A draft dodging memoir: RIP Bob Hall

Below, with the permission of my good friend Andy Alcock, I post his wonderful short memoir of the draft dodging exploits of Adelaide anti-war activist Bob Hall and his comrades. Bob’s recent death is the occasion and Andy’s brief memoir is in the form of a letter to Bob’s family.

Members of the MUA will read about the old Seamen’s Union unique contribution to Bob’s successful activities.

Hi Chris & Luciana
Thank you very much for your email concerning Bob’s death.
I am very saddened to hear this news as I was hoping to see him again and because he was a good friend
He was a wonderful comrade whose draft resistance in the late 1960s was an inspiration to many in the peace movement And it led to him having many adventures and to him becoming a sailor in the British merchant navy.
One of the highlights of my activities in the peace movement was having an “underground” meeting in 1969 with Bob and several peace supporting VIPs – former senator Jim Cavanagh, Adelaide and Flinders academic Neal Blewett (later to become the MHR for Bonython and health minister in the Australian federal parliament), Ally Fricker and John Healy etc. Former Adelaide Uni economics professor Geoff Harcourt may well have been there as well. The meeting was actually held upstairs in one of those 2 level houses in Queen St Norwood with the lower level 1/2 underground which was rented by Ally Fricker and John Healey – 2 prominent peace activists of the day. Ally is still involved in the anti-uranium movement today. Ironically, I was living next door and our student household was sheltering another draft dodger – Danny Nicholas.
Before this Bob’s partner before his court hearing was Anne McMenamin who is currently still active in the peace and anti-uranium movements. She chained herself to the steps of the SA Parliament House in protest when Bob was arrested. The Adelaide elite was outraged because of these actions.
After a court hearing, Bob, who thought he would receive a prison term of 1 month for failing to attend a medical examination as required for conscripts, discovered he was going to prison for 2 years and a month for total non-compliance. As he reached the door of the courtroom, he told me that he thought to himself “Bugger me! I am not going to accept this!”. He broke free from the Commonwealth Police personnel who were escorting him and managed to escape after a sprint through Adelaide’s streets. 
There was an underground that supported Bob for some months until, with the help of the Seamen’s Union of Australia (SUA), he was able to get out of SA and indeed Australia for 10 years.
Bob called the meeting because he wanted to know if supporters thought he should surrender to the Commonwealth Police or continue to live “underground”. The overwhelming decision was that if Bob felt up to it, he should continue to live on the run to help tie up Commonwealth Police and government resources. He was lucky that he had dual citizenship – British and Australian – and was thus able to spend almost a decade at sea with the British merchant service.
In 1979, about a decade later, after I had worked in Sydney and Malaysia, Cathy Heptinstall (now my wife) and I were shopping in the Adelaide Central Market and bumped into Bob. It was a great reunion and we invited him to visit for a meal. He told us that when he arrived back in Adelaide, he was accosted by ASIO officers at the Adelaide Airport. When they told him that they wanted to speak with him regarding his violation of the National Service Act. His response was to tell them that that particular act had been abolished by Gough Witlam and he advised them to consult a taxidermist (or words to that effect!)
 I knew him first at uni because we both studied Organic Chemistry and I have to admit that he was a much more brilliant student than me.
It was interesting that we both had careers in OH&S – he as an OH&S inspector in Victoria and I was an OH&S coordinator for the SA Education Dept and IH&S officer for 2 unions.
I felt it was a great pity that we did not meet up more often after he returned to Australia, but I always  considered him a hero of the anti war movement in this country and a great supporter for the OH&S of Australian workers.
Goodbye Bob – you were a champion and you will never be forgotten.
My condolences to you Chris and Luciana in your time of grief.
Paz, Amor y Solidaridad

Author: Don Sutherland

I am a retired left wing and labour movement activist. Before that I worked for a long time in the Australian union movement in union education, Australian and international solidarity and organising. I am also active in Cuban solidarity, the SEARCH FOUNDATION, and promoting discussion, debate and action about green socialism based on workers control and social ownership.

2 thoughts on “A draft dodging memoir: RIP Bob Hall”

  1. I shared a house with Bob and Anne and others – including a Labor Premier to be – at one stage. Bob went on to work with the Vietnam Moratorium Campaign protesting for peace in Vietnam while I worked with the more radical ARM (Adelaide Revolutionary Movement) with Rob Durbridge who sadly has also passed away, protesting against what we saw as US Imperialism taking place in Vietnam and around the world. I was the one who actually chained up Anne to the metal railing at Parliament House – I trust sufficient time has elapsed for me not to be charged with something for that – with a chain and lock provided by the Seamen’s Union – maybe the connection with Bob and seafaring. While I was heading towards Parliament House carrying the lock and chain in my bag, a Police Inspector stopped me and asked what was happening today and I said of course: “Nothing much!” I took time off teaching school to do that and when the school, a conservative Catholic College heard about it, they ‘asked’ me to resign or be sacked! I remember Bob studying Teaching and also Biochemistry. Sadly, he didn’t seem to be able to go on with those professions by virtue of him resisting his call up. I was called up too, found to be medically fit for military service despite having foot and back problems and myopia and so went to court to be confirmed as a Conscientious Objector – as a Pacifist which I had been but wasn’t at the time having taken a more radical approach to the causes of the Vietnam War – to escape two years of fighting the Vietnamese people. I have often wondered what had happened to Bob and now understand why I lost track of him. RIP Bob! You did your bit!

    1. Wonderful stuff. This should be shared on to SA Branch of Labour History. Note for Doug Melvin and Allison Murchie.

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