A walk in the light green
April 21, 2018 5:39 AM   Subscribe

Frankie was Frank Hunt. He had been badly wounded in the same incident that killed Hines, and in January 1983, Schumann went to visit Hunt at his home in Bega. “I knocked on the door, and I don’t think he was very impressed,” Schumann said. “I was this long haired, bearded, left-wing firebrand … but because I was a friend of Mick Storen’s, he let me in the house, and I played him the song, and he was knocked sideways too
In an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald, John Schumann tells the story behind his classic Vietnam War song.
posted by MartinWisse (16 comments total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks for this. I’d always wondered if Mick and Frankie were real people.
posted by pompomtom at 6:09 AM on April 21, 2018

A little context: the Australia War Memorial is pushing for a A$500 000 000 expansion. This article is advertorial. The timing of its publication (Anzac day is on Wednesday) is designed to deter criticism.

But it will be all right in the long run.
posted by hawthorne at 6:11 AM on April 21, 2018 [4 favorites]

I had no idea the place this song held in the Australian consciousness. Thanks for posting this.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:31 AM on April 21, 2018

A little context: the Australia War Memorial is pushing for a A$500 000 000 expansion. This article is advertorial. The timing of its publication (Anzac day is on Wednesday) is designed to deter criticism.

I’m not following you here. Publishing a story about a bit of military/cultural history seems like a fairly normal thing to do leading up to Anzac Day?
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:36 AM on April 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

The SMH article is written to promote the War Memorial expansion and by its staff writers, not by a journalist or SMH feature writer. Comments are closed on the article. The campaign to push for funds despite the lack of a business case is taking place around Anzac Day to make it seem patriotic. Criticism of mainstream views about Anzac Day can result in nasty things, including being hounded out of the country.
posted by hawthorne at 6:46 AM on April 21, 2018 [8 favorites]

Not to detract from a fine conspiracy theory, but comments appear to be closed on all SMH Music articles, e.g. Avicii's death, or the Sticky Carpet column.

Sure it's a promo piece for an existing AWM exhibit, but I think claiming an article that doesn't mention the expansion is directly campaigning for said expansion is a pretty long bow. The run- up to ANZAC Day seems like a reasonable time for the War Memorial to spruik exhibits.

Back to the song itself, I may as well link the 2005 The Herd hip hop cover, and another great Redgum song, Killing Floor (Cloudstreet cover, original).
posted by zamboni at 8:35 AM on April 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

A little context: the Australia War Memorial is pushing for a A$500 000 000 expansion. This article is advertorial.

The Australia War Memorial with Brendan Nelson at the helm has repeatedly and contentiously refused to acknowledge Australia's founding war, the Frontier Wars.
There have been decades of vigorous internal debate – between successive directors, historians, archivists and council members – about whether to reflect frontier war in the galleries of the memorial. But conservatives have consistently won out.

Former Howard government minister for defence Brendan Nelson, who began as director last December, apparently continues the tradition. He recently opened an exhibition on Australia’s ongoing involvement in Afghanistan. But he is said to be intransigent on reflecting frontier conflict.

A semantic escape clause for those opposed to acknowledging frontier conflict in the memorial is the absence of a post-1788 formal declaration of war – by the occupiers, at any rate. This, despite the Australian and British archives being filled with references to the frontier conflict as “war”.
So anything that can quieten that little anomaly, including a call-out to one of the country's favourite songs, is helpful when the museum is asking for an additional $5mil to expand while the government tries to shut down remote Aboriginal communities citing 'expense' as the reason.
posted by Thella at 3:20 PM on April 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

I think hawthorne's point is pretty well summarised by this, from the end of the SMH article:
Claire Hunter is a features writer with the Australian War Memorial.
AWM writers don't normally write music entertainment pieces, and ANZAC day is Wednesday…

Outside of the inside of an RSL - well, anyway, in the small remaining gap between the walls of pokies and the cheap bistros they fund - Australia never really had the "Rah! Rah! The military must be honoured" attitude of … ahem, 'some other countries'. A strong but quiet respect, yes, but not that. At least, not until John Howard & co. stirred it up as part of their wedge politics.

(It never really took - but bits of it remain in some rather unpleasant places, and because of that it has becoming increasingly difficult to question it as it festers away…)

Now I certainly have no animus towards the War Memorial - I go there whenever I'm in Canberra, walk out in horror of the futility of war, and on the way out leave a poppy next to my great-grandfather's name on the Wall of Rememberance - but this is a PR puff piece, of a type which I haven't seen before, and almost certainly has a purpose that is only tangential to being an annual reminder about the story behind a much-loved cultural touchstone song.

I'm saying there are overtones here that non-Australians probably dont understand - from nationalism to ultra-nationalism, and racism to flat-out white-right-wing neo-nazism - and if you don't understand the nuances then … well, maybe it's worth just quietly taking Australian PoVs & opinions on board…
posted by Pinback at 3:54 PM on April 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

Thella, thanks for that link. I’m a high school History teacher currently teaching Frontier conflict to my Year 9 class, and last week introduced them to the idea of contestability and debates in history. If I get a chance, I may sneak that issue in towards the end of the unit of why there is no mention in the War Memorial, and let them have at it.
posted by chronic sublime at 5:00 PM on April 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Correct me if I’m wrong but this is an anti-war song, yeah? At the very least in the sense of the way it deals with nationalism (“...it was a long march from cadets...”), loss & waste (Frankie was 19), and PTSD (“the sound of the Channel 7 chopper chills me to my feet”)?

It’s frustrating to see the conspiracy theory overrunning this discussion. Where’s your proof? Something-something correlation, something-something AWM staff writer?

Consider this: the War Memorial commissioned a film by a Turkish filmmaker that takes an extremely critical look at how Australians approach the ANZAC mythos. This film calls out a lot of ANZACkery bullshit and questions the toxic nationalism around ANZAC. The acquisition of Cure For Pain by eX de Medici also gives me hope that the AWM is trying for nuance (seriously, that painting blows me away and gets me teary even as I write this; I also find it hilarious that some people mistake it for uncritical glorification).

In the context of the arguments around the proposed AWM expansion what about the issue of balancing commemoration with repatriation?

The proposed $500m expansion is an exercise in soft-power that gives me the shits when the Department of Veterans’ Affairs is using antiquated technology (I’ve had to FAX them) and even though I live in a capital city I can’t find a psychiatrist willing to take my DVA health care card to treat my war caused PTSD because the rates the government pays them are below scale. (Yeah run-on sentence, but deal with it - because emotions).

That said, it’s the role of the War Memorial to spread public awareness of society’s experience of conflict particularly the veteran experience, which by and large seems to be the purpose of this piece. Commemorating war isn’t about glorifying it, it’s about informing the public of what is done in their name by members of same.

The problem here isn’t just the balance of commemoration vs repatriation, it’s also about the vested interests of the big-time Defence Contractors that support the AWM, the balance between the AWM as a piece of soft-power and the need for authenticity and accuracy, and the inertia in public attitudes towards ANZAC flavoured nationalism due to the actions of governments past.

Once again, pretty disappointed at the caliber of commentary on this piece. Expected more from Metafilter. Glad to see Frontier Wars issue was mentioned - this is a massive oversight that hurts all Australians. Greater recognition of this would be certainly dilute the toxic nationalism that shadows our commemoration of conflict. It would also help us grow as a nation in an area of the public sphere that feels dangerously stunted.
posted by Outside Context Problem at 5:15 PM on April 21, 2018 [7 favorites]

The Australia War Memorial with Brendan Nelson at the helm has repeatedly and contentiously refused to acknowledge Australia's founding war, the Frontier Wars.

The War Memorial's failure to comprehensively address this is a deep failing, but it'll probably take amending the AWM Act to correct it. In the meantime, I'm hoping they'll build on small things like the exhibition of Ruby Plains Massacre I a couple of years ago.

AWM writers don't normally write music entertainment pieces, and ANZAC day is Wednesday…

It's definitely not just the interview with The Sydney Morning Herald mentioned above the fold, but it's definitely within the AWM's remit, and seems to be something they do semi-regularly. Claire Hunter appears to mostly write about features about AWM exhibits and events. Personally, I'd like to see more AWM PR pieces with quotes like
It was a war of American imperialism, and we had no business there…
Here's three of her feature pieces, all in Fairfax Media properties.
Australian airman Morris Solomon's grave tended with care by Englishman Raymond Batkin
Hearts and minds: wartime propaganda
A life and a violin, forever etched by the horrors of war
posted by zamboni at 6:21 PM on April 21, 2018

It’s frustrating to see the conspiracy theory overrunning this discussion. Where’s your proof? Something-something correlation, something-something AWM staff writer?

As far as I can tell so far the correlation is that some people don’t like something the AWM is/isn’t doing so they’re going to pop up wherever it’s mentioned for any reason and press their case.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 6:51 PM on April 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

Once again, pretty disappointed at the caliber of commentary on this piece. Expected more from Metafilter.

Much of metafilter isn't familiar with the particulars and nuances of politics outside the US, so we don't always have the best immediate response. That said, I greatly appreciate the perspective that I would not otherwise encounter.
posted by I paid money to offer this... insight? at 9:50 PM on April 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Can't speak to the politics of the piece, but I do have a story about this song and how it has come to be an audio trigger for a particular time (and person) in my own life.

When I was about 23 I was working as a developer doing intranets, E-Learning and change management system coding for a department of the British Civil Service. This was when this stuff was still an entirely new frontier and the department didn't really know what to do with people like me (they didn't even really have a web team yet), so I'd ended up in the HR department, within the Training team.

Everyone was very friendly, and mostly the managers just left me alone to do stuff. As long as I delivered and worked reasonably hard (or at least looked like it) I was fine. So life was great - a combination of interesting coding challenges and hungover Fridays spent contributing to B3ta.

I remember that in my head, I could already see the path I wanted (or was at least headed down) in life. I was an its-all-about-the-coding, tie-hating, blue-haired, internetting, anime-loving proto-edgelord. That's not to say I wasn't a nice person - just that I totally thought I knew the world better than the non-net-savvy people around me, and that my world was better than theirs.

Then, one day, the department got a new head. He was very different from the other managers I'd had. Most particularly, because he'd had a life outside the Civil Service - he'd been a Major in the British Army.

That may trigger in your head an image of a fat, stuffy, moustachioed older chap but he was the exact opposite. He was mid-forties, built like a rugby player, clean cut and - whilst clearly from a family with a touch of the aristocracy about it - very humble.

In fact, picture Major Winters from Band of Brothers, but with Damian Lewis using his normal accent and you're not far off the mark.

Indeed Band of Brothers was one of the first things we bonded over. It was on TV at the time and, in the pub, when he asked about my interests we got talking about military history and the series - which had recently aired at the time. He then talked, in detail, about his time training as a medic and how BoB was the first thing that he'd seen that really captured that experience.

Anyway, over the course of the year or so I remained in the organisation after that, he became the first manager to really take an interest in what I was doing. He didn't claim to understand it, but was always interested, set tighter goals and pushed me to do more things outside of just coding. He gave me my first line-management responsibilities, for example, and carefully coached me through that experience.

Throughout all that experience, he'd talk to me regularly and honestly about his time in the army, serving with peacekeeping forces throughout the world.

At the time, I was prone to suffering from anxiety attacks. This was something I didn't really talk about at work, but occasionally led me to being late. I didn't want to admit that was the reason though, because it didn't seem "manly". It didn't match the image I'd built for myself and I saw it as a failure. This eventually led to a situation where - because the organisation was strict on start times - my own direct line manager was left with pretty much no choice but to give me an official warning.

Except this didn't happen.

When I was called into my manager's office, I kind of knew I was about to get a performance warning. But she wasn't the only one in there - the Department Head was in there as well. He asked me if I'd been having trouble sleeping and, a bit confused, I admitted I had (the anxiety attacks would happen in the middle of the night and keep me awake for hours) but not the reason.

He nodded and then immediately, opened up and began talking about his own struggles with anxiety during his time in the army and also how mental health issues had ultimately contributed to his decision to leave.

To 23-year-old edgelordy me, hearing a man I'd come to admire for his 'strength' admit all this, openly, in front of myself and my manager was world-view changing. Here was a guy who'd called down artillery fire on himself, picked up an Miltary Cross for bravery, been captured and imprisoned by the Khmer Rouge and served throughout the world admitting that he was flawed.

I then found myself talking about my own problems in a way I never had before, and that triggered various mutual plans for improvement - with help and support. I still use many of the techniques that process (and he) taught me to manage my feelings today.

I worked under that Department Head for about a year. In that time, I learnt more about how to manage - and more importantly how to lead than I have at any other time in my life. He essentially gave me a career path beyond coding that I never would have even considered otherwise. I still use the management and leadership techniques he taught me today, and I'm proud now to teach them to other people too.

Which brings me to this song.

One of the things he said had helped him, and his men, during the 'bad' times on peacekeeping missions was music. Indeed he said that one song that had become a bit of an anthem for them during a particularly grim period (involving the aftermath of a civil war) was a song the Australians used to play. He said they'd never really learned it's name, but it was something like 'Walking in the Green'. He said he'd looked for it in the shops and asked about it since, but never been able to find a copy.

Jump forward to Christmas and, as with many offices, we were doing a gift exchange - you drew a name, there was a maximum present budget, and then you'd all swap gifts and everyone would open them at the department xmas lunch. I drew the Department Head.

Now I'd planned to go out and buy something, but unfortunately various work crises meant I didn't get time to go to the shops that week. I knew he'd understand - because he'd actually been involved in dealing with those crises too. The night before the lunch, we'd both been in the office until gone eleven. I didn't want to be the only person not giving a present at the lunch, though, even though he'd be cool with it.

So when I got home I was desperately trying to think of something I could get him, or give him from my own stuff (not impossible given our mutual love of military history).

In the end, I decided to burn the whole of Due South to DVD for him, because I knew he liked it. Then, on a whim, I started hitting up Kazaa and Google and seeing if I could find a song that was by Australians, talked about Vietnam and sounded something like the vague title he'd mentioned.

And I found this one. It's the song's alternative title.

Almost as an afterthought, I downloaded it, burnt it onto CD, wrote "Walk in the Green?" on it in felt tip and stuck it in with the Due South burns. Then I went to bed.

The next day, at the team lunch, I apologised for not having time to get him something proper. As expected, he understood and, as he saw the Due South bits, said he admired the ingenuity.

Then he saw the CD and went quiet. I felt a bit awkward. I tried to explain that he had told this story once and so I'd thought I'd look, but it might not be the one and...

He cut me off and, red eyed and crying slightly, said. "Even if it isn't. Thank you." He then slapped me on the back harder than anyone before or since and gave me a massive hug.

All of this confused the hell out of edgelordy me. I even tried to apologise to him the next day, for embarrassing him in front of the team.

He told me he'd listened to it, that it was the song, and asked me if I could make some more so he could send them to some "old friends". Grateful that he wasn't angry, I did so.

With the benefit of time, and age, my admiration for that man - and what he did for me - has only grown. I think he saw a young man, unsure of his place in the world, no doubt similar to many of the young soldiers he'd encountered in a different context and he decided to try and help me fulfil my potential without letting me know he was doing it and triggering a counter-reaction. Something he'd no doubt had to do in uniform so many times before.

Weird as it may sound, with the exception of my father, I think he is the one man who influenced my entire life and outlook more than any other. And all this even though I only knew him for about a year.

I'm not in touch with him now, because I'm an idiot. I was headhunted to take up a job in America and he encouraged me to do it, saying I should never miss an opportunity like that. For my leaving do, he contacted some old soldiers of his now stationed at the Tower of London and we had beers in there.

I'm sure he gave me his contact details, but I was 23 and moving abroad so I lost them. It was the world before LinkedIn and Facebook, so I've never been able to remake the connection - even though I do periodically search LinkedIn to see if he's popped up on there.

Every time I hear this song though, I think of him - of his own battles with mental health and self-image, and how he made me accept my own, rather than them triggering a life of anger at others or an inward-focused downward angry spiral.

I'm glad I was able to reconnect him with this song, even though 23 year old me was too stupid to realise the value of what I was doing at the time. Doing so paid him only a fraction of the thanks he deserves for helping me become the person I am now.

So every time I hear it, it makes me cry a tiny bit now too.
posted by garius at 2:17 AM on April 22, 2018 [20 favorites]

That’s quite a story. Thank you for being willing to share it.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 7:46 AM on April 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

Just because no-one's mentioned it, I'll add the factoid that the title "A Walk in the Light Green" refers to the maps Australian soldiers were given in Vietnam. Dark green on the map meant thick jungle, which meant cover and a lack of minefields. Light green mean scrubby vegetation, and a much higher chance of mines.
posted by pompomtom at 8:03 AM on April 23, 2018 [2 favorites]

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