Posted in:

What do We Want?: The Story of Protest in Australia

Protest is nothing  new in Australian society with the most historic occurrence being Eureka Stockade in 1854, where the miners, having had more than enough of the taxes being applied with increasing brutality by the then governing body, decided to protest, to stand up for their rights. Many died, many where injured, but their protest set the precedent in this new country, that all peoples had rights, not just those who happened to be wealthy. This protest changed many things in early Australian politics, life on the goldfields and also in society.

But it was not until the 1960’s, when the Menzies government decided to support American troops in Vietnam, bringing in the infamous National Service Act, requiring all young men turning 20 years of age to register for the ‘Draft’, protest came into its own and by doing so, defined the changing the face of Australia.

Society in Australia was very different, still existing in the shadow of the ‘Old Country’, Britain, massive fear of communism was prevalent, and people in general believed what they were told by the Government.

As the war in Vietnam dragged on people began to question what we were doing there, but it was not until 1963 when  ironically the Eureka Youth Movement, an offshoot of the Communist Party, held the first protest against the Vietnam War.

This then lead on to the youth of Australia realising they had a voice, a voice that could, with the right emphasis, make changes in a society that was perhaps a little bit to apathetic about what were considered by many,  the new issues young people in Australia were facing.

Homosexuality was still considered to be a serious phobia, women had very few rights, indigenous Australians had little or no rights about just about everything, and politics seemed to be stuck in a quagmire of British standards.

In this in-depth look at “What Do We Want”, the war cry of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s in Australia, Clive Hamilton not only takes a reflective look at the past, but also reminds everyone that the rights taken for granted today were once hard fought for, that every inch gained was considered a landmark.

The Vietnam War protests started the avalanche; Germaine Greer picked it up and ran with it. In 1972 an Aboriginal Embassy was established on the grounds of Parliament House in Canberra, protesting about the changes proposed by the McMahon Government to reject a proposal for Aboriginal rights. This protest attracted world-wide attention.

Today we protest about the environment, an issue that concerns all Australians, but the changes in the way protest is carried out is significant. Occasionally, people will gather at a predestined location and march, make a statement, and in extreme cases chain themselves to bulldozers, gates or some other immovable or large object. Some will still lie down on the road in front of vehicles, but mostly it is done throughout the medium of technology. Is protest still as effective as it once was when thousands took to the streets to make a serious point against prejudice, intolerance and equality, demanding Peace, and along the way managed to change politics of the day, changing the face of society in Australia forever; only time will tell.

This work is a colourful celebration of the commitment ordinary people, later to be termed Activists, who turned out to protest for the rights of all. In doing so they made this place called Australia, a a far better place.

Accompanied by a vast range of photographs and newspaper front pages from these turbulent times, ‘What Do We Want’ will return many to a time when they joined thousands of others on the streets of Australia, during an era that saw Australia finally come of age!

Author Clive Hamilton, foreword by Germaine Greer
ISBN 9780642278913
Website http:/
Distributor New South Books
Released National Library of Australia