A look back at the protests against the war in Vietnam in the late 1960s and early 1970s.


LEIGH SALES, PRESENTER: A Brisbane film-maker (Larry Zetlin) has interviewed more than 100 people who organised and took part in Vietnam War protests in the late 1960s and '70s. They were some of the largest in Australian history. As Peter McCutcheon reports.

ARCHIVAL FOOTAGE: Whether we like it or not, right at this moment, Australia is at war. (Sound of bombs)

(Music - War (What Is It Good For?), Edwin Starr)

ARCHIVAL FOOTAGE: They will be used to search out and kill the enemy.

(Music - War (What Is It Good For?), Edwin Starr)

PETER MCCUTCHEON, REPORTER: A world away from the jungles of Vietnam, a generation of newly-politicalised youth were taking to the streets of Australia's capital cities to protest against an increasingly unpopular war.

PROTESTERS: One, two, three, four, we don't want war.

LARRY ZETLIN, FILM-MAKER: I was active against the Vietnam War. I was part of that generation.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: Half a century later, filmmaker Larry Zetlin was still fascinated by this radical chapter in Australian history.

He's putting together a documentary, "Hell No, We Won't Go", a labour of love with some help from donations.

LARRY ZETLIN: My generation is getting to the age where we're going to drop off the twig soon and I wanted to record as many of those memories as possible and make it available to all future historians and future film-makers to use.

PROTESTERS: Peace is all we want.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: One of those stories is a former art student, Ken McLeod.

PROTESTER: it gives me great pleasure to introduce from (inaudible) Castle Hill High School.

KEN MCLEOD, CONVENOR OF NSW MORATORIUM: There was an extraordinary sense of anticipation and solidarity, you know, there was a sense of, oh we're all coming together.

PROTESTERS: We don't want war.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: McLeod was the convener of the New South Wales moratorium which organised a 40,000 strong protest march through the streets of Sydney in May 1970.

KEN MCLEOD: There were uncomfortable moments. I mean, there were some sections of the media, for example, that were quite hostile on the day of that moratorium.

The Daily Telegraph came out that morning saying, if you see moratorium, people with moratorium badges, cross over to the other side of the street, don't have anything to do with them.

PETER BEATTIE, FORMER QLD PREMIER: It was a very difficult and emotional time and anyone caught up in that really felt the pressure of it.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: In Brisbane, the anti-Vietnam protests were having a profound effect on a young country lad studying law and facing the prospect of being conscripted into the army.

PETER BEATTIE: I saw what was happening in the moratorium campaign, the moratorium marches, I saw what was happening at the Springbok, That period politicised me.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: In deeply conservative Queensland, with an effective ban on public demonstrations, the clashes with police not only politicised but in some cases radicalised.

DAVID FRANKEN, VIETNAM WAR PROTESTER: We used to spray paint churches. The early hours of Sunday morning with messages for the incoming one Sunday Christians with messages like "Jesus was poor and homeless like us", we did a lot of that.

We spray painted stop signs with "stop the draft."

I see it very, very clearly, very startling as a fence with a gate in it between two paddocks. And on one side of that fence, I'm a child and on this side of the fence I'm an adult. And on that gate is carved the word "Vietnam."

(Archival Footage)

REPORTER: Do you support the moratorium?

VOX POP: I'm here because there's a moratorium going on and I don't believe in it. I want to show my disapproval when it comes by. That's the only reason.

VOX POP 2: One of my mates is shot in Vietnam, mate. You reckon that's funny, do you? Bloody commos sniper doing that to ya.

VOX POP 3: You couldn't see a bigger clown in a circus.

(End of archival footage)

PETER MCCUTCHEON: It was a time not only of youthful idealism, but also social conflict. And after the war, many Vietnam vets felt betrayed.

LARRY ZETLIN: The general feeling amongst the people that I have interviewed, and I have raised this point, is that they hold nothing personally against people who went, the diggers who were sent to Vietnam.

They were victims as much as the other side, the Vietnamese were victims of war.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: But was that made clear at the time, do you think?

LARRY ZETLIN: I'm not sure if it was made clear there, but we're certainly, as a group, now say that diggers were victims.

PROTESTERS: Ho, ho, Ho Chin Ming...

PETER MCCUTCHEON: There were consequences for protesting, people were jailed, students expelled, workers lost their jobs. But most of the people Zetlin spoke to had no regrets.

POLICEMAN: I'm asking you to clear this intersection or face the consequences.

KEN MCLEOD: It is a life-changing experience to become part of a mass movement for change.

It's kind of stepping off the kerb from being a privatised citizen to being a public actor in historical process.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: Zetlin has given the 108 interviews to the Australian War Memorial.

LARRY ZETLIN: Of all the groups and museums that I approached, they were the most enthusiastic.

PETER MCCUTCHEON: Because it sounds counter-intuitive, doesn't it, the War Memorial, anti-war protests.

LARRY ZETLIN: Exactly but they have what they loosely call the Vietnam and peace collection, and that's where it's gone, where all this footage has gone.

PROTESTER: We want to stop this rotten war in Vietnam.

KEN MCLEOD: I think Larry's film is a really important historical document. It's part of our history that's too easily turned into a kind of one-dimensional impression of a very rich and formative period in Australia.

LEIGH SALES: Peter McCutcheon reporting.

Video produced by Australian Broadcasting Corporation's "7:30 Report" broadcast on 18 August 2016