Khe Sahn, Leaving Home, Geography Lesson; Journey Theme

Each person’s life undertakes a journey, whether it is physically or mentally. We all undergo our own adversities, tears, pains, and obstacles which can change yours and the society’s perspectives of life. Journey’s can be classified as a distance, course, travelled or appropriate for travelling. The poems “Leaving Home” by Peter Skrzynecki and “Geography Lesson” by Brian Patten both include different techniques such as metaphors and imagery to emphasise the different processes, changes, choices and conflict that each person or character may face throughout a journey.

Techniques are also used in the song “Khe Sahn” composed by Donald Walker, providing a glance of how soldiers were treated in the war and the challenges they had to overcome, which all relate back to journeys.

‘Leaving home’ is not just about the destination, but the process in which he goes through to get there, and what he learns along the way is what truly counts. The character’s interview with head office caught him by surprise when the “first country appointment” left him and his family with a “dull-witted, frog-mouthed obedience”.

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This metaphor shows how unaware the family was about what could happen and that this was the beginning of his process through a journey. He learns along the way that he holds an unknown future and emotionally, this journey is taking its toll on him. The process within the journey helps determine the up-coming events, whether it is broken into steps or left in somebody else’s hand to determine through the ride.

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In comparison to ‘Leaving Home’, ‘Khe Sahn’ explores the quick change, that the main character experiences in the context, leaving the process to change his life rapidly. The hostile reception took a toll on the character and when returning from war it was extremely overwhelming. “I’ve had the Vietnam cold turkey” is Walker showing the process that the character or inspiration of the text has experienced and that he had to abruptly withdraw from the war he witnessed and fought in. The context is providing an internal look on the character and the issues and conflicts he came across after the war. Earlier in the text we find that the character ‘left his heart to the sappers round’ which means, this is him planting his heart to the Khe Sahn battle.

Returning from the battle leaves him struggling to find himself mentally, indicating the process he experiences throughout his journey, and to find himself and whom he used to be so quickly. ‘Geography Lesson’ is the internal thoughts of a young student who shares his personal memories of his Geography teacher. Change is a major theme used throughout this poem. It overlooks his teacher’s life and the change he progresses. His belief that his Geography teacher should ‘sail across a warm blue sea’ to a place that he had ‘only known from maps’ glimpses into the thought of the student and the goal in which he believes his teacher should achieve.

“He spoke of the lands he longed to visit” uses personal pronouns to illustrate that the journey is about his teacher and not the young student. “And I couldn’t understand why he never left”. The contrast between the two quotes emphasise the change and that he never got to the places he longed to visit, which makes the audience wonder ‘Why didn’t he go to the lands?’ ‘What happened to him?’ directing the audience’s attention to the obstacles involved in the journey, making us wonder how his journey ended.

‘Leaving home’ establishes the conflict, change and hatred the character has towards head office, by using disjointed images to describe the office boys. With his family, the main appeal is set towards the ‘unknown” where his distant future is set to thrive. Here we see the change in his attitude towards head office. It now presents his actual revulsion in them because of being sent somewhere that, to him, is unsatisfactory. Comparing the interview as trial and verdict makes the journey seem more daunting than it really is, with his disgust towards head office it is emphasised by using imagery, which highlights his loathing towards the office boys. “Stood at a window, laughing in the rain, Clapping to a fiddler’s music – Their naked hairless bodies, The colour of sour milk”.

The sickening imagery used ends the poem by making it appear that head office, leaves a bad taste in his mouth. The imagery reflects on the journey by showing the change from confusion to rapid repulsion that he has towards the office people. ‘Khe Sanh’ in itself, is very much like a poem. The lyrics explore the lack of support that we, as a society, put towards a particular issue. The lyrics demonstrates that by protesting through a song, it can help influence Australian’s thoughts to sympathise with the veteran soldiers that have undertaken the hardships throughout the battle. Along the way, the society’s perspectives on the veterans changed. “Well the last plane out of Sydney’s almost gone” is a constant repetition throughout the composition, which helps get the message across that he is holding all this excess baggage from the war and all veterans hold onto that.

Whilst the rest of society have moved on, forgotten about it, and don’t understand the adversity the ‘vets’ have gone through. The change from life after war takes a massive toll on the character, and the emotional journey from life after war is tough to break. But the choice for Walker to compose lyrics using the ‘Khe Sahn’ battle was to indicate the journey all veterans undertook and attempted to overcome. Whilst, ‘Geography Lesson’ uses symbolism to identify the place he had only known from maps. Patten’s devotion towards the poem indicates a life full of experience and imagination, leaving you with an urge to ‘sail across a warm blue sea’ and get to the place the teacher ‘longed to visit.’ Symbolism is used to create an effect on the audience by using repetition, (like in ‘Khe Sahn’), to describe the geography teachers ‘heaven’.

“The green leaves of the orange trees burned” is a constant line in the stanza’s, used to help indicate his teacher’s dream. The imagery in this quote builds your imagination on what the place on the map is really like; seeming like it is a bright and positive place to be. The young student uses his teacher as his role model, reflecting on his own decisions in life. This emotional journey brings a sense of hope, desire, and dreams, to not waste your life, but to live it to the fullest.

In conclusion, we all embark on a passage through life. Whether it be physically, mentally or emotionally. To get through a journey you only need to take one step at a time, but you must keep on stepping in order to complete your journey. This is found in ‘Leaving Home’, ‘Khe Sahn’ and ‘Geography Lesson’, by overcoming their own pathways through life. Through these texts it is found that Journeys are full of ups and downs, twists and turns, and obstacles that all lead us to our final destination. It really does change our perspective of life itself.

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Khe Sahn, Leaving Home, Geography Lesson; Journey Theme. (2016, Nov 17). Retrieved from

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