My Australian Story: Vietnam, by Deborah Challinor

It’s supposed to be a fair way to decide who does national service and who doesn’t, but Mum reckons it isn’t. She says the fate of a mother’s son shouldn’t depend on a number picked out of a barrel. The marbles that go in the barrel have the days of the month on them. An agreed number of marbles are drawn out of the barrel, and if your birth date is on one, you’re ‘balloted in’.

It’s 1969 and Davey’s big brother Tom has been conscripted. Chosen because of his birthdate, he has no choice but to report for service. Soon, Tom is in Vietnam and his family are back home worrying about him. But there are other things happening in Davey’s life, too. He and his two best mates love surfing, and are determined to win the inaugural Newcastle Under-14 Championship. Thye are fascinated, too, by the planned moon landing, and follow preparations keenly. But growing up isn’t always fun, and Davey and his mates have some hard lessons to learn.

Vietnam , part of the My Australian Story series, is a wonderful diary format story giving an insight into Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War through the experiences of one family. It also offers a snapshot of late 1960s life, including the music of the time, key events in the year, the union movement, the impact of war on generations of Australians and more.

An excellent offering for primary aged readers.

My Australian Story: Vietnam , by Deborah Challinor
Scholastic Australia, 2015
ISBN 9781743628003

Summer's Gone, by Charles Hall

I’ve had a long time to think about it; I wish to God I could stop but sometimes, even now, it just happens: I go over and over exactly how it was that Helen came to die, and all that came before, and all that came after. About all the things I might have done, and all the things I might have not done; and all the things other people might have done and not done. Like Mitch, and Alison.

In 1960s Perth, teenager Nick meets three new friends who share his interest in music. Soon, guitarist Mitch has hooked up with one of the girls, Alison, and Nick is keen on her sister, Helen. He thinks she’s interested in him, too, though their relationship is slower to develop. The foursome form a folk group, and are soon popular on the local music scene. But things start to fall apart when Mitch decides to leave the group, and Helen gets called back to Melbourne. Although Nick and Alison join her there soon after, and have what seems to be a bliss-filled summer, tragedy is just around the corner.

Summer’s Gone is a touching, down to earth story of life in the 1960s. Shifting between the events leading up to and surrounding a death, and Nick’s revisitation of key locations many years later, the narrative is cleverly arranged so that the mystery of Helen’s death, revealed on page one, is only gradually made clearer. At the same time,many of the issues of the 1960s – including conscription, sexual liberation, feminism, societal change and worker’s rights – are explored in a way that avoids being issue-heavy. Nick is an entertaining narrator and as he criss-crosses the country, it is a pleasure to travel with him, even in dark times.

Summer’s Gone is an absorbing read.


Summer’s Gone, by Charles Hall
Margaret River Press, 2015
ISBN 9780987561541

Available from good bookstores and online.

A Distant Land, by Alison Booth

Jim’s mouth is so dry he can hardly swallow. As he struggles into a sitting position, he sees on the lip of the hollow three pairs of feet. Three pairs of feet wearing sandals fashioned from rubber tyres and inner tubes.
Slowly he raises his eyes and sees three rifle barrels. Holding the rifles are three soldiers. They are not the allies. they are not the Cambodians either. These young men are wearing the belted green uniforms of the North Vietnamese Army.
Casually lifting his gun, the tallest soldier directs it at Jim.

Zidra Vincent and Jim Cadwallader have been friends since childhood, but each secretly wonders if their relationship could be something more. But when Jim returns from Cambodia on a short visit, the opportunity to say what they’re feeling doesn’t arise. When he’s summoned back to Cambodia where he’s a war correspondent, Jim promises to write.

In Sydney Zidra follows an story which could be the making of her journalistic career, and waits to hear from Jim. But it is at work that she sees a headline which may change everything: a headline telling of a missing journalist killed in Cambodia. As she realises it is too late to tell Jim how she feels, her world collapses.

A Distant Land is a moving story of love set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War and also highlighting the personal and legal struggles of the Aboriginal rights movement in the 1970s. The history is important to the plot and enlightening for the reader, but doesn’t overshadow the story.

A Distant Land is a conclusion to the Jingera trilogy, but stands alone (I hadn’t read the first two books, though am now tempted to seek them out).

A Distant Land

A Distant Land by Alison Booth
Bantam, 2012

This book is available from good bookstores or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.