Saturday, November 19, 2016

Each and every one of us were silent

Miss Thao talking about how the Kangaroo Pad would have looked like 50 years ago.

A journal extract from Maddisen Kammerman

Standing here in Vietnam, in the same place that they were.

The sun was shining, the birds were singing and a pleasant, welcomed breeze blew gently as we took in the views of the Nui Dat base and its surroundings. We had an uninterrupted three-sixty degree view of the area, completely covered by lush, green vegetation and rolling mountains. Past Nui Dat Hill, the city of Ba Ria could be seen in the distance and all over the region, rubber plantations were able to be spotted. We stood on top of the Kangaroo Pad, the helicopter landing strip for the Australians, named after the Aussie native as the take-off of the helicopters resembled that of a kangaroo’s jump. 
Miss Thao, who was our guide for the Nui Dat/Long Tan area, was traditionally dressed in a light purple, long sleeved top, black pants and the typical Vietnamese straw conical hat. She indicated where different units such as artillery, medical and transportation had been situated around the base and gave us an idea of the general direction of other battles that had taken place around the district, including Long Tan. Miss Thao then showed us some images of the area during the war that she had brought with her. It was amazing to see the change that had occurred in fifty years, especially the regrowth of foliage, and it also surprised me to see how very little of the base is left.
The humidity hung in the air and clung to us, while everything, except for the occasional sway of plants in the breeze, was still. Each and every one of us were silent, you could almost hear the cogs turning in everyone’s minds, the realisation fully sinking in that we were in the very place that our troops had stood all those years ago. I gazed around in awe, wondering how such a peaceful place could have been home to the trauma and loss that was experienced here. I thought of Kevin ‘Dasher’ Wheatley, the soldier whose story I had come to know so well, remembering his heroic actions and what he had achieved while he was here, and knowing that I wasn’t the only one silently paying respect at the time.

During our discussion later that night, we all agreed that in those few moments, we had shared a special type of memorial service. Each of us thinking of those who had served for our nation, in particular the individuals that we had researched, and acknowledged how honoured we were to be standing here in Vietnam, in the same place that they were.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Premier's ANZAC Spirit School Prize students meet the Governor

Premier's ANZAC Spirit School Prize students at Government House on 4th November.

A reception at Government House

The 2016 Premier's ANZAC Spirit School Prize students were invited to meet the Governor of South Australia, His Excellency Hieu Van Le and Mrs Le on 4th November, 2016. This event was the final stage of a remarkable journey for the 8 students involved in this years Premier's ANZAC Spirit School Prize to Vietnam. As well as the unique opportunity to meet the Governor and visit Government House, the reception was particularly poignant in consideration of the story of His Excellency and his connection to Vietnam. It certainly was a special occasion and a very moving and apt way for the 2016 Premier's ANZAC Spirit School Prize students to finish their journey. We are also pleased that the Minister for Education and Child Development, Dr Susan Close MP was able to attend the reception. In her role as Minister of Education, Susan Close has taken a special interest in the initiative and I am sure enjoyed talking to the students at the reception.

His Excellency talking about the photograph he was presented with by the Premier's ANZAC Spirit School Prize students at the Government House reception. From left: Susan Cameron (DECD Executive Director), Governor Hieu Van Le, Tim Hanna (President RSL SA) and on the far right, Minister Susan Close.

I am sure the group will maintain contact into the future and we look forward to hear about their work in spreading the Anzac Spirit  message to their community and beyond over coming months. 

Sunday, November 13, 2016

2017 Premier's ANZAC Spirit School Prize launched

Image above: The poster for the South Australian 2017 Premier's ANZAC Spirit School prize.

To coincide with Remembrance Day 2016, at the 11th Hour of the 11th Day of the 11th Month, the 2017 Premier's ANZAC Spirit Prize was launched in South Australia. Posters, flyers and the documents re: competition details and entry information will be in South Australian schools this week and all is go for another great ANZAC Prize initiative in 2017.
As was the case in 2016 and traced in this blog, the study tour for the 2017 prize is to Vietnam in October next year. 

From 2007- 2013 prize winners visited locations particular to their study and participated in the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate in Leper, Belgium, a community commemoration at Dernancourt in France and at the Dawn Service on ANZAC Day at the Australian National War Memorial at Villers Brettoneaux in northern France.

In 2014, the prizewinners visited Singapore and Korea with a focus on WW II and the Korean conflict.

In 2015, 22 students travelled to Gallipoli to take part in the historic ANZAC Centenary Dawn Service.
The competition associated with the tour provides the opportunity for young South Australians to identify examine and articulate the nature of commitment and in many cases the sacrifices of Australian service men and women in the service of their country during times of conflict. 
The 2017 Premier's ANZAC Spirit School Prize webpage on the DECD site at is now active to check out the details for the 2017 prize.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

It is still much part of their lives

The children playing with their new equipment at the school (Truong Tieu Hqc Song Cau) the Premier's ANZAC Spirit School Prize students visited.

A journal extract from Tayla Wilson

Seeing the children play with their new equipment, it made my day

The school was at the end of Luscombe Airfield where some of our soldiers landed during the war, so there was a historical element to the visit as well. The students were all excited to see us, they were all incredibly well-mannered and polite, standing to say hello and goodbye. We had some difficulty talking to the teachers and the students, but we were lucky to have our excellent tour guides, Mr T and Mrs Thao to translate for us.

We sat down with the students in one of their classrooms, while Malcolm explained where we all lived in Australia. It took a lot of effort to get the map to look some-what like Australia, and Western Australia lost half of its land area! The students and teachers looked equally confused with the geography lesson! The students sang us a song with Mrs Thao, about mateship during the Vietnam War, even though we didn’t understand the lyrics it was so nice to see them all joining in and really enjoy singing with their peers. For them to know all the lyrics of the song, being about the war, shows that it is still much part of their lives. The school was so different to what we are used to; the windows have bars through them with no glass, there was no door and the teacher taught on a blackboard. It was such a different experience, not really what I was expected. It made me realise how much we take for granted – we have air conditioning when it’s hot and heating when it’s cold, laptops for every student, doors, windows, a playground and play equipment. These students don’t have half of what we have, but look equally, if not, happier than we are.

From our fundraising efforts back at home, we were fortunate enough to donate a data projector, laptop, stationary kits, sports equipment and stories to the school. It was great to see the excitement and joy in the kid’s faces when they received our gifts. One of the teachers told us how they had been borrowing a data projector from another school, it gave us a warm-fuzzy feeling when you know that they now have their own that they can share with the community and use to help them teach. Seeing the children play with their new equipment, it made my day. To know that we had made a difference for this community and for these children is something that you can’t put a price on. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

Never before had I felt quite so privileged, and lucky ...

Image above: Fishing boats on Ha Long Bay

Journal entry from Bridgette Walmesley-Cotham

 Our minds were focused entirely on our two individuals and their stories

Remembrance Service/Night on Ha Long Bay

With the wind blowing past our faces, and the strongest light being the stars, it was almost ethereal the way we stood in a quiet circle each waiting our own turn to speak to remember those who had gone before us. As we spent tonight on the Indochina Sails boat, floating on Ha Long Bay, it was a picturesque place to pay our respects to the two individuals of whom we had each researched.

Private Charles Cass had been on my mind during the recent days, I knew so much about him and his experiences throughout World War One, that I just wanted to thank him – however impossible that is – for all I’d been able to do since researching and sharing his story. That’s not to say that Lieutenant John Wheeler hadn’t also been sharing my thoughts. I’d already been hit with the feeling that I was in the same country that he fought and passed away, and I’d already gained an entire new perspective on how harsh and difficult his battles would’ve been. When visiting Jason’s’ Digger’s Rest Museum previously, even though I knew it would be there, seeing “Wheeler. J” on the memorial board made my heart skip a beat as I realised that I could be the first to stand there, in front of this small memorial on the wall, to know the story behind that name and to appreciate how it had come to be there.

As we stood in the circle on top of the boat and each repeated the two names that we had come to know so well, I felt a sense of calm wash over us. Our minute’s silence was the most heartfelt that I’ve ever been through.  Standing with only the sounds of water lapping against the boat and the far-off laughter from another boat in our convoy’s midst, our minds were focused entirely on our two individuals and their stories.

The night’s actions were only amplified by what we experienced first thing the next day. Getting up at 5:30am seemed no big challenge as we climbed to the sundeck once more. There we sat, and stood, in peaceful harmony watching the sun rise over the Ha Long Bay. Together as a group we witnessed the start of a brand, new day. The growing, shining sun seemed only to remind me of our ceremony last night – especially as we stood in the same spot of the deck. 

A remembrance service should be special and leave you thinking about the words said or the actions done. I’ll be thinking about ours on top of the boat for years to come. Never had a minute’s silence seemed quite so quiet, nor the tone of those speaking quite so respectful and harmonious. Never before had I felt quite so privileged, and lucky, to be in Vietnam and to be repeating the names of Private Charles Cass and Lieutenant John Wheeler.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

I stopped for a moment along the path and paused

 Image above:
Walking down the 200m path to the memorial cross at Long Tan.

Journal of Sam Doering

... how brave, how very brave the Australian and Vietnamese soldiers were.

I felt that the most memorable place that we visited was probably the Nui Dat Base and the site of the Battle of Long Tan. For me it really made me realise the true extent of the fighting in Vietnam. I found it quite strange almost to see how little remained of the Nui Dat base. When we neared the Nui Dat Hill, I was amazed at the scale of the area. Being in the same area as the Australian soldiers were during the Vietnam War, made me feel closer to them and really brought the history alive. It is one thing to read about Nui Dat from a book, but quite another to be experiencing it firsthand. I found it quite remarkable how the Luscombe Airfield was still being used. The in depth stories that Miss Thao told us also added to my understanding of the area.

Before going to Long Tan, our group visited the house of Jason Fenech who was an Australian Vietnam Veteran who had returned to Vietnam because he couldn't handle Australian society. His efforts to recover and preserve the local history from the Nui Dat Base, Long Tan and surrounding areas was quite admirable. I was dumbfounded when he revealed that there was only one honour roll of Australian fatalities from the Vietnam War in all of Vietnam - and it was hanging up on his wall. This made me realise how little we remember the heroic men who fought in Vietnam 50 years ago.

Later on that same day, we visited the battle site of the Battle of Long Tan. Walking down the 200m path to the memorial cross allowed me to visualise the battle as it would have been fought in 1966. I stopped for a moment along the path and paused. I imagined the guns going off, the torrential rain and the screams among the rubber trees and I thought how brave, how very brave the Australian and Vietnamese soldiers were. Holding a memorial service at the cross allowed me to reflect on the sacrifice of all involved. It was a moment that I will remember always. Upon reflection, the trip has opened my eyes not only to Asian culture, but also to the forgotten history of the Vietnam War and it has made me realise that we need to always remember the men who fell in Vietnam.

Lest we forget.

The only way I could explain it, is as ‘raw’

Image above: Jason Fenech talking to our group at his home ... museum ... school.

Journal of Sophie Hodges

 I was definitely not expecting what I saw ... this is something that I will think about every day.

Today the group visited a man named Jason Fenech, who pays for few Vietnamese children to go to school. Not only does he pay for their education, he also provides it. Before we visited, I had no clue what to expect, but I was definitely not expecting what I saw.
Jason was a retired soldier, but he was still quite young. When we first met him, he came looking quite flustered, and he was very shaken. When talking to the group, I could tell he was struggling and found it very hard just to think of what to say. The only way I could explain it, is as ‘raw’. It felt so real to me. Not once in my life had I experienced someone like Jason. I could only imagine what soldiers that had returned may be like, but seeing Jason really impacted me. I have only ever interacting with my Grandpa, who was in the Vietnam War, but they were completely different with their actions.
Jason really exposed me to war. Yes I learn about it, but until you see someone like him, I don’t think some people can understand. He doesn’t let it affect what he does because not only has he provided education opportunities to children, he also has created his own museum. It was absolutely amazing. He has collected so many artefacts from the war, and made it into something so special and that many people can see and acknowledge. Just walking around, you could see how much time and effort he had put into it. I was blown away with all the items he had collected. Along with bomb fragments, shell casings, guns, pictures and even rocks that soldiers had written or carved onto. It really was special to me, because we were seeing a part of the war, a part of the soldiers’ lives, and it was in the country it all happened.
Jason is a remarkable man. He has contributed so much to the lives of many people. He even has a little boy who has cancer that he supports and along with others, donates to. With the money that our group raised, I was extremely happy to see it contribute to Jason, his school and museum and the little boy. 
This is something that I will think about every day. Jason is just one example of a remarkable man who gives so much to people and doesn’t stop giving.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Back in Hanoi and farewell dinner

Back in Hanoi

2, 4, 6, 8 - single file along the streets of Hanoi

Last night dinner

A happy bunch in the bus

Last walk around Hanoi

To Ha Long Bay and back

Leaving Hanoi

Heading out into Ha Long Bay

Tim and Cendall looking relaxed

The students also looking relaxed!

Fishing in Ha Long Bay 

As the sun goes down

All up at 5.30am for the sunrise

Then Tai Chi at 7am

Then a climb to the top of an island (470 steps) by 9am ...

... for a group photo

... and a beach paddle