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Only 19: Radio National “Into the Music”

04 Dec

This is one of the most moving radio programs I have heard all year. It is finishing — a repeat broadcast — as I write. You may listen to it online.

It’s a program about the genesis and impact of this song on both the subjects it remembers and the national psyche it touched so strongly. A location based documentary featuring a moving performance of the iconic song “I was Only 19” performed by John Schumann and the Vagabond Crew at a concert in Vung Tau (broadcast in Music Deli 1st and 3rd December) for the large numbers of Vietnam veterans who travelled to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the battle of Long Tan on August 18.

When John Schumann wrote the song in 1983, he hoped to capture some of the experience of the Vietnam war from the perspective of his brother-in-law, Mick Storen and to give voice to so much that had been unspoken since the troops had returned home. The song went on to become the unofficial anthem for Vietnam veterans and one of the most important war songs ever written in this country. It also made No. 1 in the charts for John Schumann who at the time was front man with the alternative folk band Redgum.

See 40 Years On — Long Tan and John Schumann’s site.

Mum and Dad and Denny saw the passing out parade at Puckapunyal,
(1t was long march from cadets).
The Sixth Battalion was the next to tour and it was me who drew the card…
We did Canungra and Shoalwater before we left.

And Townsville lined the footpath as we marched down to the quay;
This clipping from the paper shows us young and strong and clean;
And there’s me in my slouch hat, with my SLR and greens…
God help me, I was only nineteen.

From Vung Tau riding Chinooks to the dust at Nui Dat,
I’d been in and out of choppers now for months.
But we made our tents a home, VB and pin-ups on the lockers,
and an Asian orange sunset through the scrub.

And can you tell me, doctor, why I still can’t get to sleep?
And night time’s just a jungle dark and a barking M16?
And what’s this rash that comes and goes, can you tell me what it means?
God help me, I was only nineteen.

* * *

1 can still see Frankie, drinking tinnies in the Grand Hotel
on a thirty-six hour rec. leave in Vung Tau.
And I can still hear Frankie lying screaming in the jungle.
‘Till the morphine came and killed the bloody row

And the Anzac legends didn’t mention mud and blood and tears,
and stories that my father told me never seemed quite real
I caught some pieces in my back that I didn’t even feel…
God help me, I was only nineteen.

And can you tell me, doctor, why I still can’t get to sleep?
And why the Channel Seven chopper chills me to my feet?
And what’s this rash that comes and goes, can you tell me what it means?
God help me,
I was only nineteen.



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One response to “Only 19: Radio National “Into the Music”

  1. zoe

    December 7, 2006 at 1:25 am

    Doesn’t it ring home when you read those words! We shouldn’t have been involved let alone sent such youngens into a war that the government should never have contemplated! It’s such a sad,sad thing.

    Thanks for putting up that post as a tribute.

    Zoe xx

     
 
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