Long Tan Action, Vietnam: Expressions - Commemoration through Art

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A printable resource to develop students understanding of Australia’s military service history through art. This activity features Long Tan action, Vietnam, painted in 1970 by Australian official war artist Bruce Fletcher. The artwork is a reconstruction of the Battle of Long Tan on 18 August 1966. Showing Australian, Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army forces in battle amid a rubber plant plantation. Use the background context and inquiry questions to encourage student research and learning.

Series: Expressions - Commemoration through Art
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Many Australian service men and women were in Phuoc Tuy province in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War. The landscape of the province was mostly swamp or jungle. A few rubber plantations were scattered across the province. A large Australian base was set up at Nui Dat in the province. This base was home to the 1st Australian Task Force. Soldiers from this base were soon in one of the largest battles fought by Australians in the Vietnam War.

Just over 100 Australian servicemen ran into a much larger Viet Cong force in the Battle of Long Tan on 18 August 1966. The Viet Cong were Communist North Vietnamese soldiers fighting the army of South Vietnam. The Australian soldiers were patrolling the Long Tan rubber tree plantation because the Viet Cong had attacked the nearby Australian Task Force base. The patrol ran into an enemy force about ten times its size. Even though many of its soldiers were killed or wounded, the patrol held off the attack. The Australian soldiers eventually fought off the bigger Viet Cong unit. Helicopters, artillery and armoured vehicles from the base helped the small Australian force.

Long Tan action, Vietnam, 18 August 1966 was painted in 1970 by Australian artist Bruce Fletcher. The painting shows Australian soldiers fighting in the Long Tan rubber tree plantation.

A painting depicting soldiers shooting in a forest area, all except for one soldier is laying low on the ground

Reconstruction of the Battle of Long Tan on 18 August 1966, painted by official war artist Bruce Fletcher in 1970. Shows action between 'D' Company and Viet Cong and North Vietnamese Army forces; events that happened at intervals during the battle are shown happening simultaneously. Oil on canvas, 152 x 175 cm. AWM ART40758

Inquiry questions

  • Look carefully at the painting and describe what you see. Include all the details of the painting, even if you think they might not be significant. Keep in mind what you don't see in the painting, as often things left out can be as significant as things that are visible.
  • Is the painting a primary or secondary source of historical information? What might have motivated Bruce Fletcher to create the painting? What does the painting tell us about the action at Long Tan?
  • The Battle of Long Tan lasted for around 4 hours. During that time, many separate actions occurred. Bruce Fletcher has tried to compress the timeline of the battle into his painting. What aspects of the battle has he depicted? How has he depicted them? See the Battle of Long Tan for information on the various stages of the battle.
  • One of the soldiers lying on the ground in the centre of the painting is looking straight out at the viewer. Why has Bruce Fletcher depicted the soldier that way? What effect does the soldier’s gaze have on the way you engage with the painting? How do you feel when you look at the soldier?
  • Use the link above to find out more about the help the Australian soldiers received. Choose one part of that help for further research. For example, you might like to focus on the role helicopters played in the action. Create an artwork based on your research into how the soldiers were helped. Your artwork could be a drawing, a painting, mixed media, or created using digital technologies. Discuss the artworks created by the class.

Copyright

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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