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Building on the 2015 Victorian Yarn Ups, Vietnam veteran Graham Atkinson spoke to us in April 2016 and May 2017 in Melbourne where he discussed his service in Vietnam in the Royal Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. Conscripted in 1968, Graham chose to sign up for National Service in the post-1967 Referendum environment to prove his equal worth as a citizen of Australia. Graham explains his training in Australia and then the shock of going to Vietnam. The difficulties of returning to Australia as a Vietnam Veteran are also discussed, as is PTSD and clinical depression some thirty years after returning from Vietnam.
In Melbourne in May 2017 we also spoke with Mark McMillan, a Wiradjuri man from Trangie in NSW who enlisted at the Royal Military College at Duntroon in 1988. In his interview, Mark reflects on the differences between his and his brother’s experience in the military and he also talks about military attitudes toward homosexuality from his perspective as a gay man. Mark has a Masters and PhD in Law and said that his experience at Duntroon was ‘life-changing’, shaping him in fundamental ways, particularly his strong sense of his Aboriginality and the way he processes the world in thought. He also discusses what he sees as a significant failing of the military – namely the failure to support people transitioning out of the military and its highly regimented way of being.
The project also went to Healesville in Victoria in May 2017 to speak with Dorothy Peters who discussed the service of her father Vincent and brother Harry who both served in World War 2. Vincent was captured by the Japanese and died as a PoW working on the Burma railway, while 16 year old Harry lied about his age to sign up and fought in New Guinea. Harry returned from the war but the experience clearly affected him for the rest of his life. Dorothy also speaks about her reconciliation work over the last 40 years, in particular her work with the local RSL where she has been instrumental in helping the organisation to better recognise and embrace Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s defence service.