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Trevor Woodward – Vietnam/NamBang
More than 500 Australians died in the war. Mr Woodward can never forget the smell of death.
“Each time I saw someone just go down from a bullet, just drop and life just end it hurt me. It didn’t matter less if it was Vietcong – we are all people, and we were all kids,” said Mr Woodward.
“I was very young, and people of my generation were not just regular army but could be conscripted. I was conscripted – which means I had no choice.”
“Most of us were about 20 years old.”
“I had seen Vietnam every night on the television news and basically at the time I did not know much about the politics of the war – like a lot of us we found out much later what it was all about.”
He said he received various combat conditions training for nearly a year before heading to Vietnam. “Training was torture. We were put in all sorts of conditions, the freezing cold, the wet, all-sorts.”
“I was selected to go into a special long range patrolling unit and to monitor enemy movements – I was the advance party, the forward scout.”
The ironies of the war have never left Mr Woodward. He remembers the most beautiful pristine jungles, dense natural beauty which children dream of playing and running wild within and then gunfire would blaze through and wash the jungles in blood and cinders.
“The whole place was sad, even young children walked around with guns, very sad.”
He remembers a young Australian on his first day in Vietnam.
“I remember them all but this one boy always comes to me. He hadn’t wanted to go to Vietnam. I think of him every time I hear the Beach Boy’s line ‘I wanna go home, Oh let me go home…’”
“He was a machine gunner. He was the first person I saw die in Vietnam. A bullet flew and hit the front side of the machine gun and ricocheted into his face.”
“The fact this boy who hadn’t wanted to be there, who hadn’t wanted to leave his people behind in Australia, the fact he was the first to die has left a big imprint in my mind,” said Mr Woodward.
“I can talk about some of this stuff but I can’t talk to you about everything I went through as any Vietnam veteran will tell you. There were so many horrific things that we saw or were part of that we have to carry in our souls for the rest of our lives.”
This took Mr Woodward back to before he was packed off to Vietnam. He remembered the conscientious objectors who refused to go. “The persecution of these people was disgusting. The treatment of these people and the lampooning of these people as cowards was disgraceful, a low point.”
Despite his anti-war stances he did his job as a soldier as best he could. “I was a very good soldier. I had to protect the people that would follow me. As a forward scout and tracker I had peoples’ lives to look out for. I looked out for anything that was man-made, the way rocks were placed, a few paces this way or that way was a trip-wire or a grenade. My job was to be observant. I looked for danger, for unnatural disturbances. I find that to this day I continue to track for things, even as a painter,” said Mr Woodward.
“There was no reason for us to be in Vietnam. It was all brainwashing, no different to today. There is no place for wars like these.”
Mr Woodward spoke of Long Tan, Nui Dat, Jane Fonda, Agent Orange but there was nothing sincere he said in the reasons for the war that deserved the risking of his life or the bringing about of the more than 500 Australian deaths and the thousands of Australian casualties. However the deaths all up were more than one million, most of them the Vietcong.
“The brutality of it all never leaves any of us. We all did monstrous things to each other, brutalised one another, in the name of diabolical lies. More bombs were dropped on Vietnam than in all of World War Two.”
Mr Woodward is an anti-war campaigner, an accomplished peer-reviewed painter and has exhibited many anti-war and peace artworks throughout Australia. Recently an exhibition of more than 150 of his works exhibited for two months at the Bunbury Regional Gallery.
“When a war ends we always read about the effects on the returned soldiers but we learn little because we do it again. More than one third of those who came back from Vietnam have died, many from suicide and stress-related complications. Many of us who continue on do so with post-traumatic stress.”
“I fear for those who have returned from Iraq and those returning from Afghanistan. Vietnam has never left anyone who served there.”
– A previous article on Trevor Woodward:
Prolific artist-in-residence, Trevor Woodward had a difficult time in choosing 56 pieces to exhibit at the Bunbury Regional Arts Centre. He chose his pieces from more than three decades of work, created all around the world, from 14,000 drawings and hundreds of paintings. The retrospective exhibit was titled, “The Dinosaur’s Picnic.”
Mr Woodward’s exhibit included works from his university days in the USA, his travels through Europe and Asia, from his days teaching art in universities and in WA’s prisons – including Bunbury and Fremantle prisons – and from his long stretches of residency in Western Australia’s Fremantle, Margaret River and in Bridgetown.
“By living in so many locations, I hoped to reveal how the bent on excessive commercialisation has damaged the environment,” said Mr Woodward.
“If someone does the mathematics on what we are doing to the environment then the numbers translate to doom for all of us. We need to influence change and stop the numbers dead in their track.”
Mr Woodward was five years old when we first saw Pablo Picasso on television and was mesmerised by his art. “He definitely influenced me into taking up art if not into his type of art. Later on I would discover we share the same birthday – October 25.”
During the sixties he was conscripted into national service he was sent to Vietnam, where he was a forward scout for his platoon. The experience of war turned him into an anti-war activist. “I felt for everyone there, the enemy too. It is a terrible thing to see someone shot and fall down, and their life just end. I wish I could go back to Vietnam and assist in removing the landmines left behind.”
Included in the exhibition was one of his more famous paintings – an anti-war piece titled, “What for? No more. Where’s the door?”
“I spent two months on it, and every minute I was working on it I felt Vietnam all over again. I got a lot of Vietnam out of my system with this painting.” The painting has featured at a number of exhibitions and events and was transported across the country to a major Sydney exhibition three years ago.
After the war, and after a spell in WA’s bush and deserts, Mr Woodward moved to the USA where he completed a Fine Arts degree at Case Weston University in Cleveland Ohio, his Masters at the University of Michigan and then painted and sculpted like never before. He also picked up a degree in Anthropology which he said heavily influenced his need to understand others.
“Art is a personal thing, a passion or it’s not art, and I hope my art helps people reflect on human activity, whether it is war, greed, or how human activity affects the environment,” said Mr Woodward.
One of the paintings is his work “Dinosaur’s Picnic” which depicts humankind’s extinction, and from this artwork is taken the exhibition’s title.
“Our planet is at risk, humankind is certainly at risk because of the way we conduct ourselves, and we need to have a better look at ourselves.”
“Dinosaur’s Picnic” was created in 1980, begun in the USA and completed in Australia upon his return. “The piece is even more relevant today than it was then because of our capacity to damage and ruin, and we are running out of time.”
“Hopefully we can realise in time we are being led down wrong pathways by excessive self-interests rather than common ones, rather than the public good.”
Many of the artworks on exhibit are from his years in Margaret River. “I left Margaret River because of the concrete jungles that have been dumped on it by urban refugees and retirees who bring their ways from the metropolis to pristine communities. They get on councils, think they know it all, and then replicate services and assets, subdivisions and precincts that have no merit in once tranquil and stress free towns like Margaret River.”
Mr Woodward was a well-known anti-development campaigner in firstly Fremantle and then Margaret River, and now in Bridgetown. He left Fremantle shortly after the America’s Cup win. “I fought hard alongside others, but Fremantle has forever changed from what it was, a beautiful diverse community of progressive minds and tinkerers. With en masse commercial developments Fremantle had an exodus of artists and we relocated all over the South West, to Margaret River, Nannup, Balingup and Bridgetown.”
“I now fear for Bridgetown, and after a decade here, I see the concrete jungles, the subdivisions, the unwarranted services and infrastructure clogging and destroying Bridgetown, and I’m now too old to keep on campaigning,” said Mr Woodward.
“I was at a London exhibition where then WA Premier Richard Court enjoyed many of my paintings especially of Margaret River and the South West, and we talked over wine for five hours, and I never forget his view which he was pushing on me that the South West had to be opened up more to commercial development, and Margaret River needed to become the epicentre of a French Riviera scape. I hope that Bridgetown escapes this trend.”
– During the eighties Mr Woodward visited prisons, including Bunbury and Fremantle, and worked with many prisoners through art. “They had so much to give, art was a great expression for them,” he said. “Many of their stories just break your heart, and still leave me in tears.”
– “I have learned a lot about people during my years, and we treat many people badly. We have been born in a bed of racism. If you don’t look like us many of us don’t want to know you,” he said.