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Open Right

10 December 2010
All Along The Watchtower


Some of the Booked Out staffers recently attended the launch of Michael Hyde’s latest book, All Along The Watchtower, held (fittingly) in Melbourne’s Trades Hall.

The launch was the most highly attended this booking agent has been to in quite some time – the cavernous Bella Bar packed to overflow, with people of all ages and backgrounds who had come to celebrate Michael’s time working against the Australian involvement in the Vietnam War (and American, for that matter).

As I had studied the war in depth back in high school, and subsequently spent my university years working in the student union at the Victorian College of the Arts, I was eager to be the first of the office to get to read our copy.

I had previously read Michael’s Hey Joe, which was a YA novel that channelled Michael’s experiences through a filter — a clever mechanism to allow him to tell only the parts of the story he was comfortable with. It was, and remains, a strikingly original, strong, and important YA work — and one that most Australians (young or otherwise) would benefit from: a lesson in often under-acknowledged Australian history.

All Along The Watchtower can be seen as reprise of Hey Joe, a gutsy way for the author to revisit his role in history. Without the constrictions of writing for a YA audience (much in the ‘60s, including Michael’s story is not suitable for young children!) Michael paints a far fuller picture of the events recounted in Hey Joe. This time, it’s a first hand recollection, rather than relayed stories (a device used to great effect in Hey Joe).

Michael has been working on this release for a very, very long time – long gathering research, waiting for the declassification of ASIO files, talking to old collaborators, and emotionally unravelling and reflecting upon his actions and those of others at the time.

In an era such as 2010, when many students are unaware of the scale and significance of the anti-war movement, or even the Vietnam War itself a book such as this is of vital importance. How is it that young Australians can arrive as tourists in Vietnam, and ask at the gruesome war museums, ‘Why was I not told about this?’. How is it that our nation continues involvement in Iraq, without it being a regularly and more publicly debated issue? What impact does the cycles and attention spans of the media have on the public impression of the war? What are the issues in a climate of terrorism, the introduction and debate of sedition laws, freedom of speech questions, the Wikileaks debate that has dominated the media of recent days…

For these reasons, Michael makes a compelling guest to a senior English, History, or Social Studies class — and whilst depending on the student maturity, teachers may use Hey Joe in place of All Along The Watchtower — Michael’s experiences, role in history, and belief in the importance and power of simply getting the story told have much to show our younger generations.

– Simon O’Carrigan

Related Links:

All Along The Watchtower at Vulgar Press

Hey Joe at Vulgar Press

Hey Joe teaching notes, courtesy of Lou Scacciante, English Teacher at University High School.

ABC TV Documentary on ASIO History

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