Graham Atkinson's interview in Melbourne

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.

In the second interview recording from 2017 above, Graham Atkinson continues to discuss his service in Vietnam, particularly his experiences of racism, 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. 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.

These interviews took place on 22 April 2016 and 11 May 2017 in Melbourne and were conducted by Professor Mick Dodson with Craig Greene in 2016, and Professor Mick Dodson and Dr Allison Cadzow with Craig Greene in 2017, as part of the Australian Research Council-funded research project Serving our Country: a history of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the defence of Australia.

The interview recordings above are made available to be viewed here by permission of the interviewee(s), Graham Atkinson. The recordings may not be copied, reproduced or communicated in whole or in part without the prior permission of the interviewee(s). Requests for permission for use of this material should be made to the Serving our Country research project: our contact details.

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Updated:  16 July 2015/Responsible Officer:  Director, Serving our Country/Page Contact:  CAP Web Team