NUI DAT AND VUNG TAU 2009.
In April of 2009 it was almost 43 years to the day that I boarded HMAS Sydney, for transfer to Vietnam, that my wife Carol and I embarked on our second trip together to Vietnam. We had visited with friends in 2006, but felt there were still some places and sights that we wished to see.Vung Tau panorama, April 2009.
One of the main areas that we wanted to see was Vung Tau and Nui Dat, a place on a map to most Australians, but one that had made a large impact on me, and my mates as young men, so many years ago.
We boarded the Fast Cat in Saigon at 0800 hours and spent about 1½ hours going down the river towards Vung Tau. Just over an hour had passed when I saw, in the distance, the silhouette of the Nui Thi Vai hills and shortly after the hill on the island of Long Son. Then we approached Vung Tau itself, passing Radar Hill, front beach and with Lighthouse Hill at the end of the promontory.
From the wharf it was a short walk around the road along the beach to 'Belly's Bar' where we were to meet our guide for the day, Ern Marshall, an Aussie ex-pat and member of Australian Vietnam Veterans Reconstruction Group (AVVRG), who served with 2nd Advance Ordnance Depot in 1968/69. Ern had organized an air-conditioned car with driver and accompanied us on our outing for the day.
It took a lot longer time to get out of Vunger's than I remember and the difference in development along the way is staggering. Ba Ria and Hoa Long are no longer two separate entities but one big urban sprawl.
Then it was on to Nui Dat, along the way moving through the area that was occupied by 6 RAR in 1966/67 and is now the base for Vietnamese D445 Battalion, they are even still using some of the buildings that were built by 1ATF. Over the years the locals have used Nui Dat as a quarry and it is not the same as it used to be.
Back into the car and on to Luscombe field, now the main street of Nui Dat village and we visited the school. Most of the children had left but the few that were there came running, not to beg but to hold our hands and take us into their school ground. A few dollars to the woman, whom we think was the teacher, supplied a full class of children with frozen goats milk (or yoghurt as she called it). The village is very poor and the AVVRG do what they can to help the children there.
Next it was off to try to find the C Coy, and specifically the 7 Platoon 5 RAR area from back then. We headed east on the runway and hung a left up an incline, on a very rough road that has only the remnants of the tarmac laid by the Aussies, hung another left and down a gentle slope. I said to Ern, "You can stop anywhere here!" We got out of the car and walked into the rubber, much shorter and thinner trunks than I remember, but there was no mistaking the lay of the land, this was the 7 Platoon area. As we walked around the position to where, I am certain our gun-pit was located, there were quite a few tingles running up my spine I can tell you.
We had lunch in a little local restaurant in Ba Ria with Ern and then headed back to Vung Tau for a look around.
Where the Flags used to be is now a Tourist Bus parking area and the street most of us remember as 'The Street Of Bars', Phan Thanh Gian Street is now called Ly Tu Trong Street, does not look quite the same. Then along the Front Beach road, past the upgraded Grand Hotel and up to Lighthouse Hill. I could not estimate how much larger Vung Tau has grown, but the photo below, taken from the lighthouse, should give you some idea.
Then we returned to Belly's Bar for a beer with Ern and headed back to Saigon. We both enjoyed the day, Carol finally seeing the place she had written those many letters to so long ago, and me again finding the area that had played such a significant part in my life.
Gary Townsend 1966/67