|IAN McPHEDRAN, DEFENCE WRITER NEWS.com
August 23, 2008 12:30am
JOHN Schumann has been trying for more than two years to perform for Australian troops serving overseas.
The singer/songwriter and former Redgum frontman, whose 1983 hit I was only 19 has become an anthem for Vietnam veterans and new generations of Diggers, wrote to authorities in May, 2006, offering his services as a touring entertainer.
RSL chief Bill Crews, who is chairman of the Forces Advisory Council on Entertainment, said he passed the letter on and was surprised to learn that no one had even contacted Schumann.
I was only 19 ...
Major General Crews rejected a suggestion that the anti-war tone of some of Schumann's songs was behind the official snub.
"There is no reason why we wouldn't want him to perform and I don't know why we didn't contact him," Maj-Gen Crews said.
He said it was probably an oversight and he pledged to find out and contact the singer with an explanation.
The most recent Defence Force-sponsored entertainment tour of the Middle East was mired in controversy when rock singer Angry Anderson told the military about alleged indiscretions involving the entertainer Tania Zaetta. The information was published in an official defence email and leaked to the media.
Schumann said he was very keen to perform for our men and women serving overseas.
"The troops would be really pleased if I went," he said.
"I am surprised by the level of affection for me and for 19."
That affection was summed up by a young SAS trooper who wrote to him from southern Afghanistan in June 2006.
The Digger explained that 19 gave goose bumps to every Australian soldier who had ever been on operations.
"Have been listening to your two albums when I can. However, unfortunately our long-range patrol vehicles don't come standard with CD players, so we can't listen to your songs in the LUP (lying up post). Instead we're stuck listening to the local call to prayer five times a day," he wrote.
Schumann and a new band, the Vagabond Crew, are about to release an album covering a range of songs about Australians at war, titled Behind the Lines, with guest artists such as Rusell Morris and Rob Hirst.
The album includes a slightly reworked version of the Cold Chisel classic Khe San.
Chisel songwriter Don Walker allowed Schumann to change the opening line to say: "I owe my life to the choppers at Long Tan."
This honours the work of the RAAF chopper crews who braved heavy enemy fire and appalling weather to re-supply 6 RAR's Delta Company, which lost 18 men in the Long Tan rubber plantation in Vietnam on August 18, 1966.
After The Vagabond Crew performed the songs at a concert at Vung Tau in Vietnam to mark the 40th anniversary of Long Tan, ABC Music approached Schumann to record the album.