Exhibition commemorates Aboriginal Vietnam Veteran service

ARTIST: Damien Shen in motion. Photo: Country Arts SA.
ARTIST: Damien Shen in motion. Photo: Country Arts SA.

Vietnam was one of Australia's longest wars, with a large number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people serving in the conflict.

While precise figures are unknown, the names of more than 160 First Nation servicemen appear certain while claims of up to 300 remain unverified.

'Vietnam- One In All In' is a new exhibition exploring, expressing and acknowledging the sacrifice of South Australia's Aboriginal Vietnam Veterans.

The exhibition was opened in Adelaide by His Excellency the Honourable Hieu Van Le AC, before travelling to Port Lincoln and now the Yarta Purtli gallery in Port Augusta.

Creative Producer Lee-Ann Tjunypa Buckskin and Curator Jessica Clark led a team of emerging and established artists who were each paired with an Aboriginal Vietnam Veteran from South Australia.

"So many veterans of war remained silent upon their return, internalising their memories and never speaking of the horrors they lived through," Ms Tjunypa Buckskin said.

"Our aim is to uncover and give a voice to those who have remained silent while we still have them living amongst us."

Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men served in Vietnam as national servicemen, even though the National Service Act 1964 exempted Indigenous Australians from the requirement to register.

Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal soldiers fought side by side in a politically divisive campaign of which they had very little knowledge about.

Upon their return were publicly abused, ostracised and misunderstood.

The collection of multi-disciplinary works by a selected group of contemporary Aboriginal artists aims to provide insight into this era and allow the broader public to explore and acknowledge these servicemen and women.

"The narratives are not just of the horrors of war, but of mateship and camaraderie," Ms Tjunypa Buckskin said.

"It is our hope to build a greater recognition of the sacrifices of these people in the broader Australian community."

The exhibition features local artist Lavene Ngatokorua and local Curatorial Associate Marika Davies.

It also shines a light on two local veterans, Frank Clarke and Ivan McKenzie.

Private Francis Howard Clarke served in Vietnam from May 12, 1966 until May 12, 1967 with the 5th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment.

His unit was initially involved in securing the 1st Australian Task Force base area at Nui Dat, before being part of the response force following the Battle of Long Tan.

During the battalion's tour 27 soldiers were killed.

Seaman Ivan Clyde McKenzie joined the Royal Australian Navy and trained as an engineering mechanic.

His service in Vietnamese waters was aboard the Daring-class destroyer HMAS Vendetta between October 28 and November 12, 1970.

'Vietnam- One In All In' marks the final year in Country Arts SA's three-year Aboriginal Diggers Project, sharing the untold stories of the state's Aboriginal servicemen and women.

Accompanying the exhibition is a catalogue to commemorate the Veterans, and provide further insight and knowledge of the military experience of South Australia's Aboriginal Veterans in the Vietnam War.

It will run at the Yarta Purtli Port Augusta Cultural Centre from August 5 to September 14, 2019.