Liz Hall-Downs is a Contributing Editor to The Drunken Boat


Also in this issue, her interview with Thom the World Poet


See her feature on the new poets of Queensland


Willy's suggested links:

The CIA's Secret War in Laos and the part played by allies.

The war on terror explained, as well as refugee issues.

An Interview with Willy Bach

By Liz Hall-DownsLiz Hall-Downs

Willy Bach was sent to North-East Thailand as a British soldier with 11 Independent Field Squadron, Royal Engineers, in March 1966. He worked on a construction site for two months. There was also an Australian Troop of around thirty men in the unit. The work being carried out by day and night was the building of an airstrip two kilometres long in 'pavement quality' concrete. The official story was that the airstrip was for the Thai Government to develop the local economy by enabling the peasants to market their produce more effectively. The transport Caribous that would allegedly use the airstrip were capable of landing on the asphalt taxi-ways and could have used even less sophisticated surfaces.

That was when he was twenty.

Twenty-two years passed. Suddenly, he felt that something had been boring away at his soul and had remained hidden all that time. Something very wrong had happened at Leong Nok Tha. It was possible that the airstrip had been intended to assist in the secret bombing of Laos or Cambodia by the CIA undercover air force - Air America. These forces were operating from Ubon Ratchathani and other bases alongside 'official' forces and was made up of retired US Airforce personnel and highly paid mercenaries, Air America, 'free agents' out of control. They dealt with the drug barons of the Golden Triangle, in weapons and drugs dealing in death and making fortunes for themselves. For a period of eight years Laos was the most heavily bombed country in the world, until the citizens of the USA found out what their own Government had been doing. The legacy of unexploded bombs, millions of anti-personnel mines seeded from aircraft. Damage to people and productive resources continue to this day.

This little-known theatre of war implicates US Allies, Britain, Australia and New Zealand in the War Crimes committed by agencies of the US Special Forces and USAF. Not only the villagers who were napalmed but also the veterans who have been duped by their respective governments all feature in Willy's opposition to war.

Afghanistan was another flash point for Willy. The events of 11 September 2001, the War on Terror (Willy has branded this as a fraud) and the Anti Terrorist legislation that is being passed all around the world, curtailing civil liberties these are all grist for writers like Willy.

Willy has had a number of business and employed positions to support his writing career. He has worked as an employment consultant for young people as well as a spell as a night-time taxi driver in Brisbane. Currently Willy is working with a Danish aid organization in Uganda, dealing with the results of a fierce and little known war between the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) and the Ugandan Army (UPDF). The issue of children being used as porters, soldiers and sex slaves in war is Willy's current major concern.

Willy is also a student of Human Rights and Peace & Conflict as part of his work in Human Services.

This interview was conducted via email in June, 2002, with Willy Bach in Uganda.

Liz Hall-Downs: Willy, you've been writing and agitating about social justice issues for many years now. Can you comment on how this interest has impacted on your output, and your reputation, as a poet?

Willy Bach: For most of the time that I have been writing I have been extremely unpopular with the mainstream poets who see me as radical, political etc. No funding authorities will ever give me a grant. I would rather write about things I really care about, however. So it doesn't matter. I think recent events have reinforced this but have also vindicated what I have been saying. When I say that the US War on Terror is a catastrophe for humankind and a total fraud people nod their heads in agreement.

Liz Hall-Downs: Could you tell us a little about your Thailand experiences, the poetry you've written about these, and how the work was received in Australia?

Willy Bach: I was in Thailand helping the war effort in the CIA's Secret War in Laos. Australia and Britain, as well as New Zealand were right in there. I did not see a shot fired in anger. I helped to build an airfield. My realisation that this was horribly off beam for what I believe in caused me to write my main work, “The Leong Nok Tha poems.” This work was broadcast on Radio National in Australia. It and all my other writing is now stored at the John Oxley Library, in Brisbane.

Liz Hall-Downs: What is happening in your life now, and how do you expect this to influence your current and future writing?

Willy Bach: I am currently in Uganda, working with young people who have been traumatised by conflict, doing human rights work, living very basically. I have left John Howard's Australia in disgust and now intend spending the rest of my life opposing the fraudulant, needless and inhuman 'War on Terror'.

Liz Hall-Downs: Perhaps you could say a little about what started your interest in writing and publishing poetry, and how you have developed over the years?

Willy Bach: Yes, my poetry has progressed and changed in style somewhat, but I still stand by my earlier work. It's validity is in what it seeks to say - not so much in its literary quality. I started writing because I had something to say - it is mostly poetry, because that is the way I felt I wanted to say it.

Seminal Secrets

I found myself
Pacing like a leopard
Wanting a share
Of the sensitive news
The feeling of filling time
With nothingness
Politely viewing the chapel
The laundry the pit latrines
Welcomed with unctuous piety
A hint of discipline
And this is where the internally displaced
Were accommodated
During the conflict time
He intoned
Laminex tables crumbs
Plastic cups
A vaguely institutional
Detergent smell
The refectory
With its broken windows
Viewing fields that rebel fighters
Could at any time traverse
Meeting little resistance
Save that god would protect his followers

What we came to hear
Too horrible
Too secret too dangerous
I only saw their four heads
Through the gap in the curtains
Speaking a dialect of Acholi
High unbroken voices
Long monologues
Full of sorrow

These boys were safe
Found the pipeline
Of quiet but daring priests
Returning to parents school and normality
Their torment of distrust
For those sent to protect
Took three hundred
Spirited away with promises
That turned to beatings Written 8 June 2002, following a secret rendezvous somewhere near Gulu, Northern Uganda. The four under age boys had been part of a group of three hundred who were allegedly abducted by the Ugandan Army (UPDF) and taken to Sudan to help fight the notorious Lord's Resistance Army (LRA), who are known for their mass abductions of children. The UPDF were supposed to be rescuing abducted children who were fighting for the LRA.

In spite of the UPDF use of helicopter gun ships, artillery and tanks less than half of the 11,000 abductees had escaped from the LRA. Although 40% of the children are girls, only 10% of the escapees were girls, as many are pregnant or have babies fathered by rebel leaders who regularly raped the girls.

AK Babes

Worn around the stock
From many years of usage
The aged generic AK
Slung casually
From her shoulder
At the horizontal
Magazine crooked
Steady in her elbow
Infant strapped
In the traditional way
On her back
Older sibling
Just walking
Kept close
For safety
On their way
To the battlefield

In deafening noise
A hail of bullets
Finding their target
Spare the two year old
To be found
And taken
To caring hands

(Following a newspaper article from the north of Kitgum District, Uganda, regarding a firefight with the UPDF in which 66 LRA fighters were killed. The young woman was a teenage abductee of the LRA who had been forced to be a wife for one of the LRA officers.)

Making Ends Meet

We declared a war on terror
And asylum seekers gladly offered
To forego a meal each day
Waiting out their desert detention
We declared a war on terror
The mentally ill, though not consulted
Agreed to reliquish adequate treatment
We declared a war on terror
Educators readily raised their hands
Allowing deep cuts in all departments
The Humanities promised to prune
The deepest as theirs were merely
Human concerns
We declared a war on terror
Housing authorities decided that
Accomodation for the disadvantaged
Was no longer a priority
We declared a war on terror
And assistance for the long term unemployed
Tapered away to a vanishing point of despair
We declared a war on terror
Fifteen year old boys thumped
Each other's arms and threw
Screwed up balls of paper
Larked around in the classroom
Oblivious that they would join
The next wave through snow-clad minefields
Jungle creeks weapons held aloft
We declared a war on terror
And politicians who had lied
And rorted to stay in power
Passed legislation banning groups
Opposed to war, arrested
On whim, stifled dissent
Silenced those who knew
Too much of what was true
And sold their consciences
In the service of Uncle Sam

Impressions of a Catastrophe

Every rifle is a classroom
Every bullet is a book
Every boy can be a father
Or a soldier in the slaughter


The morning our world changed
Began early with two unanswered
Calls from Canada at 1.30
Messages announcing that
America was being attacked
She didn't know what else to do
We only discovered later
At seven my lover rose to
Go to the toilet
I idly leant across to
Flick on the news for a few minutes
She returned to my stunned silence
You've got to hear this I said
It was no fondling matter
She said could we live in a world
Where this kind of thing can't happen
Later I interviewed two boys
Who wanted to go into the infantry
And a girl who wants to be a
Navy chef they meant it
The shock was too much to bear


While people leapt from buildings
Collapsing in a tangle of steel
White asbestos clouds
Governments released
Embarrassing media statements
Under the cover of death
The deceit came to light


The worst crime of terrorists
The threat to 'our way of life'
Ours the profligate gorging
Of earth's resources
Unfettered greed in the face
Of unparalleled suffering
Yes this threat is real
The more we ignore the cries of the hungry
The closer that threat becomes
We are not safe


If you are worried by
Bio terrorism
Anthrax on the keyboard
Then be assured that your government
Is doing everything it can to
Remove the threat
But nothing to remove its cause
Their advice to citizens
Beset with fear
Stay indoors
Keep your television on
Listen to what your government
Is telling you
Go about your business
As though none of this
Is happening
And have a sombre birthday
A distracted football game


Deep in the underground cities
Tunnelled below a defoliated landscape
The Vietnamese
Held poetry readings
Somehow to make sense
Of what was going on above


We were all relieved to hear
The Pentagon is back in business
And reassured to know
The CIA can once again return
To assassinations
In their war on terror


This war like no other
Will last a hundred years
And never will be over
Nor any victories won
Each day's battle costs
Enough to feed the hungry
Each missile reiterates
An unwillingness to listen


The gold market today
Was disappointed that the price
Had not risen about 295
Following the commencement
Of US bombing
They began selling
The precious metal


And children messaging
Their mobiles sending friends
The one about Bin Laden Airways
Taking you right to your office
Changing our world for ever
The other joke about the friendless one
Asking if he can come
Home to your place


Send the fleet the planes the missiles
And watch them scatter
In the tens of thousands
Perishing in the arid landscape
Before a shot is fired
7 million about to starve
Where does compassion fatigue end
And mean-spiritedness begin?
There are only 23 million more
Asylum seekers around the globe
If there is room on the beach
They'll be there

George W. Who?

This man adorning the huge
Black and white poster
Clenched fists dual microphones
Tell me who he is
And who he thinks he is
Presidential puffed up
A smug expression of privilege

"We decide who comes to this country"
"We don't want the kind of people
Who seek to blackmail
The Australian government"
Throwing their children
Into the sea from a sinking ship
They wore lifejackets
Therefore it was premeditated
Not frightened
By an armed boarding party
A sinking ship

We don't want the kind of
Prime Minister who lies and lies
And can't apologise

This is a Wartime Prime Minister
Elected on the opportunity
Of the starving child
The body bags can arrive later
It is well for dignity
This poster should be black
Symbol of death
Theirs and ours

Proud to stand in the shadow of this man?
No shame could be deeper