ON OCTOBER 3, 1992



Visit to the Australian Vietnam Forces National Memorial

The National Memorial to the Australian Vietnam Forces is located on the western side of Anzac Parade, adjacent to the suburb of Reid. It is located in the niche opposite the RAAF Memorial, which is on the side adjacent to the suburb of Campbell. The most straightforward approach to the AVFNM is from the east directly across the forecourt and up the ceremonial entrance ramp from Anzac Parade.

To view a photo of the Memorial click Here

Standing at the middle edge of the forecourt on Anzac Parade and looking to the west, the visitor is confronted by a complex vista. Immediately to the front is the ceremonial entrance ramp which rises gently towards the imposing central 'building' of the memorial site - three huge monolithic slabs or stelae rising from a low triangular shaped plinth surrounded by a shallow moat.

To the right (or north) there is a small forecourt area covered in gravel, to the rear of which is a wide flight of stairs leading to the exterior of the northern stele, and beyond that to an entrance ramp at the northwestern edge of the central structure. Looking to the left (or south) there is a larger forecourt area also surfaced in gravel. At the southern edge of this forecourt there are three 9-metre flagpoles. At the rear or western edge there is a retaining wall with a low shelf. This is an area designated for the laying of wreaths.

Surmounting this low wall are large steel letters spelling VIETNAM. Further to the south is a landscaped turf ramp, also leading from street level to the level of the plinth and to the rear Southwestern ramp. In the landscaped turf area surrounding the central building there are three concrete memorial 'seats' commemorating Australia's six MlAs.

Surrounding the whole site and forming a frame-like canopy are numerous blue gums. Light is filtered through this canopy so that there is a continuous display of shimmering, flickering light and shadow on the external walls of the Memorial.

The exterior of the Memorial is constructed of three cast in situ concrete forms or stelae, which project 9.5 metres above the base podium or plinth level. Each stele is tapered and inclined to the centre of the Memorial. These forms have been inspired by ancient standing stones or monoliths and by classical stelae. Forms such as these have always marked sacred sites, symbolizing spaces for commemoration and contemplation. Such sites remain amongst the most enduring and powerful of human creations.

Each stele is a uniquely twisted helical section and has acutely pointed edges; the result, a contrast of shape and scale which gives form to the emotional responses of war. These great 'stones' stand in a shallow cordon - they are set in a shallow moat - protection against the bustle of the outside world. The corners of each pair of stelae are open, inviting entry and providing a passage into the interior.

Access is attained by the main entry ramp and also by the side stairs and ramps. From Anzac Parade, the open corners allow glimpses of the interior, enhancing the desire to stop, walk up the ceremonial ramp, to enter, to contemplate, appreciate, and remember.

The interior space is the dramatic centre of the memorial. Here, directly representational images are united with abstract symbolism to convey a series of comprehensive interpretations and memories of the war. Partially glimpsed from Anzac Parade and growing in size as the visitor walks into the memorial inner space, the larger-than-life sized image on the rear most or western stele (stele C) reproduces, in etched polished granite, a photographic 'icon' from Australia's experience of Vietnam. This 'image wall' shows a platoon of Australian troops about to board helicopters for their return to Nui Dat. In a descriptive statement accompanying their final submission, the designers of the Memorial described this image wall in the following way:

"It is factual and avoids any artistic reinterpretation or distortion. Shards of common memories, seen and felt, emerge shining, durable, out of the black granite surface of the wall."

Adding to the 'shards of common memory,' on the right hand (or northern) stele (stele B) there is a series of 33 quotations fixed in stainless steel lettering. The quotations have been selected from the unique operations language developed in Vietnam, from the letters and other writings of service personnel, and from other public documents containing 'typical' responses to the War. This 'wall of words' will enhance the figurative image, deepening the recollections of those who were there, and educating those future generations of visitors about the special nature of Vietnam.

To the left of the inner space, the inner wall of the southern stele (stele A) is left as plain unadorned concrete and functions as a site of personal contemplation, separate but not divorced from the specific memories recalled by the other walls. In front of this wall and off centre of the entire internal space is the 'Memorial Stone' - a monolith of black granite, which functions in part as an altar, in part as the earthbound component of the contemplative inspirational function.

Inspiration finds soaring expression in the 'roof' of the memorial space. Seven metres above the podium floor, suspended from the internal walls of the three stelae is a ring made from 24 sawn black granite segments, each supported by three suspending cables. Sealed within one of the segments (it is marked with a simple cross) is a scroll, upon which have been inscribed the names of the dead.

The whole array forms a beautiful cat's cradle of wires, granite segments and transparent but substantial shifting patterns of light and shadow. In this, the designers felt that the ring's "seemingly disembodied earthliness" would recall "the sacrifices made by the individuals who fought and died;" and yet, in its inspirational form, would effect a transcendence of the past, a denial of simple mortality.

The Central Memorial building

Consisting of three prestressed concrete stelae rising from a moat, the main structure of the Memorial surrounds an inner space or podium tiled in black granite. The stelae were poured on site by Integrated Construction and Management Services.

The external stelae surfaces are bush-hammered concrete. The inner surface of stele A is left off-form concrete, while the off-form concrete of the inner surface of stele B is covered by almost 2600 stainless steel characters inscribing typical quotations from the Australian experience of Vietnam. The inner surface of Stele C is covered in a layer of polished and photoengraved black granite.

There are 33 inscriptions fixed to the wall; each letter is made of 3mm gauge stainless steel, 65mm high using a Futura typeface. Generally, no attribution for the inscriptions is provided on the wall as the assessors felt that this best served the sense of the consistent and equal value to be placed upon each quotation. The inscriptions were chosen by the committee in consultation with the designers from various submissions made by any and all concerned parties, largely from the three armed services.

From initial lists of 50 first-priority and 18 second-priority quotations, 33 were selected. The inscriptions read:

"At Vampire Pad, our own doctors and nurses took over - we knew we had made it.

"The enemy joined our command radio net, threw coloured smoke and almost sucked the CO into a landing.

"The RAAF dust-off pilots had no light and showed great skill in coming down.

"Phantoms and spooky were invaluable, but the helicopter gunships gave the best air support.

"Magpie 35, hit my smoke.

"Nobody's got 365 and a wakey to go!

"More than 750,000 men turned twenty during the years of the war--a ballot with marbles spun in a barrel, was used to help select those for conscription.

"Our family found itself divided over Vietnam.

"Then someone called out 'Contact!' and the bloke behind me swore. We hooked in there for hours, then a God-Almighty roar. Frankie kicked a mine, the day that mankind kicked the moon. God help me, he was going home in June. (from I was only 19 - A Walk in the Light Green, words by John Schumann, reprinted by kind permission of MCA Music (Australia) Pty Ltd/ Chris Gilbey Pty Ltd)

"On 3 October, 1987, 25,000 Vietnam veterans marched in a welcome home parade through Sydney, to the cheers of hundreds of thousands. "It was the greatest emotional outpouring witnessed in decades." (Sydney Morning Herald 1987)

"Hobart was bracketed repeatedly by medium to large splashes. (HMAS Hobart May 1967)

"An extreme effort was demanded from nursing staff on those occasions--over 24 hours on duty was done on most of the days mentioned.

"The NVA hugged our withdrawal and engaged the dust-off choppers (5RAR August 1969)

"I don't seem to have many friends since I came home. If you weren't there, you can't understand.

"Sunray was directing the lightfire team - Bushrangers - from his Possum.

"Like Chicken man - There were Charlies everywhere.

"This is Puff the Magic Dragon in your location.

"Throw smoke! - I see green - affirmative.

"Australia's last combat forces left South Vietnam yesterday on board HMAS Sydney, ending 10 years of Australian involvement in the war.

"From 1965, Army units in Vietnam consisted of about 50% National Servicemen and 5O% Regular Army. About 2O,OOO National Servicemen served in Vietnam.

"The decision to send an Australian battalion to Vietnam is a grave one. These are inescapable obligations which fall on us because of our position, treaties, and friendship. There was no alternative but to respond as we have. (The Age 1965)

"The effort required of the nursing sisters indicates their tour of duty should be reduced.

"We must learn to understand NVA bunker sign tracks: Latrines, dead branches, streams.

"Perth engaged five CD sites as primary targets, provided suppression fire and stopped a cross lot on Hon Me Island from radiating. (HMAS Perth, January 1968)

"The Team.

"The part played by artillery was decisive.

"As a variation, we closed the village cordon in daylight and searched next morning.

"Contact - Stand by Dust Off.

"The Australian Army was like the post-Versailles German Army - men in the ranks could have been leaders. (General Westmoreland, Commander US Forces Vietnam)

"For the first time in modern history, the outcome of a war was determined not on the battlefield but on the TV screen.

"More than ever before, TV showed the terrible human suffering and sacrifice of war. (Richard Milhouse Nixon, US President)

"What we did on the battlefield in the morning was on our living room TV screens that night.

"Big contact tonight in the Binh Ba rubber. Troops hit with RPGs. Ready Reaction Force went out in APCs."



The Altar is located in front of an otherwise blank off-form, concrete-surfaced inner wall, meant for quiet contemplation. In its final form, the altar is a memorial stone, in shape like a segment of the granite 'halo' which hangs above it. It is a chisel-finished Austral Black granite monolith with polished top and inscriptions. Badges of the three armed services in bronze are fixed to the front of the stone. On the top surface of the memorial stone is the inscription:



The image on the inner surface of stele C is derived from a colour photograph taken by Sgt Mike Coleridge and now held in the Australian War Memorial as #EKT/67/13OVN (The black and white print is held as Col/67/781/VN). The photograph shows troops of 5th Platoon, B Company, 7th Battalion, Royal Australian Regiment, on August 26, 1967, beside Lang Phuoc Hai- Dat Do Road just north of Lang Phuoc Hai, Phuoc Tuy Province, about to board helicopters to take them back to Nui Dat after the completion of 'Operation Ulmarrah' - the cordon and search of Lang Phuoc Hai village. This operation was part of the larger 'Operation Atherton' conducted jointly by 2RAR and 7RAR. The image is credited on the lower right hand side of the image wall with the following title:

This image is an enlargement of a photograph taken near Lang Phuoc Hai, Phuoc Tuy Province in South Vietnam by Mike Coleridge on 26 August 1967. It shows Australian soldiers being airlifted to Nui Dat after the completion of Operation Ulmarrah

The image has been grit-blasted onto a surface of 30mm-thick, polished, Imperial Black granite. The granite tiles are laid onto the inner surface in a complex pattern of diamond shaped lozenges, no two of which are of the same dimensions. The surface is further complicated by the convex distortion of the twisting stele. The result is a considerable credit to the designers, contractors and subcontractors - it was one of the most complex and demanding engineering feats achieved in Australia.

The conflation of the curving surfaces, the diamond-shaped and highly polished tiles and the sand-blasted image, creates an extraordinarily brilliant vision - not merely for its subject but through the dazzling and fragmented light reflections which bounce off the inner walls and cross each other within the inner space, giving rise to effects reminiscent both of light filtered through jungle and of calming and devotional serenity.


The ring consists of 24 segments of honed Austral Black granite. Each weighs 120 kilograms, joined to make a perfect annulus suspended 7 metres above the floor of the podium. Suspension is provided by a 'cat's cradle' of 72 cables projecting from suspension bars and rings fixed to each stele - 24 wires from each stele. The cables are attached to stainless-steel fixing rings bolted through each of the granite segments.

The effect is to create a 'ceiling,' at once solid and also transparent, for the inner space of the Memorial. Within one of the segments, marked with a sand-blasted cross on a circular, gilded background on the inner surface of the annulus, the scroll, containing the names of those killed in action, is sealed.

The ring creates another inspirational, ascending element drawing visitors' eyes upwards and reinforcing the already strong vertical impact of the stelae themselves. Unlike an enclosed vault, the ring and its web of supporting wires only draws the eye to a momentary hesitation before a further ascendancy to the upper vault of the sky is achieved. The achievement is of a rhythmic enhancement of the meaning of memorial thoughts of inspiration, momentarily arrested and then heightened by the upward sweep of the ring and its supportive elements.


The scroll produced by the NCPA was a sheet of O.Smm thick stainless steel. On this scroll was inscribed a list of names of Australians killed in Vietnam. This was rolled and then sealed in a segment of the granite ring at a special ceremony held in King's Hall, Old Parliament House on July 2, 1992.

The ceremony was attended by the Prime Minister, Paul Keating, and the leader of the Opposition, Dr John Hewson, both of whom gave addresses; the Chief of the Australian Defense Force, General Peter Gration; other dignitaries; and more than 200 relatives of those who died in Vietnam.

The scroll was sealed in the granite segment by Regimental Sergeant Major of the Army, Warrant Officer Class I Peter Prewett, OAM. He used a special key, designed and fabricated for the occasion by gold and silversmith Gilbert Reidelbruch.


The floor of the podium and the main and side ramps are paved with 20mm-thick, bright-etched finish Austral Black granite tiles.


The Forecourt:

The forecourt is surfaced in a red gravel consistent with the forecourt areas of the other memorial niches along Anzac Parade.

The retaining walls at the sides of the forecourt are made in off-form concrete. The pre-cast, sandblasted steps are to the right-hand side of the main ramp. There is also a rear access ramp, graded for easy use by the disabled, and finished in sandblasted concrete to match the forecourt steps.

The Flagpoles:

There are three flagpoles on the southern edge of the forecourt, one for each service. Each is 9 metres high and is finished in clear anodised aluminum.

The Wreath Wall and VIETNAM Iettering:

The lettering consists of sheet steel letters 200mm deep in Times Roman, standing 750mm high, finished with a powder-coated, semi-gloss black. The main Dedication is located beneath the VIETNAM lettering and is on 180mm high Austral Black granite tiles, with sandblasted background and polished inscription. The inscription reads:


Other Inscriptions and Plaques -

Dedication Plaque:

The Dedication plaque is a bronze sheet 600mm x 300mm. It has the following inscription in Futura Book (shown as the opening paragraph of this description).

Service Insignia:

Each is a relief bronze, 180mm-diameter medallion with a 12mm-thick background, with the coat of arms raised a further 5mm. The surface is patinated in a bright 'linished' bronze on a brown background. The order of the insignia from left to right is Air Force, Army, and Navy.

MIA Memorials and Plaques:

Three, solid-cast, concrete 'MIA Memorials' are located outside the central Memorial building. These provide seating for rest and contemplation.

At each end of these memorials is one of the six names of the Australian MlAs. These six names are arranged in the following manner:

On one memorial are the names of the two RAAF MlAs, on another are the names of the two 1RAR MlAs, with the last two names on the third memorial.

These designs were officially added to the Memorial in June 1992. The inscriptions of the names of the six personnel who remain Missing-In-Action read:

In memory of
Robert Charles Carver
Missing in Action 4.11.1970

In memory of
David John Elkihgton Fisher
Missing in Action 27.9.1969

In memory of
John Francis Gillespie
Missing in Action 17.4.1971

In memory of
Peter Raymond Gillson
Missing in Action 8.11.1965

In memory of
Michael Patrick John Herbert
Missing in Action 3.11.1970

In memory of
Richard Harold John Parker
Missing in Action 8.11.1965

* Please Note *

The following letters have been copied as text; subsequently, they do not show the Australian Coat of Arms or the United States of America Presidential Seal. To show these would require the letters to be in a graphic format and thus separating them from the main text.

Letter from the Australian Prime Minister, the Hon. Paul Keating MP



The dedication of the Australian Vietnam Forces National Memorial on 3 October 1992 is indeed an historic occasion for the whole nation. The date chosen for the dedication ceremony - the fifth anniversary of the Vietnam Veterans Welcome Home Parade in Sydney - is particularly fitting as a reminder of the commitment and sacrifice of all who served in that conflict.

This permanent Memorial represents, in a tangible way, the nation's recognition of all our servicemen and women who took part and suffered as a result of the Vietnam conflict - and more particularly, those Australians who gave their lives and whose names are recorded fittingly in the inner memorial chamber. Appropriately, too, the badges of the three armed services are also displayed.

I am sure the dignified design and location in Anzac Parade, alongside other memorials to Australia's armed forces, will add not only to the already impressive approach to the Australian War Memorial - but will also be welcomed by those attending the ceremony and by all Australians who increasingly recognize the difficulties borne by those who served this country so well.

This National Memorial represents the culmination of many years' work by the Australian Vietnam Forces National Memorial Committee under the guiding chairmanship of Peter Poulton. I commend their initiative and dedication to establish a permanent and fitting memorial. For its part, the Commonwealth has been pleased to assist in providing significant financial support, the site, and administrative assistance for the project. The National Capital Planning Authority, which was responsible for construction of the Memorial, are also to be commended.

I take this opportunity to congratulate Tonkin Zulaikha Architects of Sydney in association with distinguished Australian sculptor, Ken Unsworth, for their imaginative design - and to thank all those throughout Australia who have contributed to the fund-raising appeal.

On behalf of the Government, I extend best wishes to everyone associated with the dedication ceremony.

P J Keating

From the President of the United States of America: George Bush



I am delighted to send greetings to all those who are gathered in Canberra for the dedication of the Australian Vietnam Forces National Memorial, the reunion of the Australian Vietnam Forces, and the March of Remembrance.

This memorial rightly pays tribute to those Australians who made the ultimate sacrifice in the defense of liberty in Southeast Asia. The memory of these service members is cherished not only because of their valor and selflessness but because they continue to represent for all of us what is greatest in the human spirit.

In addition to commemorating those individuals who gave their lives in the defense of others, your memorial serves as a symbol of the special tradition of trust and friendship that exists between the Australian and American peoples. Five times during this century, men and women of our two nations have joined forces to safeguard our precious liberties. Most recently our military resources were combined in Operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm, and it was during this conflict in the Gulf that Aussie troops added another chapter of excellence and honor to the distinguished chronicle of our history of cooperation. As the spirit of global cooperation continues to grow, we look with hope and pride to a bond that - although it was forged in war - will, no doubt, remain strong in peace.

The American people are deeply grateful for the dedication of Australia's Armed Forces to our mutual ideals of freedom and democracy. Barbara joins me in sending best wishes for a memorable dedication ceremony and reunion.

George Bush

Compiled 1995 by Shane Fontana

Revised 03-26-2002 by DGSH

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