50 years since Battle of Long Tan John Schumann and Red Gum

Hi Dad

Today was a pretty special day. A day when you and I, with the benefit of age and hindsight, may have agreed on the end of a chapter.

Brendan Nelson, who as a former Conservative Member of Parliament and Opposition Leader always appeared to be a square peg in a round hole, was installed about five years ago as the Head of the Australian War Museum in Canberra.

You would have screamed abuse at the thought of this earring wearing, coffee drinking, Harley riding, renaissance man heading up this sacred institution. It was a role, formerly the province of ex-military men, the War Museum has always been the bastion of our military and national conservatism.

Brendan Nelson was probably more on my side of the fence when Vietnam was raging than yours. You would have considered it sacrilege for him to be even considered for this role

Even you though, I think would now agree he has transformed this institution into a living, breathing adornment to Australia’s sense of history and national pride.

He has created the magnificent Vietnam Memorial and made those veterans feel welcome in the hallowed halls. A place where not so long ago, they would have been viewed as second class citizens.

I watched the Memorial Service, commemorating 50 years since the battle of Long Tan. The ceremony was a triumph of massive proportions and I wish you could have been here to share this moment with me, it was a time when one of the last bulwarks of our animosity may have been resolved.

John Schumann and Redgum; the leading anti-Vietnam war protesters, melded seamlessly into the ceremony, adding to the poignancy and, shutting the door finally; on the divisions this war created in Australia.

“I was only Nineteen” reverberated around the haunting cauldron of the Museum site and I shed tears in my lounge room, tears for you and I, and the tensions this war caused between us.

Soldiers and Protesters were united in their grief as they recognized the lasting damage this War did to both sides.

Many of us opposed to the war, alienated family and friends whilst, many of the conscripts paid the ultimate sacrifice. Others; sadly, lost their way in the aftermath of this most political and ultimately futile of wars.

Brendan Nelson should be proud to have been the person responsible, for this momentous bringing together of the tribes.

I imagined both you and I saluting this man for his courage, in daring to make this ceremony a bi partisan healing of the wounds.

You would be proud of what he has achieved more broadly at the War Memorial.

Kayla and I visited there last November and the change since I was last in those hallowed halls is nothing short of totally transformative.

Nelson’s power of healing and reconciliation is exemplified by the tribute to Indigenous soldiers, I was struck by how the job Nelson has done at the War Museum will now be  a greater memorial to him than any political success.

We searched for yours and Uncle Tom’s battalions, Kayla asked me about you and what effect the war had on you, the morning of discovery turned into an afternoon of reflection.

My friends ask why I always make my annual pilgrimage to the Dawn Service on Anzac Day, I tell them, this is my time with my father. This morning was another of those special occasions and I missed you as much as I have ever done.

I thank Brendan Nelson for making this time so special.

Love

Bruce

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