Story and Pictures by Alistair Gray
Opposite the RSL, in Toorbul Street, is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Park, with the suspended helicopter flying overhead. I wonder just how many people have taken the time to stop and understand the significance of such a wonderful place. It is a place for reflection, solitude and relaxation.
Dedicated in 1966, this unique memorial park honours the 521 Australian Defence personnel who served in Vietnam and lost their lives in the service of their country. With about 60,000 Australians who served in the Vietnam War and some 3,000 wounded, this park holds special significance.
The park is truly fabulous and almost certainly the best Vietnam Memorial Park in the country outside of Canberra, if not the best! Always in pristine condition, looked after and cared for by the dedicated volunteers from the Bribie Island & District Sub-Branch of the Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia. I was honoured and privileged to meet longstanding President of the Sub-Branch, Rod Devenish-Meares, and be shown around the gardens as he explained the significance of the different memorials. Arriving at 7am, the park was already a hive of activity. Lawns being mowed, hedges trimmed, mulch laid around trees, and paths blown free of leaves by a team of hardworking volunteers. All very much like a military operation making the park ready for inspection.
As Rod and I walked through the park, he explained the sub-branch had 161 members, including spouses. They were a tight-knit community, with great care taken to ensure all their members were ok and, where necessary, provided with support. At the centre of the park is the Memorial Wall. Across the top of the wall are the names of all those who lost their lives during the conflict. All except one! At the front of the wall are the names of the local members who have passed away. Poppy ceremonies are held for each deceased member, with an Australian flag given to the surviving spouse or family member.
Throughout the memorial park are eleven garden. Each with commemorative plaques, including plaques for the Battle of Long Tan, The Australian Army Training Team, Operation Iron Triangle, Operation Bribie, Fires Support Base Coral, Royal Australian Air Force, Royal Australian Navy, Operation Coburg, Operation Federal, Operation Nudgee and HQAFV, HQALSG & Embassy Guard. In addition, since the original establishment of the park, a new memorial to the SAS, including the Townsville Blackhawk accident in 1996. Also, a memorial to the spouses left behind while the men were at war. I am sure I have missed others, as many plaques exist throughout the gardens. Hopefully, some of the pictures will do this story justice, but I encourage you to take time out to visit the park and see for yourself what is there.
The park and gardens are beautiful, with lovely tall gum trees providing shade and seats on which to sit and reflect. The park is regularly utilised for weddings, various sub-branch commemorations, Vietnam Day and social functions. However, despite some small grants from the Caboolture Shire Council back in 2004, help from the Government to build the Memorial Wall, and a grant from the ANZAC Day Trust to pay for the garden name plaques, the bulk of funds used to maintain and develop the memorial park has been raised by the Vietnam Veterans themselves.
Rod said there are plans to further expand the park by reclaiming some swamp lands and improving nearby stream flow. The improvements planned include a stage and other buildings to store equipment and further enhance the magnificence of this extraordinary park.
At the end of the tour, we sat with volunteer workers enjoying breakfast, a brew and a good yarn. Later in the morning, I visited the Vietnam Veteran's Office on First Avenue, Bongaree and met Ernie Hall, the Sub-branch Secretary, who is essential in ensuring members receive the support needed in their retirement.