Nui Dat Bunker - B Coy, 5RAR - 1966
Nui Dat Rubber - Airstrip E-W - 1968
Between 1962-72 Australian troops served in various localities throughout South Vietnam. Some were based at Saigon, Vung Tau, Bien Hoa, at special forces camps, on air bases and on ships at sea. However, the majority (about 80%) were based at Nui Dat in Phuoc Tuy province.
Phuoc Tuy was one of 45 provinces, roughly rectangular in shape, of average size (60 km by 40 km). It was located on the coast, 100 km east of Saigon. In the centre of this province stood Nui Dat, a volcanic remnant 101 metres high and about 400 metres across at its base. The province geographically was a mix of marshlands, paddy fields, rubber plantations, jungle bands, isolated mountains and coastal dunes.
Nui Dat literally means ‘small hill’ and there were several in Phuoc Tuy alone. The main one protruded from a rubber tree plantation adjacent to the north-south highway (Route 2). It was around and on this hill that the Australian Task Force (ATF) built its base camp, roughly circular in shape and about 2 km in diameter. Initially, the hill was covered in dense rain forest but this was later cleared as the base expanded. A back-up supply base, the Australian Logistics Support Group (A.L.S.G), had first been established 30 km south, on the beach dunes of Vung Tau.
On 24th May (‘Cracker Night’) 1966, the ‘Tigers’ of 5RAR were ‘choppered’ north from Vung Tau to an LZ adjacent to Nui Dat. From there, for the next 6 weeks, the rifle companies patrolled the 5 km zone around the hill to secure the area whilst the ‘base wallahs’ set about constructing the initial stages of the camp. Facilities were totally non-existent ... crude conditions that subsequent troops did not have to endure. It was the start of the monsoon season. This poem attempts to portray that place at that time.
Today (2016), Nui Dat is a dis-used open gravel pit, having been partially mined in recent years as a source of road base for the district. It is largely overgrown by jungle, with the odd farmers’ corn crops growing in small lots upon its eastern slopes.
♪♪ From Vung Tau ... riding ‘Hueys’, to the mud ... at Nui Dat,
We were in and out of ‘choppers’ ... for 12 months!
We made our homes ... in 4-man tents ... with pin-ups as just memories ...
Sank beers and lived it tough ... as lowly ‘grunts’! ♪♪
- Modified from the song I Was Only 19, sung by Redgum, 1983.
♪♪ Away from home ... away from home!
Cold and tired ... and all alone!
Lord, I’m still 5,000 miles ... away from home! ♪♪
- modified from the song 500 Miles Away From Home by Bobby Bare, 1967.
Australia’s camp at Nui Dat,
Located central in Phuoc Tuy,
’Twas 30 K’s from that sea-side villa,
Owned by Air Vice Marshal Ky.
When ‘choppered’ into ‘no man’s land’,
‘Tigers’ prowled through jungle, thorns and vines;
Real ‘pioneers’ as they tamed the way,
Unprotected by front lines.
And yet many others, still today,
Believe they really ‘did it tough’!
Well, maybe so ... but remember those,
First to do it bloody rough!
‘Grunts’ on ‘search and destroy’ patrols,
Out clearing 5 K’s all around;
Wallahs unpacking had dug huge holes,
Just like wombats in the ground.
Months passed by, before one felt safe,
Behind sandbags and barbed wire;
Sneaky drags, on comforting fags,
Blankets blocking out each ‘fire’.
And when we’d receive, any leave,
’Twas unlikely, too soon to say;
Oh for one day down at ‘Vungers’ town ,
Or five in Bangkok or Taipei !
From east to west, on a swampy strip,
Across the centre, an aerodrome;
Supplies and troops flown in and out,
And ‘body-bags’ transported home.
Tangential to this circular base,
Route 2 ran south to north;
A check-point manned along this road,
Locals searched, travelling to and forth.
From on the hill, you could see for miles,
’Twas about 100 metres high;
Bands of jungle and mountain peaks,
‘Wolverton’ still haunts the western sky.
And in places stood the strangest sights,
Ends with funnels, shaped as cones;
Protruding ‘pipes’, these ‘arty’ tubes,
Aptly nicknamed ‘piss-a-phones’.
And ‘dunnies’ constructed in that camp,
(Officially called: ‘latrines’),
Primitive indeed in basic design,
Caused such embarrassing scenes.
Mere earthen pits, out near the wire,
Strategically placed perhaps;
Should Cong attack us there at night,
They’d serve fine ... as booby-traps!
Cold showers hung, as canvas bags,
Above duckboards under a tree;
No floorboards nor electric power,
For this Australian infantry.
Patrols each day, for paltry pay,
Increasing tension, rarely spent;
Whilst our letters home hid the truth,
And most of what was really meant.
That camp had poor defences then,
Frontline troops exposed to that;
Held no respect for rear-end ‘wallahs’,
Getting it easy, at Nui Dat.
And odd snakes were seen around this camp,
Like kraits and cobras, and those called ‘'Sarge’;
Latter ready to strike at any time,
Three stripes exposed their camouflage.
Forming up each morn, at our HQ,
A line parade, for recalcitrants;
Charges read out in a one way farce,
Any defence stood little chance.
For breaches of the ‘Military Code’,
‘Diggers’ punished in various ways:
Like ‘extra duties’, or ‘loss of pay’;
Even prison for several days.
A picket in our muddy pits,
Near ‘the wire’, in the rain, to the fore;
With webbing chafing red-raw skin,
To satisfy ‘Murphy’s Law’.
Phosphorescence and fireflies,
Painted, on an ebony screen;
Odd parachute flares, lit up the night,
Then back to your tent, to sleep and dream.
Just suckers on guard, out in the dark,
Except for the special few;
All those in power, or ‘support’,
Relaxed with a movie or two.
These ‘wallahs’, stationed ’round that hill,
All had conditions really ‘rough’,
Each cracking ‘tinnies’, reading comics,
Or other such literary stuff.
Meanwhile, at that beach-side ‘holiday camp’,
A paradise you couldn’t conceive;
All on ‘duty’ from 8 till 4,
And then enjoyed themselves on leave.
There, their greatest fear, each had to face,
Was catching that dreaded ‘Jack’;
’Cause sex on tap in ‘Vungers’ town,
Was simply a matter of fact!
Yet, in hindsight, they, one and all,
‘Did it tough’, down at A.L.S.G;
Just ‘combating’ treacherous surf,
On the coast of the South China Sea.
‘Tankies, ‘Drop-Shorts’ and ‘Fly-Boys’,
At our base, or in transport machines;
Always well fed and under shelter,
Dressed in a clean set of greens.
Surrounded by gun pits and rolls of wire,
Their discomfort, almost nil;
Unlike those in rifle platoons,
Out securing that central hill.
When back at camp, in rare free time,
You might wander over this base;
Visit the ‘Doc’, P.X. or ‘Sally Man’,
Relaxed at a slower pace.
Perhaps on sandbags, writing letters home,
Maybe stripping down your gun;
Preparing for a platoon patrol,
Days rarely passed without one.
All frontline troops, out beyond the wire,
Or wherever they might be at,
Regarded this as: ‘Home from Home’,
Amongst ‘the rubber’, at Nui Dat.