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The Times They Were a Changin’

It was 50 years ago, in 1968, that the foundation stone was laid by Prime Minister John Gorton at the University of Canberra.
Back then it was the Canberra College of Advanced Education and it was surrounded by dense bushland, with Belconnen consisting of just two suburbs and the Belconnen Mall still ten years away.
Gorton had been sworn in as Prime Minister earlier that year, after his predecessor, Harold Holt, went missing while swimming off the Victorian coast.
It was certainly a different time and it isn’t the easiest thing to imagine just what life was like back then.
Luckily, the National Library of Australia’s exhibition ‘1968: Changing Times’ does a fantastic job of transporting you back to a year where the Beatles were on top of the charts, the Vietnam War was underway, and the counterculture movement was in full swing across the Western world.

Image Credit: Vincent Smith-Koppie

The year 1968 was full of political, social and cultural change and one of the striking things at the exhibition is the leading role students and her young people played in forcing these changes.
Youth culture had taken shape for the first time and universities became a hotbed of political activism, particularly the anti-war movement.
The exhibition showed just how large a role the Vietnam War played in the lives of young people in 1968.
The Australian anti-Vietnam War movement came out of the nation’s universities and it was with the leadership of students that the movement become mainstream,  when 200,000 Australians took to the streets to protest the war in 1970.
The exhibition showed both the impact young people had on the anti-Vietnam War movement and the impact the Vietnam War had on young people.
One of the items on display were the marbles which decided the ‘birthday ballot’- the lottery which randomly conscripted 20-year-old men to fight in Vietnam based on their birth dates. These were the marbles which forced 15,381 Australians to fight in Vietnam, including the 200 that didn’t survive their deployment.
The exhibition didn’t just cover the impacts of students on the Australian political landscape, with student protests from other countries also being covered.
This included the student protests in Paris over an outdated university system, which developed into nationwide strikes that even saw the President flee the country as France’s senior politicians feared a full scale revolution.
The exhibition covered many of these seemingly significant moments from history which few Australians in the 21st century have heard of.

The exhibition was full of original pieces and while anyone with an interest in modern history or politics will have a field day, there is a lot more to it than just that.
There were plenty of exhibits on 1968 pop culture and the biggest songs of that year were played over the PA.
‘1968: Changing Times’ is a great exhibition where you’ll easily spend an hour or two.
Free Admission into the exhibition – runs until Sunday 12 August at the National Library of Australia.

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