National Archives of Australia

Interview with Brian Ross Vietnam War conscientious objector: Excerpt from ABC radio interview with first Vietnam War conscientious objector to be jailed

Title: Interview with Brian Ross Vietnam War conscientious objector
Subtitle: Excerpt from ABC radio interview with first Vietnam War conscientious objector to be jailed
Date: 21 September 1970
Keywords: war, military service, conscription, prisoners, beliefs, ethics, conscientious objection, activism, Vietnam War
Record creator: Australian Broadcasting Commission, Head Office
Reference: C100, 1552502
Copyright notice: Reproduced with the permission of the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

Audio attachment - Interview with Brian Ross – first Vietnam War conscientious objector to be jailed [1.69MB]


Announcer: Conscientious objector Brian James Ross is out of jail, the governor-general having decided that the case was a proper one for exercising the prerogative of mercy. After he left Sale prison yesterday, Ross was asked by Stephen Taylor what effect the past ten months had had.

Brian Ross: Oh, I don’t think anything much. It’s pretty hard to tell though at the moment.

Stephen Taylor: How were you treated inside?

Ross: Well, Sale is pretty easy. It’s pretty free and easy, you know. They don’t hound you very much but it’s a strict business of maintaining a physical existence really. It’s a matter of feeding you and providing a place to sleep and that’s about all really at Sale.

Taylor: How were the companions that you were inside with? How did they treat you?

Ross: Oh, pretty well. Yes.

Taylor: They didn’t take it out of you at all because of why you were in?

Ross: Not at all. I got along very well with them all.

Taylor: Has ten months inside affected your beliefs at all?

Ross: Not really, no. I’d still go to jail for two years if it was necessary.

Taylor: It’s been said that you have hampered your release by your refusal to acknowledge the very existence of the National Service Act.

Ross: Well … I objected to the National Service Act because I think that people ought to be respected enough to be able to determine whether or not a certain course of action is proper or not. I think any particular situation … we ought to be respected as to knowing what we should do, you know? And I think that we should stand up against, or stand out against, any law or a government which tries to treat us in this manner.

Taylor: If you take that stand you must also believe that it is possible for you to be wrong as well as to be right.

Ross: Well you can be wrong but the government is deciding that we aren’t able to decide; that we can’t as twenty-year-olds, look at the situation, the world situation, the Vietnam situation, the general situation of this society or whatever it might be and they’re saying that we’re not good enough or we don’t know enough. It’s a matter of personal responsibility really.

Taylor: Did you discuss this sort of thing much in jail?

Ross: In jail no I didn’t, no.

Taylor: Were you forbidden to?

Ross: No I wasn’t forbidden to, I just – you know – this is my point of view or my stance or my attitude was to make it as easy as possible for myself and that was just get along with everyone as easy – easily – as I could.

Taylor: What will you do now?

Ross: Oh, ah, I’ll go home and milk my cows, I suppose. But I … apparently This Day Tonight is going to grab me around the neck and take me to Melbourne tomorrow [LAUGHS].

Taylor: Do you feel any sense of grievance against society as a result of your sentence?

Ross: No not at all. I don’t have any grudge against anyone, not against the government, not against Mr Sneddon, not against anyone. No, I saw this as more or less inevitable that I was to go to jail and that was it. I accepted it.

Taylor: You’ve become a bit of a symbol to those opposed to the National Service Act. How do you feel about this?

Ross: In a way I must admit I felt that I had to set an example, in a way. I was in the position of being in the jail, I was the first one to be moved to here. I had to keep it up and staying in jail, well, I was willing to do that, too.

Taylor: Well now that you’ve become this symbol, will you play along with the idea or will you retire out of the picture?

Ross: Oh …

Taylor: You feel that you’ve done your bit?

Ross: Oh I feel, I feel to a fair degree that I’ve done my bit, yeah. But I think we … we don’t sort of drop right out but I think I should be left to myself a little bit.

Taylor: Would you do it again?

Ross: Oh yes, I think so, yes. Definitely I would, yes.

Announcer: Brian James Ross – out of jail and back to the farm.


Learning content

This is a sound recording of an interview with Brian James Ross, the first non-complier to be jailed for refusing to abide by the National Service Act 1964, on his release from Sale prison on 21 September 1970. The interview was made during the Vietnam War (1962–75) and broadcast by the Australian Broadcasting Commission (ABC). Interviewer Stephen Taylor questions Ross about his time in prison and objections to the Act. He asks if Ross sticks by his beliefs; if he feels any grievance against the government; what he will do in the future and if he sees himself as an example to others.

Educational value

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This learning content – description and educational value statement – co-created by National Digital Learning Resource Network and National Archives of Australia.

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