What the Long Tan Bursary Means to Me

Catherine Allingham and her dad on the Overland Track in Tasmania.

‘To me, this Long Tan Bursary is recognition of Dad’s service in Vietnam. I am proud of my Dad’s service and I am grateful he came home safely, unlike others.’

By Catherine Allingham

I would like to explain just why I am so grateful, and so proud to be a Long Tan Bursary recipient. In 1969, Dad was finishing up a science degree at RMIT. My uncle, Dad’s younger brother, described him as ‘studious, but happy’. On the 28th of January, 1970 Dad was called up to serve in the Australia Army. He was posted with the First Australian Field Hospital as a Medical and pathology laboratory assistant.

Growing up, I was enthralled by Dad’s stories from Vietnam. From the funny stories of lab shenanigans, to the everyday stories of diagnosing and treating those who had contracted a tropical disease, parasite or bug.

Then there were the horrific stories. Stories about cross-matching blood for young soldiers with injuries that would eventually take their lives, or about the senseless loss of war. I grew up knowing my Dad had done what he could to help, with the best of intentions. So much of my wanting to study medicine came from him: from his infectious love of science, to his humanity in recounting stories of such suffering.

This is what the Long Tan Bursary means to me. As the daughter of a Vietnam veteran, I was always aware of the stigma and shame that had attached to the men and women who served in Vietnam. As a teenager, I was careful which friends I told about Dad being a Vietnam Vet. I was often told by friends or peers that returned servicemen or women should have been ashamed because contributing to a war was ‘inhumane’. I was embarrassed that Dad had been in the army. I would catch myself wondering why Dad hadn’t been a conscientious objector, or worse, I would feel ashamed. As I grew older, I learned this was nothing compared with what the returned servicemen and women faced.

I have come to appreciate just how special Dad is, and how lucky I am. Dad is kind and loyal. He works tirelessly, and won’t give up easily. As a father, he is caring. Dad gave us time, and so much love. He was also the ultimate feminist and he loves my Mum tremendously. I am so very, very proud of my Dad.

To me, this Long Tan Bursary is recognition of Dad’s service in Vietnam. I am proud of my Dad’s service and I am grateful he came home safely, unlike others.


Catherine Allingham is in her second year of a Doctor of Medicine and is a research officer with the Fertility Preservation Taskforce at The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne. Catherine says, ‘I hope that in my career as a doctor, I will be able to advocate for, and contribute to, the wellbeing and care of returned servicemen and women’.

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