Australia was first involved in Vietnam’s long-running civil war in 1962. It would become the longest running conflict that Australia was involved with (although it’s just nudged from the top spot by the Iraq and Afghanistan wars).

In 1964, a National Service Scheme was introduced to Australia. Under this scheme, 20-year old men were required to register for services. Registered men who had their names drawn randomly from a ballot were conscripted into the armed forces. Many of these conscripted men served in Vietnam.

Union of Australian Women in the May Day parade protest the war in Vietnam, Sydney, New South Wales, 1965 (nla.pic-vn4395009, NLA)
Union of Australian Women in the May Day parade protest the war in Vietnam, Sydney, New South Wales, 1965 (nla.pic-vn4395009, NLA)

Although the Vietnam War was initially supported by the wider community in Australia, disaffection towards it began to grow in the late 1960s. There were a number of reasons for this: the war was televised which meant that people could see the day-today combat in the comfort of their lounge rooms. And for the first time, soldiers killed in action were repatriated home for burial, rather than being buried on foreign soil.

The public showed its dissent through street marches and protests, and later with the Moratorium movement. These large-scale street protests attracted up to 20 thousand people in the streets of Sydney.

Vietnam Moratorium Campaign - street poetry reading (nla.pic-an7720401-1, NLA)
Vietnam Moratorium Campaign – street poetry reading (nla.pic-an7720401-1, NLA)

One of the notable features of the anti-war movement was that it was supported by a cross-section of the society, across gender, age and class.

In 1972, Australian troops were finally withdrawn from Vietnam. But the links between Australia and Vietnam didn’t end with the end of the war.

In 1975, with the fall of Saigon, large numbers of Vietnamese people fled overseas. Many settled and made lives in Sydney, in outer suburban areas like Marrickville and Cabramatta. Today, Vietnamese people are one of the most popular migrant groups in Australia.

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