50th Anniversary of End of Australia’s involvement in Vietnam War - Mascot RSL Sub Branch Service - Sydney

Sunday, 20 August 2023

The Hon Matt Thistlethwaite MP
Assistant Minister for Defence
Assistant Minister for Veterans' Affairs
Assistant Minister for the Republic

Mascot RSL Sub Branch Service
Eastlakes Sports Club, Sydney
Sunday, 20 August 2023


I want to begin by acknowledging the traditional custodians of the land where we meet, and pay my respects to their Elders past, present and emerging.

I would like to extend that respect to any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who join us today.

I also acknowledge the current and ex-serving members of the Australian Defence Force (ADF) who are with us today. Thank you for your service.

And I also acknowledge the families of ADF personnel and veterans, thank you for your support.

Today we stand under the flight path of Sydney’s Kingsford Smith Airport.

Right now, just down the road, families are waving goodbye from the departure lounge, others are lovingly embracing friends at the arrival terminal.

Fifty years ago, Sydney airport played host to some very different farewells and reunions.

It was a point of departure and return for many people who saw service in Vietnam.

Some flew out on Qantas 707s to Saigon, others boarded silver Hercules C130s.

For those returning after a year-long deployment, Botany Bay’s shining waters, or Sydney’s twinkling skyline were the first sight that said they were home.

And for those who departed, bound for Vietnam, Sydney airport was where their feet touched Australian soil for the last time.

So it was for Private Wayne Teeling.

A local lad, born in Bondi Junction, a stone’s throw from where we meet today, and grew up around Sydney’s inner suburbs.

On May 8, 1969, Wayne departed for service in Vietnam from Sydney airport.

He was just 21 and newly married.

We can only imagine how poignant such a farewell must have been.

And it was compounded a few short weeks later when Wayne learned his wife, Carolyn, was pregnant with their first child.

Before being called up for National Service, Wayne had been an assistant engineer, he loved to tinker with machines.

Now in Vietnam, he was assigned to 10 Platoon, D Company, 5th Battalion, the Royal Australian Regiment.

In early June, D Company was tasked to go into Binh Ba village after two Australian armoured vehicles were attacked in the area.

D Company, along with Centurion tanks, advanced into the village and met heavy resistance that resulted in fierce house to house fighting.

During the fighting Wayne was hit by rifle fire.

Two of his mates ran to his aid, but he had already died.

Even so, as the fighting continued around them, they managed to move his body from the line of fire.

Today Wayne is at rest at Botany Cemetery, just a ten minute drive from here.

As you know, 2023 is an important year for our Vietnam veteran community.

It marks 50 years since the end of Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War.

Even after half a century, its impacts continue to echo through our community.

It was a conflict where millions of people lost their lives and millions more became refugees.

From 1962 to 1973, some 60,000 Australians saw service in the war.

More than 3,000 were wounded; 523 lost their life.

This year is our chance to commemorate and remember all those who gave their lives and served our nation during that war.

As part of this year’s various commemorative services, I have travelled around the country.

I have met with many veterans, spoken to their families, heard their stories.

I’ve heard of the harsh conditions our veterans experienced on deployment.

I’ve heard of the hardships some endured when they returned home.

I’ve heard about the impact this had on their families and I’ve heard from those who still mourn the loss of their loved ones.

And it is clear, even after half a century, the war continues to touch people’s lives.

I think of soldiers like Wayne, young people at the start of their life who put themselves second to serve their nation first.

I think of families like Carolyn, who lost her husband after only four months of marriage.

I think of his son, who grew up never knowing his father.

And I think of those who served alongside Wayne, who put their lives at risk in an attempt to save their mate.

Stories like this are emblematic of all Australians who served in Vietnam.

And I have heard similar stories, repeated time and time again.

They are stories that speak of dedication and devotion, but also of loss.

They are stories that say even though peace may be declared, for those touched by war it is never truly over.

Its impacts continue to be felt.

The memories remain as vivid as the day they happened.

And that is why we are gathered here today.

We are here to pay tribute to the 60,000 Australian sailors, soldiers, air force personnel, nurses, and civilian volunteers who served in Vietnam.

We are here to honour those who gave their lives and to remember the families, who fifty years on, love them still.

Over the decades there has been a long debate about what Australia’s legacy in Vietnam is.

But for me it is clear: our service personnel were given a difficult job and they did it well.

They endured oppressive heat, torrential rain, tropical diseases, and were confronted by a committed enemy.

Even in the face of such terrible adversity, Australians in Vietnam showed courage and endurance, and a dedication to their profession, their nation and their mates.

Years after the war finished, veteran Gary McKay interviewed many who had been there and asked what their greatest fear had been.

Overwhelmingly, the response he received was that their greatest fear was of letting their mates down.

Everyone who served in Vietnam was committed to doing their job and doing it to the best of their ability, because they knew others were relying on them.

And this same commitment, to look out for each other, continued even after the war ended.

Upon returning home, some veterans struggled with the memories and traumas of service.

Those who had been there could tell their mates were suffering and saw there was a lack of support.

And so, they fought for their mates again.

They fought for the support they needed, and they kept fighting until a dedicated counselling service, now in the form of Open Arms – Veterans and Families Counselling (Open Arms), was established.

Today Open Arms provides clinical psychological support and counselling for all current and former serving members of our Defence Force.

It has made a huge difference to many people’s lives, and that is also part of our veterans’ legacy, and one you can be rightly proud of.

You served in our name with honour and distinction, and we gather now to recognise that.

Today the planes flying over Mascot are not carrying soldiers to war.

But it is important that we never forget the time when they did.

The story of how Australians conducted themselves in Vietnam is one we should all know, and one we should be proud of.

On behalf of a grateful nation, thank you for your service.

Lest we forget.


Media contact

Ben Leeson: 0404 670 937

Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling provides 24/7 free confidential crisis support for current and ex-serving ADF personnel and their families on 1800 011 046 or the Open Arms website. Safe Zone Support provides anonymous counselling on 1800 142 072. Defence All-Hours Support Line provides support for ADF personnel on 1800 628 036 or the Defence Health Portal. Defence Member and Family Helpline provides support for Defence families on 1800 624 608