‘Taking to the Streets against the Vietnam War’: A Timeline History of Australian Protest 1962-1972 –– 1968


January – Vietnam Action Campaign (VAC) and Sydney University Labour Club establish Third World Bookshop and off-campus youth centre ‘Resistance’ at 35 Goulburn Street

January 17 – Prime Minister Gorton holds press conference and echoes Lyndon Johnson – ‘It is only reasonable to stop the bombing of North Vietnam if the North stops sending troops and supplies to the South’

January 30 – National Liberation Front (NLF) in South Vietnam launches sweeping nation-wide offensive – the ‘Tet Offensive’. U.S bases all over South Vietnam are under attack and many are ablaze. The credibility of the U.S (and Australian) Vietnam policy is shattered. The established anti-war movement in Australia is forced to debate support for NLF. The movement is revitalised by ‘Tet’ and its consequences

January – Monash Labor Club members Michael Hyde and Peter Price personally hand over $500 collected at Monash University to the NLF Consulate in Phnom Penh

January – Monash students re-assert their right to send aid to the NLF and risk prosecution under the Defence Forces Protection Act by posting money orders to Doctor’s Committee in London

January – Draft Resistance Movement (DRM) is formed in Melbourne ‘not to oppose conscription, but to wreck it by all available means’

February 1 – Cold-blooded murder in a Saigon street as General Nguyen Ngoc Loan (police head) shoots alleged officer of NLF armed forces. The gruesome photo of the shooting soon becomes world-famous

February 8 – Draft Resistance Movement holds confrontational protest at Swan Street Army Barracks conscript intake. Margaret Files, Dave Clark, Roy Lacey, Adrian Desailly padlock themselves to main entrance gateway

February 13 – Draft Resistance Movement holds demonstration at Caulfield Town Hall where Prime Minister Gorton delivers his policy speech for Higgins bi-election. Plain-clothes police direct uniformed men to arrest people. Detectives call at home of DRM President Des Files with aim of intimidating him and extorting information he is not required to give by law

February 18 – 131 Australians have now been killed in Vietnam, the majority of them conscripts

February – U.S forces in South Vietnam bomb ancient city of Hue in order to regain control from NLF

February – General Westmoreland in South Vietnam requests 100,000 or 200,000 more troops

February – ‘LBJ’ tours Dallas and exclaims ‘No American President ever lost a war and I’ll be damned if I’ll be the first’

March 3 – 400 young people attend opening Sunday night of FOCO youth club organised by SDA and YSL at Brisbane Trades Hall

March 8 – DRM President Des Files receives 7.00 am visit from two CIB men who make ham-fisted attempt to entrap him into making seditious statement under Crimes Act

March – Disclosure that an Australian Army officer had personally tortured a teenage Vietnamese woman shocks the nation. Army Command and former Army Minister Fraser appear to have kept a lid on a blatant violation of Geneva Agreement covering prisoners of war – for eighteen months

March – CPA in Perth distributes leaflet quoting the extraordinary statement made by major in U.S army – ‘It became necessary to destroy the town to save it’

March – Australian Council of Churches (ACC) meeting in Sydney calls for sweeping liberalisation of National Service Act in keeping with UN Declaration of Human Rights

March – Famous U.S child doctor and anti-war activist Dr Benjamin Spock charged with ‘conspiracy’ (with four others) to aid youth resisting the draft in U.S

March – After a thirty-month fight through the Courts to be recognised as a conscientious objector Sydney journalist Simon Townsend has been officially called up by the Army

March – Radical students at the University of Adelaide break from the established campus clubs and form Students for Democratic Action (SDA)

March 16 – My Lai massacre of 400-500 Vietnamese civilians in U.S ‘Tet’ counter-offensive (the massacre does not become public knowledge until late in 1969)

March – Gorton Government decides to drop planned inquiry into water torture of Vietnamese woman by Australian warrant officer

March – General Westmoreland’s request for 200,000 more troops is rejected by President Johnson and he is removed from overall U.S command in Vietnam

March 29 – Fifty people demonstrate outside Watsonia Army camp against court-martial of conscientious objector Denis O’Donnell

March 31 – Lyndon Johnson declares his withdrawal from U.S presidential race. He raises the possibility of peace talks and will curtail bombing of North. The Gorton Government is not informed in advance of U.S decision to de-escalate

April 4 – Dr Martin Luther King assassinated by sniper’s bullet in Memphis Tennessee. Nation-wide upsurge in black struggle begins

April 4 – Conor Cruise O’Brien and Felix Greene arrive in Australia to address audiences on Vietnam war

April 5 – Central Committee of Communist Party of Czechoslovakia adopts action program of ‘radical democratic’ reforms along lines recommended by recently elected First Secretary Alexander Dubcek. The ‘Prague Spring’ begins

April – Young people assemble in Melbourne CBD to talk to passers-by about Vietnam. They wear saucer-shaped cardboard label – ‘I am against the Vietnam war. I would like to talk to you if you would like to talk to me’

April 11 – ‘Mock Crucifixion’ at Monash University. An innocuous event in the long tradition of student pranks sparks a furore when it is reported in Melbourne’s Truth newspaper. The incident turns out to be the spark that starts a prairie fire – ‘student power’

April 15 – ‘Week of Shame’ protests commence in Melbourne against Vietnam war

April 17 – University students march through Melbourne CBD streets from University to GPO in lunch-hour for vigil in sympathy with conscientious objector Denis O’Donnell at present in Holsworthy Military Prison

April 26 – Twenty people arrested after Friday sit-in demonstration in support of Denis O’Donnell at Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices in Melbourne

May 10 – ‘Night of the barricades’ in Paris – France explodes in revolt

May 10-11 – Hundreds of students injured in Paris street battles as Gaullist regime strikes back. The May-June upheavals in Paris have their immediate origin in anti-Vietnam war demonstrations by students from the Sorbonne annexe at Nanterre

May 13 – Three buses carry 120 high school students on peace ride from Sydney to Canberra

May 15-16 – Leaders from thirty-five unions attend ‘National Trade Union Lobby Day for Peace’ in Canberra organised by AICD Trade Union Committee in Sydney

May 15 – Conscientious objector Simon Townsend is taken into Army custody after special Federal Court hearing in Sydney

May 16 – Australian casualty figures in Vietnam – 189 killed in action, 828 wounded

May – Bolte Government in Victoria takes advantage of ‘Mock Crucifixion’ of April 11 to threaten takeover of Monash by State government and crack down on students with police action. A press report of proposed new ‘draft discipline statute’ suggests Monash University is considering punishing students for acts of misconduct outside the University

May 16 – The student body at Monash University in Clayton springs into action in rebellious response to proposed Draft Discipline Statute. A mass general meeting of over 2000 students votes for a sit-in inside Administration building. It is the first of many sit-ins at Monash. The Campaign for University Freedom (CUF) forms and rallies are held daily

May – Amendments to National Service Act (the ‘National Service Act Amendments Bill’) are introduced into Parliament by the Gorton Government. The legislation gives the government the power to demand from a parent (or other person or organisation) disclosure of information to assist in prosecuting those suspected of avoiding the military call-up. The draconian legislation – before long dubbed the ‘pimping provisions’ – is met immediately by widespread community opposition

May 19 – Nationally-coordinated demonstrations are held in Sydney, Melbourne, Canberra as part of National Mobilisation against Conscription and Vietnam war’ prompted by the incarceration of conscientious objector Denis O’Donnell in Holsworthy military prison. In Canberra sixty-nine protestors are arrested for sitting down and blocking road in front of Prime Minister’s Lodge

May – Court-martial at Victoria Barracks Sydney finds Simon Townsend guilty of disobeying military order. He is sentenced to 28 days in Holsworthy military prison

May 29 – Bowing to pressure, Gorton Government decides to omit Clause 22 from the National Service Act Amendments Bill. ‘Clause 22’ compelled ‘educational institutions’ to give details of potential National Service trainees to Department of Labour and National Service

May 31 – 1000 people attend Friday evening poster parade for Simon Townsend outside Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices Martin Place. Townsend has been in solitary confinement and subjected to ‘refined’ psychological torture

June 5 – Robert Kennedy assassinated in Los Angeles

June 7-10 – Victorian State Conference of ALP carries motion moved by Dr J. F. Cairns and calling for ‘a reassessment of Australia’s relations with America.’ The conference narrowly rejects amendment proposed by Sam Goldbloom for an independent foreign policy position of ‘non-alignment’

June – Trade unions revolt against treatment of Simon Townsend in Holsworthy. Seamen in Melbourne hold up sailing of container vessel MV Kooringa for ninety minutes and delay departure of Princess of Tasmania by 75 minutes

June 10 – Protest march from Liverpool station to Ingleburn (NSW) military camp where Simon Townsend is now held

June – Desmond Phillipson is now at Army training centre Kapooka NSW. Denis O’Donnell is now cook at jungle training centre Canungra Queensland. Phillipson’s parents charge that their son has been psychologically abused in Holsworthy

June 13 – Huge meeting of 3000 students at Monash University hears Vice-Chancellor Dr L. Mathieson attempt to justify a new disciplinary code seeking to empower the administration to punish students for off-campus activities

June 14 – Simon Townsend wins his long battle for military exemption as a conscientious objector

June – Vietnam Coordinating Committee (VCC) in Melbourne plans July 4 ‘day of protest’ – slogans ‘Independence for all nations’ and ‘Vietnam independence 1968’

June 21 – Dr Jim Cairns issues invitation to a discussion at his Hawthorn home on the subject of ‘current student protest movement’

June 21 – Sydney University Labour Club member John Percy publishes pamphlet How Not to Join the Army and is given the sanctuary of Sydney University campus. Commonwealth Police raid combined Goulburn Street premises of Third World Bookshop, ‘Resistance’ youth organisation and Vietnam Action Committee

June 24 Ubique Underground appears at University High School in Melbourne. It is the first of many ‘illegal’ ‘underground’ news sheets produced by high school students across Melbourne

July 2 – Commonwealth and State police charge in military-type formation against students who are sitting down in Martin Place to protest Vietnam war and conscription. NSW District of Australian Journalists Association considers legal proceedings against certain police and Askin State government

July 4 – The violence of Melbourne’s 1968 ‘July 4’ demonstration outside the U.S Consulate makes the Sydney July 2 police crackdown look like a garden party. The cutting of U.S flag from mast sparks free-for-all as demonstrators express unbridled rage and smash windows of Consulate with rocks. Police gallop their horses into crowd and resort to use of batons. It is the most violent Australian protest within living memory. Fifteen participants are charged with ‘riot’

July – ‘High School Students Against the War in Vietnam’ (HSSAWV) associated with Vietnam Action Campaign (VAC) at 35 Goulburn Street Sydney prints 20,000 copies of first issue of Student Underground covering eighty schools

July – Melbourne University anti-war activists split from Melbourne University Labour Club in frustration at the Club’s lack of action and establish Centre for Democratic Action (CDA) at 57 Palmerston Street Carlton

July – Melbourne University pacifists Michael Hamel-Green and Frances Newell both go to jail for five days in early July rather than pay fines arising from May 19 Canberra ‘Lodge’ demonstration

July – Victorian government lays charges under ancient law of ‘riotous assembly’ (punishable by jail terms of up to 25 years) against fifteen alleged participants in July 4 demonstration outside U.S Consulate. Melbourne University student Harry Van Moorst issues strong statement – ‘maybe we shouldn’t smash windows but what the hell is this compared with the napalming of children or the defoliation of crops’

July 24Sydney Morning Herald reveals NSW Premier Askin telling U.S Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Sydney he had told a policeman ‘ride over the bastards’ when demonstrators had thrown themselves down in Liverpool Street to block LBJ motorcade in 1966

July 30 – Thirteen people out of fifteen before Prahran Court are freed from facing judge and jury on indictable offences (‘riotous assembly’) arising from July 4 demonstration. Magistrate L. Froude commits 19-year-old Albert Langer to stand trial before judge and jury on charge of ‘riotous assembly’ and commits waterside worker Dave Rubin to stand trial before judge and jury on a wounding charge

August 2 – Students at Sydney University detect two Special Branch detectives (Special Branch chief Fred Longbottom and Det. Sgt R. Farmer) tape recording a campus meeting from a distance. The students surround the car, let down the tyres, and imprison the detectives for two hours in their own Mini. 2000 students barricade campus roads to prevent ten police wagons from reaching the Mini

August 2-4 – Anti-war movement in Brisbane holds conference for ending Vietnam war supported by forty organisations including Queensland Trades and Labour Council

August – Students in Dissent (SID) formed as a network of radical young secondary students in Melbourne high schools. SID’s news sheet is Tabloid Underground

August 22 – CPA newspaper Tribune prints special four-page edition strongly protesting against occupation of Czechoslovakia by armies of Warsaw Pact

August 24 – Anti-war activists based at Centre for Democratic Action (57 Palmerston Street Carlton) form Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and Secondary Students for Democratic Action (SSDA)

August 28 – Chicago Mayor Richard Daley unleashes brutal police onslaught on peaceful (mainly youthful) anti-war demonstrators outside Democratic Party convention

September 23 – Four non-compliers with National Service Act (Sean Foley, Len Truscott, Graham Mowbray, Robert Mowbray) appear in Special Federal Court in Sydney on charges of failing to register

October 11 – Demonstration outside Fitzroy Town Hall premises of Special Branch (political police) after Government admits the premises are used to store files on dissenters

October 16 – Annual Conference of Methodist Church of Victoria and Tasmania passes resolution calling for repeal of the National Service Act in its entirety

October 16 – 21-year-old Pascoe Vale postman John Francis Zarb is sentenced to two years in Melbourne’s Pentridge Gaol for failing to comply with a call-up notice under the amended National Service Act. He has studied the Vietnam war and cannot in conscience take part in it. The law however still does not recognise objection to a particular war. Zarb is the first conscientious objector to the National Service Act to be gaoled in a civilian prison. The Zarb sentence sparks an immediate outcry from the entire anti-war movement. Sales of white paint skyrocket as night patrols prepare to paint the town with ‘Free Zarb’

October 19 – Melbourne City Council officers take the names of six members of Young Socialist League who hand out leaflets on Saturday morning opposing the National Service Act and offering to help those who refuse to register

October 22 – High school students in Melbourne demonstrate in City Square for freedom of expression and against the suspension of Melbourne High student Michael Eidelson

October 25 – Mass demonstration in St. Kilda Road outside offices of Australian subsidiary of Dow Chemical Company of U.S (makers of napalm). An effigy is burned and Fire Brigade rushes to douse it. The charred effigy is lifted onto coffin and carried off by four clergymen

October 25 – Youth-based ‘October 25 Committee’ holds demonstration in Brisbane’s Queens Park. Hundreds of uniformed and plainclothes police make 44 arrests

October 27 – 100,000 people march through London to Trafalgar Square in Britain’s largest ever demonstration against the Vietnam war

November 1 – Washington abandons the bombing of North Vietnam to clear the way for talks on the Vietnam war

November 6 – Reconstituted peace talks begin in Paris and most importantly involve a delegation representing the National Liberation Front (NLF) of South Vietnam. The NLF delegation is led by a woman – Mme. Nguyen Thi Binh

November 10 – Demonstration of 1000 people outside Pentridge Jail in support of John Zarb

November – ‘Campaign for Conscience on Conscription’ launched by fourteen trade union officials in Victoria aims at establishing the right to object to a particular war (Vietnam)

November – Richard Nixon campaigns on promise to end the war and defeats Hubert Humphrey in U.S Presidential Election

November 25 – Fifty trade union officials and others demonstrate outside High Court Building in Sydney in support of John Zarb whose appeal is being heard in the court

November 25 – Conscientious objector Laurie Carmichael junior appears in Melbourne City Court and pleads not guilty to charge of refusing to register for ‘National Service’. ‘Campaign for Conscience on Conscription’ (now backed by representatives of twenty-five unions) holds demonstration at High Court building (for Zarb) and at City Court (for Carmichael). A conference on ‘conscience and conscription’ commences in Trades Hall Council chamber attended by 300 credentialed delegates

November 25 – Monash University student Jill Jolliffe and her partner Ron Lawson open Alice’s Restaurant Bookshop in Greville Street Prahran

November 27 – Monash Labor Club members hold general meeting at Alice’s Restaurant Bookshop and serendipitously notice two doors away an old empty Bakery shop

December – Conscientious objector Maxwell John Beddow, a miner from Liston (NSW), is sentenced to two years jail for not complying with call-up notice

December – The trial of Albert Langer and Dave Rubin over charges arising from 1968 July 4 demonstration in Melbourne is abandoned due to police interference with jury member in corridor of law courts

December 28-29 – National SDS/Draft Resistance Conference at 57 Palmerston Street Carlton lays the groundwork for intensive national campaign urging young men to ‘refuse to register’, an initiative pioneered earlier in 1968 by the YSL in Melbourne


Zarb graffito painted Glenferrie October 1968, photographed 1981


Kerry Miller and Albert Langer. Photo by Darce Cassidy.


Download the full timeline here, or click through below for a year-by-year timeline (with pictures) of this momentous period.


‘Taking to the Streets against the Vietnam War’: A Timeline History of Australian Protest 1962-1972
















Citation: Ken Mansell, ‘Taking to the Streets against the Vietnam War’: A Timeline History of Australian Protest 1962-1972, Labour History Melbourne (8 May 2020).

©Ken Mansell