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Mum and Dad and Denny saw the passing-out parade at Puckapunyal
It was a long march from cadets.
The sixth battalion was the next to tour, and it was me who drew the card.
We did Canungra, Shoalwater before we left.

And Townsville lined the footpaths as we marched down to the quay
This clipping from the paper shows us young and strong and clean
And there's me in my slouch hat with my SLR and greens.
God help me, I was only nineteen.

From Vung Tau, riding Chinooks, to the dust at Nui Dat
I'd been in and out of choppers now for months.
But we made our tents a home, VB and pinups on the lockers
And an Agent Orange sunset through the scrub.

And can you tell me, doctor, why I stil can't get to sleep?
And night-time's just a jungle dark and a barking M16?
And what's this rash that comes and goes, can you tell me what it means?
God help me, I was only ninteen.

A four week operation when each step could mean your last one on two legs
It was a war within yourself.
But you wouldn't let your mates down til they had you dusted off
So you closed your eyes and thought about something else.

Then someone yelled out "Contact!" and the bloke behind me swore
We hooked in there for hours, then a Godalmighty roar
Frankie kicked a mine the day that mankind kicked the moon,
God help me, he was going home in June.

I can still see Frankie, drinking tinnies in the Grand Hotel
On a thirty-six hour rec leave in Vung Tau
And I can still hear Frankie, lying screaming in the jungle
Til the morphine came and killed the bloody row.

And the Anzac legends didn't mention mud and blood and tears
And the stories that my father told me never seemed quite real.
I caught some pieces in my back that I didn't even feel
God help me, I was only nineteen.

And can you tell me, doctor, why I still can't get to sleep?
And why the Channel Seven chopper chills me to my feet?
And what's this rash that comes and goes, can you tell me what it means?
God help me, I was only nineteen.

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  • U
    UnregisteredNov 7, 2013 at 7:19 am
    The main character of "I was only nineteen" by Redgum is a song about an Australian boy of 19 who was conscripted and sent over to fight in the Vietnam war ("It was me who drew the card"). The boy has been told little about the horrors of war and is not ready for what is to come. When he reaches Vietnam he has some leisurely time ("But we made our tents a home, VB and pinups on the lockers") but then that all falls away as "Contact" is shouted (meaning contact with the enemy) and one of his mates steps on a land mine and is blown to pieces. The worse thing is that his mate was supposed to go home in June and he steps on the land mine on the 20th of July. The war is not only a physical war, but a mental war for himself, because any step could be his last ("A four week operation when each step could mean your last one on two legs"), and it is either die or endure pain. When the boy comes home he suffers post-traumatic stress with a number of side effects (The rash is the effect of the "Agent Orange sunset"). He realises that war is very glorified, when it really is full of "mud and blood and tears" and gives in to the pain that he still feels from the war.
  • U
    UnregisteredJul 17, 2012 at 8:03 am
    I think there's a double meaning in "asian orange sunset". There was a long campaign for australian vietnam veterans to be compensated for the neurological symptoms due to exposure to the defoliant, agent orange. The government, of course, denied that their symptoms were due to the chemical.
  • spok_lover
    spok_loverNov 15, 2010 at 11:30 pm
    This song is clearly about the Vietnam War. An Aussie band sings this song by the name of REDGUM. Um, I like this song because it's word-for-word what the lead singer's friend went through during the hellish war.
  • U
    UnregisteredAug 15, 2012 at 4:45 am
    The narrator is being force from childhood into a new world of adulthood as a result of the conscription. The constant swapping between past and present displays the stress he now faces as a result of going into this new world. "i still can't get to sleep? " his rhetorical question emphasises his present distress felt as a result of being flung into the war. The constant repetition of the confronting language "i was only nineteen" displays the negative impact of being forced into a new world, full of "blood and tears" without any external force to ease his transition.
  • U
    UnregisteredMay 2, 2014 at 12:08 am
    This song was actually written by a amateur writer who goes by the name or Swagmuffins he is a talented writer who wrote this piece symbolising his times in Vietnam, where the bloke called Frankie was actually his best mate named Cory and was a top bloke but sadly died. They both served there country proud and they did not come from Townsville but from a small town East of there named Gatton where everyone thought that nothing good came out of Gatton so these brave and proud men fought for there.

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