Becoming Aware of the War in Vietnam

Increasingly my anti-war compositions reflected a more specific and urgent preoccupation – the rapid escalation of the war in Vietnam.   ‘The Defiant Digger’ – my first lyrical reference to Vietnam and my first declaration of non-compliance with conscription – was an angry response to two particularly disturbing developments in June 1964.    The Australian Government dispatched thirty more military advisors to Vietnam, and Australian newspapers reported a possible compulsory national service scheme.

Well the other night I came home from Port Melbourne
The world reeling from the news of North Vietnam
My mother said in fun ‘you’ll be off to war my son’
And this is what I should have said to her
‘Come on Mr Menzies try to take me
Try to take me to fight your dirty war
I’ll be staying here a-singing – while your dirty ears are ringing
For it’s me that’s gonna study war no more’.5

The reference to Vietnam in this song is somewhat strange because my clear recollection is that I knew next to nothing about Vietnam at this point in my life.   The Australian military had been involved in Vietnam since 1962 but few of us were aware of this.  My July 1964 reference to Vietnam was prophetic because only a few weeks later during the Gulf of Tonkin episode the United States conducted the first of its bombing raids on North Vietnam.   This prompted the first specifically anti-Vietnam war protests in Australia.

Sometime towards the end of September 1964, I was sufficiently troubled by the spectre of conscription to pen another song on the topic: ‘illy illy I dum’.  This described Laurie Cohen’s friend Peter and myself going to extraordinarily dangerous lengths – climbing church steeples and the like – to avoid being called-up (conscripted).  I was then still able to see the funny side – not so only two-months later.