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Gala protest: Vietnam War in Canberra

By Kerces - 1 November 2005 56

Last night at the Canberra Theatre, the Embassy of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam held a “Charming Vietnam Gala” concert for politicians, dignitaries, media and members of the Vietnamese community.

Last night outside the Canberra Theatre, about thousand very loud and very angry people turned up to protest and "expose the atrocities of the regime and voice their demand for a free and democratic Vietnam".

South Vietnamese protest

Two weeks ago members of the Press Gallery received invitations to a Charming Vietnam Gala celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. In 1945 the North Vietnamese declared independance from their French colonial masters, which was formally recognised by the French a decade later following the Battle of Dien Bien Phu. To put things very simply, the South Vietnamese weren’t happy with the new communist rulers, which led to the separation into two countries and eventually what is generally known as the Vietnam War which we and the Americans were involved in. The Socialist Republic of Vietnam, as it is today, was formed in 1976 when the two halves of Vietnam were rejoined (if you want to know more about the history, this and this are a reasonable start).

Knowing nothing of this history or the continuing tensions I happily agreed to accompany Johnboy to the Gala, blisfully unaware that on arrival I would be confronted by angry mobs. It was quite an experience (JB says he’s used to being shouted at by angry mobs, but this was my first time).

Most of the protestors were carrying flags or balloons in the yellow with red stripes of South Vietnam. Interestingly there were also quite a few Australian flags being carried as well, probably in an attempt to say "look at us, we’re on your side".

South Vietnamese and Australian flags

All over the place people were being urged to boycott the show. Since the invitiation specified lounge suit or national dress as the dress code, it was fairly easy to identify those attending the show and they had to run the gauntlet of protestors, most of whome were held back behind a police line but there was one area where there were no barriers. There was also lots of propaganda being handed out, listing reasons why the show should be boycotted. JB and I came away with three slightly different versions of this flyer:

 Flyer urging boycott of Charming Vietnam Gala

And the back of it (note the use of "Viet Cong" — this term only came about with the American intervention in the Vietnam War):

More reasons to boycott the Gala

I heard two or three impassioned speakers, including this woman, who all whipped the crowd into a frenzy, accompanied by drums beating out time for chants. There must have been quite a few speakers lined up because they were still going when we left the show about two hours later.

Rabble rousing at the protest

The protestors were well planned and had covered both approaches to the theatre so none of the invitees could escape their message. This mob near the members’ entrance of the Legislative Assembly obviously weren’t as loud as the much, much larger crowd on the other side but their anger was possibly even more palpitable (I got shouted at when taking this photo, but whether in anger or encouragement I wasn’t quite sure).

Crowd near members' entrance

Eventually we decided it was time to head up to the theatre, the invitation having said 7pm for 7.30 and it was nearing the latter hour. At the doors of the theatre (which feels very strange not having its proper entrance) we flourished the invitation (below) and received tickets. By this time we could hear the bells ringing to get everyone into the theatre but, just as we tried to go in, some large, suited security guards came and shut the doors with a particularly definite air. It sure looked like an end to our more-exciting-than-planned night out, but I used my developing elbow skills and got us through the crowd to the door where JB showed the tickets and we were somewhat reluctantly allowed in.

Charming Vietnam Gala invitation

The first thing we were treated to was a tourist brochure in video format projected on the stage curtains and sponsored by Vietnam Airlines, who, along with the Thanh Nien newspaper, were major sponsors of the whole Gala. There was much confusion with the seating; although the tickets were allocated people seemed to be being allowed in without tickets and just sat in any empty seats they could find (I also noticed a huge number of people moved around during the show — quite a novel concept to me, having been brought up to sit down, be still and shut up in theatres and cinemas).

Then came three-quarters of an hour of speeches, in which the MC and the Vice Minister of Foreign Relations of Vietnam kept calling Peter Slipper (who is president of the parliamentary committee for Vietnam-Australian relations or somesuch) "the honourable Peeter Sleeter". For me, the most exciting part of the show was probably during the Vice Minister’s speech when a man clad in a South Vietnam flag ran into the theatre shouting, "Human rights for Vietnam!" and was tackled by be-suited security guards and manhandled out of the theatre (I was impressed by the guards; they were just like secret service agents in American movies, complete with invisible ear wires). A few minutes later another man jumped up from the audience and shouted similar slogans. He too was promptly removed.

And then the show began. I strongly suspect I would have gotten a whole lot more out of the show if I was a Vietnamese speaker or had any idea who any of the performers were. First up was a girl singing a song we were told set out the theme for the whole performance: Far and Near. She was accomapnied by dancers, some of whom had fairly impressive angel costumes. Afterwards our hosts for the night came out and back-announced the song. The man spoke Vietnamese and the woman translated for him (and wore a series of spectacular dresses).

Gala hosts

Next up was a fashion parade by a designer who I’m reasonably sure I read in the CT set out to modernise traditional Vietnamese fashions. I quite liked some of the costumes which were generally brightly coloured and all sparkled (and which aren’t really done justice by JB’s in the dark photography). The models all walked with that loose-limbed gait of the supermodel but I felt they weren’t really sure what they should do once arriving at the front of the catwalk (or stage in this case).

Fashion parade

After this were a series of singers, most of whom we decided were lip-synching — waving the microphone around everywhere except near your face is a dead giveaway really. The songs were all inoffensive to me in a pop kind of way and I had the distinct impression afterwards of having watched Australian Idol except in another language. My favourite performer was an ageing but apparently very popular (judging by the crowd’s reaction) rocker dressed in tight black leather pants, white t-shirt and leather jacket who proceeded to dance lustily with the microphone stand all across the stage while singing soemthing suitable rock’n’roll. There was also a girl in impossibly high shoes who had a troupe of boy-band dancers so she didn’t have to dance in them, a woman singing an operatic power-ballad, a man in a white suit who was then joined by a man in a black suit with a very ruffly shirt. This second man then performed solo, at which point I started to fall asleep and missed a large chink of the special effects in which the dancer in the background passed things back and forth to a girl projected on the round screen that made part of the set. I don’t know what else there was since we departed shortly after my concert-sleepiness kicked in.

As we left the protestors outside were still going strong with their chants and drumming, although the police appeared to have departed and buses that were in the carpark before had left.

What’s Your opinion?

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56 Responses to
Gala protest: Vietnam War in Canberra
bonfire 1:49 pm 01 Nov 05

the ct like to use press relases for news. no press release – no coverage.

often its a verbatim lift.

they are a very lazy newspaper.

i do like crispin hull though. very good analysis of almost anything he looks at, even if i dont always agree with him.

terubo 1:14 pm 01 Nov 05

Can someone explain why the CT didn’t cover this notable (for Canberra) event? Or perhaps I just haven’t graduated beyond the horses/sports pages today & missed it.
Like you, Maelinar, that placard caught my attention immediately. Perhaps some heavyweight tv current affairs program could investigate further…

Maelinar 1:09 pm 01 Nov 05

Whilst I’m sure it’s already popped up on a searchengine by now, there are several issues relating to that sign;

1. There is a real and immediate threat (by virtue of the sign being written in NOW and HERE tense) to Vietnamese-Australians.

2. They feel the issue is serious enough to write a sign about it at an anti-expo celebration.

3. The incoming Anti-Terrorism laws.

4. Vietnamese Spies are actively working in our country targetting (Vietnamese)-Australians.

As I have previously stated, one of my big issues is that once you’re Australian, regardless of if your surname is ‘Corby’ or ‘Bali 9 Lezzo’, equal treatment for all (Apart from if you’re indigenous but let’s not get into that).

In effect, if there are spies or terrorists targetting Australians, Australia should respond.

In my opinion, anybody who carries an Australian passport, regardless of descent, is an Australian.

Time to start seeking footage ASIO.

kimba 12:40 pm 01 Nov 05

I dropped by the demonstration after having coffee with friends – I’ve been to Vietnam and they have little to celebrate after 30 years of the communist dictatorship.

As I arrived Senator Humphries was speaking. He said he much preferred to be there with the demonstrators then be inside celebrating a “lie”. Very stirring! Apparently an ALP member (not local of course) also addressed the rally.

The crowd was very spirited but well behaved. The guests attending the concert seemed a little awkward as they ran the gauntlet of the demonstrators. LOL

Thumper, you said it all. It’s a disgrace that our Government and those pathetic left-wing gutless-wonders from the west who promoted communism in Vietnam say nothing today about the human rights violations that are perpetrated by the current regime.

I’m sorry, but those inside the ‘celebration’ should hang their head in shame!!!

Thumper 12:39 pm 01 Nov 05


like all socialist states the Republic of Vietnam like to keep an eye on their former countrymen turned disidents. China does it regularly I believe.

I suggest that they are protesting against Vietnamese cadre infiltrating their community. After all, they are South Vietnamese and many of them, if not all of them, would have had family, friends and loved ones murdered by the regime after 75.

Maelinar 12:28 pm 01 Nov 05

Is it just me that thinks we should be contacting ASIO about the comment ‘stop infiltrating our community’ ?

lod 12:21 pm 01 Nov 05

It was fun wasn’t it.
Nothing like having abuse hurled at you in a language you don’t know. I did notice that they were a lot more hostile towards the Vietnamese guests than the white faces that clearly didn’t give a shit.

It sounds like you left at half time though, which was a bit unfortunate. I found the quality of the second half far better with far fewer American clones and more traditional acts. The highlight was the playing of the Dan Bau, a single stringed instrument and then a multiple stringed horizontal instrument.

I’d also disagree with the lipsynching complaint. While there was backing lyrics in some of the songs, I didn’t feel that the singers were faking it. Mainly because there was a noticable difference in sound quality with the recorded tracks.

The protesters had all gone home by the time the show finished.

bonfire 12:09 pm 01 Nov 05

when i arrived in canberra many years ago, i was taken to a vietnamese restaraunt and noticed a clock on the wall in the shape of SOUTH vietnam.

teh sad thing about socialist utopias is that they rarely deliver what they promise.

replacing one thieving ruling class with another is not a revolution.

i think the hippies that protested against the vietnam war have now turned their attentions to the iraq war. after remaining largely silent during the soviet occupation of afghanistan.

the entire vietnam conflict was a sad saga. interstingly, lee kuan yew regards the vietnam war as a victory. without his comments in front of me to quote correctly, his argument is something along teh lines of ‘it gave other se asian countries time to prepare’. and if you look at the unsuccessful insurgencies in malaysia, thailand and indonesia you would have to say he was right.

so im glad that the vietnames who were out last night have the freedom to stage that protest rally. there is no way they could do it in downtown hanoi.

socialaist utopias do not allow dissenting views.

Thumper 12:00 pm 01 Nov 05

Ms Fonda is currently running around telling everyone how bad and evil the iraq War is.

Whether or not this is so I am not going to comment upon but the fact that she has conveniently forgotten what has happened to these people is an indictment in itself.

Mr Evil 11:50 am 01 Nov 05

I love the fact that some of the most oppressive regimes in the world always seem to put on the best events! Although, Stalin and Hitler are pretty hard to beat in those stakes.

Thumper, you’ve hit the nail on the head about the anti-war protesters of the 60-70s being very quiet now about how oppressive the Vietnamese Govt is. Haven’t seen Jane Fonda rushing back to rabbit on about how wonderful life is in the Republic of Vietnam is in the last few years!

RandomGit 11:33 am 01 Nov 05

Stirring stuff.

Thumper 11:28 am 01 Nov 05

All I can say is where the hell are the 60s/70s anti war protestors now?

People, mostly aging hippies, will still tell you about how bad it was for the US and Australia to go to Vietnam. however, they won’t admit to the mass slaughter of South Vietnamese after the 1975 fall of Saigon.

Oddly enough I have’nt heard Mr Stanhope make a peep about this issue. Is this because it goes against the grain of the leftie hippie love-in socialist ‘Ho Chi Min is going to win’ crowd? Is it because to show support for these people would undermine his opposition to the Iraq war, given the ridiculous parallels that get made between the two in the media.

These people truly are refugees in every sense of the word. These people fought alongside Australians only 30 years ago. They deserve to have some recognition of their plight.

Chris 11:28 am 01 Nov 05

My friend and I attended but (we missed tea) left after the permed, leather-jacket rock star number (It probably looked like like some sort of protest, two elderly Aussies creeping out and we got reproachful looks from people in the foyer -but claps from the protesters.) Poor Slipper must have drawn the short straw – but he gave a very good spirited speech, (and I noticed he called it the ‘Republic of Vietnam’ not SR of VN0 saying it was a tribute to Australia’s democracy that such a protest could be staged peacefully (if not quietly). Long faces from the Vice Minister and co on the podium.

Maelinar 11:21 am 01 Nov 05

eep, having a blonde moment, the rightmost

Maelinar 11:21 am 01 Nov 05

The leftmost placard in the first picture says a lot…

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