Danger Close: The Battle Of Long Tan

I’m currently wading through David Cameron’s The Battle Of Long Tan to better gauge the historical accuracy of the movie released this week, Danger Close: The Battle Of Long Tan.

Set in Vietnam in 1966 the 1st Australian Task Force headed by Brigadier David Jackson (Richard Roxburgh) is set up in Nui Dat where patrols are sent out into the local countryside. One night the camp is attacked by mortars and while the Royal Regiment of New Zealand Artillery are able to target them, the 1st Field Regiment need to follow up the next day to find the source. Alpha Company don’t find anything, so Harry Smith’s (Travis Fimmel) Delta Company is sent out to chase them down while a rock show – with Little Pattie and Col Joye and the Joy Boys- is happening back at camp and with monsoonal rain forecast.

All goes well until at the rubber plantation at Long Tan the 11th Platoon of D Company comes under heavy fire and it is soon discovered that this is not just a raiding party but a full battalion of the North Vietnamese Army. 108 young and inexperienced Australian and New Zealand soldiers fight for their lives against 2000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong soldiers.

My initial qualms were about how this would stack up against the big money American movies. And you know what? There was plenty of blood and guts though the point that war is ugly was made without the focus on missing body parts. Bravo.

The Battle is also told through the eyes of Harry Smith and the other leaders on the ground which means that the audience is in on the tactics. Thank you, producers, for taking into consideration that we don’t all have military backgrounds.

This is a very Australian (and Kiwi) movie and the young larrikins come across as brash until they find themselves under fire. The language is littered with colloquialisms  though I admit to being thrown by “ we’re not here to **** a spider”.

Strong performances by all concerned. Reviews are raving about Travis Fimmel’s performance. I found his eyes so mesmerising that I tended to lose focus for a moment or two – a bit Paul Newman-ish.

Whilst this movie didn’t enlighten me any as to the whys and wherefores of this war, it did perpetuate the ANZAC ideals of mateship, larrikinism, and sheer courage.

What I did learn was that the Artillery at Nui Dat fired almost non-stop for 5 hours in support of the battle and that artillery fire was eventually being brought in “Danger Close” to within 50 metres of the Australian position.

And also that the helicopter pilots were as mad as cut snakes.  I’m now chasing a copy of (pilot) Dr Bob Grandin’s book. See here: 

https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/movies/a-helicopter-pilot-remembers-the-terrifying-battle-of-long-tan-as-new-film-premieres-20190613-p51xkx.html

I like a movie which leaves me curious. Vietnam was not discussed in schools back in the day. No political agendas. How things have changed….

I hope that these (now old) men receive the respect that they perhaps did not have previously.

Tip: Don’t rush out of the theatre. Read the screen right till the end. This is when you’ll be privy to a few sobs. Sitting in the dark in the quiet, I felt as if I’de been winded. 

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Vietnam Veterans Day is commemorated on the 18th of August, the anniversary of the Battle of Long Tan for the men of D Company, 6RAR.

On the third anniversary of Long Tan, 18 August 1969, a cross was raised on the site of the battle by the men of 6RAR, honouring the 18 Australians who lost their lives.

In 2017 the Vietnamese Government made the decision to hand the cross back to Australia, as a gesture of “goodwill” (following a political incident which barred Veterans from visiting the cross in Vietnam for the 50th anniversary of the event. Just one of those little “incidents” that we must gloss over). It is now on display at the Australian War Memorial in Canberra.

Top End Wedding: Movie Review

National Reconciliation Week is a national campaign held each year to commemorate two significant milestones in Australia’s reconciliation journey—the successful 1967 referendum and the 1992 High Court Mabo decision. It is an awareness program designed to encourage Australians to join the movement towards a unified future by building positive relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Don’t worry…….I don’t talk politics or religion on an empty stomach.

This year during Reconciliation Week a prominent Australian sporting event took place at which a number of our Indigenous sportspeople refused to sing the National Anthem on the basis that there was no reference to the Aboriginal race in the song lyrics. 

Fair enough. Still no political commentary from this end.

I recently went to the cinema to see a great little Australian flick called Top End Wedding. Don’t go to the movies often. Too Old School: I keep my shoes on, don’t dangle my feet across the top of the seat in front, and I never, ever take KFC into the cinema to eat. I haven’t eaten KFC since I was 13 and they were still using chickens.

Miranda Tapsell (Laura) plays an Aboriginal lawyer in Adelaide who heads to Darwin to spring a surprise wedding to an Englishman, Gwilym Lee (Ned), upon her Indigenous mother and white father – only to find her mother has disappeared. She’s got 10 days to follow her trail across the Northern Territory, and finally to her mother’s birthplace, the Tiwi Islands, and salvage her wedding plans before they crumble entirely.

Many of the reviews I’ve read have knocked the movie for being “clumsy”. Guess what people? We aren’t a polished lot. Embrace it! Some of the earlier scenes do make you cringe slightly, but they are all scenarios that we are familiar with : the drunken Hens Party with crass girlfriends, wedding decorations from Spotlight, the phallic cake, and introducing the pet dog to the grandparents as if it were human. Happens all the time. Admit it. That’s how we live, it’s who we are.

It’s so Australian that I’m not sure that international audiences would get the humour, though the scenery would have them enthralled. Darwin is just so Darwin ( and I adore Darwin), the miles and miles of red dirt of Katherine, and the magnificent chasms and cliffs of Kakadu National Park are simply stunning.

The second half of the movie moves into different territory, literally and metaphorically. When Laura locates her Mum on the Tiwi Islands we are in a different cultural sphere. Though part of our Northern Territory, they are 80 km to the north of Darwin adjoining the Timor Sea. They comprise Melville Island, Bathurst Island, and nine smaller uninhabited islands, with a combined area of 8,320 square kilometres. 

They are inhabited by the Tiwi people as they have been since before European settlement. The Tiwi are an indigenous Australian people, culturally and linguistically distinct from those on the mainland just across the water and number around 88 per cent of the population.

This has definite universal appeal with themes of family, friendship, cultural differences and reconciliation. Reconciliation. A good little flick with a subtle message and fun soundtrack.

Tip : Take tissues

*Bathurst Island has a fascinating history. It was from Bathurst Island that the Japanese aeroplanes were spotted headed for Darwin. The Catholic Father reported the sighting but no one took any notice. In the movie Australia, which depicted the Bombing of Darwin the island where Nulla and the other indigenous children were taken was Mission Island, which was actually Bathurst Island.

Australia’s Sweetheart by Michael Adams

Name : Australia’s Sweetheart

Author : Michael Adams

Published : 2018 by Hatchette Australia

I was gifted a copy of Australia’s Sweetheart on the basis that Mary Maguire “socialised with everyone from Charles Kingsford Smith, Errol Flynn and Donald Bradman”. Indeed, I went straight to the Index which listed thirteen references to Errol Flynn. Thirteen. Hold that thought.

Never heard of Mary Maguire? Neither had I!

Still, let’s not dismiss this 2018 effort by journalist, screen writer and author, Michael Adams. It’s a fascinating read.

Mary Maguire was a teenager when she starred in two Australian movies made in the mid 1930’s. Her first major role was in Heritage, produced by Charles Chauvel, just after he had discovered a young Errol Flynn and directed him in In The Wake Of The Bounty.

Mary became a household name at a time when 3 million Australians went to the movies each week and when there were over 1,200 movie houses across the country. Hard to picture really, pardon the pun. It seemed logical then for Mary to try her luck in Hollywood in the latter part of the 30’s. Especially considering her social connections……

Her father, Michael, was a popular AFL footballer, boxer and publican and her mother rather a beauty. When Mary was a teenager the family relocated from Melbourne to Brisbane to run the Bellevue Hotel, an inner city establishment renowned for its clientele and which in recent years had been listed as one of the Q150 Icons of Queensland for its role as a “Defining Moments”. (Locals may remember it was later demolished in the dead of night by the Deen Brothers to make way for another ugly Government Office Block – another defining moment in Queensland history.)

The Bellevue Hotel, Brisbane. Shame. Shame.Shame.

Russian ballerina’s stayed at the Bellevue, as did the English Cricket Team involved in the infamous Bodyline incident, Australian sporting hero Donald Bradman, and aviator Charles Kingsford Smith. Royalty supped in the Dining Room of the Bellevue Hotel, and one of Mary’s beaus was the young aviator that was killed in an air crash in the Lamington National Park ( located by the O’Reilly’s)

Mary lived on three continents : Australia, America, and the United Kingdom and she lived parallel with seminal incidents of the twentieth century: the Spanish Flu; the Great Depression; Australia’s early radio, talkies and aviation; Hollywood’s Golden Era; the British aristocracy’s embrace of European fascism; London’s Blitz; and post-war American culture and politics. It’s this information which is the backbone of the book and makes it such an interesting read.

My favourite piece of trivia revolves around Mary’s Australian friend, Margaret Vyner, a super model before the term was even invented and fellow actress. Such was Vyner’s beauty that Col Porter added her name to the list of wonderful things about the world in a version of his song You’re The Top from his hit musical, Anything Goes:

You’re the top, You’re an ocean liner, You’re the top, You’re Margaret Vyner.

Mary mixed with many Hollywood movie stars, including Ronald Reagan, Marion Davies, Gloria Swanson, Maureen O’Sullivan and Judy Garland. Her first husband was a Nazi sympathiser and her second husband, an engineer, invented Mr Bartender.

Thirteen Index references to Errol Flynn. Mary Maguire “left behind no known diaries or letters”. There is nothing to indicate that Flynn and Maguire did anything more than share an employer and workspace. Flynn has most certainly been used as a yard stick and the author has obviously done much research utilising media reports. I’m just not so sure this conveys the actress’s actual life as opposed to the life publicity would have us believe she lived.

Regardless, an engaging read and insight into earlier times.

Book Review: Brother Digger by Patricia Shaw

Nearly thirty years ago I picked up a book for 50 cents at a discount store in Adelaide, South Australia. I had two toddlers and a husband who had a predilection for Italian shoes and bespoke suits. It was all I could afford. 

Brother Digger sparked my interest in Changi and the Thai-Burma Railway and provided the impetus to spend (a lot) more money on books about the subject. I’ve told the daughters that when I’m cremated this book is coming with me. It’s the story of the Sullivan brothers, not to be confused with the tv series, The Sullivans, nor the 1944 movie The Fighting Sullivans.

This one changed my life trajectory.

Patricia Shaw is an acclaimed Australian novelist. A teacher and political journalist before becoming head of the Oral History Department of the Parliamentary Library, it was during this period that Shaw wrote Brother Digger after a conversation with her neighbour, Frank Sullivan. 

Drawn from the reminiscences of the Sullivan brothers, and the friends that fought beside them during World War 2, Brother Digger is the true story of the five Sullivan brothers from Queensland who all enlisted in the 2nd AIF.

The Sullivans lived in rural Toowoomba, in a family of twelve children. Parents, James and Sylvia, did it tough during the Depression, though always managed to find sustenance for any callers looking for a feed.

Each of the Sullivans had a different war, and the author managed to interview all except the eldest, Jack, who passed in 1969. The information provided by each of these men, forty years later, is conversational in tone, personal, and none of them hold back. This makes the history feel real. Steve says of the Fall of Singapore, “There were no fortifications. It was another bloody balls-up.”

Although not big in size some of the stories within this book are huge. Jack and Steve had major authority figure issues with English military personnel yet both were leaders of men. Eugene makes several long term friendships at Changi, including Ringer Edwards on whom author, Neville Shute, based the character Joe Harmon in A Town Like Alice.

My favourite quote comes from the father, James, who said to his sons, “Bloody mad going off to fight for the British again. Will Australians never learn? And that Menzies! He’ll sing God Save The King and do exactly what the British tell him to do.”

Lt. Jack Sullivan served in Tobruk and PNG.

 Lt. Eugene Sullivan served in Malaya and Singapore, and was incarcerated at Changi POW Camp before being sent to work on the Burma Railway.

Frank served in the Middle East, was captured by the Italians and shipped to Italy. When the Italians surrendered he was transferred to a German stalag for the duration.

Steve joined the Citizen Military Services, or the chockos (as in chocolate soldiers that melt under pressure). He was awarded the Military Medal for his service in PNG.

Vic, eighteen at enlistment, served in PNG.

Each of the men have a fascinating story which is entwined with events at home. Telegrams are received, there’s a family wedding, the collation of Red Cross parcels, and Sylvia proudly receives her Female Relatives Badge with five stars.

It touches upon their reintegration into society at wars end. Eugene made a claim for medical conditions from his incarceration, including scratched eyeballs, a Japanese punishment ( not included in their records), and ulcerated legs, which were declined by Repatriation. He never appealed having been told he was a “bludger” and “no hoper”.

This is history at its best, a personal history and an insight into a slice of Australian life. It is filled with honesty and humour despite the ugliness of war.

Is there any particular book that made a change to your life?

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Finch, Bloody Finch

We’ve been sold another pup….

Were you too brought up on the myth that Actor, Peter Finch, of A Town Like Alice and The Shiralee fame, was Australian?

Buzzzzz. Wrong! Finch was born in England, lived as a child in France and India, only coming to Australia to live with rellies when he was 10. It wasn’t a happy childhood, and the Jesuit saying “Give me the child for the first seven years and I will give you the man” could explain a lot.

I’ve just read Elaine Dundy’s Finch, Bloody Finch and it doesn’t paint a pretty picture of the man. Talented, eccentric, creative, for sure. Also a ratbag.

His school years weren’t much to write home about, though his best mate was Paul Brickhall, author of classic books The Dambusters, The Great Escape, and Reach For The Sky. His first job was as a copy boy at the Sydney newsroom which of course meant that he became a member of the infamous Sydney Journalists Club ( read as Big Boozer) refer https://alanknight.wordpress.com/2010/10/29/sydneys-journalists-club/

Living at Kings Cross during its Bohemian days Finch mixed with all types, including the infamous crime boss, Tilly Devine, and even shared lodgings with young artist, Donald Friend.

( That’s only 80 years ago. Another instance of interconnectedness. The Universe is A-maz-ing).

Success followed with radio plays and entertaining the troops when he enlisted during WW2., before heading overseas chasing Larry Olivier. And the rest as they say is history…………

Interesting is that Finch discovers when he is in his 40’s that there’s been a mix up with his parentage and his Father was never the Australian fellow, but rather a Scotsman. If it hadn’t been for this slight, errr, blunder….Finch’s life may have been totally different.

The book kind of disintegrates in the latter stages as we flit between Finch’s relationships and my interest waned accordingly.

Although Finch’s Joe Harmon states that “Alice is a bonzer town” with more conviction, Bryan Brown will always be my preferred Joe Harmon in A Town Like Alice. No doubting Brown’s heritage.

Apple Island Wife by Fiona Stocker : Book Review

Published in 2018 I’ve had my eye on this book for the past couple of months having holidayed in Tasmania, our Island state at the southern end of the mainland, on numerous occasions. The Apple Isle, as she was affectionately known a generation ago when that fruit was its prime produce, was the destination for my honeymoon, and a couple of Wedding Anniversaries. (Yes, we know how well that ended, don’t we…..just don’t lump any blame onto Tassie).

Twenty years down the track I came upon a Tasmanian whose eccentricities matched my own and we’ve been making the annual pilgrimage to the farm on the East Coast of Tassie ever since. I share all this as I feel it to be relevant to my feelings about this memoir.


The author, Fiona Stocker, is Australian by birth but grew up in the UK where she met her partner and they later immigrated to Brisbane, Queensland, in search of a lifestyle with more “space”. Seven years in Brisvegas and the couple realise they’ve merely swapped one city for another, and partner, Oliver, has never adjusted to Qld’s summer humidity. Ollie, mate, you are not on your own – feeling your pain.

They sell up and buy a five acre bush block out of Launceston, northern Tasmania, moving into a house which requires renovations and with septic tank issues. With two toddlers they embark on a totally different way of life, attempting to become self sufficient of sorts, as hobby farmers do.

Fiona shares the trials encountered in their first years on their property : scorpions, snakes, wallabies eating the vegetable patch, chickens that won’t lay, guinea fowl, and neighbours who are three or fourth generation Taswegian farmers – their own special breed, let me tell you. There are mistakes to learn from and celebrations to share, such as mastering the art of lighting a wood fire, cooking wallaby patties, stocking a wood pile, the formation of lasting friendships, and playing midwife to an alpaca.

Fiona admits that her mindset slowly changed to that of a country woman, bartering and swapping produce, considering bush regeneration, growing and cooking the bulk of family meals, and attending stock and farm machinery clearance sales for pleasure.

There are a lot of gentle laughs in this book and I feel those readers unfamiliar with life in rural Tasmania would really enjoy and gain from Fiona’s stories. A Must Read for City Slickers to appreciate their country cousins…..

One of my Tasmanian sisters-in-law butchers her Alpacas when they become recalcitrant and swears by Alpaca chops. The brother-in-law does not serve Turkey at Christmas, but rather Roasted Peacock which are in abundance on his property.

My limited artistic efforts include this plate I painted for the alpaca butcher in the family. My attempt at sarcasm as I was appalled. The alpacas had names for God’s sake.

Ten years ago I would have jumped at the opportunity to hobby farm in beautiful Tassie. These days I need the reassurance that I can get a pizza delivered and it’s a cheap taxi ride to visit Uncle Dan, (as in Murphy, the wine cellar).

This book most certainly resonates and I envy the Stocker’s their move and the realignment of their dreams.

I look forward to Fiona’s next book in which she shares how they become Pig Farmers. Personally, I’de love the author to include some recipes as these country women seem to have mastered the art of creating a meal out of absolutely nothing and turning it into something magnificent. Wallaby Patties anyone?

Book Review :Diving Into Glass by Caro Llewellyn

This memoir opens with a quote from John Wayne which sets the tone appropriately: – “Courage is being scared to death but saddling up anyway”.

Caro Llewellyn is a successful author of several non fiction books, and Director of numerous Literary Festivals, both at home in Australia and abroad. Jogging through New York’s Central Park, she loses feelings in her legs. Forty eight hours later she is diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) a chronic, neurodegenerative condition that affects the central nervous system.

What makes this so traumatic is that Caro has survived a childhood marred by having a father confined to life in a wheelchair. At twenty years of age, Richard Llewellyn contracted Polio, though remaining positive and determined, he flirts with his nurse whilst in an Iron Lung and ends up marrying her.

This disability doesn’t prevent Richard from working and the Llewellyn’s open a successful art gallery, whilst bringing up two young children. Taking its toll on Caro’s mother, this leads to the disintegration of the family unit. Ultimately, this leads to a successful life for each of the parents with the father receiving an Order of Australia for his Disability Advocacy work, and mother finding herself as a mature age student and becoming the renowned Poet and Author, Kate Llewelyn. 

Courtesy of author

Caro spends several years trying to find herself, and it is in New York, where she has finally found her niche and is relatively settled, that her life is shattered by her medical diagnosis. It is by looking back at her father’s example over the years that she finally comes to terms with the shortcomings of her body, overcoming them to the best of her ability

I found this book bordering the depressing side whilst at the same time totally compelling. To make such worthwhile lives out of such grim circumstances is amazing, though it does come at an emotional cost for Caro.

The voyeur in me was also fascinated in Caro’s relationships with men and her career choices. No tradies or public servants on her horizon: she mixed it with political activists, music entrepreneurs, and writers including American, Phillip Roth. With her writing and job role presenting Literary events around the world, is this the true legacy of strong, audacious parents, I wondered?

* Published by Penguin Random House Australia Pty Ltd in 2019