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Victor Bartley

Victor Bartley

Temporary Corporal, Australian Army


Private Victor Edward Bartley

7th Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment, Australian Army
Service number: 218834
Rank on discharge: temporary corporal

"In ’66, I was 19, and I got my national service papers, and they asked me, 'Are you of Aboriginal/Torres Strait Islander descent?'

I ticked the box 'Aboriginal' and six, seven weeks later, I got a letter back from the Department of the Army exempting me from being conscripted.

In ’67, the referendum happened, and I got to be a citizen in my own country.

Three of me mates got called up, two blackfellas and a whitefella. And I thought, they’re not going without me.

Because they were conscripts they did two years, but that smooth recruiter, he signed me up for six years."

Victor Bartley was born in Quilpie, Queensland. Victor’s father was an Aboriginal from around Wiradjuri, Dubbo area, and his mother was third-generation Scottish, but born in Cunnamulla in Queensland.

Victor said, “In 1966, when I was 19, I got my National Service papers served on me. They had a question: ‘Are you of Aboriginal descent?’ and I ticked the box, ‘Aboriginal’. About six weeks later, I got a letter back, stating something like, ‘Dear Sir, I hereby notify you that you are exempt from National Service, blah, blah, blah.’ At that time Australia was starting to get involved in the Vietnam War and I was thinking, I don’t want to be going and playing cowboys and Indians with these blokes.”

“In 1968, three blokes that I went to school with, who were a bit younger than me, got their National Service papers. Two were Aboriginal, but they didn't tick the box, so they automatically got called up. So anyhow I said, if these two black fellas and the white fella are gonna go to Vietnam and more than likely get killed, I might as well go to.”

“So, I got on the train all the way to Sydney, and I went to the recruiting office near York Street. The bloke there said, ‘G’day, where do you gonna go, Air Force, Navy or Army?’ And I said, ‘Army’. I thought I’d do three years, but the smooth-talking recruiting officer signed me up for six.”

“Now those six years were the best part of my life because those six years, plus the service in Vietnam, made me what I am today. The discipline, the mateship, the friendship, the comradeship … learning how to be a person and learning how to take orders and do what you're supposed to do when you're supposed to do it.”

“I went into 7th Battalion in September 1968. The battalion came back from Vietnam in 1967 and all the Nashos had got out, so the battalion had to be built up again. We had 16 months’ training before we left to go to Vietnam in January 1970. And in my opinion, we were one of the best trained units to go to Vietnam.”

“We were training in Townsville in the middle of summer getting ready to go to the tropics. It was so bad; we were getting dehydrated and falling like flies. The helicopters would come and pick us up and take us back to Shoalwater Bay where they had these big rubber pools full of ice and water, and hover and drop us into the ice.”

“Then to make things worse they sent us to a place in the mountains to train in the middle of winter. Every night we went somewhere, and you were supposed to dig a little foxhole to get in, but you couldn’t dig in because the ground was frozen.”

The battalion arrived in Vietnam in February 1970. Victor said, “When we got off HMAS Sydney at Vung Tau, we were put on landing barges and then taken on trucks up to Nui Dat where we were stationed. In Vung Tau there were bars on the side of the road and all these good-looking sorts going, ‘Uc Dai Loi number one (Australians good!).’ I thought, hang on is there a war going on here? But we knew there was something going on because of the military presence, the helicopters going over, and the aeroplanes and things. But I think for the first couple of days, it just stuck in my mind, what a lovely place.”

“I think we had around four or five blokes, corporals, in the battalion who were on their second tour to Vietnam. And they were an invaluable source, telling us what we did and didn’t need to do. And what I had to look for as forward scout.”

“On the first operation, we were out for six weeks in an area where the VC were known to be. We didn’t cover a big area. You’d go here, do an ambush, stay there for a day, go to another place, and do the same thing. We never had a shower or anything, but you couldn't smell anything because we all smelt the same.”

“They dropped us in on helicopters on the rice paddies. The helicopters would hover not land, and I was the bloke who had to get out first. I thought I’m not going to get out here, but the gunner said, ‘Out!’ and he kicked me out. And I’ve got this bloody big pack on me, and an Armalite, and the extra M-60 rounds, and I landed facedown, and I couldn't get up. So, the section corporal came behind and grabbed me. I got up, mud all over me. You know, that was a funny thing.”

“Each company had an area of responsibility. Delta Company covered an area near Fire Support Base Isa near the Long Hai mountains. We stayed there and we went out on ambush patrols in the surrounding rice paddies or down on the beach or up around the little valley-type of thing where there were known VC trails.”

“Sometimes if you had to hurry from point A to point B, say maybe ten kilometres, they'd send the armoured personnel carriers (APCs) to come pick us up and take us straight there. And the Viet Cong wouldn't be able to follow us by walking.”

“I was a forward scout, so I looked where we went, and the second scout covered my back. Then you’d have the section corporal, who was the bloke with the compass talking to the second scout. In the jungle you can’t see, especially in the bamboo jungles. It’s only when you get out in the rice paddies that you could see, or in the place we called the Long Green which was sort of a semi-open area with just all small low stuff.”

“My end of day was being able to sit back, put the feet up, and lay down the head on the M-60 machine gun, if you were on machine gun duty, and then talk bullshit to your mate . We’d talk crap, but we’d have fun doing that.”

“We had this old Scottish sergeant on his second tour, and one of his things was to make sure his soldiers had their haircut. It didn’t matter where they were. If you were out in the bush and the helicopter came in, he’d say, ‘Bring a barber in and cut these long-haired louts’ hair. I wanna see the bone lad.’ In other words, he wanted it cut really short.”

“There was one barbershop in Vung Tau where a lot of the Uc Dai Loi, the Australian soldiers, would go. And I was in Vung Tau with a mate of mine, and he wanted to go to a bar, and I wanted to go to the barber first. So we go down to the barbershop, and there are two big barber’s chairs, a big mirror, all the paraphernalia. Anyway, I jump in the barber’s chair and I’m waiting, and then I hear laughing and then some sheilas come out looking at me and laughing and pointing. I thought, what’s going on here? My mate said, ‘It’s not a barbershop until four o’clock, it’s a brothel-shop now. That’s one of my most vivid memories of my little sojourn in South Vietnam.”

“When I was going to school, we were never taught anything about Australia's involvement in any of the wars, not the Boer War, First World War, Second World War or Korea. I learned all about the Magna Carta, about King Henry, and about Queen Elizabeth being in the Land Army in England. Now what I try to do is, I go to primary schools and high schools, and tell them about my experiences. I ask them to come down to the cenotaph in the park, and I show them the names of some of their forefathers and tell them what they did. And I tell them what it was like for me to not be an Australian citizen in my own country until I was 20, and I tell them a bit about Aboriginal history from my side of things. If it's not taught in the schools, it's gonna be lost.”

“I think if anyone wants to come to Australia , they have to accept our way of life, our values, and appreciate that they’re coming from another country, be it war-torn, and know that Australia’s got more to offer for them and for their future generations.”