Australian painter George Burchett loves Viet Nam. After many years working and living in Viet Nam, Burchett even calls himself Vietnamese.
Burchett was born in Ha Noi in 1955 and lived here until 1957. Then his family moved to Moscow where his mother, Bulgarian journalist and art historian Vessa Ossikovoska, worked. Some years later, they shifted to France.
His father, war correspondent Wilfred Burchett (1911-82) was also considered a friend of Viet Nam, as he was one of the first journalists who raised their voice to oppose the war in Viet Nam.
Now Burchett, his wife and their son – all three of them artists – live in Viet Nam. Burchett said proudly that every day his wife goes to the market and bargains as well as Vietnamese women.
The country is an endless inspiration for him, from workers he meets on the streets to servers at his favourite coffee shops and Vietnamese friends who often accompany him to enjoy bia hoi and bun cha.
“Ha Noi inspires me in all ways,” said Burchett. “It’s a dynamic, civilised city with amazing culture and tradition – a hub for artists, traders and cultural activists.”
Burchett also finds endless inspiration in horses. Visiting his house and studio, one finds paintings of horses everywhere.
“I loved horses when I was a kid, when a rocking horse was my favourite toy and friend,” he said. “Riding it, I felt like a hero. Now though I’m getting old, I still love horses. I believe that they can connect different cultures as they appear in every culture, in legend, history and daily life.”
While others complain about the weather and traffic, he has never been fed up with life in this country.
“In recent days, some workers came to our quiet area to fix the road. They dug the whole day and made noise,” Burchett said. “My neighbours felt uncomfortable but I didn’t. I think workers just do their work. We should respect them as other people respect me and my work.
“I see life in a very optimistic way. People complain about traffic, but I enjoy traffic because here I can ride a motorbike, which is very enjoyable. Everything can be fixed with a smile.”
Film for father
Five years ago, Burchett worked with the Ho Chi Minh Museum to organise a photo exhibition on his father and his devotion to Viet Nam. This year he will present a documentary project tracing his father’s journey and career.
The documentary also reviews an important period of Vietnamese history, when the country was in trouble and received significant support from international friends, including Burchett.
“To me – and many others around the world – he was a hero. He was not only historically correct in his support for Viet Nam, but what he did was also heroic. He produced some of the best reporting in the history of journalism, starting with his eyewitness account from atom-bombed Hiroshima. As my father writes in his autobiography At the Barricades, his reporting from Viet Nam was the most important in his career,” said Burchett.
The film will tell the story of Wilfred Burchett and Viet Nam, as he witnessed and reported it, from his first meeting with President Ho Chi Minh in the northern province of Thai Nguyen in March 1954, on the eve of the Battle of Dien Bien, to the Geneva Conference; Viet Nam’s first year of independence; the beginning of America’s “secret” war in the South; his trips to the Liberated Zones of southern Viet Nam; his reporting from the North when the US began bombing; the end of the war; the post-war period, difficulties and conflicts.
“There is also a personal element to the story. The more I learn about my father and about Viet Nam – the country, people, history, culture – the more I love and admire my father and the more I love and admire Viet Nam, both its people and the great leaders that led the country to victory against colonialism and imperialism,” the artist said. “I am very proud to have been born in Ha Noi one year after the Battle of Dien Bien Phu.”
The film was shot throughout the country and in Melbourne, Sydney and Ballarat.
“We are also tracking down the films my father made in the South with the National Liberation Front in 1964-65 and in the North in 1966, which are stored in France and are difficult to obtain,” Burchett said.
The year of 2015 will mark various celebrations such as the 40th anniversary of the south’s liberation (April 30), the 70th anniversary of Viet Nam’s National Day and President Ho Chi Minh’s 125th birthday. Burchett expects that the film will be broadcast on one of these occasions.
As a reward for his devotion, Burchett received the “For Peace and Friendship Among Nations” insignia from the Vietnamese Union of Friendship Organisations (VUFO) in 2011. VNS