- Save Our Sons: Women, Dissent and Conscription during the Vietnam War, by Carolyn Collins. Monash University Publishing, $34.95.
Long overdue, this absorbing account of women in the peace movement in Australia from 1965 to 1973 introduces readers to a remarkable collection of determined, dedicated, smart women. It also sets up a fascinating conundrum: did the women coming together under the banner of "Save Our Sons" "have a profound effect on the society at that time", or were they "just a case of ill-informed mothers being overly protective"?
The book needed an editor. There is too much repetition and too many simple errors. National Service registrants' liability to serve in the Army was determined by the "lottery of death" based on a selection of days of the month, drawn in a lottery. This was not a "wire bingo barrel" but, bizarrely, the casket used by the Tattersalls gambling group to select lottery winners. On the same page it was not the "National Services Act" (a usage common in the first part of the book) but the National Service Act.
But this should not put potential readers off. This is an important book in women's history and the story of Australia. Carolyn Collins cleverly shows the reader the development of the various groups coalescing under the SOS banner around Australia.
At first, the women were determined to turn out very well-presented, hats, gloves, sensible shoes, neat and tidy. They determined also that they would stay well within the observance of the law. They were not protesting about the government's decision to send Australians to fight in Vietnam. They were protesting against the government's decision to introduce conscription for (some) eligible young Australian males, and the later decision to send these conscripts to the war.
The groups favoured the "silent vigil" where women with SOS sashes stood, accusingly but silently, in testimony to their strong belief that conscription was evil. They also picketed outside army establishments when conscripts arrived to begin their service. SOS women wrote and published leaflets, spoke at rallies, sang at concerts and rallies.
The strength of Save Our Sons is to observe how these genteel women morphed into full-on protestors, standing in company with long-haired student "ratbags", breaking the law, when they deemed it necessary, and heading to jail when the state reached the end of its tolerance. Collins argues that SOS shaped the existence and the strength of the moratorium movement.
Writing of "one of the earliest and longest surviving conscription groups" in Australia Carolyn Collins has rescued them from obscurity and, with restraint, celebrates their achievement.