Graham Atkinson discusses his service in Vietnam in the Royal Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. Conscripted in 1968, he chose to sign up for National Service in the post-1967 Referendum environment to prove his equal worth as a citizen of Australia. Graham did this with full knowledge that he could have gained an exemption from service on the basis of his aboriginality. Graham explains his training in Australia and then the shock of going to Vietnam – the weather, the homesickness, the proximity to fighting, and the very heavy drinking that he saw many soldiers take part in as a way of ‘self-medicating’ to cope with the stress. He also talks about his experiences of racism in Vietnam, towards not just Aboriginal people, but also African American GI’s and Vietnamese people. Atkinson says that these experiences stuck with him and shaped his self-identity as a proud Dja Dja Wurrung, Yorta Yorta man. Graham also speaks about the role of senior service personnel in ‘indoctrinating’ racist views.
The difficulties of returning to Australia as a Vietnam Veteran are also discussed, and Graham also spends considerable time talking about the education opportunities he received while in the Army and the follow on effects of this on his life after Vietnam. The interview then returns to the difficulties Graham experienced after discharge and his grappling with PTSD and clinical depression some thirty years after he returned from Vietnam.