View From a Low Bough, by Barrie Crowley

I’ve mentioned this book in two earlier posts in which I said that it wasn’t an easy read and that it contains some the very coarse language. It would also fail almost every standard of “political correctness” with its references to “Nogs” (the Vietnamese locals) and “sluts” (local prostitutes).
But among all of the unpleasantness there are some very astute observations about the war in Vietnam and the Australia to which troops returned after their year long posting.

Let’s cut through all the media driven official bullshit. I owe you that much. This, we were told, was a war about a global conspiracy to destroy democracy as we know it. It was a war about the Devil leading the fiendish Viet Cong against the simple gentle peasants of this peace-loving little land, and slaughtering them barbarously.
This is bullshit.
This was in fact about ordinary people working a fertile, beautiful land and paying 90 per cent of their efforts to absentee landlords in Saigon or elsewhere, and was getting nothing in return.
This war was about ordinary people demanding a fairer go, and getting obliterated by the American war machine for daring to ask.”

The author’s year away, while fighting in this American war, made him particularly aware of societal changes that had taken place at home during that year.

That’s what shocked me about coming home. It was another country, another country entirely… it was being occupied: the people, the places, the very structure of our society were being eroded… I’d gone away, presumably to defend my country, and someone stole it while I was away…
the invaders continued to come and set up their tents, and our leaders talked prosperity and greatness ahead – and for them it was true. And they opened the halls of justice and our seats of learning and our offices of sacred trust to the invaders, for sale, for commission. And the people saw it was true and lined up for their share. And those who had no soul and no vision proved adept at bleeding the new system: they flourished and built a proud society around themselves. Based on money.

Crowley also makes this observation about the very vocal anti-war movement of the time, ending the observation with a question worth considering.

We had Moratorium marches here – probably well-meaning people organised them – many marched. But they didn’t march so much to stop the war as to make sure that they or those close to them were not dragged into it. Bullshit you say? Then why are they not marching still?

11 thoughts on “View From a Low Bough, by Barrie Crowley

  1. Does he give any more specific examples of how the invaders set up “tents” and “stole” Australia? I’m presuming the tents are metaphorical, but that the stealing is anywhere from close to real, while subtly done, to actual. And there’s a thinking change.

    And for them [the leaders] It was true …

    … presumably to defend my country…..
    These lines stand out to me, as well as the
    one about halls and seats of justice and learning.

    This one seems of biblical proportion: “And the people saw that it was true …”

    It looks like there’s a moment or phase of lucidity. But then I think that gets lost.

    1. Does he give any more specific examples of how the invaders set up “tents” and “stole” Australia?

      I’ve wanted to get back to you with a reply to your question, but after I finished the book I packed it away. I’ll try to remember to get it out again and find the relevant part.
      I have to wonder though, how subjective his opinion might have been – it might have been the culture shock of returning to a prosperous society where money meant so much, after a year in a military camp in a much poorer country.

      But then again, significant changes were occurring in Australia at that time. I recently saw an old late 1960s TV show in which the streets of Sydney were shown. At that time, only a couple of years before I arrived in Australia, there was only one tall building on the skyline. That changed very quickly, possibly a symptom of the kind of changes observed by Crowlie, where big money started to have a greater influence.

      1. I recommended this book to someone yesterday evening. We were talking about fiction (and, actually, extended versions of movies like the Lord of the Rings movies, then audible books. I think someone said they haven’t liked non-fiction in audible, but I gave the names of my two favorites. Got around to him bringing up subject matter that reminded me of this book. For instance Ho Chi Minh. I think he’s going to look for it (as it requires looking, searching really, it not being available on Amazon, etc.).

        Oh… I told him that I haven’t read it, but told him what a friend has said about it. He’s a young man trying to improve himself, he says

      2. Actually, it’s not really a book I’d recommend, especially to someone trying to “improve” himself.

        It was interesting in the way that it gave an “on-the-ground” view of an Australian soldier’s service in Vietnam, but it wasn’t a well written book and at times wasn’t easy to read. I’ve read two or three good books about Australian medics and nurses in Vietnam that I’ve written about earlier, but one of the best “general” books I’ve read about the Vietnam war was High Lunn’s Vietnam: A Reporter’s War

        The Lunn book should also be more easily obtainable than the Crowlie book.
        As the title suggests it’s a personal memoir of a journalists experiences in Vietnam. It’s a very well written and interesting read.

        see here:

  2. It’s a matter of serious consideration that many patriotic young people, men most of all back then, are removed from observing domestic life to go to war. Does the author give readers clear ideas of how his country was taken over? I wonder how representative he is (what others returning noticed or whether he’s particularly perceptive) and how much he and others would have consciously seen in the beginning of it, had he been around, as compared to being faced with a larger contrast after a year.

  3. Thanks, Onesimus. I told him you said it’s difficult to read that book. And I said that it can be harsh but is a soldier’s perspective. But I’ll tell him what you said just now as well; and recommend the other book. Young is relative. He’s in his early thirties. He’s a boyfriend of one of the family friends through the wife of my oldest son — an additional family friend.

    There are a bunch of young people who are friends of this couple and take comfort in both the way they are as a couple and the fact they all can talk about anything around us (grown ups, in a sense, who don’t reject them for their struggles). Some of them say they can’t talk about anything with their parents. [They don’t know that my children’s father does get uncomfortable with what they say at times (not because he’s better, but because he doesn’t like talking things through). He just doesn’t (and wouldn’t know how to) participate.]

    1. The Crowlie book wouldn’t be easy to get.
      It was published two decades ago when I worked for the publisher.
      I think I picked it up from the “damaged books” – a selection of which were regularly delivered to the office from the warehouse for staff to take.
      I therefore had it for 20 years before I got around to reading it.

      1. The majority of the books in the “damaged” pile had nothing wrong with them. They were usually unsold returns from book shops and any “damage” was minimal, maybe the gum residue from a price sticker (something that could easily be removed with a spray of furniture polish).

    2. A quick note. My two favorite non-fiction Audible audio books are Red Notice and Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin.

      I have favorite audio books from before Audible, too. But I’ll skip that for now.

      1. The only audio books that I’ve used are The Bible – after a few disappointing versions I found one read by David Suchet that is excellent – and one of Edgar Allen Poe stories that I had to study for university. I found it much easier to listen to the Poe stories in the car at a time when I was doing a lot of driving between my home city of Wollongong and Sydney (approx. 100 mile round trip), than to read them from the page.

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