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.