Re-visiting Vietnam can have a cathartic effect for some. Motivation for returning varies from simple interest, through to an attempt to fill in the missing pieces to the puzzle of why were Australian troops there in the first place ... to get some answers to burning questions. Others prefer to stay away!
This poem attempts to capture the images and thoughts of a veteran returning in 1995 when the photo image below was taken. It is a view of the rubber plantation in the centre of where B Company 5RAR had pitched its tents back in 1966-7 and again in 1969-70.
♪♪ Risin’ up, back on the street
Did my time, took my chances …
Went the distance, now I’m back on my feet
Just a man and his will to survive …
So many times, it happens too fast
You change your passion for glory …
Don’t lose your grip on the dreams of the past
You must fight just to keep them alive …
It’s the eye of the tiger, it’s the thrill of the fight
Risin’ up to the challenge of our rival …
And the last known survivor stalks his prey in the night
And he’s watchin’ us all with …
The eye of the tiger. ♪♪ - from the song Eye of the Tiger by Survivor, 1982.
Author (facing south) back in B Company 5RAR's lines - January 1995 - CHQ's old location - (Long Tan to left; Binh Ba ahead)
Return of a Tiger
Return of a Tiger
A silver bird, with a red kangaroo,
Metal skin, no feathers, but it still flew.
Inside an old soldier, from Uc-Dai-Loi,
Returns to a place, when just a ‘boy’.
And it now banks, across paddies green,
Over a land thirty years, I had not seen.
Searching for answers, fill one missing page,
Of a time when I, was less than half my age.
Cabin comes alive, excitement everywhere;
Familiar aromas fill the hot night air.
Ton Son Nhat Airport, a change of name,
Yet, the curt officials, remained just the same.
A large crowd to welcome this Qantas jet;
’95’s festive season, the New Year called Tet.
Almond eyes that smile and long black hair;
Elegant coloured ‘ao dais’ that the ladies wear.
And since I had last set my eyes upon,
This Ho Chi Minh City, ’twas called Saigon.
Yet, urban sprawl never ’twas my goal,
Rather a rubber plantation, around a knoll.
Old ‘Vungers’ of course, I just had to see,
Binh Ba and Baria in Phuoc Tuy.
Though before them, or the Mekong, or Dalat,
My heart was drawn back to Nui Dat.
At last astride this rocky, balding peak,
I gaze full circle with eyes that seek,
Familiar signs embedded in my mind,
As I let the coiled past untwine.
Peace resides upon this abandoned mound,
Yet, I hear in the Dinh Hills an explosive sound.
Just gravel excavation, flashbacks to those mines;
A startling reminder as the tape unwinds.
Oh Wolverton! Taunting! In the western sky!
Dominating and haunting! And you know why!
In dark ravines, ambushes on your slopes;
Patrols at night, simply linked by ropes.
What pain and sweat to reach your other side;
Returned to camp, without mates who died.
No trees to dress you like you had before;
No one wants you now naked, anymore!
Towards Dat Do I face, half a volcano’s cone;
The Horseshoe in focus in that Rice Bowl zone.
What secrets hide you in this midday’s haze?
An image of ‘’The Fence’, where buffaloes graze.
In the distant south, two hills form a pair,
Indicating Vung Tau lies just there.
’Twas thirty odd Ks from where I was now at;
Thirty years ago on leave, from Nui Dat.
Long Hais! You beckon, like an open door;
How you deceived us in that bloody war.
Any beauty in you, we saw no signs;
Death hidden all over, from ‘boobies’ and mines.
From a strip below me, planes once flew;
Cessnas and ‘choppers’, ‘Hercs’ and Caribou.
In contrast then to engine roars and hums,
Farmers now tend cattle, grow Australian gums.
I see clearly an island, I well remember that;
Long Son protrudes mangroves, of the Rung Sat.
Do you recall us up there, upon your back,
Playing silly war games, hunting men in black?
And there’s Hoa Long village just down below;
Little change my friend from all those years ago.
Just a dusty old track, where Route 2 used to be;
A brand new highway passes north through Phuoc Le.
And Long Tan’s marker and surrounds bare too,
Whilst the Da Bang Creek ’tis now a lake in lieu.
Along Noack’s Road, north of this hill,
Nothing grows today upon it, even still.
Down there amongst the ‘rubber’, I find that place,
Where I lived twelve months when back in base.
Deep inside my mind is an ingrained map;
I’ve found my old home, here at Nui Dat.
Rustling leaves still litter that rust red ground;
I sense lurking ghosts, wandering all around.
Strange memories flashing, they come and go;
’Twas an eerie sight, down each endless row.
And where ‘top brass’ once pitched canvas homes,
Lay scattered tombstones, marked by rocky domes.
I pondered at what this graveyard meant;
Could this be, perhaps, a mocking monument?
As we rest awhile, a ‘smoko’ in the shade,
Absorb and enjoy a brew that we’ve made.
A young Digger’s laughter wafts in a gentle breeze;
Trails of vicious red ants climbing trunks of trees.
Pottery bowls and latex, dripping like paint;
Small concrete remnant, inscriptions now too faint.
A rubber tapper in black, doesn’t try to hide;
I grab for ‘something’, weird feelings inside.
And to leaders who sentenced us to this place!
What cost that war? What guilt do you face?
Poverty and disease, rampant, still exist,
Endemic graft and corruption still persist.
And peasants stay chained! What was it all for?
Maybe both sides lost in that crazy war.
So, for those returning, they might too find that,
No answers await them, here at Nui Dat!