A new photographic exhibition has opened at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne called 1966: The year that changed the world, reflecting the Vietnam war 50 years on.
It features an iconic image, Helping Hands, which shows Dave ‘Stretch’ Bryan, Dave Riik and Ron ‘Shoey’ Shoebridge, of the C Company 5th Battalion.
The young men were part of the first Australian soldiers to be conscripted to the war.
They stumbled across a Viet Cong base, hidden in the jungles of the southern Vietnam, in an area that was booby-trapped.
Dave Riik is the man in the middle of the photograph being carried out by his mates Dave Bryan and Ron Shoebridge.
“I got thrown up in the air and came down and broke my ankle and because the bones don’t heal well in a place like Vietnam, I was sent home they mend quicker at home,” Mr Riik said.
The photograph made it onto the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald.
Mr Shoebridge said the photograph appeared in newspapers back in Sydney before they came home.
“It [also] ended up in numerous amounts of magazines and books,” he said.
Curator Ian Jackson said the photograph was chosen as the centrepiece of the exhibition because it was a great reflection of the mateship and camaraderie of the soldiers.
“There is a solider who is wounded and obviously in war, war takes a human toll in that way, but the soldiers, mates, have sort of helped him and are helping him out and helping him to get to the helicopter and get him to hospital,” Mr Jackson said.
“I think that these kinds of images of that kind of camaraderie in war time really sort of get to the heart of some of the experiences that Australians experienced in Vietnam.”
Returning home was difficult
All three man are still good friends, but today reflected on how difficult it was for them when they returned home.
Mr Bryan said there had been “a lot of antagonism towards veterans”.
“I remember when I came back I tried to get work and no one wanted to employee a Vietnam veteran,” he said.
“I don’t know why — I think they must have thought that we were all crazy or we were tarnished somehow or other.”
Mr Rikk said when he came home with his leg in plaster he stopped telling people it was the result of an injury from the war in Vietnam.
“Three weeks in a row I got into fist fights over the Vietnam war, and then after that someone would say, ‘what happened to your leg’ and I would just say, ‘oh, just a little car accident’,” he said.
“I’d had enough — I just didn’t want to go on with it.”
The show also features images from the Battle of Long Tan, which was also fought in August 1966.
The exhibition will run until the July 2, 2017 at the Shrine of Remembrance.
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