Friday, 22 September 2023

The Story of Thomas Samuels


Pic Courtesy AWM` 

Thomas Samuels was an indigenous man who attempted to enlist in the AIF at Innisfail in October 2017. 

This post from the AWM tells the full story, and reminded me, gentle reader, of the indigenous men I had the privilege to serve with in 7RAR in Vietnam.

 One was WIA* when we hit bunkers in April. He was returned to Australia and died in Alice springs in 1992. The other is living in South Australia. 

This surviving digger remains one of the funniest men I have ever known. 

He was interviewed in 2005 ago by the State Library of South Australia. It's worth a listen. 

The unfortunate part of this story is that Thomas Samuel's experience was far from unique. Many indigenous men shopped around from depot to depot until they found one that would allow them to enlist, and went on to serve. 

It also demonstrates the disrespect held for our indigenous Australians back then. Aboriginality was classified on his documents as a disease. 

Not much changed between 2017 and 1965. Many indigenous men who were called up in the second national service scheme were treated with similar disrespect. The bottom line was that the Department of Labour and National Service really wasn't sure of their status.

Unfortunately much of that disrespect remains as can be seen by what is appearing on social media.

Read it and weep.

*Wounded in action

Sunday, 17 September 2023

The Ugly Underbelly


A cartoon doing the rounds in the first conscription referendum over 100 years ago.

There has been recent media accusing proponents of both sides of the Voice debate of racism.

I decided to do my own investigation of what's appearing on my feed over the last few weeks. I almost wish I hadn't.

Below are a collection of posts that appeared in a group supporting the "No" case. 

This is just one day's collection.

I won't attempt to categorise them, but as you can see, gentle reader, they encapsulate the stereotypes and cliches that are held by some of the "No" supporters.

Now I'm not suggesting that the "Yes" supporters are all sweetness and light, but these tropes (aborigines are violent, greedy, lazy and wasteful) don't appear on their supporters' pages.

The accusations of cruelty and violence are interesting put in the context of the colonial practice in the UK of hanging drawing and quartering at the time. It wasn't until 1870 that it was abolished.

If, as appears likely as this is written, the referendum goes down, it may deliver outcomes that Dutton and Littleproud may live to regret.

George Megalogenis explains it pretty well in this podcast.

Sunday, 10 September 2023



Pic courtesy

This is another post which references the Voice, but is more about the history. 

I've lived all over Queensland, and every reasonably sized town that I've known has a Boundary Street or Boundary Road. That includes Rockhampton, Townsville, Toowoomba, and of course, Brisbane. 

Try entering "Boundary St" or "Boundary Rd" into Google Maps, and see how you go.

I've never really wondered why this was the case, but recent reading has revealed some interesting (and harrowing) history. 

These streets and roads mark out the perimeters beyond which indigenous people were not allowed to venture at night during the week or on Sundays. They were common in Queensland towns and settlements and were usually marked by a wooden post (boundary posts).

In Brisbane, since the early 1850s, Aborigines had been allowed into the town during the day, but could be driven out by the police using regulations that came into force about that time. 

They were allowed to come in beyond the boundary during the week where they performed menial tasks in exchange for tobacco, flour and other rations. By the 1870s, organized groups of police would round up any aborigines inside the boundary and used stockwhips to move them out. They would be removed to camps on various watercourses in Dutton Park, Fairfield, Annerley and Coorparoo.

Strangely, in a mid-twentieth century reprise of this process, the boundaries were reinstated to keep African-American servicemen on the "correct" side of the Brisbane River. White Americans were allowed on the north side of the river, but the blacks were expected to confine themselves to the south. This was one of the situations which triggered the famous Battle of Brisbane on 26th and 27th November 1942, when an Australian soldier took exception to an American Military Policeman's attempts to arrest a black soldier with whom he had been drinking presumably because he was on the wrong (north) side of the river. 

The MP used his truncheon on the Australian, and all hell broke loose. There had been simmering resentment of the Yanks for months, but race was the trigger.

Given the vituperative nature of discussion about the Voice on social media, it seems not much has changed since 1942.

Wednesday, 30 August 2023

Review - Our Vietnam War


Image courtesy ABC iView

This ABC programme has been broadcast on Tuesday nights for the last three weeks. It is also available on ABC iView.

It should be compulsory viewing for all Australian high school students, as it offers a comprehensive, factual and unbiased narrative of the conflict. It is also exquisitely made, featuring interviews with historians (some of whom served during the decade of the war), together with ex-service personnel, of both genders, and Vietnamese refugees. The music of the era provides a sound track, and contributes to an understanding of the time.

The interviews with people like Graham Edwards (ex-7RAR, who lost both legs in a mine incident in 1970), Harry Smith (D Coy commander Battle of Long Tan), Ashley Ekins (ex chief historian at the Australian War Memorial), Mark Dapin (author of The Nashos War and Australia's Vietnam: Myth vs History) and a couple of anti-war activists and Vietnamese refugees, provide an unrivalled cross section of recollections and perspectives.

The topic is covered comprehensively, beginning with the history of the French defeat and concluding with the long shadow created by the war in the lives of so many Australians.

I found it deeply moving, and would recommend it.

It can be found on ABC iView.

Here is a link to the trailer.

Monday, 21 August 2023

Fifty Years On


The 523 who were lost.

I've just arrived back, gentle reader, from the commemoration in Canberra of the 50th anniversary of the end of the Australian commitment to Vietnam.

It was a very well-organised event, and the people who put the programme together achieved a fine balance between commemoration of the loss and sacrifice of those who were killed and wounded, and acknowledgement of the tragedy of the war.

The Canberra weather wasn't cooperative. We had about ten minutes of bright sunshine after the ceremony which was mostly conducted under rainy skies, but then the clearing westerlies turned up. I swear you could feel the snow on the shoulders of that wind.

I was able to link up with a few of the 5 platoon bunch, but we're getting a bit thin on the ground. All of us have age-related maladies, but that didn't spoil the fellowship. Sadly, it's probably the last reunion.

I made the mistake of booking into a caravan park outside of town, which meant I had to drive in and out. This put the kibosh on sharing more than one or two beers with the crew, but there you go.

There was a well-compiled video of the proceedings, and I've included it here.

It's well worth watching.


Sunday, 6 August 2023

Back to School

Image courtesy

After three years part-time, gentle reader, I've graduated in my M.A.

Resuming study in your seventh decade is perhaps a little unusual, but I need a goal, and I'm a lousy golfer.

I already had two degrees from the seventies and eighties, when I got a leg-up post Vietnam through a Department of Labour and National Service rehabilitation scholarship, so I had no problem getting admitted once the University of Queensland dug up my academic record.

I wasn't so lucky in getting a statement from my post-graduate diploma from Griffith University, as it had been lost in a warehouse in the 2011 flood, but they did write a letter of confirmation of enrolment.

Academia has changed more than a little in forty plus years, but the principles remain the same. You simply have to do a little work each day. It's straightforward when you're retired.

These days, information technology is all the goal, so I had to brush up a little on my computer skills. None of that was around in the seventies.

My project was an examination of the old myth "Every national serviceman who went to Vietnam was a volunteer". Others have already exposed it as nonsense, but I wanted to investigate it myself, and did so by interviewing Vietnam veterans who were Nashos. I managed to find a few volunteer Nashos, but they're like hens teeth. 

Bizarrely, some of those who applied for early registration finished up as accidental volunteers - strange but true.

Because the experience was so enjoyable, I'm considering continuing, although I'll need an institution, a new supervisor and a new project. I'm open to suggestions.

In the meantime, here's a link to my thesis. It's not exactly light reading, but some of you may be interested.

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Saturday, 5 August 2023

A Tribute to Sinéad O’Connor with a little help from Yeats...


 Easter, 1916  - William Butler Yeats 

I have met them at close of day 
Coming with vivid faces 
From counter or desk among grey Eighteenth-century houses. 
I have passed with a nod of the head 
Or polite meaningless words, 
Or have lingered awhile and said 
Polite meaningless words, 
And thought before I had done 
Of a mocking tale or a gibe 
To please a companion 
Around the fire at the club, 
Being certain that they and I 
But lived where motley is worn: 
All changed, changed utterly: 
A terrible beauty is born. 

That woman's days were spent 
In ignorant good-will, 
Her nights in argument 
Until her voice grew shrill. 
What voice more sweet than hers 
When, young and beautiful, 
She rode to harriers? 
This man had kept a school 
And rode our wingèd horse; 
This other his helper and friend 
Was coming into his force; 
He might have won fame in the end, 
So sensitive his nature seemed, 
So daring and sweet his thought. 
This other man I had dreamed 
A drunken, vainglorious lout. 
He had done most bitter wrong 
To some who are near my heart, 
Yet I number him in the song; 
He, too, has resigned his part In the casual comedy; 
He, too, has been changed in his turn, 
Transformed utterly: 
A terrible beauty is born. 

Hearts with one purpose alone 
Through summer and winter seem 
Enchanted to a stone 
To trouble the living stream. 
The horse that comes from the road, 
The rider, the birds that range 
 From cloud to tumbling cloud, 
 Minute by minute they change; 
A shadow of cloud on the stream 
Changes minute by minute; 
A horse-hoof slides on the brim, 
And a horse plashes within it; 
The long-legged moor-hens dive, 
And hens to moor-cocks call; 
Minute by minute they live: 
The stone's in the midst of all. 

Too long a sacrifice 
Can make a stone of the heart. 
O when may it suffice? 
That is Heaven's part, our part 
To murmur name upon name, 
As a mother names her child 
When sleep at last has come 
On limbs that had run wild. 
That is it but nightfall? 
No, no, not night but death; 
Was it needless death after all? 
For England may keep faith 
For all that is done and said. 
We know their dream; enough 
To know they dreamed and are dead; 
And what if excess of love 
Bewildered them till they died? 
I write it out in a verse— MacDonagh and MacBride 
And Connolly and Pearse 
Now and in time to be, 
Wherever green is worn, 
Are changed, changed utterly: 
A terrible beauty is born.

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The Story of Thomas Samuels

  Pic Courtesy AWM`  Thomas Samuels was an indigenous man who attempted to enlist in the AIF at Innisfail in October 2017.  This  post from ...