Australian PrehistoryHistory - AustralianAustralian CultureAustralian IdentityCultural Comparisons Between Australia and other Countries


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Relations between Aborigines
and colonists

Myths in History
Fabrications for politics

Should they be defined as part of a war?

Black Woman and White Man
Rape or love?

Myall Creek Masscare
Causes and consequences of colonial violence

The Stolen Generations
It's not so black and white

Jimmy Govenor
Not a good fence builder

Mary Anne Bugg
Female Bushranger

Justice or resistance?

1967 referendum
The myths

Contemporary racism against Indigenous People

Convicts and their legacy

Convict legacy
How the past shapes the present

Convict life
Regrets and floggings

Convict crimes
Power and morality

Convict punishments
What purpose?

Larrikin Convicts
Breaking rules

Thinking different

Convict women
Moral diversity



Long Tan
Long Tan
and Propaganda

What happened?

At times, "freedom" is ambiguously defined. In 1951, the Menzies Government tried to defend Australia's "freedoms" by having a referendum to criminalise communism. The referendum was defeated not because Australians were communists, but because they believed in freedom of choice. In 1962, the Menzies Government again tried to defend "freedom" by committing Australians to support the American invasion of Vietnam. Obviously, invading a foreign country to suppress a political system that was legal in Australia didn't inspire great patriotism. As few Australians put up their hands to serve their country, the government decided "freedom" could best be defended by introducing conscription. As is to be expected, such a defence of "freedom" sparked massive protests and thousands of Australians were arrested and thrown in jail.

Losing the war on the home front, the government needed some positive news and in 1966, a heroic victory at the Long Tan rubber plantation made headlines across Australia and America. A newspaper editorial even said:"it ranks with some of the great stands in military history."

The Americans subsequently awarded the company the Presidential Unit Citation for "extraordinary heroism in operations against an opposing armed force." Fifteen Commonwealth decorations were awarded to individual soldiers.

Even though newspaper editors and military chiefs were very impressed with the Diggers, exactly what happened at Long Tan is an issue of contention. According to an account endorsed by the Australian Defence Force, the Viet Cong were planning to ambush Australians, inflict massive casualties and subsequently use the victory to help win the propaganda war. However, as a result of Viet Cong stupidity in the face of Australian courage and mateship, 108 Diggers were able to defeat 2500 Viet Cong.

As is to be expected, the Viet Cong promoted a different account. They broadcast the news that 700 Australians were killed and two squadron of tanks were destroyed. The entire Viet Cong regiment was awarded a Heroic Unit Citation.

Even the Australian soldiers in the battle gave different accounts of what happened. In his book, "All Guts and No Glory", Long Tan vet Bob Buick was adamant that there was no ambush.

The Details

A brief account sourced from "George Odgers, Diggers. The Australian Army, Navy and Air Force in Eleven Wars. Sydney 2000." The book is endorsed by the Australian Defence Force.

The Vietcong plan

An Australian task force set up a strongly defended base at Nui Dat in the heart of the Viet Cong province of Phuoc Tuy. This location angered the VC and they reacted with a intention to inflict a quick defeat on the "arrogant" Australians. The VC planed to approach the base undetected and subsequently fire mortars. When the Australians left their strongly defended positions to look for the VC mortar bases, they would be ambushed and quickly eliminated.

The battle

D company of the 6th Battalion was sent to search for the mortar bases. As they entered the Long Tan rubber plantation, the Diggers found themselves under intense fire from mortars, rifles and machine guns. They tried to withdraw but they were pinned by hostile fire and menaced by constant enemy assaults. Even though the Vietcong had the upper hand, they made a fatal mistake by attacking the Diggers while they were still in range of artillery stationed at Nui Dat. The artillery support provided the company with valuable firepower, allowing them to hold their ground until reinforcements arrived three hours later.

The analysis

D company was composed of 108 men of which 18 were killed and 24 were wounded. After the VC retreat, a search of the jungle discovered 245 VC bodies. Questioning of prisoners ascertained that the offensive force comprised the Viet Cong 275 regiment and the D445 Battalion. A total force of 2500 men.

Activity 1 - Propaganda

  1. In terms of propaganda, what benefits could be achieved for Australia by describing the Long Tan battle as an ambush that went wrong?
  2. In terms of propaganda, what benefits could be achieved by saying that the VC was angered by arogant Australians, but had their arses kicked when they tried to teach the Australians a lesson?
  3. In terms of propaganda, what benefits could be achieved with newspaper reports in Australia stating that the Australians had had a great victory in Vietnam?
  4. In terms of propaganda, what benefits could be achieved by America giving awards to Australian soldiers?
  5. Even with artillery support, does it seem logical to you that 108 men who were ambushed in a rubber plantation could defeat 2,500 who had ambushed them?  
  6. Considering the amount of propaganda in war, do you think it is possible to ever know what happened?
  7. The Viet Cong broadcast the news that 700 Australians were killed. Is there evidence that you know of that would make this figure seem unlikely?


Activity 2 - Vietnam War - The Wider Context

  • From 1955 to 1975
  • 3 million people died
  • Communist North, supported by China and Soviet Union, attacked South, supported by America and its allies
  • Australia fought from early 60s to 1972
  • Approximately 60,000 Australians served in the Vietnamese War. 521 died and 3,000 were wounded
  • Like the Korean War, it ended in stalemate
  • Once allied troops withdrew, South was defeated
  1. How long after fighting stopped in Korea did fighting start in Vietnam?
  2. How did the Vietnamese War end differently from Korean War?
  3. Do you think that if South Vietnam had been able to hold on like it did in South Korea, it would be a relatively wealthy country like South Korea is today?
  4. Do you think that if South Vietnam had been able to hold on like it did in South Korea, fewer people in Australia and America would have made movies denouncing the war?

Activity 3 - Wars within Wars

Vietnam was a battleground in the Cold War between Communist and the West and but it was also a battleground for power in the Communist world

  • 1961 - Sino-Soviet split – The leaders of each Communist power argue that they are the true leaders of the Communist world
  • 1969 - Fighting breaks out between Soviet Union and China
  • 1978 - Vietnam pledges support to the Soviet Union in its political conflict with China. In retaliation, China arms Cambodians to attack Vietnam
  • 1978 - Vietnam invades Cambodia
  • 1979 - China invades Vietnam but quickly withdraws after suffering heavy defeats
  1. The Chinese have a saying, "One mountain can't have two tigers." Explain how it would apply to the Vietnam War.
  2. Vietnam is a small country. Why was it able to defeat the American invaders? Why was it able to defeat Chinese invaders?
  3. Why do you think Vietnam would have supported the Soviet Union instead of its Asian neighbour?


Activity 4 - Refugees

After Australia and America withdrew from South Vietnam, the North invaded and defeated the South. Millions of South Vietnamese fled for their lives. Some Australians argued that Australia should accept them because they were Australia’s former allies. Some Australians did not want to accept them because they had fought Communism or would not vote for the left side of politics. The basic facts were:

  • From 1976 to 1986, 94000 refugees from Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam settled in Australia.
  • The refugees were escaping the Communist regimes
  • About 2000 arrived by boat
  1. In 1972, Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam secured the total withdrawal of Australian troops from Vietnam. In 1975, he told cabinet that he was "not having hundreds of fucking Vietnamese Balts coming into this country." Why do you think Whitlam was opposed to refugees?
  2. What do you think the attitude to refugees was likely to have been from those Australians who supported the war?
  3. What do you think the attitude to refugees was likely to have been from those Australians who were against the war?
  4. What do you think the attitude to refugees was likely to have been from those Australians who were Communist?
  5. Only about 1 in 50 refugees arrived by boat, but they attracted the most attention. Speculate some reasons for why.


  1. Look at the picture above. What side of politics do you think the protesters were from?
  2. Do you think the protestors were racists or ideologues? Is there a difference?
  3. In your opinion, if the Vietnam War had ended in the same manner as the Korean War, would as many refugees have been created?
  4. In your opinion, if the South had defeated the North, would as many refugees have been created?
  5. Choose a country that produces refugees. Make a poster expressing your feelings about the refugees. Draw an image and make a slogan?
  6. If China and India went to war, or India and Pakistan went to war, how many refugees would you be prepared to accept in Australia?
  7. If conflicts in other countries affect Australia, are Australians stakeholders in those conflicts and should they get involved?

Activity 5 - Vietnam in popular culture


(Red Gum - I was only 19)

  1. Do you see any similarities with the approach to war in the song and the memory of war forged at Gallipoli?
  2. Explain this lyric, ‘Frankie kicked a mine the day that mankind kicked the moon.’
  3. Is there Australian pride in the song?





John Caesare
The first

Our Ned Kelly
A story heard and considered

Eureka Massacre
Dying for liberty

Post Convicts

Why is it not celebrated?

White Australia Policy
From Convicts to Chinese

Baptism of Fire or Well of Tears

Simpson and his Donkey
A larrikin and a hero

Nancy Wake
A larrikin and a hero

The Depression
Australia's Greek Moment

World War 2
The eastern chapters

Cold War
The expression of transnational identities

Prime Ministers
Values and policies of Australian leaders




"Let no-one say the past is dead, the past is all about us and within"(Oodgeroo)