The Gloves Come Off – The 1970 Moratorium and the Limits of Tolerance

Ken Mansell

Police intolerance Waterdale Road West Heidelberg September 1970

Now receding into the mists of fifty years of memory and embellished by folklore, the Moratorium of 8 May 1970 still stands out as perhaps the most remarkable protest demonstration in the nation’s history. The two most commonly referenced features of the historic turn-out are its size – estimated by many participant observers as 100,000 in Melbourne – and its peaceful nature. Oddly the only incidents of a violent character that occurred nationally in the first Moratorium were outside the usual sphere of conflict involving police and demonstrators. Adelaide’s 8 May ‘anti-imperialist’ march was violently attacked by an organised group of fifteen soldiers from the Third Battalion RAR, and Brisbane radical student leader Brian Laver was physically restrained (effectively ‘gagged’) on the the Roma Street Gardens speakers’ platform.[1]

Governments, march organisers, the media, the public, the peace activists, all prepared for a tense and violent outcome on 8 May 1970. Rally organisers and peace activists were fearful. We now know Dr Jim Cairns wore a bullet-proof vest at the front of the Melbourne march to guard against sniper fire. Liberal Governments, most newspaper editors, and all right-wing politicians were anything but fearful about the prospect of violence and did everything they possibly could – witness their hysterical statements – to bring it about. In Melbourne the Bolte government had legions of police armed and on a hair trigger at the rear of the Parliament Building at the top of Bourke Street. Only the massive size of the demonstration, the sheer numbers of people beyond even the most hopeful expectation, deterred Bolte’s minions from swinging into action.

The peaceful nature of the May Moratorium soon gave rise to the myth that it had been tolerated. Before 8 May many in the radical student left (the Monash Labor Club, the Melbourne University Labour Club, Students for Democratic Action in Adelaide, the Revolutionary Socialist Students Alliance in Brisbane) feared a ‘peaceful picnic in the park’ on 8 May would emasculate the movement and blunt the hard edge of protest.[2] A large and peaceful demonstration proceeding ‘up the right channels’ could only encourage the illusion that numbers, and not the message, were the measure of success. There was also danger that the upholders of the ‘system’ would appropriate the Moratorium for their own legitimation. The editors of Melbourne University Labour Club newsletter Iskra invoked an incisive and memorable phrase of New Left philosopher Herbert Marcuse when they correctly observed that the Government and the Press had sought to turn the May Moratorium ‘into a victory by proclaiming it as proof of their tolerance and respect for the public opinion – a classic case of repressive tolerance’.[3]

The radicals need not have worried. The Moratorium only appeared to have been tolerated. Where most demonstrators, even the radicals, were euphoric in the aftermath of 8 May, conservative governments, hostile media and right-wing politicians sensed the threatening implications of mass occupations for their social and political system. Where some radicals continued to see the May rally as an unwanted affirmation of parliamentary democracy, the Right saw the rally as a looming counter-power to parliamentary democracy. It could not be allowed to happen again and they would now shift into a higher gear to stop it. They had reached the limits of their tolerance.


A Second Moratorium

In early July the National Coordinating Committee of the Vietnam Moratorium campaign met in Melbourne and endorsed the dates 18-19 September for the next Moratorium. A second Moratorium had earlier been proposed by a National Consultation held in Melbourne soon after the May event.[4]The Moratorium organisers had chosen well in scheduling the Moratorium for September for it was on 2 September 1945 that Ho Chi Minh declared the independence of Vietnam after the defeat of the Japanese occupiers.[5]

If there had been any temptation to court favour with the authorities by reducing the disruptive impact of the Moratorium protest such thoughts were put to rest immediately. Significantly, the focus for action had shifted to the workplace. A Sunday meeting of about 700 Victorian sponsors of the Moratorium in Richmond Town Hall on 19 July decided the September Moratorium should be based on the concept of bringing ‘the life of the nation to a standstill in transport, factories, offices and educational institutions.’[6] In Sydney on 24 August over 200 unionists met in conference and discussed union action to bring to life the slogan ‘Stop Work to Stop the War’.[7]

In the interregnum between the first Moratorium rallies in May and the second series of Moratorium rallies in September, protest organisers had to contend with serious divisions in the anti-Vietnam war movement. Clashes over Moratorium tactics were particularly vitriolic in Victoria where the Worker-Student Alliance (WSA) organisation argued for the movement to adopt publicly an ‘anti-imperialist’ position of support for the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam. WSA and the established peace movement were at loggerheads over which of the two rival ‘July 4’ demonstrations was the most legitimate.[8] Roughly 180 people attended a meeting in Melbourne on 5 June to plan the ‘July 4’ demonstration. Despite unanimous agreement on the demands of the protest[9] a serious division was exposed over the nature and timing of the event. The meeting divided evenly between ‘July 3’ and ‘July 4’ as the preferred date, although advocates for a rally on the Friday evening (3 July) won a slim majority.[10] The division was only accentuated at the large mass meeting on 18 June. By a considerable majority (243-168) the meeting overturned the majority preference of the previous meeting and endorsed Saturday 4 July as the date, with the rally to start at 10 am at the U.S Consulate. In defiance, the minority supporting ‘July 3’ indicated, in contravention of the decision of the mass meeting, their determination to proceed with a rival demonstration on 3 July. Needless to say, both rallies were decidedly ‘anti-imperialist’ in tone.[11]

Not surprisingly, the Saturday (4 July) protest turned out to be more impressive and consequential. Though the 3 July march through the city culminated in a militant sit-down at the Flinders Street intersection, the poor turn-out of 500 was disappointing, and the secret WSA plan to occupy CRA in Collins Street was stillborn. By way of contrast, 2000 demonstrators marched on Saturday morning. Their occupation of the streets, which included a prolonged sit-down on Collins Street in front of the Pan-American Airways building, brought the city to a partial standstill from 11 am-12.30 pm.[12]


The Spectre of Violence

The divisions in the movement were to remain but a new problem had emerged – the spectre of police violence. Police wildly galloped their horses and charged their vans through people dispersing in the Treasury Gardens after the Saturday (4 July) demonstration. When the same aggressive approach was repeated only weeks later at an anti-conscription protest in the city, a new hard-line attitude to dissent by the Bolte and Gorton governments seemed evident. Demonstrators gathered peacefully outside the Melbourne GPO on the Saturday morning of 1 August to urge people to fill in false registration forms for ‘National Service’, and speakers called on young men not to register. Commonwealth policemen then launched a deliberate and unprovoked attack on some demonstrators, picking out pre-selected people for arrest. Ugly scenes followed, with the ensuing wild melee lasting twenty minutes. Some demonstrators were hurled down the steps of the GPO. [13]

The trend towards more repressive police action was also evident in the other capitals. At Sydney’s 3 July ‘Independence from America’ rally, 700 protestors gathered at the Commonwealth Centre in Chifley Square, with the numbers swelling to 1,000 during the march through the city in peak-hour to Pan-American Airways and the U.S Consulate. Police (estimated to number 300) attempted to prevent the occupation of the streets and thirty demonstrators were arrested.[14] On 31 July, forty people were arrested in Sydney during an anti-Vestey demonstration for Gurindji land rights.[15] Adelaide’s militant 4 July march against ‘U.S imperialism’ saw 600 students and workers hold a sit-down at the busy intersection of Rundle Street and Gawler Place to watch satirical street theatre. Police were mobilised in force and made sixteen arrests.

In Brisbane on 25 August hundreds of police moved in and brutally attacked workers and students attending a demonstration during a national stoppage against the Federal Budget.[16] In Perth fourteen of the twenty-four students and workers who had chained themselves together inside the Department of Labour and Industry on 7 August to protest against the Vietnam war and conscription were arrested and charged with wilfully obstructing a Commonwealth officer.[17]

Radical student groups flexing their muscles on the campuses were also targeted by the authorities. Only days after the 8 May Moratorium, Sydney University Vice-Chancellor Professor B.R. Williams announced the expulsion of student leaders Hall Greenland and Haydn Thompson, ostensibly for their part in the occupation of the Administration building in March. The defence campaign attracted little support and in July the Sydney University Senate affirmed the expulsions.[18] In mid-June Vice-Chancellor of Latrobe University Dr D.M. Myers ‘suspended’ six students for a year after students at Latrobe had ‘escorted’ Defence Department recruiting agents off the campus.[19] In late August the Administration at Monash University imposed heavy sentences (expulsions and suspensions) on seven activists following the ‘occupation’ of the Careers and Appointments Office in early July as a protest against the use of university facilities by big business and the military.[20] Heavy sentences imposed on Sydney anti-conscription demonstrators indicated magistrates too were in no mood to tolerate dissent. On 16 August forty young people, including twenty conscription non-compliers, visited the Bellevue Hill home of Federal Attorney-General Tom Hughes to present him with a list of 182 names of young men who had publicly refused to register for ‘National Service’. Hughes emerged with a cricket bat and threw a punch. Police arrived and made nine arrests (for ‘trespass’). Six of the protestors were sentenced the following day to fourteen days hard labour for contempt of court.[21]

Moratorium 18 September 1970



As it gathered momentum again after May the Moratorium movement found itself facing an Establishment backlash. Liberal governments prepared to crack down hard. In early August the Askin Government in New South Wales proposed to introduce a ‘Summary Offences Act’ aimed against demonstrations. The Bolte Government in Victoria followed suit and drafted its own draconian legislation designed to silence public protest – including an increase in the penalty for ‘resisting or obstructing’ a policeman from a maximum of three months jail to two years jail.[22] Repression took many forms. At the last minute the Gorton Government refused to grant a visa to U.S comedian Dick Gregory who was to have addressed September Moratorium meetings. There were reports in September that authorities in Sydney, Brisbane, Hobart and Perth were refusing to allow the September Moratorium the same rights as in May. In Sydney the Askin Government refused the Moratorium permission to use the Domain, and the City Council refused the Moratorium use of Hyde Park, Wynyard Park and other public facilities. New South Wales Liberal politician Peter Coleman (MLA Fuller) chose Moratorium week to publish a paranoid booklet replete with elaborate diagrams ‘proving’ the high schools’ movement to be a ‘conspiracy’ manipulated by different Left groups.[23] Ibrox Park Boys’ High School in Leichhardt was again in the news for suppressing students wishing to wear Moratorium badges.[24] In Hobart, Father Dennis Corrigan was suspended from the priesthood because he maintained his right to be chairman of the Hobart Vietnam Moratorium Committee. Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) at Melbourne University revealed the existence of a secret memorandum outlining new rules for admission to the University, with ‘politically affiliated’ students liable for exclusion. Evidence emerged of protestors being sacked from their jobs for Moratorium activity.[25] Most mainstream daily newspapers stooped to whipping up public feeling against demonstrators. All Sydney daily papers demanded the Moratorium be abandoned. The Australian newspaper, once sympathetic, called for the Moratorium to be cancelled.[26]

The barrage of negative propaganda eroded support for the Moratorium. The hysterical campaign carried the implicit threat that police violence might be used on 18 September. ALP and trade union identities were among those who developed cold feet. Some retreated into their shells; others were openly hostile. The Federal Executive of the ALP had convened in Broken Hill (NSW) in August and adopted a special resolution in full support of the Moratorium. The NSW Labour Council and the NSW ALP State Executive denied full support however. Federal Labor Opposition leader Gough Whitlam had earlier encouraged right-wing elements of the labour movement when he ‘repudiated’ (during a TV interview on 10 August) the invitation that had been extended by the National Moratorium Coordinating Committee to representatives of the Provisional Revolutionary Government of South Vietnam and the Government of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. They had been invited to participate in a projected roundtable conference on how to end the war. Whitlam declared the invitation was ‘improper’ and harmful to the ALP.[27] Some ALP State branches and politicians dissociated themselves from the Moratorium. In Moratorium week ALP leaders in South Australia, New South Wales and Tasmania buckled. After strong pressure from the police and Liberal Opposition for the Government to oppose the Moratorium plan to occupy a city intersection, the South Australian ALP executive decided to withdraw from the 18 September demonstration in Adelaide. Acting Premier Corcoran urged ALP members not to participate.[28] NSW ALP State secretary Peter Westerway announced a separate campaign under the slogan ‘withdrawal of all foreign troops from Indo-China’ (including North Vietnamese and NLF troops in Cambodia). The day before the rally NSW State Opposition leader Pat Hills dissociated himself from the Moratorium. In Hobart Labor MLA Neil Batt resigned as Chairman of the Vietnam Moratorium Committee when the Committee refused to accept a police directive that the Moratorium march to Franklin Square.

Latrobe University students assert the right to march 23 September 1970



With only days remaining before the 18 September rally, police launched savage attacks on student radicals and other protestors at the University of Queensland in Brisbane and at Latrobe University in Melbourne. On 2 September, fifty students (mainly members of the Revolutionary Socialist Students Alliance) strolled into the on-campus headquarters of the University of Queensland Regiment (CMF) and ‘sacked’ it, hurling maps and files from the upper floor windows of the building and plastering the inner walls with anti-imperialist slogans. Commonwealth, State and Military police arrived only to find the gates padlocked by other students. On 7 September, police conducted a night-time raid on a student household in Toowong. One prominent RSSA activist was later arrested at Red Hill by Special Branch police and taken to an isolated cemetery where he was terrorised at gunpoint.[29] Metaphorically speaking, fuel was tossed on the campus fire when the University of Queensland Administration charged students involved in the infamous ‘kidnapping of Quang’ incident. On 4 September, Luu Tuong Quang, a diplomat of the Saigon Thieu regime, appeared on campus to speak in the Union building. He refused to answer questions from anti-war students and was barred from exiting. Police arrived and exchanged blows with hundreds of angry students. Students were further enraged when Vice-Chancellor Dr Zelman Cowan deplored the ‘attack’ on a foreign diplomat while failing to condemn the police violence.[30]

Not even those Latrobe University radicals who openly advocated ‘punch-ups with the cops’[31] would have wanted, or expected, the savagery meted out when police ambushed them in Waterdale Road (West Heidelberg) only two days before the Moratorium. On 11 September a peaceful march of Latrobe University students from the campus to Ivanhoe shopping centre had been broken up by police soon after it started. Five days later the students hired a bus to Northlands shopping complex where they distributed leaflets and addressed shoppers on the Moratorium. They then set off to march back to the University, with police cars following. In Waterdale Road, as the three hundred students approached the campus, the police suddenly drove their cars into the head of the march and waded in with batons. They singled out student leaders for bashing and arrest. Nineteen students were arrested and many others were injured. Two students were clubbed unconscious. Female students were not spared and one girl had a suspected broken arm. Inspector Keith Plattfuss proudly exclaimed ‘They got some baton today and they’ll get a lot more in the future’.[32] For those on the receiving end of police thuggery in Brisbane and Melbourne the violence appeared to be a foretaste of what could be expected on 18 September. To them it seemed the police were using these violent incidents to prepare the way for suppression of the Moratorium.

Dr Cairns addresses Melbourne Moratorium at corner of William and Lonsdale Streets 18 September 1970

On 18 September Moratorium marchers encountered a determined effort by the police to reassert their ‘dictatorship of the streets’. This might have been expected to occur most virulently in Brisbane and Melbourne but it was in Sydney and Adelaide that the police were most vicious, attacking demonstrators with pre-planned clockwork precision. There were 140 arrests in Adelaide and more than 200 in Sydney. In Sydney the day began with a lawn rally at Sydney University attended by 7,000. The 4,000 staff and students who marched for two miles to the main rally were attacked and harassed all the way. There were thirty arrests. Another forty were arrested on the march of 2,000 from the University of NSW. Police physically cordoned off the main rally at Wynyard Park, although 20,000 people managed to edge into the park despite the cordon. After the crowd began moving out of the park towards Victoria Park the police unleashed a brutal assault, using flying wedges to break up the march and make mass arrests in King Street. One young woman was pushed through a plate glass window. An old man was punched, put in a headlock and thrown down.[33] In Adelaide, the police revealed their hand pre-emptively. The 18 September rally organisers had broadcast a plan for a two-hour occupation of the North Terrace-King William Street intersection. South Australian Police Commissioner McKinna committed the unthinkable when he defied Premier Dunstan’s request to allow the demonstration to proceed, arrogantly declaring he would deal with the Moratorium as he saw fit. The police used horses and tear gas to break up the occupation and arrested 141 of the 4,000 demonstrators.[34]

Elsewhere violence was prepared but not used, harassment and interference being the preferred method in its stead. The original plan for the 18 September Melbourne rally was thrashed out at a meeting of the Victorian Moratorium executive on 3 August. Four radial marches were to converge on the Treasury Gardens. The combined march was to leave the Gardens at 3 pm. Following a thirty-minute sit-down in Bourke Street the march was to proceed via a roundabout route to the intersection of Flinders Street and Swanston Street. The intersection would be occupied until 5.30 pm for a pop concert and speakers on Princes Gate Plaza. The organisers received a letter from Town Clerk Rogan of Melbourne City Council expressing concern about the use of Princes Gate Plaza. According to Saunders, this was ‘the first sign of any official harassment of the Moratorium in Melbourne’. On 15 September the Council notified the organisers that permission to use the Plaza was refused. The Herald and The Age both warned of violence between police and marchers. Premier Bolte added to the tension with a warning that the state government would not tolerate an attempted occupation of the city streets. On 17 September the Victorian Moratorium Secretariat, realising the police were likely to block the march, decided to hold the occupation where the march was stopped.

On 18 September the Melbourne march started as planned, with a crowd estimated at 70,000 staging a thirty-minute sit-down in Bourke Street while they listened to the names of Australian soldiers killed in Vietnam being read out over a loudspeaker. The marchers proceeded along the agreed route to the corner of William Street and Lonsdale Street where police had blocked the route with steel barricades, mounted police, and trucks. The police refused to allow a right turn into Lonsdale Street or into any other street for the purpose of proceeding down Swanston Street to the Princes Gate Plaza. They directed marchers to disperse into the Flagstaff Gardens. The marchers faced several options: force their way through the barricades, disperse into the Flagstaff Gardens, or occupy the streets (the corner of William Street and Lonsdale Street) where they were. The third option was the one enacted by the majority of marchers, but only briefly. The police somehow managed to disrupt the system of sound-truck communications and break the demonstration into two. Semi-chaos reigned. Dr Cairns then lead the majority of marchers northward toward the University of Melbourne where a second rally was held. A clash with the police had been averted because Cairns and the VMC Secretariat aimed to avoid violence under any circumstances. However, many protestors departed the scene with a profound sense of betrayal.[35] University of Melbourne student Kelvin Rowley expressed the bitter resentment that many demonstrators were feeling:

‘Even more than in their speeches, the actions of the organisers revealed their capitulationism. Dr Cairns said that in Melbourne the Moratorium was a success because it was non-violent. The only way this was so was that the police did not attack the Melbourne march because they had its leader to do their work for them. Under the banner of ‘a cooperative attitude to the police’ he allowed them to decide what the demonstration would do. Far from drawing a line between the enemy and the people, the Moratorium put the former in charge. In May it was fair to say that there was a harmony between Dr Cairns and the marchers. This time he exposed himself. One can bet that Dr Cairns will organise no more Moratoriums’. [36]

Police interference also provoked divisions in the Hobart Moratorium. The original plan for the rally was to hold a one-hour occupation of the street outside the Commonwealth Bank building. The organisers were reluctant to obey an order from the Police Commissioner to rally at Franklin Square (rather than the Commonwealth Bank) as there was a right-wing counter demonstration planned for Franklin Square. On 13 September the sponsors’ meeting accepted under protest the march route proposed by police. Radical students in Hobart saw this as a betrayal.[37] It is indeed ironic that in Brisbane, the city where violence was most anticipated, 18 September turned out to be free of conflict. Two thousand students held an unauthorised march from St Lucia campus and on most other occasions such impudence would have spurred a reaction. Water cannons were trundled out, portable gas canisters were issued, and 600 police assembled in the Roma Street Gardens where the rally began, but contrary to expectations the events of the day proceeded peacefully.[38] Such was also the case in Perth where 3,500 marched through city streets, watched by an estimated 50,000 bystanders, before gathering for a large meeting at the Esplanade. [39]

The topic of police violence dominated post-mortem discussions after 18 September. Two Sydney rallies, a hastily-convened gathering of 3,000 people in Sydney’s Hyde Park on 26 September and a demonstration at the NSW State Parliament on 1 October, called for a public inquiry into police violence against Sydney Moratorium demonstrators and the dropping of all charges against the 200 arrested.[40] A Tribune editorial warned ‘the violence which the rulers of our society have used for years in Vietnam is now being used in the streets of Australian capitals to crush the mass movement’.[41] In Adelaide the Dunstan Government moved immediately to hold a Royal Commission into the events of 18 September. This did little to assuage the anger of the demonstrators. A meeting of over 1,000 students at Adelaide University on 22 September emphatically rejected the Royal Commission’s terms of reference. The announcement that the Royal Commission would investigate ‘both sides’ suggested to the demonstrators that the terms of reference were weighted heavily for an investigation of the Moratorium leaders. It seemed that the purpose of the Royal Commission was to transfer responsibility for the violence at the demonstration from the police to the demonstrators. Five hundred students marched in defiance of the State Government edict that information about demonstrations must be given to authorities pending the Commission’s findings. Injury was added to insult when in October an Adelaide Stipendiary Magistrate L.M. Wright prejudged the findings of the Royal Commission by convicting demonstrator Ted Craill for committing a ‘breach of the peace’ (‘an act of force and violence’) during the occupation of the King William Street-North Terrace intersection.

Second Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam, September 1970. Photo by Graham Howe.


‘Stop Capitalist Aggression’. Second Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam, September 1970. Photo by Graham Howe.


‘Stop the War Now’. Second Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam, September 1970. Photo by Graham Howe.


The commemorative events planned for the fiftieth anniversary of the first (May) 1970 Moratorium were abandoned when Australia was attacked by the coronavirus. Even while humanity continues to fight Covid-19 let us who remember the Moratorium press on with the fight to rid the world of the other equally monstrous virus of militarism and nuclear war.

Except where stated otherwise all information for the above article is derived from my ‘Taking to the Streets against the Vietnam War’ – A Timeline History of Australian Protest 1962-1972’. Still the most authoritative and complete history of the September 1970 Moratorium in Australia is the March 1977 Flinders University (S.A) doctoral thesis by Malcolm Saunders – ‘The Vietnam Moratorium Movement in Australia 1969-73’.


Barry York has uploaded his interviews on the Waterdale Rd protest to YouTube. You can see these here:

Part 1: Memories of the Waterdale Road Vietnam protest marches, September 1970 


Part 2: Memories of the Waterdale Road Vietnam protest marches, September 1970 


Part 3: Memories of the Waterdale Road Vietnam protest marches, September 1970 

End Notes

[1] Adelaide’s main Moratorium rally was held on 9 May. The Brisbane rally was 8 May.

[2] In Melbourne some radical leftists interpreted the original 1969 Moratorium initiative as an attempt by the more conservative peace establishment, principally CICD, to recover the ground it had lost over the previous two years. For an assessment of the central role of CICD in the September 1970 Moratorium, see Saunders, ‘The Vietnam Moratorium Movement in Australia 1969-1973’, p. 169.

[3] Iskra, Volume 1, No. 15, 7 September 1970.

[4] John Lloyd of Melbourne CICD was appointed secretary of the National Coordinating Committee. The Committee recommended a four-day national conference on ‘Peace and Independence in Vietnam’ to be held in Canberra (starting Sunday 20 September). It also planned to proceed with the production of a book (Silence Kills) and announced two films on the May Moratorium would soon be available.

[5] 2 September 1970 was also the twenty-fifth anniversary of the foundation of the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. The anniversary was celebrated in Sydney (Jim Healy Hall, 168 Day Street) with the public launching of a fund (‘Vietnam Solidarity Fund’) for unqualified aid to support the Vietnamese national liberation struggle.

[6] Saunders estimated an attendance of 400 at the Richmond Town Hall sponsors’ meeting on 19 July. The sponsors’ meeting had been preceded by a meeting of the Victorian Moratorium executive (Victorian Railways Institute, 22 June) which divided over the issue of parliamentary political action. See Saunders, op. cit, pp. 168-169. The 19 July meeting proposed that the projected international conference (starting 20 September) should be held in Sydney or Melbourne rather than in Canberra.

[7] The ‘Combined Unions Shop Stewards and Delegates’ Moratorium Conference to End the Vietnam War’ was held at the Teachers’ Federation Auditorium (300 Sussex Street) and addressed by Dr Jim Cairns and others. 20,000 leaflets were distributed prior to the conference and 50,000 copies of a leaflet on the theme of ‘Stop Work to Stop the War’ were being issued for industrial use.

[8] It was WSA which first proposed the occupation of city streets on Moratorium Day (8 May 1970). The dominant ‘Maoist’ currents in WSA did not hide their support for violent attacks against the property of American companies in Melbourne.

[9] The demands were: immediate unconditional withdrawal of all U.S imperialist troops and their allies from Indo-China; recognition of Provisional Revolutionary Government as legitimate government of South Vietnam; abolition of all forms of conscription; collection of funds for the NLF of South Vietnam before and during the demonstration; support for national liberation movements.

[10] 91 voted for late afternoon and evening (4.30 pm onwards) Friday 3 July (proceeding to an unstated destination, most likely the U.S Consulate) while 87 voted for a Saturday (4 July) rally in the park near the Consulate followed by a march to the city for leaflet distribution (or reverse order of events and a sit-down).

[11] The ‘July 4’ rally plan was to march to the Pan-American Airways office in Collins Street as a symbol of U.S imperialism. Rally literature would explain the nature of U.S imperialism and the national liberation struggle.

[12] The demonstrators were addressed by Rev. Stanley Moore (Unitarian Church), Jim Bacon (Monash Labor Club), Liz Elliott (Melbourne University student), Con George (Greek migrant), Tim Harding (draft resister), Roger Wilson (Seamen’s Union).

[13] Speakers at the GPO included Dr Moss Cass. A lunch time crowd of several hundred people witnessed the police attack. The (Melbourne) Herald reported the 1 August affray in a manner designed to whip up public feeling against the demonstrators. The only other significant demonstration in Melbourne where police intervened to make arrests prior to September occurred on the morning of Saturday 8 August when thirty people staged a sit-down demonstration on the railway track at Caulfield station, blocking the Gippslander Express for twenty minutes in symbolic support of imprisoned draft resister Brian Ross. Ross had served ten months of a two-year sentence in Sale jail. At the station Max Ogden addressed 150 demonstrators with loud hailer. The protestors included members of Melbourne SDS, Monash New Left Group, Monash Resistance, CPA. The demonstrators later marched along Dandenong Road for a meeting at Prime Minister Gorton’s electoral office and there were three arrests.

[14] Police placed guards on Pan-American Airways, Walton’s Department Store, and other firms. The demonstration was organised by the ‘Independence from America’ Day Committee. As in Melbourne, the anti-war movement in Sydney had been plagued by infighting. Suburban Moratorium groups had continued to be active in June but conflict, principally between ‘Resistance’ and AICD, disrupted central sponsors’ meetings.

[15] Those arrested included Brian Aarons, Alan Outhred, Pat Aarons, Wendy Bacon, Denis Freney, Howard Mulvey.

[16] The rally of 6,000 in Roma Street was followed by a march of 200 workers and students (including members of the Revolutionary Socialist Party and the Worker-Student Alliance) to the Stock Exchange. A worker was hospitalised due to police brutality.

[17] The arrested fourteen were remanded for eight days.

[18] Greenland (MA Honours in History) and Thompson (second-year Arts) were expelled until 1 March 1971. Ross Clarke, Brian Glover and Paddy Dawson (all second-year Arts students) were also punished (‘suspended expulsions’). The occupation was conducted to protest the refusal of the Administration to admit Miss Victoria Lee.

[19] Mass student meetings at Latrobe demanded reinstatement and the revolt escalated. Myers may have been emboldened by the lack of any fierce student action to end the expulsions of Langer (Monash), Greenland and Thompson (Sydney).

[20] Monash New Left Club criticised the occupation as ‘adventurous and bound to obstruct debate on the issues for which the Labor Club occupied the building (which were replaced by issues of discipline)’.

[21] Those jailed were Mike Jones, Michael Hamel-Green, Phillip Tuckerman, Graham Dowling, John Landau, Ian MacDonald. Three judges of the NSW Court of Appeal rejected their appeal against the sentence. A follow-up ‘cricket match’ to ridicule Hughes on 23 August resulted in another nine arrests.

[22] ‘Wilful obstruction of State officers.’ See also Saunders, op. cit, p. 170.

[23] Peter Coleman, Caution! School Power in Australia – Is your child being manipulated by Political Operators?

[24] In August, four students at the Leichhardt school had been caned during Education Week for an alleged trifling offence. Three of them had resigned earlier in 1970 in protest against the ban on Moratorium badges and the suspension of fellow students. Wearing a badge was still a punishable offence after 18 September. A third-form student at Sydney Grammar was caned in October for wearing a Moratorium badge.

[25] In late September Melbourne folksinger Janice Trethowan was sacked by advertising firm Edward H. O’Brien for attending the 18 September Moratorium demonstration.

[26] The Australian, 11 September 1970.

[27] Whitlam wrongly attributed the invitation to Dr Jim Cairns. Cairns shot back at Whitlam: ‘We are not at war with the NLF or North Vietnam. There has been no declaration of war, so no-one can call them enemies.’ The NSW Moratorium Committee protested to Whitlam over his outburst.

[28] Dr Cairns urged the South Australian Government to change its mind.

[29] In October Queensland University student John Geisel revealed in student newspaper National U that Commonwealth Police had attempted to recruit him as a spy to provide information about September Moratorium preparations and other campus activities.

[30] Queensland and Commonwealth police continued to hunt for Mitch Thompson, Dick Shearman, Mark Georgiou and Dave Franken in order to deliver warrants for their arrest. The University itself eventually charged four of the students when the Davies Committee – established to investigate the ‘Quang incident’ – brought down its report on 31 October.

[31] An article in Latrobe University student newspaper Rabelais in August 1970 raised eyebrows when it declared: ‘Only the people can defeat and destroy U.S imperialism. It cannot be done in Parliament by electing Left leaders. Imperialism is a system based on violence for its own survival. If we are to defeat it we too will have to reply to its violence with our violence – people’s revolutionary violence. Demonstrations are a prelude to this activity’.

[32] Saunders claimed (p. 172) the Waterdale Road incident was ‘probably the most blatant and vicious attack by police on a student demonstration ever seen in Australia’. Despite the seriousness of the incident, the demands from many quarters for an open inquiry into the 16 September police riot were not successful. Barry York estimates 70 on the first march (11 September), 400 on the second march (16 September), and 800 on the third peaceful solidarity march. See Barry York, Asserting the right to protest: the Waterdale Road marches (blog post), 11 September 2020.

[33] Later, thousands of young people, still seething with anger at what they had seen, attended a Moratorium pop concert. 3,500 marched on 18 September in Wollongong; 1,500-1,600 marched in Newcastle. 1,000 high school students, and 500 students from Macquarie University, demonstrated. Seven protestors (including Howard Mulvey and Denis Freney) were arrested at a demonstration in Manly attended by 300.

Sydney Moratorium events (as scheduled)

18 September – Wynyard Park rally 2 pm – march and occupation of streets (4.30 pm: sit-down occupation of Park Street – George Street intersection for sixty minutes). March via Hyde Park to Domain. 7 pm rally in Domain.

19 September – 8 pm: ALP Moratorium public meeting Sydney Town Hall – speakers: Whitlam, Cairns, Hawke, Pat Hills, R. Marsh.

[34] A more detailed account of the September Moratorium in Adelaide can be read in Saunders, op. cit, pp. 185-201.

Adelaide Moratorium events (as scheduled)

11 September – Demonstration – assemble Ridley Oval Elizabeth.

Week-long vigil 14-18 September Parliament House.

18 September – Mass rally Elder Park (Rotunda) 1 pm. March and occupation (two hours) in city.

[35] The above account of the 18 September rally in Melbourne has been drawn from the description provided by Saunders (pp. 172-175) although he does not mention the disruption of the system of sound-truck communications. According to Saunders (p. 174) Cairns again had to restrain some of the marchers from turning right at the corner of William and Victoria Streets.

[36] Iskra, Volume 1, No. 18, 30 September 1970.

Melbourne Moratorium events (as scheduled)

18 September – Treasury Gardens rally 2 pm following converging marches beginning 1 pm.

The four converging marches start from St. Kilda Junction, Victoria Parade/Hoddle Street, Festival Hall, Melbourne University.

Combined march – symbolic coffins to be carried (first coffin with names of all Australians killed – second coffin with flags of all forces in the Vietnam war).

Speakers include John Kaputin (Mataungan Association New Guinea). Theme – ‘Stop Work to Stop the War’ (Trade Union Anti-Conscription Committee has thirty-three unions associated).

[37] 2,000 marched and finished at Franklin Square. Speakers were Father Dennis Corrigan, Professor Roebuck (Chairman University Moratorium Committee), Dennis Ryder (Revolutionary Socialist League). 500 secondary students marched. 80 marched in Devonport, 250 marched in Launceston.

Hobart Moratorium events (as scheduled)

18 September – Student march leaves University 12.55 pm, arrives city 1.40 via Collins and Elizabeth streets.

[38] Instead of joining in the rally and forum at the Gardens (as planned) the University contingent continued forward straight along the agreed city route, compelling the largely working-class forum crowd to fall in hastily behind them. High school students therefore arrived 45 minutes late. 4,000 marchers arrived at Roma Street Gardens, ‘led’ by the students, for the second rally. 200 attended a rally in Rockhampton; 400 marched in Townsville.

Brisbane Moratorium events (as scheduled)

14-18 September – People’s Park on University campus.

18 September – Rally and forum Roma Street Gardens 2 pm followed by march through city streets, then further rally at Roma Street Gardens.

[39] Speakers included Kim Beazley (Secretary Guild of Undergraduates University of WA).

Perth Moratorium events (as scheduled)

18 September – Assemble Stirling Street and march through city streets to Esplanade for meeting.

[40] Speakers were Tom Uren, Tas Bull, Laurie Carmichael, Merv Nixon, Eric Early, Professor C. Martin, Kylie Tennant, Rev. Norman Webb, high school student Malcolm Turnbull, Alec Robertson, Mrs C. Sandford. The 1 October rally also protested against moves by the Gorton and Askin Governments to crack down on dissent.

[41] (Editorial) Tribune, 30 September 1970.


1 thought on “The Gloves Come Off – The 1970 Moratorium and the Limits of Tolerance

  1. araneus1 says:

    I was in Melbourne during one of those marches. I was scared. It was an amazing experience and an awesome time to be young (as long as your marble didn’t come up). We got to know Dr Jim, just a bit, in the years that followed.


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