”I think I’m very lucky.”
Jan 03, 2022 6:30am
Vicious gunfire erupted in the nearby jungle as Little Pattie stood on stage singing for Australian troops.
Struggling to be heard above deafening explosions, the brave 17-year-old tried to keep going. But it rapidly became clear that something very bad was unfolding just a few kilometres down the road.
It was 1966 in Vietnam and the bloody Battle of Long Tan had just broken out virtually next door to Nui Dat base, where the bubbly, pint-sized pop sensation was performing for thousands of cheering servicemen.
“I continued. It really was a case of ‘the show must go on’,” the former forces’ sweetheart recalls, 55 years down the track. “But then our escorting officer came to the side of the stage and put his fingers across his throat, which in showbusiness means ‘hurry up and get off!'”
It was perhaps the only time in a career spanning almost 60 years that Patricia Amphlett OAM – the youngest and, standing at just 147cm, shortest person ever to entertain Vietnam War troops – has been told to stop singing.
“We were very swiftly evacuated by Iroquois helicopters,” reveals the 72-year-old musician, teacher and activist, who shot to fame with her hit single He’s My Blonde-Headed, Stompie Wompie, Real Gone Surfer Boy in 1963.
“We could see the jungle where the battle was well and truly taking place, and I remember that instinctive feeling of… ‘this is dangerous, this is going to be a sad night’, and indeed it was. You know, 17-year-old thoughts and through 17-year-old eyes, I guess, but I could see thousands and thousands of orange lights, which of course were the tracer bullets, and I’ll never forget it. Never.”
It was an experience that shaped Patricia’s future forever, but in a very positive way. Having seen its horrors firsthand, she campaigned to stop the Vietnam War and also took part in the ALP’s legendary It’s Time TV commercial that swept leader Gough Whitlam to power in 1972.
Today, Patricia remains a committed advocate for Vietnam veterans, and continues to sing for our troops overseas. She teaches at several Sydney high schools – 2000 Olympics singer Nikki Webster was once a student – is a dedicated volunteer, and also presents a popular podcast with former Kingswood Country favourite Lex Marinos.
“It was beautiful,” Patricia says emotionally, still mourning her hard-rocking relation’s cancer death eight years ago.
“Chrissy always told people she was the wild one and I was the mild one, which wasn’t strictly true. We had such a lot of fun together, and we were very proud of each other.”
Not bad for someone who, surprisingly, never intended to be an entertainer in the first place. Growing up in Sydney’s suburban Mascot and Eastlakes, Patricia had to be pushed into entering her first talent quests, including TV show Opportunity Knocks, by a music teacher.
“I loved to sing, but privately. I always thought singing in public was something show-offs did,” she laughingly explains, from the Hawkesbury River home she shares with husband Lawrie Thompson, a professional drummer.
“All I had in mind, even as a 14-year-old, was ‘This won’t last!’ I thought I’d soon be back at school studying hard to go and do medicine at uni. That’s really all I wanted. But before I knew it, I was a full-time professional entertainer, and I must say I grew to love it and to treat every performance as
“I think I’m very lucky. I’m happy, I’m well – touch wood – I’ve got a great husband and a lovely little rescue cat called Evie, so life’s good, hey?”