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Sleeping Dragon

By Graham Atkinson, 2010 0:00 minutes

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Graham describes how the collapse of the Twin Towers in New York in 2001 triggered 30 years' worth of suppressed feelings he had held onto from his experience of fighting in the Vietnam War. He describes his long journey of overcoming his unresolved memories and vivid flashbacks to traumatic times.

Collection In Our Words: Stories from Victorian Veterans


What feelings and events can trigger post-traumatic stress?

Graham served as a young man in the Vietnam War.

  • What year was Graham called up for duty in Vietnam? How old was Graham?

Graham begins his story by saying: “The dragon awoke when the Twin Towers in New York fell in September 2001.”

  • What were the events of 11 September 2001?
  • What was Graham’s ‘sleeping dragon’?

Graham says his feelings of “anger, sadness and confusion long dormant came to life”. After hearing his story, respond to the following questions:

  • Why did he have feelings of anger? Why did he have feelings of sadness? Why did he have feelings of confusion?

Following September 11, Graham says: “The veil lifted. I could put a name to these feelings. The long journey started.” Graham describes these feelings as “an ongoing feeling of uncertainty, of inner conflict and not knowing why”.

  •  What was the ‘long journey’ he refers to?

In the midst of the Vietnam War, Australian attitudes towards Indigenous people were changing.

  • What is the historic referendum that Graham refers to?
  • How would this affect Graham?
  • Graham says: “Vietnam politicised my identity.” Why?

When the soldiers who fought in Vietnam returned to Australia, they were met by a ‘wall of silence’ or were loathed.

  • Why were Vietnam veterans treated in this way?
  • Why might Graham’s reception have been even quieter?
  • Why didn’t Graham keep in touch with his friends – his ‘white brothers’?
  • What did Vietnam teach Graham?
  • How does Graham describe war?

Graham shares what he learnt from his experience in Vietnam and his understanding of war.

  • What did Vietnam teach Graham?
  • How does Graham describe war?

Graham’s healing journey continues as he makes sense of events in his life both in Australia and Vietnam.

  • How do you think Graham’s trips back to Vietnam in 2005 and with his sons in 2010 have helped him to ‘continue to manage that dragon’?