‘Minefields & Miniskirts’ Play by Terrence O’Connell: The Basics

See the source image

This Resource is for students in Year 11 studying’Minfields & Miniskirts’ & ‘Wilfred Owen War Poems’ in the Victorian VCE Curriculum

Structure of the Play/ Plot / Set / Music / Title Symbols / Motifs

Begins with the sounds in the distance of military drums on an Anzac Day march in 1980’s, where the women meet, and ends to the sound of the military band at an Anzac Day march at the end of the play.  The marches celebration of returned soldiers is a time of mixed emotions of joy and sadness for the characters.  Significantly, the play comes full circle at the end with the return to the march and the return of the women to Australia which has brought them a new level of understanding about their experiences in Vietnam.  The link to the song at the end of the play is Joni Mitchell’s ‘The Circle Game’ as all the women sing together of their lives going ‘round and round’ after their ‘life altering experience’ in Vietnam.

The play is organised into 11 scenes.  While each scene has a particular theme that joins the stories of the 5 women together, each of the women’s stories has a quality that makes it distinct from the other character’s stories.  The plot is carried by the 5 characters, so that plot and character are very closely related.  While there is no direct interaction between the characters on stage or any dialogues between them, we do see them join in singing 1960’s songs together, for example, Scene 2 ‘Off to War’ Sandy, Eve, Kathy & Ruth sing together ‘Leaving on a Jet Plane’.

O’Connell has drafted the script in such a way as to imply clear links and shifts in perspective between the characters, so that different points of view are cast on the same events.  He has also set the monologues within a theatrical choreography of the stage space, to add a sense of realism to the scenes, which otherwise consist solely of the 5 spoken monologues.  The play agglomerates the anecdotes of each of the women into a group narrative that typifies the particular scene in which it occurs.  The effect of this grouping is to bring the women’s stories together, even as they have their key points of difference.

The set of the play is a mash up of ancient Vietnamese, colonial French style and modern American capitalism ‘Coca Cola’ street furniture and the physical environment of Vietnam.  The opening set includes a silk stage curtain with a bleached-out handwritten message celebrating the Australian women who went to Vietnam.  The audience also hear music from famous Vietnam War era films allowing them to be drawn into the world of Vietnam.  Even though the women had different backgrounds, as much as their experiences, they have one thing in common, which is explored poignantly in the final sentence: ‘Vietnam transformed their lives and haunted their memories’.

The title of the play is an illusion to 2 deeper thematic concerns that rule life – sex and death.  The ‘miniskirts’ are a symbol of liberated female sexuality and ‘minefields’ are a symbol of maiming, disfigurement and death.  These 2 elements were in evidence during the Vietnam War.  The young soldiers were in their 20’s and sexually virile but many came back with their bodies and minds broken and shattered or in body bags as 521 Australians died.  All women return from Vietnam profoundly changed by their experiences.  Helicopters form a dominant motif that are heard constantly hovering in the background of the play to remind the audience of the women’s memories of the war.


Margaret             The Vet’s wife – the first to speak in the play and she is both the outsider of the group of 5, and the one who comes closest to experiencing the violence of the Vietnam War directly in her own home. Her husband James brings back the Vietnam War with him, in fact he is still fighting the war as he steps through the front door and continues fighting the war until the day he commits suicide by gassing himself to death in the car.  Margaret represents many thousands of wives who had to nurse their veteran husbands who returned from seeing action in Vietnam with profound psychological disturbances.

Sandy                    The entertainer – Sandy’s motivation for going to Vietnam is to exploit the captive audience she will find there, as she entertains the troops as one of the Velveteens.  She is attracted by the glitz and glamour of being a show-girl, strutting up on stage in her pink feathers, and performing in front of hordes of GI’s and so we recognise early on in the play that Sandy enjoys being the centre of attention.  Her life in Vietnam is a step-up from performing on stage ‘in my miniskirt’ in some unheard of ‘suburban club’ and her socio-economic background propels her towards Vietnam as her options and possibilities for success in Australia are severely limited.

Kathy                    The nurse – Kathy comes out of a military family and volunteering for service in Vietnam is a natural thing for her to do, war service is in her DNA.  Her father is a man of some influence and she is able to communicate back to him the kinds of conditions she is experiencing on the front-line hospital and field work, and the appalling lack of equipment.  She is proud to be serving, but she also becomes disillusioned fairly quickly or has a reality check realising the supposed enemy soldiers are no better or no worse than her own side and resolves to treat everyone equally.

Eve                         The volunteer – Eve heralds from a devoutly Christian family and feels it her mission to volunteer herself to those suffering in the war.  She leaves with her parents’ blessing but throughout proves to be a perceptive observer of both other people and herself.  She realises fairly soon that in her experience ‘It was hard to believe in my God in Vietnam’ and understands the moment she comes in to land, upon seeing an old man ploughing his paddy field as an aerial battle was raging around him, that the Vietnam War could never be won.  This perception of the nature of things was lost on the politicians and military men conducting the war.

Ruth                      The journalist – Ruth comes to Vietnam as a dare by a fellow journalist but the urge behind her decision is motivated also by her desire for excitement and adventure beyond editing the women’s pages of the local tabloid.  We realise that Ruth is in some ways equally exploitative of the new situation, as she tries to get ‘an in’ with the locals and uses her overt physical features to get herself invited to parties.  While in Vietnam the injuries and deaths that surround her do not move her beyond wearing the Star of David that her Green Beret soldier husband-to-be wore before his death.  While she admits the Vietnam War made her feel ‘alive’ she does not gain any deeper perception about herself as a result.


Social content of the Vietnam War                          

Freedom to kill at random / no conscience

Counter culture of 1960’s drugs                                

Freedom to exploit or harm others

Psychological effects of war                                       

PTSD / psychotic effect of war

Women exploited / rape / no moral power          

Language & power / feelings

Noble ideal vs corrupted ideal of war                     

South East Asia reality of Communist domino effect

Plot Outline

Scene 1: Prologue                           The opening scene is set at an Anzac Day march and the 5 women give us a snippet of the stories that are about to be told in the main body (scenes 3-10) of the play.

Scene 2: Off to War                        The women give the background to their decision to leave Australia for Vietnam and their personal motivations – Sandy for glamour, Kathy to carry on a family tradition of helping out in times of war, Ruth to embark on a new step in her career as a journalist, and Eve through a general sense of dissatisfaction with expectancies of her getting married and settling down.  For Margaret, it is her husband who goes ‘off to war’.

Scene 3: Hello Vietnam                The 4 women describe the unreal world that greets them upon their arrival in Vietnam – human body parts being eaten by dogs, grenade-lobbing acid-tripping GIs and jealous prostitutes in Saigon.

Scene 4: A Workaday War           The bizarreness of everyday life during the Vietnam War is expressed in each of the women’s stories.  Margaret describes the return of her husband as ‘a ghost’.

Scene 5: Children                            This scene contains stories that involve children and tell us a universal truth, that if truth is the first victim of war, then ordinary people including children run a close second.  The stories emphasise Eve’s perception as she arrives in Vietnam in the Prologue – that the war could never be won.

Scene 6: Human Beings                 The title of the scene refers to the story Ruth tells of being unable to report on the Vietnamese as human beings, and the scene shows the enormous human cost of the war, as ordinary civilians are executed on mere suspicion of being involved with the Viet Cong.  A story of hope ends the scene as Kathy tells of a baby’s birth in a field, a new life amongst so much senseless death.

Scene 7: RandR – Romance & Rape         While many of the women did find genuine romance in Vietnam, these dalliances were often tinged with danger.  Meanwhile, back in Australia, Margaret’s husband is even more dangerous and psychologically deranged, and rapes her.  At the end of the scene the women are introduced and sing as “The Velveteens”.

Scene 8: War Does Become Normal        The weirdness and strangeness of the Vietnam War begins to become normalised.  Many of the women tell bizarre stories with surreal and sometimes disturbing juxtapositions.  A dying GI hallucinates his wife onto Eve, Ruth witnesses a rudimentary electro-interrogation, and Sandy gets a thrill out of firing an M16 off the back of a jeep.  The scene ends with the music of Bing Crosby, singing “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas”.

Scene 9: Goodnight Saigon                          The women describe their hasty evacuation following the fall of Saigon, and the end of their experiences.  Margaret’s husband commits suicide, Sandy’s entertainment dreams end in the story of 6 GI’s raping her girlfriend in a hut.

Scene 10: Aftermath                      Returning to Australia makes the women realise the extent to which their experiences in Vietnam have affected them.  Their reactions are either of frustration and boredom, or a continuation of their responses in Vietnam.  Ruth harangues a film theatre audience for laughing in MASH, Sandy dives into the gutter when she hears some Hare Krishnas, Kathy will only date Vietnam Vets, while Eve’s health has been affected by the chemicals.

Scene 11: Epilogue                          The play returns to the Anzac Day march, and the women reiterate the profound effect that their Vietnam experience has had on them.  They end all singing together with the lyrics of a Joni Mitchell song “The Circle Game”, symbolising the return of the plot to its starting point and the experiences of the women in Vietnam that are life altering and will never be forgotten.

All Resources created by englishtutorlessons.com.au Online Tutoring using Zoom for Mainstream English Students in the Victorian Curriculum

Wilfred Owen War Poems: The Basics

Second Lieutenant Wilfred Owen

This Resource is for students in Year 11 studying ‘Wilfred Owen War Poems’ in AOS1: Unit 1, Reading & Creating Texts, Analytical Text Response, in the Victorian VCE Curriculum.

It can also be studied in AOS1:Unit 2, Reading & Comparing Texts along with ‘Minefields & Miniskirts’ play by Terrence O’Connell.

Poetry in Context of World War I 1914-1918

The literary responses evoked by the Great War were in many ways unique, particularly the writings that came from its immediate participants.  The British war poets such as Owen, Sassoon, Brooke, Graves and Rosenberg are familiar to many, but it needs to be remembered that their work was but a small sample of the literature produced by soldiers at the front.  Australian soldiers fighting on the Western Front from 1914 to1918 also generated poetry and stories that have been published.

World War I in Context of Why Men Enlisted

Many of the thousands of British men (and Australian men) enlisted for quite different reasons: they were spurred by the public propaganda campaigns, the rousing speeches of politicians, clergymen and headmasters, the call of adventure, family and civic pressure and, for those without steady employment, the lure of regular pay. Some would have enlisted as they feared being labelled as cowards; it was an era where social pressure could be intense. To receive a white feather was seen as shameful. It is also crucial to remember that formal religion underpinned life in WWI Britain more than it does now. Much of the propaganda encouraging young men to enlist in WWI included notions of personal responsibility to God as well as patriotism to King and Country.

Why did Owen Enlist?

Despite a view that Owen’s motives in enlisting may have been more self-focused than patriotic, there is no doubt that he did take his role as an officer and soldier very seriously in France. Owen enlisted in the Artists’ Rifles on October 21, 1915, and spent nearly fourteen months training in various places around the English countryside before heading to France in winter, 1916.  It is worth noting that Owen did not actually spend a great deal of time at the Front compared to many soldiers. The battle experience on which his most famous poems are based was contained to about four months of which Owen spent no more than five weeks at the Front Line.

Battle in France 1916

Second Lieutenant Wilfred Owen arrived in France in late December 1916, right in the middle of the coldest winter of the war. He was sent to Beaumont Hamel on the Somme as one of 527 reinforcements sent out following heavy losses in the Ancre Offensive. His letters to his mother from this period reflect his shock at the conditions both in the trenches and behind the lines. He also speaks movingly of his pity for his fellow soldiers and their suffering, especially in the extreme cold of that particular winter, when men were known to freeze to death. His language, even in these simple letters, is evocative, making the reader truly understand the deprivation and hardship brought on by the war. ‘Futility’ and ‘Exposure’ are fine examples of poems based on these experiences.

In March 1917, Owen fell into a cellar suffering a concussion, which hospitalised him for two weeks. On his return to his battalion at the beginning of April, he found himself involved in heavy fighting near St Quentin. He was blown off his feet and spent several days in a shell-hole surrounded by the remains of a fellow officer. Owen was not physically hurt, but when his Battalion was relieved, it was noticed that his behaviour had become somewhat strange—his speech was confused and he seemed shaky. He was diagnosed as suffering from shell-shock and was sent to a Casualty Clearing Station. Eventually he was sent to Craiglockhart War Hospital in Edinburgh, where he would remain for four months.

Owen Meets Poet Siegfried Sassoon at Craiglockhart

Whilst a patient at Craiglockhart, Owen met Siegfried Sassoon, a fellow patient, and the two became friends. Sassoon’s reputation as a poet and decorated war hero had preceded him.  Sassoon perceived a natural talent hidden in some of Owen’s poems. Sassoon encouraged Owen, even offering advice on the manuscript of one of Owen’s most famous poems, ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’.  His friendship with Sassoon gave Owen the impetus he needed and it was at this time that Owen wrote ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’, responding to the propagandist poems of Jessie Pope and others like her, who persuaded young men into joining up when they had little or no grasp of what was involved at the front.

Return to France in 1917

Owen left Craiglockhart in October 1917 to undertake more training and also used his leave opportunities to visit literary friends in London. By the end of August 1918, he was back in France, having been passed fit to return to the Front. Before leaving England, he had told his brother, Harold, of his desire to return to the front, despite sensing that he, like so many English soldiers, would be killed. He had also, encouraged by friends, started planning a volume of poetry for publication, for which the draft Preface is included in Stallworthy’s collection.

In October 1918, he was awarded the Military Cross. On the morning of 4th November, while attempting to cross the Sambre-Oise Canal, Owen was shot and killed (only 7 days before War was officially ended on 11th November, 1918. Owen is buried in the tiny Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery at Ors.

Owen and ‘The Pity of War’

The Preface written by Wilfred Owen in 1918 for the collection of poems he intended to have published after the war indicates his vision and aim as a poet. ‘Above all I am not concerned with Poetry/My subject is War, and the pity of War/The Poetry is in the pity’.  He goes on to say that even though his poems will offer no consolation to those who suffered WWI, they may be of use to the next generation, particularly as a warning about the consequences of war: the real experience of it and what it does to people.  Owen’s poems convey his genuine feelings for soldiers as they are caught up in the pity of war.  Here are soldiers experiencing extreme destructiveness: destruction of civilization, destruction of the landscape, and very importantly, the destructive effect war can have on a soldier’s physical, spiritual and psychological life.

Most Famous of Owen’s Anti-War Poem is ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’

Owen wrote it as he was recovering in hospital after being shell-shocked and gassed.  The title refers to a famous Latin patriotic saying ‘Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori’ meaning that it is sweet and noble to die for one’s country.  However, Owen disagrees with this as he has been at war and seen the reality.  In order to prove that there is no heroism in war, Owen recreates the reality very vividly with soldiers “bent double, like old beggars under sacks” and later “all went lame: all blind.”  The imagery is one of physical despair, illness and ageing before one’s time showing us that this is what one reaps from war.  The vivid contrast with the reality of “gas! gas! quick, boys!” confronts us with the reality of attack and the nightmare vision is surreal “as under a green sea I saw him drowning”.  Onomatopoeia is used throughout the poem creating very clear and disturbing imagery “guttering, choking, drowning, smothering, gargling.”  Owen builds up the reality of the men suffering and we cannot turn away from it. It is anything but noble and heroic, furthermore the dead are simply “flung”.  In particular the reality of dead men thrown one on top the other on a carriage disgust us, yet we cannot turn away from the horror, “if you could hear at every jolt, the blood, come gargling from the froth, corrupted lungs, obscene as cancer…” which leads to the conclusion that only silly children would believe the Old Lie: ‘How sweet it is to die for one’s country’.

Major Themes in Owen’s Poetry & Only Some Poems Related
The pity of war‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ * crosses over into many themes
‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ / ‘Futility’  
The horrors of war‘Mental Cases’ / ‘Disabled’ / ‘Insensibility’  
Protest against war‘1914’ / ‘The Letter’ /
‘Soldier’s Dream’  
Injuries in war‘The Sentry’ / ‘The Dead Beat’ / ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’  
Weapons of war‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ / ‘The Last Laugh’ / ‘Soldier’s Dream’  
Death and burial‘Futility’ / ‘Spring Offensive’ /
‘Wild with All Regrets ’
Survivors‘The Send Off’ / ‘Spring Offensive’ / ‘Disabled ’
Nature‘Spring Offensive’ / ‘Exposure’ / ‘1914’  
Love‘Spring Offensive’ / ‘Strange Meeting’ / ‘Exposure’  
Hatred‘The Dead Beat’ / ‘S.I.W.’ /
‘Strange Meeting’  
Anger‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ / ‘Insensibility’ / ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’  
Frustration‘Disabled’ / ‘Wild with All Regrets’  
Grief‘Spring Offensive’ / ‘Sentry’ /
‘The Last Laugh’  
Officers & Men‘Inspection’ / ‘The Sentry’ /
‘The Dead Beat’  
Brothers in Arms & Camaraderie‘The Send Off’ / ‘Spring Offensive’ / ‘Exposure’  
Parents & Children‘The Parable of the Old Man and the Young’ / ‘S.I.W.’ /
‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’  
The Role of Women‘The Letter’ / ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’ / ‘The Dead Beat’  
God, The Church, Religion‘The Parable of the Old Man and the Young’ / ‘Soldier’s Dream’ /
‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’  
Making Sense of the Senseless‘1914’ / ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ / ‘Strange Meeting’  
Dreams‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ / ‘Strange Meeting’ / ‘Miners’  

All Resources created by englishtutorlessons.com.au Online Tutoring using Zoom for Mainstream English Students in the Victorian Curriculum