Grim and terrible though it must have been in Vietnam and Cambodia last Friday, it was a gay day in Sydney.
As if for a festival, we dressed for the occasion. Some donned badges for the first time, carried flags as much for the way they looked as for their symbolic value - wished we had made more and of many colours. A purple scarf, a fur coat, laced up knee -high boots marked this day off from others.
The march from Taylor Square was not without its' 'incidents' as the press puts it. The cops arrested Gordon Badham for 'obstruction' and 'resisting arrest' - he received a kick in the head and awoke to find himself being dragged towards a police station, and Brian Aarons for using insulting words. Anticipating, like the rest of us, the day's activities, what a sudden flatness they must have felt in their cells.
Few noticed their disappearance. Attention was directed rather at the office workers who, stopping 'business as usual', peered down from on high-'out of the offices and into the streets,' we called, but received nothing but the occasional 'V' sign. Shoppers lined the streets - but none to pay homage.
'Have a look at yourself, you're part of that mob' spat a woman at a girl who offered her a Tharunka. The girl said nothing, giggled, and dropped the paper at her feet.
Our brigade swayed into Park Street, headed by eight red and black flags - an embarrassment to at least one marshal, but Friday was no day for a hassle. There was a feeling of elation as we converged on the Town Hall - a gladdness that so many others thought and felt the same way about the war as we did - a gladness based on an illusion perhaps, but the feeling was real enough. We greeted friends - so happy that you could come. Stretched to see how big we were, then, - we were seated.
And the speeches began ... never has Sydney seen such a fine array of Left Wing activists - influential people, all. Only Dunstan nearly let the side down by saying 'fuck' twice - right at the end of his speech.
Was it that there was less bullshit than usual, or was it just that the spectators (they could scarcely be called demonstrators any longer) were in a tolerant mood? Clancy stretched the point a little with his 'the whole Trade Union Movement is opposed to the war ... there are some sections of the Trade movement who do not yet share our views ... but all real trade unionists oppose the war'. The audience smiled and clapped as their leaders performed. More passive were the stiff faced policemen who divided the front ranks from those at the back. Hall Greenland led us in some slogan chanting (reminiscent, mumbled some, of Nuremburg, of Billy Graham) The pressures to unite in activity (or was it just to conform to the demands of those on the platform) were great. Only when it came to singing did the usual Australian reticence prevail.
The only speaker with whom the audience would not cooperate was the Communist who supported the N.L.F. He was shouted off the stage, rejected by both middle class qualms and student anti- authoritarianism.
The show slowed down towards its end - but most stayed doggedly on, determined to stop 'business as usual' - which they did.
Then it was all over. The carnival-like atmosphere of earlier had been dampened. We had chosen speeches, where we could have had more songs, poems and dancing - to say nothing of the Zabriskie point fantasies of Woolworth bonfires. But none of this was to be (No doubt, frivolity of that sort would have offended many by its 'inappropriateness'.)
In orderly fashion, down Park Street to Hyde Park, singing John Lennon's peace song. We marched in support of Christians who had been refused a permit to hold their vigil in the park.
Students carrying anarchist flags and others mounted the Memorial steps. Then police intervened: 'Get down off there, you anarchists, do what the policeman tells you,' said a demonstrator. The Townhall solidarity feeling ebbed a little.
Generally the sweetness of the police could not be denied. If they or their bosses were always as restrained, as uninterfering, perhaps there would be no violence at demonstrations.
Meanwhile other students had set off for the U.S Embassy. The cops, who had been so 'reasonable' changed face somewhat. The procession, which made its way down Hunter Street, was like a funeral cortege - several hundred students followed by a dozen or more vans, open and ready for loading. A few scuffles, and a van surrounded. But most of the students had no stomach for battle - resistance, when so outnumbered seemed certain to end in an arrest or a beating. The cops readily outwitted the students, dividing them into even smaller groups. One cop spent minutes explaining to one group who wanted to cross the road to join some others, that while he agreed with their cause, the law must not be broken. Was he using delaying tactics or did he really mean it? (The other cops certainly looked at him with suspicion) Nobody knew - or cared by that stage. Most had already drifted away in disgust. So off to the Newcastle, which was even more packed than usual. Here, some of the elation of earlier in the day returned. Two police vans watched over us while we drank. Should we thank them, in Sunday Telegraph style, for letting us have such a nice drink?
While Nixon is shit scared, Gorton can breathe a sigh of relief. In terms of numbers, and even in terms of its slogan 'suspend business as normal', the Moratorium was a success, but it scarcely presented a threat to the status quo. The more enterprising members of the Government might even consider it as a technique for a seasonal draining of the pent-up emotions of critics.
in Tharunka, 14 May, 1970