The Making of ‘Vietnam’

After its conception, ‘Vietnam’ quickly became the most complex and symbolic of the first set of Homefront sculptures. It was the most difficult to design, going through several drafts before the design was finalised, (with a few last alterations completed one day before carving was due to commence.)

The majority of our writing workshops were made up of Vietnam War Veterans, so there was plenty of material to take inspiration from. Through this writing and many conversations, the veterans candidly expressed the anguish and frustration of this war, their awkward and heartbreaking homecoming and the near-impossible task of readjusting into civilian lives. The difficulty in designing ‘Vietnam’ was in distilling all the material they had shared into a figure that was a worthy representation of their collective experiences.

In the face of the ‘Vietnam’ figure, master carver Hikaru Kodama has managed to capture the pain of war and its ongoing physical and mental burden. Hikaru has merged the legs of the soldier into the base, with hands rising up from the ground to grasp the soldier’s legs; symbolic of the inescapable grip of memory. Hikaru visited the Shrine of Remembrance to study the Australian uniform worn during the Vietnam War, including the type of backpacks used and the accessories soldiers carried. Further detailed reference was provided by Diggerworks at the Victoria Barracks who have an astonishing collection of historic and contemporary military uniforms. The gun carried by the soldier will eventually have a steel barrel made by a local gunsmith. The eyepatch was inspired by veteran Bill Cantwell who was shot in the eye during the war and survived.

In many of the veterans’ stories, Bell UH-1 Iroquoi helicopters, known as ‘Hueys’ and rubber plantations featured prominently. They are both seen by the veterans as the most prominent symbols of the Vietnam War. The steel screen that curves around the soldier features an intricate design made up of these two icons; a helicopter formation and layers of rubber tree leaves. The surprise for the Homefront team was seeing people place red paper poppies in the metal perforations in the screen. With the ‘Huey’ screen covered in poppies, ‘Vietnam’ was a haunting and beautiful sight on the ANZAC Day sunset in the Park.