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

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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

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