Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

Some Aussie Songs Against the Wars | The Libertarian Institute

Posted by M. C. on December 17, 2022

by Kym Robinson

aussie music1

Music can be powerful, possessing the ability to conjure emotion in a few minutes what an essay never could. Australia has a rich history of talented singers, writers, and performers creating music that is unique to the sunburned continent. Australia also has a rebel culture, hidden in plain sight. Founded by reluctant prisoners, enthusiastic adventurers, and those escaping their birth land to call Aboriginal land their home, with a history of empire and defiance, the music can reflect this combination, none more than in the songs against war.

Few songs express the sorrow felt by soldiers when they return as well as Redgum’s “I Was Only 19.”

Lead vocalist and guitarist John Schumann wrote the song based on experiences he had heard from veterans and their journey from youth to maturity. The song is rich with slang familiar to those who served in Vietnam with the Australian Army. The original title, “A Walk in the Light Green,” refers to the shading on the map of vegetation density, light green meaning less vegetation but with a higher chance of contacts, dark green for the denser jungle. It’s a song for the diggers who fought in Vietnam. As a song it has become one that reflects on war itself, its futility and waste. It may be for the soldiers—in parts written by them—but it is also very much an anti-war tribute.

The lyrics to “I Was Only 19” unveil the realities faced by returned soldiers once “home.” The Vietnam War veterans found themselves a forgotten bunch and the song’s popularity helped to raise a national awareness. Men who had been in war, a failed and now unpopular one, trying to cope and survive in a society that did not understand the physical and mental damage incurred now had a musical advocate.

Cold Chisel’s break out hit was the song “Khe Sahn,” a catchy number about an Aussie soldier’s transition from war to civilian life, delving into addiction, trauma, and bad relationships. Unlike Redgum’s take on the issues some veterans face, Chisel produced a more upbeat sounding rock anthem that marched into the 1980s. Though the lyrics when heard are depressing, perhaps go unnoticed despite its constant play on most Aussie radio stations even to this day.

PTSD is an acknowledged and publicly discussed consequence of war today, but when “I Was Only 19” was first heard it was a dark secret.

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