald, a large non-violent event was held. This was the first and biggest of the three moratoriums.


For the progressive trade unions involved in the moratorium a rallying cry to attend the moratorium was, stop work to stop the war; it worked for many. But on the following day no one was stopping the VFL footy for anyone.


On, Saturday May 9, Round six of the VFL season took place. As we who are old enough recall, in those days Melbourne (not forgetting Geelong) saw six matches on a Saturday, with the only non Saturday  matches in that period scheduled on Easter Monday, Anzac Day and Queens Birthday Monday. However 1970 saw a unique event, a Sunday game kicking off the year.


Round 9 saw the previous year’s runner up Carlton take on Fitzroy at Princess Park. Carlton had only suffered one loss so far in the season, that being to Richmond in a repeat of the previous year’s grand final. Fitzroy had started the year in interesting fashion, defeating reigning premier’s Richmond in Round one. This was played before royalty: Queen Elizabeth, Prince Phillip, the Prince of Wales and Princess Anne attending on Sunday April 5, the VFL’s first ever Sunday match. Fitzroy followed this with two momentous matches. The following week they played their first match at their new home, the Junction Oval. St Kilda caned them to the tune of 110 points. Next week they played in the first ever match at VFL Park Waverly. Again they were on the wrong side of a big defeat, Geelong winning by 61 points.


Missing from the Fitzroy side that played Carlton at Princess Park was John Duckworth, who served in Vietnam. Amongst the Carlton ranks were Ted Hopkins and Brent Crosswell, both of whom have been linked with the progressive side of politics. Did they attend the Moratorium the day prior?


Geelong was at their home ground Kardinia Park against Footscray, a team who’d not won there since the end of World War 2.


Geelong full forward Doug Wade, who’d, finished 1969 with 127 goals to his name kicked 5 goals 4 in the home side’s 46 point victory: 18-15-123, to 11-11-77. He also found himself before the tribunal for belting Footscray ruckman Ken Greenwood. The tribunal was unimpressed giving Wade a fortnight’s holiday.


Missing from the Geelong side that day was Wayne Closter who’d injured himself in the previous home game against Collingwood. Closter was a national service man who served in Vietnam.


At their Lake Side Oval South Melbourne took on St Kilda. Despite losing two of their three opening matches, South Melbourne had improved, including defeating the reigning premiers Richmond the week prior. South Melbourne had not played in a finals series since their loss in the 1945 blood bath grand final. Where would 1970 take them?


Despite poor kicking, 9-25-79, the home side won by 17 points, their opponents finishing with 9-8-62. Starring for the victors was the boy from Port Melbourne, a player who represented Victoria in Sheffield Shield cricket, Peter Bedford. Picking up 23 disposals, and 7 marks, he also contributed 3 goals 4. He won the Brownlow that year, the first time it was televised. I have vague, memories of watching it at my grandparents’ house in Corowa.


For the vanquished, Jim O’Dea and Neil Besanko helped across the backline, with their flashy centre man Ian Stewart, in his last season at Moorabbin, contributing with 23 touches.


Richmond took on Hawthorn, who despite starting the year with five losses had been in winning positions in four of those games. The previous week they’d lost to Footscray by three points, in a match that said farewell to the legendary Teddy Whitten. There were also three losses by between one and two goals. None the less they were last on the ladder, though only one game behind Richmond who, were suffering a premiership hang over. In a high scoring shoot out, Richmond were too steady in the final term kicking 5-1 to 3-5. The two Peter’s kicked 13 of the Hawks goals: Hudson 8, Crimmins 5, but the Tigers led by 6 from Royce Hart, complemented by 4 apiece from Rex Hunt and Eric Moore, won by 7 points keeping Hawthorn winless on the bottom. Richmond 21-11-137 beat Hawthorn 20-10-130.


At this time Rex Hunt was a serving member of the Victoria Police, as were a few other VFL footballers. Was he on duty for the Moratorium? Royce Hart though drafted into the army under the NSA of 1964 did not go to Vietnam; rather he ended being stationed in South Australia, where he played one game with Glenelg. There is still some conjecture re Hart’s actions, with allegations a politician pulled strings allowing Hart to avoid going to Vietnam.


Collingwood sitting top of the ladder had a big win over North Melbourne at Arden Street. After kicking 23-10 in their opening round clash with Footscray the Pies developed goal kicking yips, with point’s tallies of 19, 24, 17 and 17 again, in the matches following this, before the 30 against the Roos. In the absence of century goal kicker, Peter McKenna, Robert Dean, in his first full season kicked 6 goals 5, these including his first goal in league football.


Anecdotally two North Melbourne players were among the 100,000 plus at the Moratorium. Does anyone know the identities of this mystery pair?


The other match this round had Melbourne taking on Essendon at the MCG. A decade earlier this would have been the match of the day, but on this occasion, both sides sat outside of the then final four. Melbourne held the wooden spoon; Essendon had been runners up back in 1968, though dropped down the ladder in 1969. In a low scoring, drab contest the home side were too steady wining by 15 points, 10-12-72, to 7-15-57.


Melbourne forwards Ross Dillon and Greg Parke had a good input into their victory. Dillon kicked 4 straight goals. Parke kicked 1 goal, though with his 24 marks he constantly menaced Essendon in the air. He later played for Footscray, then Fitzroy, in a distinguished 189 game career. Like Rex Hunt he was a serving member of the Victoria Police. Was he working in the CBD that Friday May 8?


For Essendon, debutant Bruce Neish kicked 4 of their 7 goals, the highest tally for his 22 game career. In the Essendon team that day was Greg Perry, who served with the Australian armed forces in Vietnam. What did he think of the Moratorium? On a separate note, one of the Essendon defenders in that match was Doug Tassell, sadly killed in a car crash only a few weeks later.


Further opposition to the war gathered momentum across Australia over the next few years. From November 1970 Australian forces began withdrawing from Vietnam, as a phased withdrawal was implemented. By the start of 1973 the only Australian troops remaining in Vietnam were the Australian Embassy platoon who were there, on and off, until the Fall of Saigon in 1975. Of the 60,000 Australian forces deployed in Vietnam, 521 were killed and over 3,000 wounded.


By the end of the undeclared war Carlton had won the 1972 VFL premiership, the second of three they’d win in a four year bloc, with Richmond following this with a quinella in 1973-1974. The conflict in Vietnam had faded from the front pages, though the VFL remained a staple part of our lives.









  1. Colin Ritchie says

    Loved your article Glen. It brought back memories of a defining moment in not only my life but a defining time of change in the history of our nation. I was there, so many people marching as one, the speeches, and the noise, a fantastic experience for a young, naive country boy! A real turning point for our country. And the footy was good!

  2. Phillip Dimitriadis says

    Great stuff Glen! Moratorium is such a 60s/70s term. I was born in ’69 so I don’t remember any of this.The footy of the era was exciting and awareness was broadening with more young people being able to access free education and mass media.

    Poignant questions regarding free-thinkers like Crosswell and Hopkins. What role did Kevin Sheedy play? Wasn’t he in the army around this time? If so, wonder how much that influenced the current ANZAC Day game. Enjoyed that Glen! Cheers.

  3. G’day Phil.

    Kevin Sheedy was a ‘nasho’, recruited into the armed forces under the National Service Act 1964. Re the Anzac Day clashes between your ‘Pies’ and the ‘Bombers’, Sheedy has credited the 1977 Anzac Day clash where Tom Hafey coached up against his old side for the first time as an inspiration for the present day format. I mention that in my recent posting re Anzac Day 1980.



  4. Thanks Glen! Great and terrifying memories. I was one year shy of having my birth date go in the barrel for National Service army conscription lotto when Gough won in 1972. It was a terrifying prospect for a young man to think that you may have to go unwillingly into the armed forces and shoot people you had no quarrel with (or be shot). I remember a vague unease but feeling there was nothing to do about it but trust faith (and Gough) that it wouldn’t happen for me as it had for older acquaintances.
    My memory is that in Adelaide there were 2 main anti-war groups. The Moratorium Committee was headed by the hairy wild eyed radical Professor Brian Medlin. The Campaign for Peace in Vietnam by the boyish, corduroy suited Professor Neal Blewett (both from Flinders Uni). As a shy country boy I decided I was one of the “nice people against the war” and sided with the CPV’s less radical agenda.
    Heady times. Some evocative pix below of SA in the 70’s including Vietnam War protests (Swish being dragged away by 5 coppers?); Barrie Robran; the pie cart; and serious men in hats and dark suits.

  5. Luke Reynolds says

    That’s a great read Glen. What a different time.
    Can’t imagine having the worry of being potentially forced to go to war.

  6. Colin Ritchie says

    I registered for the draft. I was very nervous at the time. With my hair down to my shoulders, knowing it would be cutoff if drafted, and the possibility, that I, a pacifist could be sent to fight in a war was something I did not want, and very frightening to me. I didn’t sleep for days leading up to my ballot. Thankfully my number stayed in the barrell but some friends and work colleagues did get called up, one sent to Vietnam coming back a nervous wreck! Our politicians of the time have a lot to answer for!

  7. Terrific piece Glen.

    The images of that time are very powerful (and thanks PB).

    So many learnings – including learning how to agitate. The actual organisation of agitation and the development of the understanding that voices count.

    I was 8 in 1970 so a little older than Phil.

    Glen! It would be great if we could get answers to those rhetorical questions you ask – about what those footballers were doing and thinking – about their politics really. Rex Hunt. Greg Perry. And others?


    Valid point John, what did the footballing fraternity of the time think about the conflict in Vietnam? A number of players saw action over there as the above cited link shows.


  9. Bob Muntz says

    Yes Glen they were heady days in 1970. You ask about footballers attending the Friday May 8 Moratorium rally in the CBD. I am not sure, but I do know they were all under very strong pressure not to be involved, not to make any statements about the issue, by their clubs. Any footballer who defied that pressure would have had to be an absolute champion to keep his place in the side. Perhaps Sergeant Alan Jeans of the Victoria Police was there on May 8. He certainly had been part of the thin blue line the previous year when a union march in the city demanded that the Arbitration Commission penal powers to jail unionists had led to the jailing of Clarrie O’Shea.

    And Colin Ritchie, refusing to be conscripted for Vietnam was no guarantee you could keep your shoulder-length hair. I was conscripted, refused to join the army, and sent to Pentridge instead. My long hair lasted only a few minutes in there.

  10. Good to see this reminder pop up again, 50 years on.
    I don’t recall seeing any mention of this anniversary over the weekend, which surprises me.

  11. Neil Anderson says

    Glen, congrats on such a detailed retelling of this extraordinary time in our history. I was particularly interested in your article for two reasons. I was in the 1966 ballot so knew all about waiting to hear if my birthday marble was drawn. It wasn’t. I celebrated long and hard. My father who thought the Army would straightened me out was extremely disappointed. The other reason I was so interested in your article is that I recently wrote a play about that time. I called it Moratorium. It was about three 19year olds, all with a different view about the draft and Vietnam. I might forward to the Almanac some of the dialogue at the start of the play which is set on the eve of the first Moratorium.

  12. Rod Oaten says

    Boy, what a story. I was there, the feeling was so powerful among the marches. Driving down from the North East I upset a couple of soldiers just past Seymour because I had a sticker on the back window of the car that said NO CONSCRIPTS FOR VIETNAM. They tried to force me of the Hume Highway, but my Wolseley was too good for them.

  13. Peter Fuller says

    Thank you for filling the gap left by the conventional media. This was a significant moment in Australian history, as it confirmed such widespread opposition to the war that the Government was forced to begin the process of finding a way to extricate itself.
    I was fortunate to not collect a winning (i.e. a losing) ticket in the raffle, which was probably as fortunate for the army as it was for me.
    Sitting down in the street outside the closed doors of Buckley & Nunn (David Jones for younger readers) was a grand moment observing the footpath to footpath crowds extending from Queen Street to Parliament House,

  14. I’d left for London at the time, and had to go to Australia House to read the local Aussie news. I attended my fair share of demonstrations on the streets of London around the same time. A powerful and never-forgotten period in our history. Thanks for reminding us of it.

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