Australia and the Vietnam War

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Moratoriums and Opposition - public dissent: the draft resisters union

The envelope of Joseph Erftemeyer’s letter to Bob Scates

The envelope of Joseph Erftemeyer’s letter to Bob Scates

In October 1972 Joe Erftemeyer wrote to his friend Bob Scates, at the time imprisoned in Pentridge for failing to register for national service. The letter captures a sense of the times in which it was written with Erftemeyer’s mention of the ‘It’s time’ campaign, Ian Grindlay, the prison’s governor, and the Bjelke-Petersen government in Queensland, then in the fourth year of its 19-year-long rule. Although the tone is light-hearted, Erftemeyer’s letter deals with serious issues.

The Draft Resisters Union, of which both Scates and Erftemeyer were members, was conceived with earnest intent. Membership was open to those who refused to comply with the National Service Act as well as those who intended not to comply and who were willing to sign a statement to that effect. The Union’s aims were the ‘immediate repeal of the National Service Act and the immediate end to Australian support for American imperialism rather than simply the release of particular gaoled objectors.’ (Peter King (ed), Australia’s Vietnam, Australia in the Second Indo-China War, Allen and Unwin, Sydney, 1983, p. 120)

In the early 1970s Erftemeyer, a student at Monash University, was involved in the anti-conscription movement and the moratoriums. Like Scates, he refused to register for national service as a protest both against the system and against being compelled to fight for a cause in which he did not believe. Having both attended court and refused to pay the fine Erftemeyer was gaoled, spending 7 days in Pentridge. He was later classified, against his wishes, as a conscientious objector, a status that he had not sought and which he believed was a device to keep him from being included as another ‘objector’ in the statistics. Ironically, in the late 1970s and early 1980s he worked in the office of Pentridge’s Superintendent.

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View letter written by Joseph Erftemeyer to Bob Scates. [AWM PR88/61]