Primary Sources 50 stories from 50 years of the Archives

'Hello! This is Radio Resistance'

For three days and nights in September 1971, Union House at the University of Melbourne played host to a pirate radio station and four draft resisters on the run from the law.

By late 1971 Australia had begun the withdrawal of its forces from Vietnam, but the call-up of conscripts was continuing and opposition to conscription was radicalising. The Draft Resisters Union (DRU) was formed to promote active resistance to the National Service Act, in contrast to an earlier focus on passive noncompliance.

Radio Resistance 3DR was set up in Union House on 27 September and a 24-hour occupation protected it and the DRU members. Hundreds of students joined the occupations and an onair game of cat-and-mouse began with the postmaster general, as Radio Resistance broadcast before being jammed or breaking down.

An elaborate warning system and increasingly efficient barricades were built over the first three nights. At 5 o'clock on the morning of 30 September, 150 police stormed the building. In response, fog horns and flare guns brought student reinforcements from the colleges.

The barricades proved effective enough for the draft resisters and the transmitter to be hidden during the rough going-over that Union House received that night. The Melbourne University Resistance Commune, as it was named by some participants, had succeeded, at least in its aims of embarrassing the police and keeping the draft resisters from arrest. The message from the DRU was that 'Radio Resistance lives and will begin broadcasting again shortly after the exams'.

Downdraft and Catch-22 are two examples of the student broadsheets that proliferated on university campuses during the late 1960s and 1970s. Tens of titles were produced every week, representing the full range of student groups. They give a flavour of the debates that raged and the shifting loyalties and alliances of the day.

Many of the records of the student movements of the era can be found in the official records of the University Administration, indicating that the mischief of student radicals was once a chronic headache for the Administration.

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