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Video Clip Synopsis:
What does it feel like to be a soldier at war? Tense young Australian soldiers creep through the Vietnamese jungle, ever on the alert for the Viet Cong.

1min 22sec

Australian Soldiers On Patrol in Vietnam is an excerpt from the film Action in Vietnam (27 mins), produced in 1966.

Action in Vietnam: In making this film about the Vietnam War, the Australian Commonwealth Film Unit did not look for battles and heroes. This was to be the story of the young Australians who were carrying on the standards of service begun by their grandfathers during the First World War. The emphasis was on people, both Australian and Vietnamese. The intention was to show what war really feels like.

Action in Vietnam was produced by the Commonwealth Film Unit for the Department of the Army.

Study Module

Curriculum Focus: English
Year: 9-10
Theme: Wartime Work

Key Concepts

War; Reporting; Propaganda; Conscription; Representations; Image and reality

Curriculum Applicability Notes

ACT:Everyday texts – Language: Contextual understanding
NSW:(1997 Syllabus) C5 Mass media
(2003 Syllabus) Stage 5 Outcome 4
NT:R/V 5.1 – 5.3
R/V 5+.1-5+.3
Qld:Cr 6.2
SA:Texts and contexts 5.3
Tas:Communicating – Being literate, Standard 4
Vic:Reading – Texts 6.6
WA:Understanding Language
Attitudes, values and beliefs

Context / Background Information

In 1965 Liberal Prime Minister Robert Menzies announced that Australia would provide combat troops to the war in South Vietnam.

Australia had already sent military advisers to help train South Vietnamese forces, but now there would be over 1,000 conscript and regular army soldiers sent there as a fighting force.

These troops initially served in an American-controlled sector north of the capital, Saigon, but in 1966 Australia increased its military forces and assumed control of its own area, in Phuoc Tuy province, east of Saigon.

Their role included patrolling, ambushing, protection of local villages and some aerial support for Allied troops.

Between 1965 and 1971 about 50,000 Australian servicemen and some nurses served in this conflict.

While initially public opinion supported Australia's involvement, by the end of the commitment in 1971 public opinion was far more divided. Particular tension within society centred on the issue of conscription by ballot, where 20-year-old men were selected randomly to serve two years in the Army, with the possibility of being sent to Vietnam as combat or support troops.

Discussion Pointers

  1. What is your image of the Vietnam War, and Australian soldiers’ role in it? Brainstorm to record these ideas.
  2. Look at this video clip. Does it support your image or expectation about the nature of Australian soldiers’ involvement in the war? If not, suggest reasons for this difference.
  3. What overall image of the soldiers and their experience does this video clip give?
  4. Look at the way the report has been constructed to create this image or impression. Consider the camera angles, sound effects, music, editing and the structure. Is it a realistic representation, or one that has been heavily edited and constructed?
  5. What key aspects of a war experience are not shown in this video clip? Suggest reasons why. Do these omissions influence your reaction to the video clip or its ‘messages’ to you? Explain your reasons.

Suggested Classroom Activities

  1. There was some disagreement about whether Australia should be involved in the Vietnam War. Construct two narratives to go with this video clip – one to support that involvement, and one to oppose it.
  2. How do we know? There are many ways we learn about the Australian experience of war in Vietnam. We can learn through a novel, a song, a film, a poem, a documentary made at the time. List and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of each of these ways of finding out. Are some means better suited for different events and situations?
  3. Much of the popular image of the combat experience of the Vietnam War comes from American popular films. Have different members of your class watch different films (depending on the suitability of their rating), and report on the key ideas and images of the soldier that are presented. Then invite an Australian Vietnam War veteran to speak to the class about his experience, and compare it to the American image.
  4. Research an aspect of the conscription debate in Australia in the 1960s. Prepare a set of dot points that a speaker might make for or against conscription during a speech.

Modules That Use This Clip

English Year 9-10, SOSE/HSIE Year 9-10, SOSE/HSIE Year 11-12