Soldiers' day off from war
The previously untold story of Australian soldiers surfing during the Vietnam War, with their own beach protected by barbed wire and machine-gun emplacements, is the subject of a new book by Coolum journalist Stuart Scott.
Stuart, who in 2007 released his first book, Noosa: Surfing the ’60s, has interviewed ex-Diggers from all over Australia, including the Sunshine Coast, for Charlie Don’t Surf, But Aussies Do.
He said the book was the story of “Australia’s own stretch of the South China Sea, where the soldiers had surfboards, the lifeguards had guns and everybody had a good time”.
The book brings together stories from the men who built and ran the Peter Badcoe Club, the Aussie soldiers’ hangout named after a Victoria Cross winner.
It also features classic photographs, most in colour, and most never published before, from the veterans themselves and the Australian War Memorial archives.
“I thought someone had better collect all these stories so I appointed myself,” Stuart said.
“I wasn’t a Digger; I was just someone who got fascinated by the surfing side of things.
“Hunting out the history I discovered no one had ever told it before.
“I was just interested in surfing’s past and discovered that the army took surfing really seriously.”
Stuart said the army sent surfboards to the boys and everyone had “a day off being at war” and went surfing instead.
“Everyone agrees that was their best day in Vietnam – the day you went surfing.”
The Peter Badcoe Club was built on the sand dunes at Back Beach, Vung Tau.
According to the book, the club had its own bars, the improbably-named Harold Holt memorial swimming pool, and a concert stage for Sunday afternoon shows.
The army brought in surfboards, sailing boats, power boats for water skiing, and even built a mini-golf course.
A lifesaving club was established, complete with lookout tower, surfboat and rescue reels, and in the early stages the lifeguards were armed in case the Viet Cong attacked.
The book is available for $30 plus postage at www.charliedontsurf. com.au.