Vets barred from visiting Long Tan

Australian soldiers in Vietnam at the Battle of Long Tan, August 1966. Photo: Brock Perks
Australian soldiers in Vietnam at the Battle of Long Tan, August 1966. Photo: Brock Perks

Ballarat veterans who risked their lives fighting for Australia have been left bitterly disappointed after the Vietnamese government said it would ban any ceremony going ahead at the Long Tan site this year.

Buninyong RSL sub branch president Raymond Mende blasted the Vietnamese government for not taking steps toward reconciliation by allowing diggers to visit the battle site where their mates died.

"Veterans should be able to visit the Long Tan site in memory of our men," he said.

"They go over their to think about their friends, but also the Vietnamese. It's their government that’s the problem, the Vietnamese veterans want to mix.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade moved to update its travel advice on the Smart Traveller website this week after the Vietnamese government told Canberra it would not change its restricted access rules ahead of ANZAC Day.

"The Vietnamese Government has indicated that access to the Long Tan Cross site will remain open to small groups of people for contemplative private visits without media coverage, but this may change at short notice," DFAT said.

"Consistent with long standing practice, visitors to the Long Tan Cross site in Ba Ria-Vung Tau Province may not wear medals or uniforms, or carry banners or flags. Visitors are asked to behave in a solemn manner, respectful to the wishes of local communities."

The Vietnamese government sparked a major diplomatic row with Australia last year after it imposed restrictions on veterans visiting Long Tan on the 50th anniversary of the battle, where 18 Australian diggers died after becoming surrounded by Viet Cong guerrillas and North Vietnamese regulars.

But Long Tan commander Harry Smith sympathised with Vietnam’s decision, arguing Australians would be "up in arms" if the Japanese tried to travel to the Northern Territory to commemorate the bombing of Darwin.