Don’t register for national service


Donated by John Ellis

Museum of Australian Democracy collection

In November 1964 Prime Minister Robert Menzies announced his government’s decision to introduce a compulsory selective National Service scheme. The scheme required twenty-year-old men to register with the Department of Labour and National Service and, if selected, to serve in the regular Army for two years of full-time continuous service (reduced to eighteen months in 1971), followed by three years part-time service in the Army Reserves. Selection was by means of a biannual ‘birthday ballot’ in which men were randomly selected by their date of birth. The ballot was conducted using a lottery barrel and marbles representing birth dates.

In May 1965 the Defence Act was amended to enable the government to send conscripts to serve overseas and in March 1966 Prime Minister Harold Holt announced that National Servicemen would be sent to Vietnam. Between 1965 and 1972 more than 15,000 National Servicemen fought in the Vietnam War, and 200 were killed.

From 1966 public opposition to conscription and to Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War intensified. In 1973 the newly-elected Whitlam Labor government amended the National Service Act to abolish conscription.

The donor of this badge, John Ellis, writes:

I wore this badge to anti-war demonstrations and also on a regular basis to work and other events during the 1960s and 1970s at the time of the Vietnam War. I wore [it] as a token of my opposition to sending young men away to fight in a war that was basically a civil war and not a war of aggression against Australia.

Conscription is against civil liberties. It especially affected me as my two sons were soon to reach conscription age. I was against Australians fighting in a war just to appease the USA. This badge is important to me for all of these reasons and I wore it to let people know how I felt and hopefully to influence them.