Behind the Wire: Images and Stories of Vietnam Veterans

This exhibition shares the stories of over 40 veterans, including 12 West Australians through contemporary photographs and interviews by Susan Gordon Brown. 

Behind The Wire: Images and Stories of Vietnam Veterans. Photos: Susan Gordon Brown. 7 August - 27 September 2015

Behind The Wire: Images and Stories of Vietnam Veterans. Photos: Susan Gordon Brown.
7 August – 27 September 2015

Politically and socially, the Vietnam War cut a wide swathe through Australian society and especially through the lives and families of those who served.

The photographs of official war photographers, photojournalists and the personal photographic records of soldiers, provide an important account of this time. Vietnam, with its reputation as the “television war” saw the rise of the assertion of the ‘the public’s right to know’ where debates around the photograph fueled global politics.

Perhaps the most famous personal photographic records are those of soldier Andy Mattay and his Kodak Instamatic documentation of the 7RAR , a photographic collection held by the National War Memorial.

We know all to well that a photo only ever captures part of a story.  Experiences of war and conflict are not limited to the battlefront. So too, the need to document and capture the history of the Vietnam War is ongoing as previously untold stories come to the fore. It is important that the stories both the the war and its aftermath are told.

The American unit that I’d worked with closely gave me a farewell party the day before I flew out of Vietnam. I had tears in my eyes. I didn’t want to go home. In hindsight, the war was a great waste of life and money, but I wouldn’t have missed it for quids. HQ AFV Kevin Graham b.1936 Ammunition Technical Officer Vung Tau September 1968 – March 1969 Photo: Susan Gordon Brown

The American unit that I’d worked with closely gave me a farewell party the day before I flew out of Vietnam. I had tears in my eyes. I didn’t want to go home. In hindsight, the war was a great waste of life and money, but I wouldn’t have missed it for quids.
HQ AFV Kevin Graham b.1936
Ammunition Technical Officer
Vung Tau
September 1968 – March 1969
Photo: Susan Gordon Brown


Behind the Wire
presents the everyday, personal stories of veterans through portraiture and oral history extracts. To quote journalist and writer Alan Attwood, “They have a shared history as Vietnam veterans. But each story, each face, each perspective is different”.

“When you returned to Australia you stepped out of a very surreal environment. The experience there was one of wondering: will I be alive tomorrow? Re-establishing the old values was probably the hardest thing to do. It’s almost as if you were between reality and fantasy” Glenn Darlington b.1946 I Gunner Signalman I Nui Dat I June 1968 – March 1969 Photo: Susan Gordon Brown

“When you returned to Australia you stepped out of a very surreal environment. The experience there was one of wondering: will I be alive tomorrow? Re-establishing the old values was probably the hardest thing to do. It’s almost as if you were between reality and fantasy” Glenn Darlington b.1946 I Gunner Signalman I Nui Dat I June 1968 – March 1969
Photo: Susan Gordon Brown

This is one of the reasons why Susan Gordon Brown’s work through Behind the Wire is significant. It highlights that the history of the war is a living history, very present in the memories of veterans, their families and friends. The oral history excerpts featured in the exhibition capture personal perspectives, unrepresented in official sources or history books. It is important to recognise these stories and equally important to collect and preserve them.

“Maybe it dawned on me – one minute I was flying around in a helicopter doing God knows what; then I was going back to work.” HQ AFV, AATTV John Riley b.1946 Medic Saigon, Baria January 1970 – December 1970

“Maybe it dawned on me – one minute I was flying around in a helicopter doing God knows what; then I was going back to work.”
HQ AFV, AATTV
John Riley b.1946 Medic Saigon, Baria January 1970 – December 1970, Photo: Susan Gordon Brown

The Library holds many items from World War I within its heritage collections – diaries, letters, and photographs. They belonged to West Australians who served in World War I or who remained here in Western Australia on the home front. Items of this nature are essential to keep these important stories alive for generations to come.

Collection of such material both honours the individuals or organisations concerned, but also provides the building blocks for researchers and historians, both amateur and professional.

The same is true for the history of the Vietnam War. Without material such as that which libraries like the State Library collects – oral, photographic, written – a representative account of the war and its aftermath and the personal experiences of people affected by it will not be available for posterity.

Behind the Wire: Images and Stories of Vietnam Veterans is on display in the ground floor gallery until September 27 2015. For more information visit: www.slwa.wa.gov.au 

  • Information on donating heritage material to the Library’s collection
  • Explore Bill Bunbury’s interview series on the Vietnam war for the radio series‘Within our time’, held within the Library’s collection

What’s in a sketchbook?

Sketchbook by Amanda Fernandez, 2014 "WA Museum"

Sketchbook by Amanda Fernandez, 2014 

For centuries sketchbooks, notebooks and diaries have recorded daily life, observations from great explorer expeditions, personal accounts, and intricate details of past lives and times.

Call to mind the journal of Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the Americas, or Da Vinci’s curious inquiry into human anatomy in his 16th century sketchbooks. They are forms of storytelling and communication grounded in time and place, and shaped by the personalities and identities of their makers.

The State Library holds the notebooks of Edward T Hardman including an 1871 sketchbook which records his geological survey of the Kimberley region in pictures and words. A vellum bound book of poems written by Irish convict John B O’Reilly,1868 demonstrates his creative pursuit and passion as a poet, while Revel Cooper’s History Book speaks of his education as a 13 year old Aboriginal boy during Australia’s assimilation era. These records provide a rare insight into the culture and concerns of past Western Australia.

What would the diary or sketchbook of a young  person living in the 21st century look like?

Thoughts, musing, observations and vignettes of daily life are revealed in a collection of over fifty sketchbooks produced by young Western Australians. The sketchbooks feature illustration, photographs, poetry and collage, and were created through Propel Youth Arts WA’s Sketchbook Project, part of the KickstART youth festival.

“My sketchbook is my reflection”, writes 23 year old Soolangna Majumdar, “…a month long observation of what’s on my mind. One 60 page long selfie.”

Following an eight month tour throughout WA public libraries from Port Hedland to Manjimup, the sketchbooks have returned to Perth and are on display at the State Library.

One sketchbook by 24 year old artist Amanda Fernandez has caught the eye of our staff with its aesthetic beauty and descriptive watercolour sketches.

How many scenes are familiar to you?

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View Amanda’s sketchbook and many more on display in the Discovery Lounge Ground Floor until 30 January 2015. Open during library hours.

More information:

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J J Talbot Hobbs’ WWI diaries online

Landing at Gallipoli (ANZAC 1915), BA780/23

Landing at Gallipoli (ANZAC 1915), BA780/23

Sunday April 25th off Anzac Cove
“6 a.m. Enemy commenced firing on ships. Some shell fell within 150 yds of Minnewaska. Launches & boats returned bringing some dead & wounded. Watching shell falling on our men ashore. We have not landed at the place where it was intended but to the north of it.”

“Conference of Gen. Birdwood, Gen. Bridges & staff as to whether we shall clear out or try & hang on. The position is extremely serious. I could not from where I was sitting help hearing the discussion. I think they would decide to clear out but the Navy can’t do it (take us off) so they have decided to stay if we can hold on.”

April 28th. Wednesday
“The stream of wounded at Beach Hospital continues. Some have most ghastly wounds but heard no moaning no complaint.”

Joseph John Talbot Hobbs, 1919, 011114D

Joseph John Talbot Hobbs, 1919, 011114D

These extracts are taken from the first volume of Sir Joseph John Talbot Hobbs’ personal diaries which were kindly donated to the State Library by his descendants. The five volumes cover the period from April 1915 through to July 1919 and have recently been digitised and made available online.

Sir Joseph John Talbot Hobbs is well known and respected in Western Australia as both an architect and soldier. At the outbreak of World War One he was given command of the artillery of the 1st Division of the Australian Imperial Force and went to Gallipoli. Later he served in France, commanding the 5th Division. In 1918 he was largely responsible for the recapture of Villers-Bretonneux.

After the war he took a keen interest in the commemoration of war dead through memorials and, sadly, he died at sea while en route to Villers-Bretonneux for the unveiling of the war memorial there in 1938.

Sir Joseph John Talbot Hobbs personal diaries
Notes on tour of Australian cemeteries and war memorials in Egypt, Gallipoli, France and Belgium, 1930
Australian Dictionary of Biography entry

The Western Australian Genealogical Society and the State Library present…

A medal for long service and good conduct which was conferred on certain policemen on the occasion of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee in 1897. Officers received gold medals and men silver medals.

Two seminars for your delectation…
Australian Joint Copying Project: what is it and where do I start?
Have you always wished you could get your hands on documents hidden away in archives in the UK? You may be surprised to learn that many of them are available on microfilm right here at the State Library. Records include documents relating to convicts, soldiers, early settlers and more.

Black and white and read all over
Newspaper stories and notices – even advertising can reveal a lot about our ancestors. We offer an introduction to digitised historic newspapers including Trove, the Times Digital Archive, British and Irish Newspapers, and more.

Australian Joint Copying Project: what is it and where do I start?  10.30am – 12.00
Black and white and read all over     1.00pm – 2.30pm
When: Thursday 6 September
Where: Great Southern Room, State Library of WA, Northbridge

The talks are free but you MUST register.
Register in person at WAGS library, Unit 5, 48 May st, Bayswater or call (08) 9271 4311 during library hours.

Western Australian company labels

Swan Brewery Company Ltd

 

The State Library of W.A. has digitised a lovely set of old food and drink labels from Western Australian companies.

You can look at them online if you search the library catalogue under the subject heading Labels — Western Australia.

There are bottle labels from the Swan Brewery, D. & J. Fowler Ltd, E.B. (Bert) Elliott’s  pharmacy in Kalgoorlie, Golden Mile Aerated Water Company,  Felton Grimwade & Bickford drink and vinegar labels and many more.

Happy fossicking!

HMAS Sydney

With the recent report of a search team finding the location of the HMAS Sydney and HSK Kormoran, you might be interested in information available in the State Library of Western Australia (SLWA) collections.

The oral history collection has an interview with Leo (Len) Cooper who saw the Sydney a few days before it sank and Noel Owen Donovan who had photographs of the visit to Bunbury by HMAS Sydney in wartime.

The Library has a large postcard collection which includes one with an image of the Sydney, found at BA537/1. The ephemera collection also has information. Barbara Winter has written an English translation of the Kormoran’s log, “Kormoran, Schiff 41, Raider G”.  

These and other items are available to look at in the library.

 

 

Your music for everyone

The State Library wants to have the best WA music archive ever and we think we have. However you can help us in our quest. If you record a CD and you are West Australian, we want it in our collection. It doesn’t matter what type of music it is – rock, grunge, Christian, hip-hop, classical, folk… the list is endless. Perhaps your kid is in a choir at school and the school releases a CD. Maybe you’re cleaning out Uncle Bart’s vinyl collection and you come across a copy of an early Johnny Young single. Contact us on 9427 3111  and we’ll give these treasures a loving home.