G17: Hell No! We Won’t Go

The June talk of the 17 Group will be held on Wednesday the 15th of June at 7 pm in Unit 6 at 20 Drury St. in West End. The topic is “Hell No! We Won’t Go. (They Also Served Who Refused To Serve )”. It is an account of the making of a documentary and video archive about the anti-war and anti-conscription movement in Australia in the 1960s and early 1970s.

The speaker will be former ABC cameraman and film-maker Larry Zetlin.

Here is Larry’s summary of the talk:
You may know that I have been working on a project consisting of a documentary as well as a video archive of activists of the anti-war and anti-conscription movement in Australia in the 1960’s and early 1970’s. The project is in two parts:

1. Interview as many of the activists (both men and women) as the donated funds would allow and lodge all the interviews in a reputable archive.

2. Produce a one-hour documentary for Australian television.

Part 1 has been completed. In all 108 interviews were filmed on high quality, state of the art, video and audio using HD cameras.

Interviews were conducted in Brisbane, Newcastle, Sydney, Wollongong, Canberra, Melbourne and Perth over a period of 18 months or so. Adelaide has not been covered due to lack of funds.

All the interviews are now archived at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra under the “Peace and Vietnam Collection.” These valuable resource will be open to historians and film makers in future.

Part 2 is proceeding slowly due to a lack of interest by both the ABC and SBS (which I consider to be a natural home for such a doco); my lack of time, and importantly lack of the large amount of money required to by the rights to use video and music of that period, such as clips of Bob Dylan, Country Joe and the Fish, Pete Seeger and so on.

A presale by the ABC is normally worth around $170,000 – more than enough to purchase the licences required however after several attempts to get the ABC to buy the doco, only to be told that “the ABC is only interested in strong contemporary Australian stories,”

I have given up hope to secure a presale although an ABC acquisition is still a strong possibility however an acquisition is only worth around $30,000 – if that!

The purpose of my talk at the 17 Group on the 15th of June will not be an analysis of the radical movement of that period and the subsequent roles that these activists played in Australia’s body politic but to discuss the actual process of independently funded documentary making in Australia in the absence of support that would normally been available from our national public broadcaster(s).

Much to every person’s amusement (I hope!) I will show extracts of various interviews, concentrating on current Queensland residents, including an interview with Comrade O’Neill and other warts-and-all insights!

Biographical notes on the speaker:
Larry Zetlin studied Arts/Journalism at U of Q in the 1960’s before leaving for London in 1968 to study at the London Film School for 2 years.

Like many students of that era Larry was active in the anti-war and anti-conscription movement of the 1960’s and early ‘70’s.

In London he was a founding member of Cinema Action (ref:http://www.screenonline.org.uk/people/id/529319/) but left the UK to return to Australia in 1972.

Larry was a cameraman with the ABC Brisbane for 12 years and later specialised in wildlife cinematography.

He established Gulliver Media Australia in 1982 – an independent Australian film company synonymous with excellence in all aspects of documentary production.

In that time Larry has produced numerous successful television documentaries that have won many international Awards and has personally won the prestigious Screen Producers of Australia (SPA) Award for top Australian documentary Producer.

Gulliver Media has been working in and with Chinese broadcasters since 1987.

Gulliver Media’s expertise is in the area of Science, Natural History and Wildlife filmmaking. The most recent titles produced by Gulliver have been “Lost Years – a Sea Turtle Odyssey,” and “The Worm Hunters. These documentaries have won over 15 international awards and prizes.

Larry travels to China frequently developing new documentary projects and is always open to meeting new coproduction partners in China.

Currently his long-term project is a TV documentary about the anti-conscription and anti-Vietnam war movement that is totally funded by donations from activists and supporters.

The aim of the project, besides making the TV film, is to record in high definition video, as many of the former activists, men and women, as the budget can stand. To date 110 people have been interviewed in Brisbane, Newcastle, Sydney, Wollongong, Canberra, Melbourne and Perth. All the interviews have been lodged with the Australian War Memorial in Canberra, in the Peace and Vietnam Collection, for historians and filmmakers to use.

The AWM will eventually make all the unedited interviews available on their website free of charge.

Leon professes to remember Comrade Zetlin as a former devotee, and sharer of many of his views, but admits that he hasn’t followed his subsequent development too closely. When we asked him for his wisdom about the issues of this talk he looked a bit shifty and then said, with a hint of truculence, that we should of course need to make historical discriminations between the European bourgeoisie during the Russian Civil War and the second World War on the one hand and its American and Australian counterparts during the Vietnam War on the other. Especially when we ironically quoted back at him his support for conscription in those former unhappy times:

The number of volunteers to join the Red Army was also insufficient. By April 1918 the Red Army numbered nearly 200,000 men, drawn practically only from the urban proletariat. [10]

On 22 April 1918, at the all-Russian central executive committee of the soviets, Trotsky moved a Decree on Compulsory Military Training. This established compulsory military training for all workers and for peasants who did not employ hired labour. The training was to be for twelve hours a week for eight weeks a year.[11] A month later, on 29 May, the central executive committee decreed the first step towards compulsory service in the Red Army in the Moscow, Petrograd, and the Don and Kuban areas. [12] Then on 12 June Sovnarkom decreed the mobilisation of the workers and poor peasants in the Pri-Volga, Urals and Siberian military districts, those immediately threatened by armed anti-Bolsheviks. [13]

By July the size of the Red Army had grown to 725,383. [14] Only when the proletarian corps of the army had been established was the mass conscription of poor and middle peasants begun. Thus by the end of 1919 the Red Army was three million strong. [15]


July 9, 1940,

Dear Comrade Al,

I believe that we agree with you on all the points of a principled character as they are formulated in your letter of July 6…

…We are absolutely in favor of compulsory military training and in the same way for conscription. Conscription? Yes. By the bourgeois state? No. We cannot entrust this work, as any other, to the state of the exploiters. In our propaganda and agitation we must very strongly differentiate these two questions. That is, not to fight against the necessity of the workers being good soldiers and of building up an army based on discipline, science, strong bodies and so on, including conscription, but against the capitalist state which abuses the army for the advantage of the exploiting class. In your paragraph four you say: “Once conscription is made into law, we cease to struggle against it but continue our struggle for military training under workers’ control, etc.” I would prefer to say: “Once conscription is made into law we, without ceasing to struggle against the capitalist state, concentrate our struggle for military training and so on.”… We can’t oppose compulsory military training by the bourgeois state just as we can’t oppose compulsory education by the bourgeois state. Military training in our eyes is a part of education. We must struggle against the bourgeois state; its abuses in this field as in others…



Leon naturally wanted to know whether those who refused to register had struggled like him simultaneously “against the bourgeois state”. We suggested he should come along and cross-question those of you who had had in your time a different view of conscription from him in his two times. Will this daring challenge draw him out of his posthumous reclusiveness ? Only those who come will know. So be among them.

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