Stories of the Dat Do Dogs

Artist and US Special Forces veteran, Jack McLain, interviewed and photographed 51 Australian veterans and nurses from the Vietnam War.  I captured their stories for current and future generations.

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Client name

NSW Office of Veterans Affairs

Project Type

Writing

Date

2023

Website

The brief

Artist and US Army Special Forces veteran, Jack McLain, produced 51 wet-plate photographic portraits of Australian veterans and nurses for an exhibition at the Anzac War Memorial commemorating 50 years since the withdrawal of Australian troops from Saigon.

Before photographing them, Jack spoke candidly with his subjects about their experiences in Vietnam and on returning to Australia.  I was tasked with capturing the conversations in 1500-word stories for the Anzac Memorial website.

Bob Pearson and Julian wet-plate portrait by Jack McLain

The challenge

As a veteran of Afghanistan, Jack was able to create an empathetic space for his subjects to tell their stories.  Some conversations lasted up to an hour and the content ranged from heart wrenching to hilarious.  My challenge was to do justice to the stories and the storytellers.

The project offered the following challenges:

  • Capturing the individual voices
  • Retaining the ‘colour’ for a PG audience
  • Staying faithful to the stories in an abridged retelling
  • Ensuring the subjects were happy with their accounts
Johny Bineham wet-plate portrait by Jack McLain

The result

The photographic exhibition, Stories of the Dat Do Dogs, is touring regional NSW and the complement of 51 stories are available online for relatives, students, historians and the subjects themselves.

At the risk of sounding cliché, it was a privilege to hear the recorded stories and to meet a number of the veterans at the exhibition launch.  It was an emotive project and it gave me a new understanding of the Australian Vietnam experience, so different to the American one portrayed in movies like Platoon, Full Metal Jacket and Apocalypse Now.

I teared up for Private Bob Pearson and his tracker dog, Julian, and for Flight Officer Ian Scott and the cockpit crew bottle feeding babies on the tarmac. And, I was captivated to learn how Corporal Johny Bineham gathered the largest collection of Viet Cong art in the world.