Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Unapologetic insolence from an aging subversive

Sunday, 23 December 2018

For Christmas

Pic courtesy Type-Writer.org

This was in our parish newsletter, gentle reader.
It's posted because of its message about not kowtowing to fear.
Happy Christmas!

'Be not afraid.' Richard Leonard on the greeting we all need to hear this Christmas
(published in The Tablet on 12 December 2018)
At the risk of wrecking your Christmas, we have to clear up a few things. I know all our carols and cards say that Jesus was born in December; in a snow-covered stable; was wrapped in swaddling clothes; lay in the manger with the animals around him; that a star stood vigil; and was later visited by three Kings whose names were Balthazar, Caspar and Melchior.
But the Gospels don't say any of this. It could have snowed on the first Christmas, but the Scriptures don't say that it did. No animals are mentioned. The star in the North did not stand still in the night sky because stars just don't behave like that. And Jesus probably wasn't even born in December. Pope Julius I declared that Christmas was to be celebrated on 25 December in 350 AD, after the Christians had given the pagan Roman calendar the thorough make-over it richly deserved. Rather neatly, the pagan feast of the "birthday of the unconquered Sun" became the "birthday of the allconquering Son" — the birthday of Jesus our Lord.
The worst Christmas I ever celebrated was in Manger Square in Bethlehem. By the time I had finally negotiated the traffic jams, the security checks, and the guards on patrol and joined the thousands who had been packed into the church, the adventure had lost some of its appeal.
In all the accounts of Christmas we have in the New Testament we hear the angel begin her announcement of Jesus' birth with the words: "Be not afraid." Given the world events over recent months, this greeting is just what we need to hear this Christmas: Be not afraid.
Fear cripples us into passivity. It ruins our memories of past or present events and undermines dignified, trusting and respectful relationships. There is an important difference between being vigilant and being frightened, but since the 9/11 terrorist attacks this difference has become blurred. We have seen people become anxious, change their lifestyle and travel plans and worry for their future and for that of their children. But we don't need to look to international terror to explain the nature of our fear. Broadly speaking, we fear four things: God, nature, other people, or something in ourselves. It is usually a combination of these things; for some of us, tragically, it is all of them. But to whatever degree fear has come to rule our lives, we need to hear again God's greeting at Christmas: "Be not afraid."
St Paul tells us that love drives out all fear. That's what — and who — we celebrate at Christmas: perfect love took human form in Jesus Christ the Lord. Throughout this joyful season we celebrate the one whose life, death and resurrection showed us the way out of our fears; revealed the truth that sets us free; and gave us the life that we can live to the full in this world, and the next.
Christmas is the feast day when God calls us to be as active as we can in bringing Christ's Kingdom to bear in our world. Christmas is the time when our memories are joined to God's, who has remembered us in our fear. Christmas is the season when all Christian relationships are defined by the dignity, trust and respect they bestow on us and on those we relate to.
As a result of the Babe of Bethlehem, God has shown us that fear is not our calling and that the saving love of Jesus impels us to take risks in how we live out our faith, hope and love. On any day, then, in the coming year, when we face down our fears and live our Christian life to the full we will discover that Christmas is a moveable feast.
My favourite Advent poem is from John Bell, of the Iona Community in Scotland:
Light looked down and saw the darkness.
"l will go there," said light.
Peace looked down and saw war. "I will go there," said peace.
Love looked down and saw hatred. "l will go there," said love.
So he, the Lord of Light, the Prince of Peace, the King of Love, came down and crept in beside us.
No fanfare. No palace. No earthly prince. Christmas celebrates that God crept in beside us. And as a result there is no part of our lives he will not enter with mercy and love. So this Christmas let's invite in again the Lord of Light, the Prince of Peace, the King of Love and live as boldly as we can.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

What has Changed?

Pic courtesy Canberra Times

I have a subscription to the Vietnam Veterans' Museum on Phillip Island, and they send me newsletters from time to time.

The most recent edition has an article on Vietnamese boat people, and I'll post it here in its entirety -

On 26 April 1976, the first boatload of refugees fleeing from Vietnam sailed into Darwin Harbour, heralding a series of arrivals over the next few years.

The vast majority of refugees from Vietnam, however, arrived in Australia by plane after selection officials in refugee camps established throughout South East Asia. Since 1976, Australia
has become home to a thriving Vietnamese community. In 2011, the national census showed that 185,000 people in Australia were born in Vietnam. By early 1975, it was apparent that the North Vietnamese forces would soon overrun the south.

Just before the fall of Saigon, the U.S. and other foreign forces evacuated the first wave of people seeking to escape. The second wave of refugees emerged as the Communist government began to dismantle the old regime. Those associated with the former government were sent for re-education, others lost their jobs or were moved to work on rural reconstruction projects.

The very first Vietnamese refugees to reach Australia were orphan infants evacuated by Operation Babylift in the weeks before Saigon fell in April 1975. Amid fears for their safety, more than 3000 infants were flown out of Vietnam, mostly to the U.S. but also UK, Canada and Australia. The Australian public was supportive of Operation Babylift, for example, the Women’s Weekly ran a two-page article that emphasised the impact of the war on Vietnamese children. The first adult refugees arrived in the 20m Kien Giang, which sailed into Darwin Harbour on 26 April 1976. 

The 20-year-old captain, Lam Binh, with his younger brother and three friends, made the 3500 km journey to find refuge. Lam was not a sailor by trade, but taught himself navigation as part of his escape plan. His original map was nothing more than a page torn from a school atlas, and while getting better charts later, it extended no further than Timor. The rest of the journey was done by dead reckoning.
The exodus of refugees from South Vietnam continued in 1977, boats carrying 21,267 people arrived in neighbouring Asian countries including Hong Kong. In 1978, 106,489 arrived, and before
June in 1979 another 166,604. These people encountered dangerous sea, overcrowded vessels and attacks by pirates and we only know about the ones that survived, countless others were probably lost at sea. 

Australia has benefitted by the arrival of these people and with their hard work ethic, they have proved to be an asset to Australia. Very often when we get Vietnamese visitors at the Museum, we sometimes give them a little badge of the crossed fags of Australia and South Vietnam.

It's a pretty fair summary of the history, gentle reader.
Recently, (in August) a boat load of Vietnamese asylum-seekers was refouled (sent back to the place they were escaping), after they managed to elude border patrol vessels.
I can't help noting the contrast between what happened forty years ago, and what happens now.
It tells us a great deal about what has become of our national psyche as a consequence of the politics of fear and loathing. Back in the seventies, asylum seekers arriving on boats were never used as a political wedge. The potential was always there when it came to the Vietnamese.
I witnessed an incident in 1978 which made it obvious that there was always a rich vein of xenophobia simmering below the surface which could have been used.

At the time, I was Teacher-in-Charge of a Special Education Unit at a High School in Brisbane's western suburbs. There was also a migrant unit located in the same school at the time, catering almost exclusively for students who were Vietnamese refugees.

I had access to a wheelchair accessible bus, and a licence to drive it. Occasionally, the Teacher-in-Charge of the migrant unit and myself would get our heads together to solve the problem of getting the Vietnamese kids out and about in the community to access a range of valuable experiences.

I would drive a combination of the Vietnamese kids and my own cohort of students with disabilities. It worked well, because the wheelchair bound kids were helped by the able-bodied migrant kids in terms of mobility and access.

There was a screening of "To Kill a Mockingbird" at a small cinema at Enoggera. The book was on the curriculum of the English as a Second Language programme at the migrant unit, and it was also part of the Year 10 English curriculum for some of the kids with disabilities, so we organised a joint excursion.

Upon arriving at the cinema, and just as the Vietnamese kids were helping the students with disabilities into the theatre, a bloke turned up and started abusing the migrant kids in the foulest terms. There was an army base at Enoggera and this character, out of uniform but identified by his haircut, was obviously army. He used the same jargon that I had occasionally heard in Vietnam.

I got the kids out of the way into the theatre (and out of earshot) and used two words (one with four letters) to tell him to take himself somewhere else immediately. He got the message, and jumped into a car and drove off. Fortunately the Vietnamese kids didn't really understand what he was saying - their English wasn't up to it - but the kids with disabilities did. They were indignant.

If the government in power at the time had decided to take political advantage of the kind of paranoia exhibited by my mate at the cinema, the flow of refugees would have been stopped cold. There are sufficient idiots in the community to make this strategy work in a close election.

Howard used fear of asylum seekers in 2001 to win what had looked like an election the Coalition was bound to lose. We're hearing the same rhetoric again, of course.

Contrast the behaviour of the Fraser government in 1978, with what we're observing now, particularly from the hard Right of the Coalition, and the nutters in PHON, and you can see how far we have fallen as a nation.

Once we were a proud and compassionate people. Now we have a government that panders to paranoia, fear and loathing to cling to power. Perhaps the "base" that the Conservatives are always referring to describes pretty clearly the instincts to which they appeal.

After the result in the recent by-election in Turnbull's old seat, perhaps the old technique has passed its use-by date.

We can hope....

Thursday, 29 November 2018


Ambush position on Song Rai - March 1970

I'm putting this on my blog not because it was posted by my son, but because it's a striking and elegant piece of prose.
It resonates with me, and I reckon many Vietnam veterans.
I think what horrifies me most about war is how it never actually ends. 
Long after the guns fall silent, the effects linger on for decades - in the minds of those who were psychologically scared by the conflict - In the bodies of those wounded. 
In the hearts of those who grieve. 
In the lands rendered sterile through discarded chemicals and ordinance. In the thousands who still fall victim to weapons left behind long after armies have stood down - to poison, and explosives, and cancer. 
To the families of those directly affected, who themselves deal with the second-hand consequences of being raised by wounded people. 
To the nations and media who lie their histories into mythologies, to the populations who forget just enough that it seems like the consequences are worth it.

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Ford - My Chequered History

Cranky car
We've disposed of our last Ford.

Over the years, we've owned (in sequence) two Falcon SRs, and two Focuses (Foci???).

All except for the Focus Trend illustrated have been reliable and good cars to drive. Not so this one, and this is the reason for unloading it. We've also signed up for the class action.

It has been off the road four times as a consequence of the completely unsatisfactory dual clutch auto. Ford calls it "Powershift". Others have coined a different moniker.

The last episode was a broken half shaft, no doubt as a consequence of the juddering that was a characteristic of the transmission during most of our ownership. This last episode, occurring as it did simultaneously with my bride's discharge from hospital after breast surgery was the last straw.

The local Ford dealer (no doubt as tired of these recurring episodes as the owners) was brilliant. They loaned us a Ford Escape for the duration of the repair, which took over a week. The repair didn't cost us, as I'd taken out an extended (5 year) warranty when we purchased the car in 2014. That turned out to be a very good decision.

We traded two vehicles (our Commodore ute and the cranky Focus) on a 2016 Kia Cerato hatch. It has the benefit of a seven year warranty, and because it's a hatch is both dog and bike friendly. If I need to shift stuff, I'll revert to ute hire.

The Replacement

Kia has come a long way in a short time on the Australian market, and they make very good cars as demonstrated by their rapidly improving market share.

Ford, on the other hand, are going backwards. It's a shame, as the small Fords were always fun cars to drive.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Virgin knows Any Publicity is Good Publicity

How they do it in the USA (Pic courtesy Daily Mail)

Picture it, gentle reader.

You're queueing to get on your Virgin flight.

You're surrounded by the usual crew - bearded hipsters, sweet young things wearing headphones secured to all manner of electronic trickery, grey haired boomers and noisy kids.

An announcement is made - impossible to decipher because the airport PA makes everything sound like the auditory equivalent of shrdlu, the printers devil.

As a result of this announcement, sundry passengers, a mix of fit looking young males, and decrepit appearing grey headed types, go to the front of the queue, and board first.

Once aboard, another announcement is squeezed between the safety briefing and a promotion for on-board refreshments. This announcement asks you to show respect for the people who were advanced to the front of the queue because they are "veterans".

You're not sure whether you should stand and applaud (difficult unless you're in an aisle seat), or simply nod appreciatively.

Sound dodgy?

Well that was what was suggested by the CEO of Virgin Airlines yesterday, with the apparent endorsement of the PM and Newscorp.

We hear that it is designed to show respect. Not for this "veteran". Embarrassment would be the likely outcome.

If my fellow travellers have to be asked to show me respect, I'd rather do without.

We hear it's all the go in the USA. Perhaps. After my visit there in July, I'd be reluctant to ape their practice. I saw too many veterans begging on the streets of NYC and Washington  to suggest their "respect" is anything more than lip service.

The term "veteran" has been in use in this country for a relatively short time. Like so many other chunks of our mother tongue, it is an American import. We used to be called "returned soldiers".

I am perhaps a little cynical, but I reckon it has more to do with marketing. After all, it doesn't offer any actual benefit (upgrades/reduced fare) and it costs both the corporate sector and the government nothing.

Our new PM was a marketing guru, after all. Every time I see him make an announcement, I'm always expecting to hear "But wait, there's more.....".

Michael Pascoe sums it up pretty well.

The postscript is particularly enlightening -

P.S. It is a curious thing that the military skews right, given that it was a Labor government that provided leadership through our most threatened hours and Liberal prime ministers who betrayed our servicemen by sending them to Vietnam and Iraq on lies.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

Cuddle Carefully!

You won't find much mention of family matters on this blog, gentle reader, but with this post I'm making an exception.

Like 18000 Australian women annually, my bride of forty-one years was diagnosed with breast cancer a fortnight ago.

She has had two surgeries (the second one "insurance" according to the surgeon) and a treatment plan is being devised. The may involve all of (or none of) medication, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

My bride has studiously followed the medical advice for years, having regular mammograms. Two of her sisters have had breast cancer, and one of them died as a consequence, so it's probably in the family. As we have two daughters, genetic counselling is recommended.

On the upside (if there is an upside to such a diagnosis) her lymph nodes are clear, so no spread is apparent. Also, the female radiographer who found the tumour was on the ball, as this particular cancer (LCIS) is notoriously hard to spot on the imagery.

Nevertheless, the uncertain path ahead is pretty scary. She is dealing with it using her own special brand of exasperation, stoicism and good humour.

Myself - probably not so well. I feel so bloody useless.

There are tremendous supports available these days, even in a regional centre like ours. There is no need to travel to the capital for specialist services, both diagnostic and treatment.

We (we're in this together) now embark down an uncertain, and frequently trodden road.

And after the surgery, we have to cuddle carefully.

Update: Surgery is done (including insertion of a porta Cath. Next is Chemotherapy  - weekly for three months.

Saturday, 13 October 2018

Media Manipulation 101

We hear a great deal, gentle reader, about "fake news". A textbook example of this popped up yesterday on my Facebook feed.

As a Vietnam veteran I subscribe to a number of ex-service networks. On one of them, a report from the UK's Daily Telegraph, was posted claiming that students at Cambridge university in the UK had dishonoured veterans by voting against a student council motion that they should promote commemorations on the upcoming Remembrance day.

This report, predictably, generated howls of outrage from the veterans' community, and plenty were posted on the feed.

When I read it, it struck me that there was something a bit fishy about the story. I went on line to the local paper (Cambridge News) in an attempt to check it out.
What was reported there, was interesting, although you have to read way past the headline to get the full story.

The actual sequence of events was this -

1. The Cambridge University Conservative Association (CUCA) put a motion to the students' union council (CUSU) which read – “The council should encourage the commemoration of British war veterans on Remembrance Day across the University of Cambridge.

2. The Cambridge Defend Education group proposed an amended motion which read – “The council should encourage the commemoration of those whose lives have been affected by war across the University of Cambridge”.

3. There was a vote on both motions, and both were defeated.

4. CUCA responded on their Facebook page, writing: “CUSU Council shockingly voted against the motion that they should promote commemorations this Remembrance Day and encourage students to support the Poppy Appeal.”

5. The Daily Telegraph got hold of the story from the CUCA Facebook page and wrote their report, neglecting to mention that two motions were put up and both voted down.

What really happened was the Daily Telegraph created outrage for clickbait.

You can’t read the story until you subscribe to the paper’s website.

Try it

Donald Trump would probably describe the Tele's report as “Fake News”.

The whole thing was a stunt generated by the Cambridge University's Conservative Association.

I'd be very surprised if the bulk of Cambridge students had strong feelings one way or another about Remembrance Day.

Monday, 1 October 2018

A Blow-In

For years I've been intrigued by the various iterations of the Mazda MX5. Owning a couple of them has not resolved this fascination. 

Back in the early part of this century, two turbocharged versions of the NB were produced. 

The first (called SP) was a Mazda Australia project carried out under the supervision of Allan Horsley, but it was built by Prodrive in Melbourne, the company that builds FPV performance Fords in partnership with Ford.

The second (called SE) was an official Mazda factory version, called Mazdaspeed Miata in the US, and Roadster in Japan and other markets.

Both were relatively mild with low boost turbos, but the SP was a little more potent.

SP has decal
They were actually quite different cars. The SP is raw and comparatively rare, only 100 being produced. The SE is more thoroughly and conservatively engineered, but has up rated steering and suspension, which makes it a bit harsh around town, but a treat on the open road.
SE has badge

A couple of weeks ago I came across a 2004 SE advertised in Newcastle. Coincidentally, I was planning a visit to an old army mate in Newcastle, so combined that with an inspection of the SE.

The car was good, sporting a unique interior fitout. It pretty much sold itself.

Jasper Conran Interior

I flew to Newcastle from Brisbane, and was met at the airport by the obliging owner. Incidentally, the last time I flew Brisbane-Newcastle was on my way to Nasho at Singleton in January 1969.

This trip had a much more enjoyable outcome.

I drove the SE to Tamworth the same day, and drove Tamworth-Toowoomba the day after.

Whilst the boost is mild, it comes into its own overtaking on two lane roads. The Tamworth-Toowoomba stretch has plenty of stretches of great give and take roads.

Can't drive them both at once.

So now I have two MX5s. Given that I haven’t mastered the art of driving them both at once, the original is on the market.

Update - Original (left) is sold. It took a whole week!

Monday, 17 September 2018

Ground Hog Day?

Pic courtesy Fraser Coast Chronicle

I’ve blogged before about history rhyming, rather than repeating itself.

Having said that, for those of us more senior than most, the current divisions within the Liberal Party look to me like something we’ve seen before.

That something was the Labor split of 1955. I remember listening to my father discussing the issue with an old mate of his in preparation for the ANZAC Day dawn service in Koumala, so it must have come to a head in April, but can’t be sure of the year.

 Dad was pretty worked up – that I remember vividly.

 Perhaps it was around the time of Vince Gair’s expulsion, as I was 10 years old, and had some idea of what was going on. In 1955 at age 8, I don’t think I would have had much of a clue. He was kicked out of the party on ANZAC eve 1957, so that’s probably what I remember.

To be honest, I’m not sure whether the situation referred to the Victorian or Queensland split.

Back then, there was a militant anti-communist faction operating predominantly in the party’s Victorian branch.

These people had a very clear idea of what they were against. They were also heavily influenced by B A Santamaria. By the time the split had worked its destructive course through the various state branches of the party, and led to the creation of the DLP, so much damage had been done to the Labor movement that it took until 1972 for it to recover.

These days, there’s a faction within the Liberal Party which is noteworthy for what its members oppose. They were identified starkly by their holdout in the same sex marriage debate. Prominent amongst this group is an ex-prime minister who was heavily influenced by B A Santamaria.

They are notable for their apparent incapacity to negotiate or compromise.

 The depth of loathing that the protagonists within the Liberal party are showing right now, is eerily reminiscent of the Labor split. There doesn’t seem to be any room for negotiation or compromise.

 I reckon there’s a pretty good chance of a split. Watch this space….

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Corruption Rewound

Pic courtesy News.com
A very long time ago, when I was a young teacher working with students with intellectual impairments, I came across a situation which, to put it mildly, made my blood boil.

There was a corner shop not to far from the school in which I worked, which had the habit of failing to give these kids change, when they bought low value items with large denomination notes.

It happened too often to be accidental, and after a number of complaints from parents, I took it on myself to have a chat with the shopkeeper. Initially, he denied ripping off these students, but when I recounted a couple of complaints, he became angry, called me a "bleeding heart", and threatened physical violence.

The message went out (discretely) and none of the students from the school darkened his door again.

That was back in the early eighties.

At the banking royal commission today, the father of a lad with Down Syndrome revealed how his son had been ripped off by a bank selling life insurance.

Vulnerable people are still being exploited in 2018.

Only these days, it not a spiv who runs a corner store in the frame, but a previously respected institution.

I don't believe things have improved much in the intervening thirty years.

Thursday, 30 August 2018

Leyburn 2018

I may eventually blog on the debacle that is Oz politics at the moment, but in the meantime, let's visit a more reasonable and rational topic.

Regular readers will remember previous posts on this subject.

Leyburn Sprints have to be one of the most engaging motor themed events in the country. I've been to many, and the Bay to Birdwood in South Australia is probably the best, but Leyburn is up there with the David Hack meet, another local spectacle.

Toowoomba is well located if you're into veteran and vintage motoring.

What makes Leyburn interesting, apart from its history, is the variety and scope of the competing vehicles. The ability of spectators to mingle with the competitors and get up close to their cars is also unusual.

Because of the laid-back nature of the event, this intimacy is possible because neither competitors or spectators take themselves too seriously.

"Silver Fox" - 1936 Chev Maple Leaf 

 Some of the vehicles on display were unique. Above is an example. In my opinion, a strange idea beautifully executed. It certainly attracted attention.

MX5s were in the action. This NA competed as did a silver NB.

The MX5 is well suited to the sprint layout. There's always a few entered.

Vanguard ute.
My dad owned a Vanguard Spacemaster for a few years. It was built like a brick dunny, but needed lots of maintainance, which was a problem as we lived a long way from the dealer.

This Swallow was beautifully restored.

The Swallow above is the only one in the country. Swallow went on to build Jaguars and the rest is history.

Tidy little MGF.

There were two MGfs shown. This one was automatic.

Pony car.
Many mustangs were displayed. This was probably the most original.

Volvo C70 AWD
The C70 is extermely rare in Oz.

There's always P76s.
This Leyland P76 went round. It was noisy and spectacular, but probably too big.

Wolsley Special
Another unique machine with an interesting history.

I displayed the MX5.
The day was spoiled somewhat by the lazy* westerlies, but it was enjoyable.

*Too lazy to blow around you - they blow straight through.

Saturday, 25 August 2018

Strange Bedfellows

No doubt, gentle reader, you’re acquainted with both the media pile-on directed towards Ben Roberts-Smith, and the consequential outrage.

 Taken in isolation, this situation is patently ridiculous, and it is unfair, given that the material that is the subject of the pile-on is subject to a confidential ADF inquiry.

The pile-on is of course, unreasonable and unfair to Roberts-Smith, but it is hardly a new phenomenon.

Consider the cases of Emma Husar, and the character assasination following accusations of bullying and misuse of staff, and Yassmin Abdel Magied being abused to the point of being forced to leave the country after her Ill-considered remarks about ANZAC Day.

There is a striking similarity between these three situations, and some clear differences.

 The similarities include the publishing of a whole range of allegations that grow one upon the other, are amplified and value-added in social media, and are scurrilous in the extreme.

 There are, however, some differences, and they’re related to gender.

In the case of Husar and YAM, there is a characteristic of the pile-on that is salacious, and almost pornographic.

 In the case of Roberts-Smith, the pornography is violence.

 What this reveals is the mindset of those to whom this material appeals, and the level of gutter journalism in which many of our tabloids and shock jocks are prepared to operate.

 Sad and shameful......

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Setting the Record Straight

Embarking - Feb 1970

Regular readers will perhaps remember this post about the ANZAC Day Commemoration Committee website.

You'll recall that I took exception to the statement that "every National Serviceman who served in Vietnam was effectively a volunteer".

This did not accord with my memory, and the "every" reference was frankly bullshit.

More fascinating was the reason for promoting this myth. My belief is that it is was a convenient rationalisation in an attempt to make our dodgy commitment in Vietnam somehow line up with the ANZAC myth.

Now I'm a pig-headed old curmudgeon, so I decided I'd have another go at asking the Committee to correct the record on the website. 

I emailed, as I had before, but this time followed the email up with a phone call.  I used this strategy  when I was a school principal dealing with bureaucracy. It almost always worked.

The person who answered the phone was, I think, a receptionist, but she obviously passed my concerns on to those in the committee who have the power to amend the website.

Yesterday, this email arrived -   

Dear Mr ******

Further to my correspondence of 26 July, I wish to advise that the statement on our website concerning the “generally voluntary” nature of the service by National Servicemen in Vietnam has been removed. After further consultation and research I concluded that the evidence presented by Mark Dapin in his book on Vietnam appears to be the most definitive presented on the subject and that the statements presented on our website appear to be erroneous – certainly in the experience of most Nashos.

Again, I apologise for any unintended offence or umbrage our website may have caused you or others. I appreciate you communicating your concern.


Colonel David Smith AM (Retd)
Hon President
ADCC (Qld)

This was gratifying. I'm glad that the primary website used by schools to develop teaching units about ANZAC Day is now promoting fact rather than myth.

The original email I sent reads thus -

Subject: Myths about Vietnam - please acknowledge

Dear Sir

I draw your attention to this statement on your website – https://anzacday.org.au/tackling-some-myths-and-misunderstandings-of-the-vietnam-war

After their initial training all recruits were allocated to a Corps (branch of the Army, eg Infantry, Artillery) for specialised training, and were then sent to particular units. If the unit was scheduled to be sent to Vietnam, the soldiers were generally given the chance to avoid transfer elsewhere. The Army's rationale was that in combat every man had to be able to rely totally on his mates, and any reluctant soldiers would endanger the whole group.

This statement is untrue, and should be removed from your website. I discovered it when, as a Vietnam Veteran, I was preparing an address to students at my old school, Downlands College (Toowoomba). My address was dedicated to Francis Topp, a friend I knew from my time at the school who was killed in the battle of Long Tan. I was seeking an accurate account of Australia’s history in Vietnam. 

I served as a conscript, in 7th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment in its second tour of duty in South Vietnam in 1970.  I have no memory of being given a choice. There has been a myth circulated. It goes like this – prior to embarkation, a unit parade of National Servicemen would be called and those who did not want to serve in Vietnam would be asked to take one pace forward. If they did so, they would be marched out to join a unit not warned for Vietnam service.

The Nashos I served with, although they had heard this account, vowed that it had never happened to them. I have searched infantry battalion records held on-line at the AWM. Every parade, including those held prior to embarkation, was recorded for every infantry unit - https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/RCDIG1029063/

Nowhere is there a record of such a parade. I gave up after looking through the parade records of four of the nine battalions in existence at the time. It was an entirely fruitless search.

This is hardly surprising. If these parades had been held, the Commanding Officer of the unit in question would have been in breach of the National Service Act - https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/C1965A00052

Perhaps there were “unofficial” parades mounted by some units – but to say that the soldiers were “generally” given the chance to avoid service in Vietnam is at least misleading, and at most a lie.

“Generally” means “mostly”, or perhaps, “more often than not”, or perhaps that it was common practice. This contention is simply not supported by the available historical evidence. It certainly doesn’t sit with my experience, or that of the many Nashos I have discussed the issue with down through the years. It is also debunked in Mark Dapin’s Vietnam, The Nashos War – https://penguin.com.au/books/the-nashos-war-australias-national-servicemen-and-vietnam-97806700

It has no place on a website used by schools to educate young Australians about our proud military history. As a school principal for many years before retirement, I understand the difference between indoctrination and education.

The reason for this variation from the reality and the insertion of it in a resource intended for school use is, I believe, caught up in the Anzac myth. The notion of noble sacrifice doesn’t sit well with conscription, so conscripts become “volunteers”. It adds a layer of sweetening to help the harsh medicine go down.

Until we embrace the reality of our history, warts and all, our nation will not develop beyond its adolescence. That reality saw Australian conscripts killed in Vietnam. I saw a couple of them die.

To deny that truth dishonours those men. It assumes that there was a distinction in the field between Nashos and volunteers, and that the service of Nashos was somehow less honourable because they did not volunteer.

Why else would the myth seek to convert us to volunteers?

When it come to the ANZAC myth, it’s time we grew up and confronted the reality of war in all its ugliness. Truth and remembrance go hand in hand.

I am therefore respectfully asking you to edit your website and amend it to reflect the facts of history. Simply remove that offending statement.

To do otherwise would be to disrespect my service, and those Nashos I served with. We were not volunteers, but we were good soldiers. We made the most of what life presented us, and did our duty.

Respect us with the facts.

Yours in remembrance.


Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Simply Shameful

The recent report of the Queensland coroner into the death of Hamid Khazaei has resurrected the debate about our asylum seeker policy and practices.

It’s pretty clear that his death was avoidable, and the outcome of decisions where politics trumped sensible medical recommendations. Perhaps it’s time for the people who made those decisions to be brought to account. I won’t hold my breath….

What has also become clear, is that despite the constant repetition of the myth that we “stopped the boats”, the truth lies somewhere else. The boats have not stopped. They have continued to leave Indonesia. 

Generally, we don’t hear about it, because information about “on-water” operations is censored, but the following facts are relevant –

33 boats and 771 people have been turned back since September 2013 under Operation Sovereign Borders. The last boat turned around was in June 2018, but the number of people it contained is not reported.

The fact of the matter is that banging asylum seekers up in offshore gulags hasn’t stopped desperate people from getting on boats. They don’t get to Australian waters, apparently, and we don’t really know what happens to them.

There are exceptions - most recently some Vietnamese, who are treated very differently now from the way they were resettled in the late 70s and early 80s.

The boys in blue on our patrol boats are doing a good job (again, apparently – we don’t know for sure), but they can stop arrivals, not departures.

Offshore detention was supposed to do that (stop departures). It hasn’t.

In the meantime, over a thousand people are detained in what can only be described as concentration camps, and we are in breach of many of the international agreements that we have signed. They are there, we are told, to send a message to those seeking asylum by boat. By imprisoning them indefinitely, we are told that no more people, no matter how desperate, will take to boats.

Except the message hasn't got through, so why are they still there?

The “policy” if you want to call it that, is simply a political wedge. The collateral in that wedge is about 1300 human beings, some of whom have been imprisoned for more than five years, and all of whom have no idea of their future.

As an ex-conscript, I know what it feels like to be political collateral, and what is being perpetrated on those asylum seekers is simply shameful. 

It’s time they were moved to the Australian mainland.

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