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Touched by Fire.
 

Derek Walsh, who served with 8 RAR in Vietnam 1969-70, (known to his mates as “Rock”), has put his talents to good use and created a moving and memorable mural recognising Australia’s involvement in the South Vietnam from 1962 to 1975.

His mural is a dedication of many hours of painting, years of research and particular attention to accurate details. It features the 504 young Australians who are recognised as our war dead, as well as the seven civilians also killed. Many objects will be familiar to most of us, every Corps featured with incidents and major battles also depicted.

After his tour of duty, Derek tried to return to his other life as a graphic artist, without success. His mind kept taking him back to Vietnam and the haunting scenes he witnessed.

His mind continually flashed back to an incident when he discovered the wallet of an enemy KIA contained a picture of a wife, or loved one, someone who would mourn his loss. Diagnosed with PTSD, he was eventually granted a TPI pension.

During a PTSD clinic at the Adelaide Repatriation Hospital the psychologist advised Derek to put his views onto canvas as a form of therapy. After some early sketches that featured just a few of the 504 it developed into a larger work. This picture was not meant to be seen outside of his closest friends, but those who were given the opportunity begged Derek to continue this work, so that from a canvas 21 inches by 36 it grew into 12 panels that bolt together to measure 11 metres, that is still a “work in progress” that shows our involvement in Vietnam.

 

As I have travelled around showing the mural with Derek, both here in South Australia and Victoria, we have met with many families of the fallen and without exception they have congratulated Derek on his work of art. They also comment on his ability to show their loved ones as they are still remembered. The many Vietnam Veterans who have had the opportunity to view the exhibit also remark on the details Derek has captured with his brush and paint. The many reminders to all of us who served and the memories that flood back when we view it are a potential healing tool that can be used to reach more of our veteran mates who today still have their demons to confront. It is our wish to give them the opportunity to talk about their involvement with people who were actually over there with them.

In the year 2000 we went to the United States and stayed for 3 months travelling around with the exhibition. We visited Washington DC on Memorial Day, Rolling Thunder and all the US Veterans who we met really made us feel welcomed. The amazing thing was that the majority of Americans did not even know Australia was involved in the war. The Australian Ambassador opened the display and later gave an Embassy dinner to our group. Today, 2 years later we are still in contact with many of those Veterans from that first week in the USA.

 

We held the exhibition in many Veterans Hospitals in New York City and elsewhere on the East Coast, and the warmth of the Vets we met was appreciated. Finally we went half way across the continent and stopped in Chicago, Illinois, and exhibited in the National Vietnam Veterans Art Museum for 3 weeks. What an honour for Derek and his work. This was the first time any work of art from a foreign national was displayed, let alone a full exhibition. Derek now  has 3 paintings in the Museum on permanent display.

 

The people we met around the USA were black, white and Hispanic Veterans of all ranks, as well as ex ARVN members. The doors opened to us by the mural allowed us interviews with the US Minister of Veterans Affairs, Secretary of Defence, a tour of the White House and into the homes of many veterans.

 

This is not the usual memorial, a cold slab of stone with endless etched names, but a living reminder for all of us that are left that our mates will always be to us and their families forever young.

 

All this for the painting that was never meant for public display, and not one cent of Federal Government Money has come our way. The former Minister of Veterans Affairs, Bruce Scott said our US Tour was an “insignificant event”, and refused all applications for funding.

Now members of 8 RAR it is your opportunity to help, we have decided to make another application to the Federal Government for funding so that we can take this exhibit on the road in a secure trailer along with some memorabilia we have collected to show the schoolchildren of Australia that we were involved in the Vietnam War. This will ensure the denial by those who are not supporting us as Veterans to see the error of their ways.

 

Derek and I as TPI’s are not financially able to continually pay out our expenses, as we do not charge for viewings, other than accommodation when we are away from home.

So fellow Veterans let your executive know that you support Touched by Fire and Derek Walsh one of your members. We need to convince the Federal Government that this project is worthy of their support and we would encourage you to support this exhibition when it comes your way.

 

            Our book with the 12 panels explained and further information is available from Touched by Fire Australia Inc, PO Box 366 Morphett Vale South Australia 5162. The book cost is $10 plus postage.

 

            To arrange an exhibit or inform me of any upcoming events you think appropriate for the exhibition, drop me an email tbfa@senet.com.au  or gsb@senet.com.au

 

 

Graham Bridgland.

Manager, Mate and Mentor

Touched by Fire Australia Inc.