When it comes to serving its country in war, Goulburn can boast the proudest of records.
From World War I and World II as was the way in most country towns at the time, if people could enrol to fight for their country, they would. But the Vietnam War was different. With the introduction of conscription, many didn’t have a choice and the subsequent unpopularity of the war was to last well after the guns went silent.
But the stories of the Vietnam War, good and bad, tell part of Goulburn’s history, stories which illustrate what it was like for the people who fought overseas – and the ones who waited at home for them.
For Kerry Ross, Museums Co-ordinator at Goulburn Mulwaree Council, they are the most important of stories – so much so that she has issued a call-out for people to share their Vietnam stories for an exhibition at the Rocky Hill War Memorial Museum early next year.
“Our aim is to capture and tell local stories,” Ms Ross said. “We’ve already lost many stories from earlier wars. We don’t want the Vietnam stories to be lost too.”
She said the museum was lucky to already have a comprehensive collection donated by the local Whipp family. Major “John” Whipp was the third generation Goulburn district member of his family to serve – his father and uncle served in World War II with the previous generation serving in World War I.
“John Whipp donated pieces from World War I and II, his uncle was a prisoner of war and he did a lot of sketches while he was captured. There’s also a beautiful handmade chess set made during the Vietnam War – a lot of John’s objects will be on display in the exhibition.
“We’re so lucky people have donated these special items to us over the years. Objects that were handed down in the family and then donated to us so they will be preserved for the future.”
Ms Ross said she understood that Vietnam “was a very different war” and hard, even now, for people to talk about.
“People’s experiences were very different,” she said. “We are sensitive to that and won’t be intrusive.
“We would just like to call out to people who have stories to tell about Vietnam. They can talk to us or write them down if they prefer. They can even embargo them for a future time if they want to.
“If we want to capture these stories, now is the time to do so, so we don’t lose them.”
The Vietnam exhibition is planned for the city’s Rocky Hill War Memorial Museum which opened in 1925 in honour of those who fought in World War I. It was funded by the local community and features a memorial tower constructed and clad in local stones – some of which were carried to the site by local residents and returned servicemen as part of Anzac Day commemorations in 1923.
“Museum staff are currently working to gather personal accounts of the Vietnam era from Goulburn and district service personnel, or people who lived in Goulburn and surrounding districts during the war,” Ms Ross said.
“The Vietnam War was the first conflict to be televised into people’s homes – and it was fought alongside tumultuous social and cultural change. If you were a conscript or an enlistee, a conscientious objector, a family member of a service person, an anti-war protestor, or have any key memories of living in Goulburn during the war – we are interested in hearing from you.
“The way in which your memories are managed will be determined by you and with sensitivity. You can remain anonymous if you wish.”
The Rocky Hill War Memorial Museum will stage the Vietnam exhibition in April 2024. People interested in contributing to the exhibition, through their stories, memorabilia, photographs or other connection, are invited to call the museum on 02 4823 4842 or email [email protected]