Tuesday, November 14, 2017

I felt a bit like Persephone entering the underworld

Image above: The Premier's ANZAC Spirit School Prize students emerging from the Vinh Moc Tunnels in the DMZ Zone - from claustrophobic heat to the freshness of the ocean.

A journal extract from 2017 Premier's ANZAC Spirit School Prize student Jessica Timms about going down the Vinh Moc Tunnels in the DMZ Zone on 9 October 2017.

You then suddenly emerged into daylight, directly by the ocean, and the illusion was further kept.

Bamboo trees lined the path, providing some respite from the humidity. The air was heavy and thick but by this time we had for the better part grown accustomed to it. Flashlights at the ready we descended into the darkness. I felt a bit like Persephone entering the underworld, the little electric lanterns cast eerie shadows on the sides of the walls and illuminated the scratch marks and small niches that where home for many families. It is said that 17 babies were born in the tunnel hospital, that’s 17 children who wouldn't see the light of day for quite a while. I couldn’t help but admire the guts and ingenuity (for example the air holes they created) of the people that would’ve walked the same path I was now walking on. I wonder if they ever saw a light at the end of the tunnel?

The eerie thing was how quiet it was. You had to remind yourself that you were rather ironically in the DMZ which was one of the most militarised areas in the world during the Vietnam War. And while you could see the craters, the damage the bombs had done, a once war-torn area almost seemed tranquil and peaceful. You then suddenly emerged into daylight, directly by the ocean, and the illusion was further kept. 

I couldn’t help but think that maybe the enemies were actually the victims? I think the Vinh Moc tunnels illustrate this. Here was a whole village of humans, people like you and me who were forced into hiding, hiding from what? Well I suppose they didn’t really know, an unknown and frightening enemy who unmercifully hammered them with artillery. I wonder if the pilots even knew who the enemy was. In Vinh Moc some inhabitants fled, others dug in. I couldn’t get over how courageous the people were, the persistence they demonstrated was inspiring - similar to what we portrayed in our ANZAC legends. Unlike the tunnels in Cu Chi, the Vinh Moc tunnels had little military purpose, they were civilians not soldiers. In fact the distinction between soldiers and civilians, between victims and enemies was notoriously blurred during the Vietnam War. Something I didn’t realise before embarking on this trip. I really learnt the other side of the story, for the better or the worse and can appreciate the hardships both the Australian soldiers and the North Vietnamese soldiers, as well as the civilians went through.

Monday, November 13, 2017

I had never learnt about the Vietnam war

Image above: Metala with students at Song Cau Primary school in the Phuoc Tuy Province.  Regarding her choice of photograph from the trip, Metala says "Although this photo doesn't relate to the topic of my diary entry below, it is definitely one of my favourites. These three girls were so happy and grateful towards us and the gifts that we gave them. To me this picture reflects the smiles and laughter shared that day."

A journal extract from 2017 Premier's ANZAC Spirit School Prize student Metala Burgess about visiting the Long Tan battlefieldon 4 October 2017.

I would have never had learnt if I was sitting in a regular classroom in Australia

I had never learnt about the Vietnam war before this trip. I had only ever heard about the more famous battles such as Long Tan but overall my knowledge of the war was minimal. After a fun-filled, karaoke singing bus trip to our destination on day 4, we got off of the bus, already beginning to sweat in the heat of the mid-morning sun and were confronted with hundreds of rows of rubber trees. These trees were a part of a rubber tree plantation, the same plantation where the battle of Long Tan was fought. We walked through the rubber trees to the memorial. Looking around at the plantation that had now grown back almost to its original state was interesting. The local people had moved on and practically forgotten what had taken place in the plantation. They had planted new trees and they use the area surrounding the plantation for food for their cattle and goats. The memorial that we visited was one of the very few memorials for the Vietnam War in Vietnam.  As a group we stood around the memorial and had our own ceremony to both the fallen and affected soldiers of the Battle of Long Tan. Standing there in silence thinking about the battle, how many people were affected both physically and mentally from the battle and the many soldiers who died was a huge eye-opener for me. I couldn’t stop thinking about the fact that I was standing in the middle of the rubber tree plantation where over 300 men on both sides lost their lives and 18 Australian soldiers were killed.  Just imagining the soldiers fighting for their lives in the heat and humidity that we were experiencing and the torrential rain that we had witnessed a few days before, became so much more realistic when we were standing on the battleground of this awful battle. I learnt so much about the Battle of Long Tan that day. Although I had done some research prior to going on the trip about the Vietnam war and the battle of Long Tan nothing compared to what I was able to learn whilst standing at the memorial and looking around at the atmosphere where the battle took place. What I learnt that day, what I saw, heard, smelt and felt was incredible. This knowledge was something in which I would have never had if I was sitting in a regular classroom in Australia and I am so grateful that I was given the opportunity to endure the incredible experiences that I did on this trip.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

I tried to imagine the stories

Image above: The 2017 Premier's ANZAC Spirit School Prize students and staff at the Long Tan Memorial.

A journal extract from 2017 Premier's ANZAC Spirit School Prize student Laura Stephens about the ceremony at Long Tan on 4 October 2017.

Suddenly, the lives of those who died here didn’t seem so distant. 

As I laid a rose at the base of the Long Tan memorial, I tried to imagine the stories which the young men who died in Vietnam, never got to tell. Stories of mateship, of bravery, of heartbreak. I looked around me at the place which was the last place so many men ever saw. Yet it seemed so peaceful. There was new life everywhere, small tapioca plants barely half a metre tall, trees which were so green they seemed fake, lush grass covering the distant hill. Seeing Long Tan like this, it was hard to imagine it littered with bullets, blood and army uniforms. Then Brenton shared with us “I was only 19” by Redgum. Suddenly, the lives of those who died here didn’t seem so distant. It was as though they were singing and remembering along with us. I can remember one lyric gave me chills right to my feet. It said, “Then a God almighty roar, and Frankie kicked a mine, the day that mankind kicked the moon, God help me – he was goin’ home in June” It reminded me how close to death each one of these men were. I felt tears in my eyes, imagining myself in the position of the families of each of these men. Imagining the devastation if it had been one of my brothers killed on that day.
Before I left for Vietnam, I researched a South Australian man who died during the battle of Long Tan. After coming to know a bit about his life and family, it made visiting Long Tan so much more meaningful for me. It was comforting knowing that his life and stories were still being remembered 51 years later, by someone who was no relation to him at all.

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Hard to believe just 50 years ago that it had been a war-torn place

Image above: Wet early morning markets in Hue.

A journal extract from 2017 Premier's ANZAC Spirit School Prize student Hannah Brown about our early morning walk along the Perfume River in Hue on 9 October 2017.

The energy was infectious!

Something I will miss about Vietnam is the positive energy and buzz of the streets. Upon arrival in Ho Chi Minh City, one of the first things many of us noticed were the motorbikes. They raced down the street as an endless stream, whizzing past our bus, dodging obstacles, and sometimes carrying objects bigger than the bike itself. Any jet lag I had felt seemed to wash away on that first bus trip from the airport to the hotel, as I took in the excitement and energy of this new city. This was a common thread anywhere we visited- it was always a hive of activity. It seemed to me that Vietnam never slept! I assumed that our group would be the only people on the street during our 6 am walks- but I couldn’t have been more wrong. In the early hours of the morning people filled the local parks exercising. From aerobics classes to badminton, to weights or Tai Chi, it seemed as though every person was up and about. The energy was infectious! No one looked the slightest bit tired, and instead were smiling, laughing and enjoying themselves (although in the ‘laughter yoga’ group, I’m not sure how much of this was genuine). It became clear to me that the Vietnamese valued their health and well-being to a high degree. On other mornings, we walked through bustling market places where the locals could be found preparing their fresh food for the day ahead. I admired how hard they worked, even in the very early morning, through intense heat, or rainfall. And once again, everything was done with a smile.

Yet this liveliness wasn’t only found in the morning; it continued through the day and late into the evenings too, where light shone bright, music filled the streets and cyclos rode by. In other countries I have visited, the crowds have really bothered me- but not in Vietnam. The welcoming, cheerful and polite attitude of the locals towards foreigners like us made the experience very enjoyable. It was hard to believe just 50 years ago that it had been a war-torn place of violence and fear.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Unlike any place I had ever seen in my life.

Image above: Ha Long Bay at sunrise on 13 October 2017

A journal extract from 2017 Premier's ANZAC Spirit School Prize student Alicia Crowhurst  about our visit to Ha Long Bay on 13 October 2017.

I looked up at the stars and realised how all aspects of the trip had changed my life.

We were told how, during the Vietnam War, HaLong Bay was somewhat of a ‘haven’, a place of peace and serenity so close to the combat taking place in the unpredictable Vietnamese terrain. Having witnessed the bay at its prime- particularly at sunrise (as displayed in the picture) I was able to experience this ‘haven’, its peace and its utmost beauty.

HaLong Bay was unlike any place I had ever seen in my life. Upon arrival, there appeared to be hundreds of islands floating effortlessly on the flat horizon. As we further ventured out to sea, the environment proved to be even more magical as we weaved through the towering rocks whilst gliding through the clear water on our cruise. We spent the afternoon/ evening playing Volleyball, swimming, fishing for squid and of course, feasting. At six o’clock, we witnessed the amazing carving of fruit, ate dinner and then had our final group meeting. Here, we were able to reflect not only on the culture, past, and present of Vietnam- but also on our researched World War 1 soldiers/nurses and our researched Vietnam Veterans.

We mentioned them, the men and women who risked their lives in the pursuit of protecting their country and ultimately each other. As we payed our respects and fulfilled a minute of silence, I looked up at the stars and realised how all aspects of the trip had changed my life; from the researching of Jessie Wakefield in the Goolwa History room to trying the ‘Barrack Obama soup’ in Hanoi. The trip has not only enhanced my gratitude for Australian soup, but also for my family, friends, the opportunities I am provided with and the country I am so blessed to live in. This small yet impacting moment had immense effect on me, as well as the prior 12 days of the trip when I visited post battlefields and war bases, walked and danced in the tropical rain, may or may not have lost my prescription sunglasses, developed relationships with Vietnamese children, bartered in markets/ shops and developed lifelong friendships with others on the trip.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Every unknown corner in the dark

Image above: Lily going down a tunnel at Cu Chi.

A journal extract from 2017 Premier's ANZAC Spirit School Prize student Lily Bright  about our visit to the Cu Chi Tunnells on 4 October 2017.

I soon realised how truly terrifying it would have been

During the trip to Vietnam I had the most amazing time and I will never forget all of the fond memories I have of those action filled two weeks.  I made so many lifelong friends and experienced so many incredible things during the trip, learning life skills and gaining so much knowledge. I found it extremely hard to choose just one photograph from the trip as there are so many I could have chosen from with all of the amazing activities we participated in.
Something I really enjoyed on the trip was visiting the Cu Chi Tunnels where the soldiers used to live, fight and hide. I loved walking through all the snaking tunnels and networks which were so cleverly constructed. It was amazing to see that as we walked through the tunnels there were other tunnels which went off in different directions and that the area the tunnels covered was so large in comparison to what we actually saw. It was good that we got to experience things the soldiers did, like crouching down and shuffling through the enclosed tunnels, mosquitoes and the tropical climate which proved to be hot and humid, making us sweat and soaking through our clothes. The soldiers would have also experienced this, while wearing long and heavy clothes, weaponry and essential supplies. After going through the tunnels I soon realised how truly terrifying it would have been to be forced to go down and live in the tunnels for days, weeks or even months at a time, as I thought only a few minutes was bad enough. Just imagining how the soldiers would have felt as we walked through the tunnels was eye opening. They would have stumbled around in the dark, not knowing who or what was around the corner because they did not have flashlights from phones like we did. Every corner the soldiers turned would have been terrifying, not knowing who was ready to fire at them or what trap was set to viciously kill. I believe soldiers that lived, fought and hid in these tunnels were so courageous and heroic.  

Sunday, October 22, 2017

How the Vietnam War drowns out their otherwise rich history

Image above: A wet and deserted Hoi An early in the morning.

Some thoughts from 2017 Premier's ANZAC Spirit School Prize student Josh Loxton on his learning from the tour.

I never really understood how they lived or their religious ideas until this trip

I learnt so much about the Vietnamese culture or South-East Asian culture in general. I never really understood how they lived or their religious ideas until this trip and now I look at this part of the world a lot differently. I learnt about the Viet Cong and their tactics and how they dominated the war with the understanding of the environment and their knowledge of jungle warfare. As well as learning their point of view, I also learnt more about the United States goal and their motives behind the war. I found out how much history Vietnam has beyond its colonialism period, and how the Vietnam War drowns out their otherwise rich history. Obviously there were many other things that I learnt but this was just to name a few.

I saw so many things on this trip that I've never seen before so it was difficult finding just one photo that captures everything. The picture above that I chose only captures a tiny part of what Vietnam is like but it was probably one of the best pictures I've taken on the trip. I think it captures the scenery of Hoi An nicely and the empty streets early in the morning. Other than that it's just another picture.