Ripples of Wartime

Ripples of Wartime

Ripples of Wartime has been specially commissioned by Brink to complement the stage production of Long Tan. Filmmaker Malcolm McKinnon presents stories from people impacted by the Vietnam War in a range of different ways. The exhibition presents first-hand stories not only from military veterans but also from post-war Vietnamese migrants, anti-war campaigners, family members of conscripted veterans and medical practitioners who served in Vietnam. Together, they reflect the way in which the Vietnam War excited and divided public opinion. These diverse stories are considered and reflective. For a country still at war in a foreign land, they aim to be instructive and provocative too.

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FRANK CLARKE
AUSTRALIAN SOLDIER IN VIETNAM

Frank Clarke is a Wergaia and Gunditjmara man. He grew up on the Aboriginal reserve at Bordertown in South Australia and came to Adelaide to join the army in 1964.  He went to Vietnam in as a member of 5RAR in May 1966, departing Australia only two days after being married. Deployed as a rifleman, Frank’s most memorable operation was as in support of 6RAR in the Battle of Long Tan. Discharged from the army in 1970, Frank later worked in the railways and then as public servant.

We were on alert 24 hours a day so the adrenalin was just on the edge of bursting – as soon as anything happened it’d just go sky high, and that was it.

CHAS MARTIN
ANTI-VIETNAM WAR ACTIVIST 

Charles (Chas) Martin became involved in the campaign against the Vietnam War whilst studying at Adelaide University. Called up for National Service in 1969, he disobeyed the notice and was summoned to court. Chas was one of only a few South Australian men sentenced to a full two-year prison term, equivalent to the duration of National Service. Subsequent to his release in 1971, he has pursued a life of practical activism in the realms of environmental sustainability, renewable energy and permaculture.

It was an important political statement - that there was someone in jail for refusing to be involved in that kind of killing and in the war that was going on.

Picture reproduced courtesy of Karl Armstrong 

JEAN MCLEAN
ANTI-VIETNAM WAR ACTIVIST

Jean McLean was a founding member of Save Our Sons, a movement of women who campaigned against the conscription of young men to fight in the Vietnam War. Informed by a free-thinking family background, Jean worked with other women on a range of long-term strategies to influence public opinion as the war progressed. She studied the history of Indo-China and visited Vietnam during the war to see first-hand what was happening. Jean was one of ‘The Failea Five’, a group of Save Our Sons activists imprisoned for two weeks in 1971. Subsequent to the war, she was an active member of the Australian Labor Party and served fourteen years as a Member of the Legislative Assembly in the Victorian Parliament.

There were newspaper articles saying the Save Our Sons women were probably ‘communists’. Then they started saying we were just ‘naïve’. Eventually, as opinion about the war shifted, they started referring to us as ‘dedicated’ women. 

RUTH CLARE
DAUGHTER OF RETURNED NATIONAL SERVICEMAN 

Ruth Clare grew up in Rockhampton in Queensland, the daughter of a man unwittingly damaged by his experience as a National Serviceman in Vietnam. Her father’s controlling nature and unpredictable violence made for a deeply troubled home life, as he struggled to come to terms with the impacts of his war experience. Now with a family of her own, Ruth’s recent book is Enemy, a searing memoir of her childhood.

I think the impact of war on families of veterans is a secret history. But I don’t think you can talk about the cost of war unless you talk about the cost to families and about the trans-generational impacts of that, ad infinitum.

MY-VAN TRAN
SOUTH VIETNAMESE AUSTRALIAN 

My-Van Tran grew up in middle-class Saigon family and then left South Vietnam when she won scholarships to study overseas, first in the United States and then in Australia. Living in Canberra in 1975, she was separated from all of her family when Saigon finally fell to communist North Vietnamese forces. Exiled from a country that, in a real sense, no longer exists, My-Van supported many family members to join her in Australia. She continues to help other members of her extended family still living in Vietnam today.

Most of my suffering derives from the war and from the victory of the communists. My family lost everything….

DES FILES
ANTI-CONSCRIPTION ACTIVIST 

Des Files grew up in tough, working class suburbs of northern and inner Melbourne. Initially influenced by his father and grandfather’s traumatic experience of earlier wars, he was deeply opposed to the conscription of young men of his own generation to fight in Vietnam. Throughout much of the 1960s Des devoted considerable energy and resources to actively campaigning against the war in general and against conscription in particular, working alongside a diverse mix of other activists including the prominent Labor politician, Jim Cairns.

Conscription was really the compulsory acquisition of somebody’s life. We were just so angry about the bastardry of it all.

JEAN MATTHEWS
RED CROSS AID WORKER 

Jean Matthews (nee Debelle) went to the Vietnam War as a volunteer Red Cross aid worker in 1966, based at Australia’s first military hospital in South Vietnam, known as 2 Field Ambulance, and at the US Hospital in Vũng Tàu. She performed valuable non-medical duties, including writing letters home for injured soldiers. Forty years after serving in Vietnam, Jean wrote an acclaimed book entitled Write Home for Me – A Red Cross Woman in Vietnam. She has maintained strong friendships with many of the men she encountered as Australian soldiers in Vietnam.

Nothing was ever routine in Vietnam. Every day, you never knew what you were in for.  It was crazy, and crazy was the norm!

NEVILLE SINKINSON
RAAF HELICOPTER CREWMAN 

Neville Sinkinson served in Vietnam as a RAAF helicopter crewman in 1970 and ‘71. Working mainly in helicopter gunships, Neville was part of a team carrying ground troops in and out of operations, delivering ammunition and other supplies and evacuating wounded personnel, sometimes under enemy fire. The story of his Vietnam War experience is related in a book entitled Shockwave – An Australian Combat Helicopter Crew in Vietnam.

When you came home no-one asked you how you were feeling or anything like that. It just didn’t happen. The attitude was like: “You’ve been to Vietnam – you’ll be right – get on with it…”

TRUNG NGHIA TON
AUSTRALIAN OF VIETNAMESE DESCENT 

Trung Nghia Ton was born in Australia to parents who fled Vietnam after the war. His family has roots in various parts of Vietnam, although older members of his family now living in Australia have a keen sense of having ‘lost their country’.  Trung knows the Vietnam War from a distance, through stories told within his family and also through his own studies, often from an Australian military perspective. Trung works as a medical doctor and is also a member of the Australian Army Reserve.

The thing I’ve learned is that everyone suffered. Everyone who participated in the war in some way - they all lost something.

DI FAIRHEAD
ADF PHYSIO IN VIETNAM 

Di Fairhead went to the Vietnam War as a physiotherapist in 1969, assisting the rehabilitation of injured Australian soldiers. She remembers her tour of duty not just for the peculiar challenges of the military hospital but also for the intense camaraderie amongst members of her team and amongst the men she treated.

The injuries were horrific – especially the guys who’d survived mine incidents. But even though they were in really bad shape they’d always be asking how their mates were. That mateship thing was just incredible.

LYNN ARNOLD
ANTI-VIETNAM WAR ACTIVIST

Lynn Arnold was deeply disturbed by television coverage of the Vietnam War when he was still at high school. Later, as a student at Adelaide University, he assumed a prominent role in campaigning against the war, collaborating with other activists from a diverse range of backgrounds and political positions. The experience of this long campaign informed his subsequent career as a politician, including a term as Premier of South Australia in the early 1990s.

There was very much an idea of people power – a belief that people working together could make a difference. We had to confront the government but we also had to shift public opinion. It was a long-term campaign…

ANGELA MERTENS
WIFE OF RETURNED NATIONAL SERVICEMAN

Angela Mertens fell in love and married her husband Ted after he returned from a tour of duty in Vietnam as a National Serviceman. Raising a family in Port Pirie in South Australia, Angela learned that Ted and other returned soldiers were profoundly effected by their time in Vietnam and had great difficulty readjusting to civilian life. Now a widow, Angela sees the experience of veterans’ partners and families as being a difficult, private and often lonely journey.

A lot of the wives of veterans, we don’t talk amongst ourselves like the men do. It’s all very personal. It’s a hard journey to walk, and it’s one that we walk by ourselves.

Malcolm McKinnon is an Australian artist, filmmaker and ghost-wrangler working mainly in the realms of social history and digital media. He has an abiding interest in the surprising labyrinths of living memory and the peculiar beauty of local vernacular. His films include the documentaries The Farmer’s Cinematheque, Making Dust and Seriously Singing.