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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: SOSE/HSIE
Year: 11-12
Theme: Wartime Work

Key Concepts

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

Curriculum Applicability Notes

ACT:Past; Sources; Processes
NT:History Stage 2
Qld:Senior History Unit 8 Modern Australia
SA:History Stage 2
Tas:Senior Australian History — national identity
Vic:Australian history Unit 3 — Colony to Nation
WA:Year 11 Australian Studies — Australian identity

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 clip or its ‘messages’ to you? Explain your reasons.
  6. Imagine that this piece of film is the only evidence you have of a soldier’s experience of the war. What would it tell you or suggest to you about the experience?
  7. How could you test it to see if it is reliable and accurate evidence? Suggest a variety of things you could do.

Suggested Classroom Activities

  1. Conscription in Australia during the Vietnam War was a controversial and divisive issue. Interview a range of people about their attitude to involvement in the war, and to conscription. Prepare a report on your findings.
  2. The Vietnam War had a harmful effect on many soldiers. Interview some soldiers about their post-war experiences. Have they been looked after by the nation? Should they have been? Report on your findings.

Modules That Use This Clip

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