“Fight like hell for the living”: the role of Australia and New Zealand’s Vietnam War veterans in representing and commemorating the Vietnam War in museums and other public history projects

2017-03-02T23:12:08Z (GMT) by Smith, Lisa Anne
This thesis explores two movements in the development of public history representations of the Vietnam War in Australia and New Zealand, examining firstly the development of community (veteran-led) museum sites, and secondly, the ways in which state-governed museum and public history projects have established models of community consultation to bring veterans’ voices and specific expertise into these spaces. The development and shape of these representations is inextricable from the backdrop of the war itself, which was an intensely polarising period for Australian society, and from the post-war period, which was marked by the fight for recognition of health and mental health issues arising from military service. In this environment, memorialising and historicising this war were similarly steeped in debate. Thus, three case studies examine different ways in which members of the Vietnam War veteran community have become active as “source communities” for public history projects, exerting a level of control over retelling their past. This phenomenon is examined firstly in the context of a veteran-led community museum, secondly in a large state-run museum (sometimes colloquially known as “big ‘M’” Museums), and thirdly in the context of an ongoing public history partnership forged between veterans and the state. The case studies have been presented in a generally chronological manner, highlighting that as the story of the veterans’ welfare advocacy has taken new turns over the years since the war, the act of remembering and historicising has transformed over time in response to these developments. Key themes of authority and ownership in historical representation, reconciliation, and healing, are also examined across these case studies.