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LUSCOMBE BOWL - THE CONCERT STAGE. HISTORY SHARED WITH EVERYONE

Until now, the history of the Luscombe Bowl has never been recorded, its importance almost forgotten. With the help of veterans all over Australia, I have been able to piece together the story of the Luscombe Bowl for the Vietnam Veterans Commemorative Walk here in Seymour, and I'd like to take this opportunity to thank every one of those veterans for assisting me so enthusiastically with their information, memories and photos. I could not have achieved this without you. Please share it, add to it, and never let the history be lost again.
Cheers, Carolynne Burgess

A replica of the Luscombe Bowl was completed in March 2011 as part of Stage One of the Vietnam Veterans Commemorative Walk in Seymour. In wanting to find out more about The Bowl, I discovered that its history hadn't been recorded. And so the search for information began......

Luscombe Bowl Seymour

EXCAVATION OF THE LUCOMBE BOWL AMPHITHEATER

 

Excavating Luscombe Bowl

 

Luscombe Airfield was constructed in 1966, with allowance being made for an over-run at the eastern end which could later be converted to extra runway, should it be required. The airfield was named after Captain Bryan Luscombe (RAA), who was one of the early post WWII Army aviators. He was killed in action in Korea on 5 June 1952 whilst flying an air observation post mission as a member of 1903 (Indep) Air Op Flight - RAF.

In the first half of 1967, the plant operators of 21 Engineer Support Troop, attached to 1 Field Squadron, RAE, excavated the eastern end of Luscombe Airfield to create a massive amphitheatre which was to be used as an aircraft over-run and turning circle. Under orders from Task Force HQ, Maj Brian Florence, OC of 1 Field Squadron, had the amphitheatre enlarged during the excavation to allow for the building of a concert stage on its southern perimeter, and requested that the embankment be specifically shaped in order to accommodate an audience of more than 1,000 troops. 1 Field Squadron's diaries note the airfield over-run as being 100% completed on 23 July 1967. The amphitheatre soon came to be known as Luscombe Bowl.

BUILDING OF THE LUSCOMBE BOWL STAGE

Building Lusombe Bowl

During April/May 1967 Capt Graeme Hellyer, Florence's 2IC and a qualified engineer, did the structural design for the stage then handed this on to Sapper Jim Collett, a qualified architectural designer and draftsman, to produce the working drawings for the construction of the stage. (Hellyer was never to see the stage completed as he was severely injured in a helicopter accident on 2 June 1967 and medevaced home to Australia.) Under the supervision of S/Sgt "Darby" Munro, 9 and 10 Troops of 17 Construction Squadron, as well as tradesmen from 1 Field Squadron when available from operational duties, began building the concert stage in late July 1967, with the pine and oregon timbers being supplied by the US Military. 1 Field Squadron's diaries first mention the stage in their work sheets on 27 July 1967 as "Concert Stage 5%" (complete).

"... the construction was boxed beamed portal frame at the front with boxed beams spanning from rear to front. Timber purlins went across the beams to take the corrugated iron sheeting. The intermediate wall gave mid-span support to the beams." Fred Abbot, 9 Tp, 17 Const Sqn

The frame was then lined with ply, weatherboards used to finish the exterior, and the stage floorboards polished until they shone like mirrors.

"... I remember standing on the roof of the stage when two gunships 'buzzed' us. We nearly fell off the roof in fright." Alan Rothwell, 17 Const Sqn

"The stage took awhile to build", Peter Allen recalls. "We had many other jobs to complete during that time at the Dat". Alan Rothwell also remembers the stage being low priority, to be used as a "filler" when other jobs couldn't be carried out.

Brian Florence recalls that the entertainers had certain requirements for their acts: special lighting and some other amenities had to be flown out from Australia via the Engineers in Vung Tau, in order to put the finishing touches to the Luscombe Bowl concert stage. As a result, it took almost eight weeks to build the stage, with 1 Field Squadron's diaries recording it completed on 18 September 1967. The water tank and toilet facility were added at a later date.

The concert stage very quickly came to be named after the Luscombe Bowl amphitheatre in which it resided, although the troops promptly nick-named it "The Dust Bowl" due to the thick red clay dust which blanketed the area during summer.

The first concert was held on the stage the very next month - October 1967.

THE ENTERTAINERS

Entertainment at Luscombe Bowl

Hundreds of Australian entertainers volunteered to go to South Vietnam and they brought a few hours of normality, and a taste of home, to our troops. Although the entertainers received security, transport and basic accommodation, their time in Vietnam could be very difficult. Conditions were often dirty and uncomfortable, the humidity rotted their clothes and equipment and the pace was arduous, with several performances each day interspersed with long trips by road or air. In addition, travel orders had to be correct and were rigidly enforced by the Vietnamese Military Police, who were in charge of all civil matters. The concerts, however, were greatly appreciated by the troops, giving them badly needed respite from the stresses of war. They could be sure to see a variety of acts, including bands, dancing girls, comedians, jugglers and singers.

Prior to the building of the Luscombe Bowl stage, most concerts at Nui Dat were held on the back of flatbed trucks or on a canvas-covered, impromptu stages. This was where the Col Joye/Little Patti concerts  were being held on the 18th August 1966 when the Battle of Long Tan took place. Adrian Roberts, OC of 3 Tp, 1APC Squadron at the time, recalls:

"... heavy artillery fire beginning just to the right, and almost over the top of, the troops in the concert audience". He then slipped away to find out what was going on. He remembers having to pull his men away from the concert when he was ordered to pick up A Coy, 6RAR in his APCs and go to the aid of D Coy, 6RAR on the battlefield.

Some of the other famous performers of the time include Johnny O'Keefe, the ABC Show Band and Dinah Lee. A couple of the more popular songs with the troops were 'These Boots Were Made for Walking' and 'We Gotta Get Outta This Place', and Lorrae Desmond was well-known for her soulful rendition of 'Leaving On A Jet Plane'. The entertainers also made time to give small, intimate performances to the sick and injured in the hospitals.

"One of the interesting things I remember about The Bowl was that everyone took a chair... and their rifle!" Gordon Taylor, 104 Sig Sqn, 1968

"... we sat on the ground in the heat/rain/monsoonal weather just to attach oneself to a bit of Aussie!" person unknown

OTHER USES OF THE LUSCOMBE BOWL

Luscombe Bowl also served other purposes, as well. It was used for the awarding of military medals and citations at the end of tours, and many veterans have memories of Christmas Mass held at the Luscombe Bowl by the Task Force Chaplains. Vin "Jerry" Neale remembers Christmas '69 when hundreds of men attended, weapon in one hand, folding chair in the other and a couple of cold ones, as well.

"What a sight! There were drunken diggers all over the stage and all around the altar (... taking communion). Some were serious in their befuddled intent, and others just following the crowd. But it was all goodhearted... the Spirit of Christmas in all its forms was in ample supply."

Luscombe Bowl, the concerts, the entertainers... hold wonderful memories for Vietnam Veterans. By their very presence, the entertainers lifted the morale of the Australian troops and reminded them that they were supported by their families and friends back home.

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