All the way with LBJ
Rest and Recreation in Sydney - 'R and R'
'Boy! It's good to feel safe again!' U.S. servicemen visited notorious areas of Sydney – such as Kings Cross – during their rest and recreation leave from the Vietnam War. [National Library of Australia pic-vn3107239-v]
R & R, or ‘rest and recreation’, gave soldiers serving in Vietnam a brief respite from the war. United States servicemen on a twelve-month tour of duty were given seven days R & R outside Vietnam. In the early part of the war they could spend this time in one of several Asian cities or Hawaii.
In July 1967 the United States Government requested that Sydney be added to the list of cities open to American servicemen on R & R from Vietnam. Australia’s agreement was quickly forthcoming, though not without some misgivings. There were concerns about the possibility of a negative public reaction to the presence of large numbers of United States servicemen on leave from an increasingly unpopular war, about the possibility of racial discrimination against African Americans, about the possibility of a wave of sexually transmitted disease and, more generally, about the impact that thousands of soldiers, fresh from a war zone, would have on Sydney. Not all considerations were negative, however. Both the alliance with the United States and the revenue that such a scheme would generate were important factors behind the Australian Government’s decision.
The Country Womens’ Association (CWA) and the Australian American Association were among groups that organised hospitality services for Americans on R & R, giving them the chance to visit Australian homes or join families on outings. Some Americans preferred to spend their leave outside Sydney and visited rural New South Wales, but for many their experience of R & R was largely limited to Kings Cross.
On landing in Sydney, American servicemen were taken directly by bus to Kings Cross’s Chevron Hotel. From there they would typically explore the famous suburb, sampling American style food, at inflated prices, in restaurants recently renamed to attract this new clientele. Keen to make the most of their precious week’s leave many Americans also availed themselves of the sexual services which, although already present in King’s Cross, became far more prevalent during the Vietnam War.
Former members of the Country Women’s Association who worked as volunteers at the United States Rest and Recreation Centre in Sydney. Outside of military contacts these women would have been among the first Australians encountered by many Americans during their week of rest and recreation. Once outside the centre many Americans availed themselves of the night life and entertainment venues of Kings Cross. Identified, from left to right: Lorraine Hawkins, Jean Hunter, Suzette Hawkins, Hilda Dunleavy, Helma Bate, Peg Palmer, unidentified, unidentified, Myrtle Wood (standing slightly back), unidentified, unidentified.
[Australian War Memorial P03220.001]
Many Australians regarded American servicemen on R & R with sympathy. They were young, a long way from home and engaged in a war in which many were reluctant participants. The view that they should be allowed to enjoy their leave, regardless of what many individual Australians felt about the war, was widely held. Some extended their sympathies further by assisting desertion, hiding men in their homes and keeping their whereabouts from authorities.
Sydney proved an extremely popular destination for Americans on R & R. Within a few months of the first Americans arriving in Sydney soldiers wanting to spend their leave there had to join a waiting list. By the end of the scheme’s first year the number of R & R flights to Sydney had doubled. Between October 1967 when the first planeload of Americans landed and 1971 when the program was phased out, about 300,000 United States service personnel spent their R & R in Australia enjoying respite from a conflict to which they would have to return all too soon.