State Library of South Australia

Preserving memories of the Vietnam War: Emotions still run deep

Date: 12 October 2016

The 18th August 2016, Vietnam Veterans Day, marked the 50th anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan and Australia's long involvement in the Vietnam War. It was a day to remember all those men and women who served in Vietnam and the sacrifices they made but for many the memories of that time are never far from their mind.

Australian soldier in swamp north of Nui Dat 1968 Photographer Graham McInerney
Australian soldier in swamp north of Nui Dat, 1968. Photographer Graham McInerney.

The State Library is the custodian of yesterday's history and South Australians' experiences of the Vietnam War are part of this. We play a vital role in keeping these memories and stories alive so that future generations have access to the information that helped shaped the state we live in.

With this in mind we put a call out to South Australians involved in the Vietnam War, inviting them to consider sharing their photographs and memorabilia (including diaries, moving footage, maps) for preservation. We invited people to visit the Library and bring in their personal items from the War, with specialist librarians on hand over two days to discuss the items and the possibility of donation.

We also shared stories on Facebook of items in our collections which tell stories from the time, including Errol Noack, who was the first Australian conscript to be killed in Vietnam, on 24 May 1966.

It was evident from the comments and number of times the stories were shared that, to this day, emotions of those involved directly or indirectly with the Vietnam War still run very deep. The overwhelming sentiment expressed was for the terrible waste of young lives in an unjust war, through an unjust law, and the unjust backlash they received when they returned home. Comments also highlighted that today's generation is very conscious of saving and honouring the memories of a war that impacted on Australian society in so many ways.

A number of people expressed an interest in donating their items for copying and preserving, for example:

  • records relating to Private John Priestley who served in Vietnam, including photos and newspaper cuttings
  • photos of Private Dennis Kilnev (Coy 3RAR on operations near Xuy-Moc S.V.N. 1971)
  • photos from Jean Matthews, Adelaide journalist who went to Vietnam as a Red Cross volunteer
  • records of Private Lyndon Carey who served in Vietnam, including a memorial card, photographs, miscellaneous photocopies relating to his war service, DVD of funeral service, certificate of army discharge, plaque (1st Australian Field Hospital) and army badge.

These precious donations tell the stories of a time that many would like to forget but the stories continue to grow as we learn more about the donors. For example, the records of Private Lyndon Carey were donated by his partner, Llewellyn Jones, who became the first same sex partner to be recognized as a war widower by Veteran Affairs.

We welcome your involvement in the growth of our collections and the added knowledge you bring when interacting with our collections. This ensures that the lessons from the past are not lost and are available for future generations.

If you would like to talk to us about your items from the Vietnam War contact our Collection Development team on archivalcd@slsa.sa.gov.au or phone 8207 7250.

Story by Tracey Parnis, Communications Project Officer

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