Graham Edwards By Verity Hagan

Vietnam veteran, ex-president of the Returned Services League, politician, Senior Australian of the Year recipient and veteran advocate- the Honourable Graham Edwards has many titles from his diverse and illustrious careers. Born and raised in Western Australia, Edwards joined the Australian Army in 1968 and was sent to Vietnam. His life changed dramatically after losing both of his legs in an M16 mine explosion near Route 326 in Vietnam. Despite the adversity he has faced, he continues to inspire Australians everyday, as he works hard and achieves great things despite challenging circumstances.

Personal Life

Graham Edwards was born in Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, on the 18th of July 1946, to Verna Mary (known as Mollie) and Edward (known as Ted or Blue) Edwards. He described his home life as 'stable', and with 'kind, loving parents'.

He attended the Christian Brothers' College on the Terrace, a Catholic school now known as Trinity, where he said that 'the fear of Communism [was] flogged into us'- a fear that motivated Edwards to participate in the Vietnam War several years later. He didn't enjoy school and was much more interested in sports. He left school at the age of 15 and voluntarily joined the Australian Regular Army in 1968. He arrived in Vietnam in 1970.

He married Noelene Sandow in 1969, and had two daughters.


Edwards' regiment, the 7th Battalion of the Royal Australian Regiment (7RAR), was, in February 1970, was mostly concerned with Vietnamese pacification operations in Phuoc Tuy (the location of the infamous Battle of Long Tan a few years earlier, in 1966). Their duty was to destroy Viet Cong bases and ensure that they couldn't access the civilian population, as in the past, the Viet Cong had recruited South Vietnamese from their villages which made the situation in Vietnam increasingly difficult for Australian and American soldiers to combat. Another of the Australians' aims was to 'create a secure climate for South Vietnamese social, political, and military life'. Unfortunately, however, this aim was a low priority during the Vietnam War- according to the Americans, the aims of the effort in Vietnam was 70% to save America from humiliation, 20% to keep South Vietnam from Chinese hands (and Communism) and 10% to help the Vietnamese people. These views are somewhat replicated in Australia's aims of war, though there was a larger focus on ensuring that Vietnam did not fall to Communism, as Australia was seen as at risk in the Domino Theory. Still, the focus was largely on personal gain rather than trying to improve the lives of the Vietnamese.

Edwards voluntarily went to Vietnam as he felt it was a 'worthwhile war', but when asked if he still thought that he said, 'I did believe the war in Vietnam was worthwhile, however, once I arrived there I realised immediately- this is a war we could not win because we did not have the full support of the local Vietnamese. I thought quickly that any suffering or loss of life would be for no point because always the North were going to win. Nevertheless I went and did my job in the most professional way I could.'

The 1967 7RAR destroying Viet Cong Camps (occurred before Edwards arrived in Vietnam, but same division) Australian War Memorial

Amid the chaos and confusion that was the Vietnam War, the questionable intentions and the brutality of fighting, was machine-gunner Graham Edwards and the other members of the 7RAR, following orders to search, find, and destroy. At the time of the M16 mine explosion, Graham Edwards, along with other members of his platoon (the assault-pioneer platoon of the 7RAR) were on patrol near Route 326. The 5RAR, the regiment the 7RAR had relieved, had told them, ‘Your biggest problem won’t be contact with the enemy, it’s going to be running into land mines.' Edwards said that it was a fear that was 'always at the back of our minds', that one day you would take a step that could be your last.

M16 mine, also known as a 'jumping jack' mine, Australian War Memorial

When Edwards stepped on the mine, he was shocked. 'It just exploded. I had no idea that I had just trodden on a mine.' He said that the common belief of a mine clicking before it explodes was false, and that it exploded without any warning. Edwards described the feeling of peace he felt, before becoming overwhelmed with agonising pain and fear, unable to put his machine gun down in case it set off another mine. Other members of his platoon rushed to help him, but couldn't be too frantic, as they themselves could step on a mine. He recalls sitting there, in 'dirt turned to mud by my spilled blood', waiting for the 'sweet and comforting sound of the dust-off chopper', or med-evac, that would carry him to safety.

Edwards' med-evac that flew him out of the battlefield after stepping on the mine, Department of Veterans' Affairs

The explosion of the M16 mine brought Edwards' time as a serviceman in Vietnam to a close, but did not end his involvement with the army, veterans, and Vietnam.

After Vietnam

After being evacuated from South Vietnam, Edwards was immediately sent to surgery. Right before the anaesthetic took effect, he recalls 'looking into the eyes of the surgeon as he studied my x-rays and feeling sorry for him'. He awoke with legs amputated to above the knee and a very uncertain future.

Rehabilitation has been difficult for many war veterans, but for Vietnam veterans it was a particularly unpleasant ordeal. After being fitted with artificial legs, he went to a rehabilitation centre that was actually a centre for young people with learning difficulties. The Vietnam War was something that was so unpopular with the people, it was kept hidden and low-key- instead of having actual rehabilitation centres for veterans, they were sent to places that weren't suited to their needs, but simply allowed them to hide. Edwards described the staff as bored and disinterested. When he went to the organiser of the program to say that the situation was not working, Edwards recalled that the organiser 'exploded and accused me of not being grateful and not appreciating what my country was doing for me'.

After discharge from rehabilitation, Edwards moved back to Western Australia with his wife and his 7 month-old daughter. He had once thought that he would rather die than return home disabled, but at that point Edwards said that he 'was just happy to be home alive and grateful to have survived'. He went back to school to complete his education. He regretted leaving school at 15, for he could no longer rely on his skills in football and other sports to make a career to support his family. He attended the Leederville Technical College to complete his education. His time at the college was made difficult by his artificial legs, which were awkward to use and sometimes, especially in the summer, the suction that held his legs on would break. Edwards also remembers that his English teacher was an 'anti-war, anti-vet person', and they did not get along well.

At the end of the year, a group who were overseeing his rehabilitation said that they had a job for him. Edwards was thrilled at the time, but unfortunately that feeling didn't last, as when he arrived at the job, he realised that it was actually at a sheltered workshop, where people with mental disabilities completed uncomplicated and ordinary tasks. He was devastated, but later was offered a proper job, as a civilian working with the army. This was the start of a new chapter of Graham Edwards' life, as he became increasingly involved in veterans' affairs and the community.

Secretarial work with local organisations, his daughter's school's P&C, the Korea South East Asia Forces Association, the Limbless Soldiers Association and the RSL- Edwards became heavily involved in community projects, saying that he 'did not want to be seen to be disabled and useless'. He was determined to live life to the fullest, and did everything he could to do so. He became involved in politics after his request to build a memorial for Vietnam veterans was vetoed by the local council, and, motivated by other issues, he decided to run for council himself. He served for 14 years. He also decided to stop wearing his artificial legs, in what he described as the 'best decision I ever made'.

A welcome parade was held for Vietnam veterans a while later, in what Edwards described as 'a wonderful, warm and emotional occasion' and a 'wonderful healing experience'. At the parade, there were reunions, healing, and a sense of closure. Afterwards, Edwards decided that he would like to go back to Vietnam, and went on to create the first Australian memorial service in Vietnam. It was held at Long Tan, and before it was held, he and the Australian Ambassador to Vietnam had a meeting with the Vietnam Local People's Committee. At the meeting, Edwards, who did not understand much Vietnamese, thought that the service would never be held due to what he understood from the attitudes of the Committee. However, the members of the committee decided that it should go forward, after one member said that 'the Vietnamese would never forget the loved ones who had lost their lives and never forget that it was the Australians who had killed many of them', but that 'the war was over and it was time to look to the future and for the sake of our children and the Australians' children we should shake hands and look to become friends'.

The Welcome Home Parade for Vietnam Veterans, held in 1987

The service went ahead wonderfully in that year of 1990, and many like services have been held since. In Australia, Edwards has continued to work with veterans, working towards improving their lives, especially in the areas of mental health that so often follow wartime experiences.

Conclusion and Bibliography

Graham Edwards has inspired and improved the lives of thousands of people, and he continues to do so today. While Edwards is not directly an ANZAC, as he did not participate in the Gallipoli Campaign, he clearly embodies their spirit that is so key in Australia's culture today through his demonstration of perseverance, courage, resilience, humour, and mateship. He encourages us to think about how we too can represent the ANZAC spirit, a spirit that was tragically forgotten somewhat at Vietnam. Where was the acknowledgement of the veterans' courage and their strength? They were treated awfully and left feeling rejected, despite the fact that they had seen and gone through many terrible things as a consequence of fighting in a war that many were forced to take part in. Despite the contribution to what was seen as a 'dirty war', Edwards and other Vietnam veterans still embody the ANZAC spirit. Edwards criticised the government's insensitive handling of veterans' affairs after Vietnam, especially in areas such as rehabilitation, and continues to stand up for the rights of those veterans as well as veterans from other conflicts. Thanks to his advocacy, the veterans of wars that have come since Vietnam, such as Afghanistan and Iraq, can be welcomed home and given the treatment they need and deserve, especially concerning mental health issues that can come after war experiences such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Graham Edwards is an inspiration to us all, as he survived the impossible to live a meaningful life and show to the world that veterans' rights are human rights.


Created By
Verity Hagan

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