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V VCS – Veter ans and V e t e r a n s Fa m i l i e s Counselling Service

At times when veterans or their family members feel vulnerable or at risk it is important to know that there is a person to speak with. If you cannot speak with a friend or family members then you could consider the VVCS – Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service.

At times when veterans or their family members feel vulnerable or at risk it is important to know that there is a person to speak with. If you cannot speak with a friend or family members then you could consider the VVCS – Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service.

VVCS provides counselling and support to all Australian veterans, peacekeepers, their family members and eligible ADF personnel. This service is free, confidential and provided by professionally qualified psychologists and social workers. VVCS has 15 centres across Australia and operates an after hours telephone counselling support and crisis assistance service, Veterans Line.

VVCS provides counselling and support to all Australian veterans, peacekeepers, their family members and eligible ADF personnel. This service is free, confidential and provided by professionally qualified psychologists and social workers. VVCS has 15 centres across Australia and operates an after hours telephone counselling support and crisis assistance service, Veterans Line.

To contact VVCS during business hours or Veterans Line after hours (7 days a week) call 1800 011 046 (free local call, calls from mobile and pay phones may incur charges).

To contact VVCS during business hours or Veterans Line after hours (7 days a week) call 1800 011 046 (free local call, calls from mobile and pay phones may incur charges).

For more information about VVCS services and programs go to www.dva.gov.au/health/vvcs

For more information about VVCS services and programs go to www.dva.gov.au/health/vvcs

D e pa r t m e n t o f V e t e r a n s ’ Affa i r s

D e pa r t m e n t o f V e t e r a n s ’ Affa i r s

For copies of the book or information for veterans, providers and carers on: > understanding mental health; > managing mental health; > online tools; > resources for health providers; or > contacts and events; go to www.at-ease.dva.gov.au

For copies of the book or information for veterans, providers and carers on: > understanding mental health; > managing mental health; > online tools; > resources for health providers; or > contacts and events; go to www.at-ease.dva.gov.au

Your local Gener al P r a c t i t i o n e r ( GP )

Your local Gener al P r a c t i t i o n e r ( GP )

Your GP is well placed to provide confidential, all round health care, including support for you and your family when you need help with mental health or substance use. GPs can also provide referral to specialists in these areas of health care.

Your GP is well placed to provide confidential, all round health care, including support for you and your family when you need help with mental health or substance use. GPs can also provide referral to specialists in these areas of health care.

Moya Sayer- Jones

V VCS – Veter ans and V e t e r a n s Fa m i l i e s Counselling Service

stories from veterans and their families

C on ta c t s

b eyo nd the ca ll

C on ta c t s

beyond the call s to r i e s f rom ve te ra n s a n d th e i r fa m i l i e s


beyond the call stories from veterans and their families Moya Sayer- Jones

“…but Ken couldn’t talk about it, he didn’t tell me anything at all. I thought, ‘Well, I’ll just have to work with what I have.’ I was absolutely devoted to him and he was absolutely devoted to me and that was all we had.” “…your friends are now the friends who were with you when you were away. And your family have got no idea what’s going on for you anyway. You’re back, so they think you’re okay.”


beyond the call s to r i e s f rom ve te ra n s a nd the ir fa milie s Moya

Sayer- Jones


© Commonwealth of Australia 2009 This work is copyright. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part may be reproduced by any process without prior written permission from the Commonwealth. Requests and inquiries concerning reproduction and rights should be addressed to the Commonwealth Copyright Administration, Attorney‑General’s Department, Robert Garran Offices, National Circuit, Barton ACT 2600 or posted at http://www.ag.gov.au/cca

National Library of Australia Cataloguing-in-Publication data: Beyond the call: stories from veterans and their families ISBN 978-1-877007-34-7 Published by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs, Canberra, 2009 Department of Veterans’ Affairs PO Box 21 Woden ACT 2606 DVA publication P01832



Acronyms DFRDB

Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Scheme

DVA

Department of Veterans’ Affairs

POW

Prisoner of War

PTSD

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

RSL

Returned and Services League

TPI

Totally and Permanently Incapacitated

VVAA

Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia

VVCS

Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service

Production credits Project Manager Meriel Schultz, Australian General Practice Network Writer Stories written from conversations with Moya Sayer-Jones, Only Human Communication Photographer Dean Golja, Only Human Communication Designer Clive Jones, Only Human Communication


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The lid’s off the box

52

Jane (wife) Jane’s mother

One generation after another Sherreie (widow) Grant (son)

C on t en t s

18

Stand still with me…

62

Melissa (daughter) Dave

28

The important things

Phil

72

Bell Kerry (partner)

40

Lucky for me… Lloyd Muriel (wife)

A bit naïve

Come a long way Simon (son) Dianne (Simon’s mother)

84

Just a girl from the mill  Mary (wife)


W ri t er’s not e

These stories have been created directly from my conversations with veterans and their families. They are in their own words. We met in homes all over Australia: from Darwin to Tasmania, from Queensland to Melbourne, from Perth to Sydney. The oldest storyteller just had his ninetieth birthday; the youngest is nudging twenty-three. We talked in kitchens and lounge rooms and backyards and the things we spoke about often surprised us all. I know there was a lot of nervousness before I arrived: in some cases, these very personal experiences had never been spoken aloud. But as often happens with good coffee and enough Tim Tams, the stories flowed. All the storytellers have been actively engaged in reading and approving their story drafts and viewing photographs and layouts. It’s a big commitment to be involved in a project such as this: to feel you are telling an honest story but still protecting the feelings and interests of those around you. And with that concern in mind, some storytellers have elected to take other names. Humans have always told stories to understand each other and to explain things others can never know. I’d like to thank the storytellers for continuing that tradition so generously. Through these distillations, I hope readers will feel the spirit of our meetings and the amazing resilience and compassion of the people themselves.

Moya Sayer-Jones Writer www.onlyhuman.com.au




Fore w ord

This book is dedicated to veterans, their partners and families. The stories celebrate the way in which partners and families have supported veteran family members, many of whom are challenged with mental illness and some with substance use. This book is a chance to hear stories that are seldom told. In fact many of the families are telling their stories for the first time. They are the stories of people facing really difficult issues. What we know is the devastating impact mental illness can have on the lives of people living with it and those who love and care for them. Everyone’s journey is different, and the strengths each person draws on to meet the challenges they face are quite remarkable and varied. This book reflects that. There is now greater understanding of the adverse effects of mental health disorders on families and carers, and of the important role that families and partners play in supporting veterans who experience difficulties with their mental health and substance use. I believe that this book will help raise the awareness of veteran mental health issues among health providers, the veteran community and the wider general community. Personal care and support for people living with mental illness maximises positive outcomes on the recovery journey. I trust that these stories will enlighten, surprise, encourage and strengthen all who read them.

Dr Graeme Killer ao Principal Medical Adviser




The lid’s off the box




W

hen I first met him, Ben was completely different to how he is now. It’s hard to say definitely what’s caused the changes because, you know, it was fifteen odd years ago and all people change; when you’re married you change, when you have children you change. But personalitywise, he was really laid back. He was always, ‘Don’t worry about it, forget about it, it’s not a big deal.’ I was the ranter and the raver, the one with the short fuse, the stress head, the one that will yell and scream to get it out of my system. Ben was so cool; I always laughed because he’d sit back and watch me and say, ‘Are you finished yet?’ We met in the Public Relations Unit. He was the brand new photographer and I was on medical rehab because I’d had an accident at Duntroon. I always planned to be in the army. My parents used to say to me, ‘Jane, what’s your plan B?’ And I’d say, ‘I don’t need one.’ I’ve always been like that: ‘This is what I want and I’m going to go get it.’ Ben and I went out for about nine

months and in that time I’d been accepted back to Duntroon but my broken foot wouldn’t hold up. I was discharged back home. Ben picked me up from the airport, and a week later we were engaged and I’d moved in. Our wedding plans were put on hold when he left for Rwanda. I was jealous when he went – jealous that I’d been discharged and he got to pack his bag and bugger off to these great overseas countries. Because that’s what you’re trained for, that’s what everything leads up to. He was over there for six months and the minute he stepped foot back in the door, I knew he had a problem. I got that otherworldly feeling from him. I think I recognised it because I’d lived it all with Dad. My father had been in the army for twenty-three years and he’d been in Vietnam.

Photo: Australian War Memorial Negative Number MSU/94/0009/17

Jane (wife)

In those first couple of years, Ben was trying to hold it together but there was an escalation of his symptoms. Anxiety, depression, flashbacks, dreams, social withdrawal, incredible night sweats, all those things. I was doing psychology at uni then and I’d say to him, ‘We need to sort this. This is not going to get better.’ But I hit a brick wall for years. He was absolutely mortified to think that people were going to find out he had an issue. In the Services, the fear is that you’ll be put on medication and if that happens, you’re un-deployable. They can’t send you anywhere. And Ben loved his work, he loved his job. At one point I actually did get him to go and see an army psychologist but he wasn’t happy with the person he saw and he refused point blank to see anyone else. And there were always issues of confidentiality. How confidential is it really? Ben’ll tell you East Timor was a walk in the park compared to Rwanda; that’s what he’ll say. But I’ve watched a video where bullets are flying over the top of his head and him taking off into the gutter. The operational rules for peacekeepers are to stand and watch it and clean up afterwards. They aren’t on the offensive 


but there are always things happening, you know. Like, fourteenyear-old kids walking around with AK47 weapons in Rwanda, pointing them at you and laughing. Or the minefields where you’re taking a photo, taking a photo, step back, look around, just missed it. There would be so many instances of stress and trauma, even in just one deployment. Where would you start unpicking that mess? It’s impossible to fully understand what they go through. I’d always hoped that being a photographer might save him from what he saw; that standing behind the camera might make him a bit more detached? But obviously it didn’t. It took him months to show me the photos from Rwanda. I didn’t ask, I was waiting for him to be ready. One day, he just brought them out and said, ‘That’s the photos.’ And to sit there and keep my face blank and go through them without getting upset or throwing them away or screaming… it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And that’s just photos, that’s me just looking at them. Not taking them, not being there, not the smells or the atmosphere or seeing every day what people can do to each other. It gave me an understanding and that was so helpful. I’ve got the photos now and they’re hidden: they’re put away. They’re such a blatant reminder. After our first child was born, that was when things started to go really pear shaped. Ben was in Timor for more than half of my pregnancy. I was only about ten weeks when he left and when he comes back, I’m huge. And of course I’m doing you know, the first mother thing and so he’s only just got back and I’m dragging him off to all these antenatal classes to talk about babies and nappies which in hindsight probably wasn’t very cool. But he did a good job, he got through it. And while he was definitely worse when he came back it’s always hard to know… was it Timor? Was it the baby? How do you know? And for me, my focus had changed because now I’ve suddenly got a child and so maybe I’m

not as supportive. I’m trying to breastfeed, I’ve got a screaming baby who I find out later has got his own issues. And I was tired. You try to split yourself all these different ways to make everybody happy. There was lots of arguing then and increasing rage. He could go from zero to one hundred in a split second. Sometimes you could see it building and sometimes you couldn’t. And I’ll be perfectly honest; I’m a bit of a button pusher. If I’ve had a bad day and I don’t think that I’m getting the attention and love and support that I require, then I push. And let’s face it, who knows better how to push your buttons than your partner? It sounds terrible doesn’t it? And I feel awful afterwards. I know in my head that it’s a dumb thing to do but it’s just a human thing to want to be seen and listened to. I’m really just saying: ‘I’m not a machine, I’m not a robot.’ Ben was battling to keep it together. He was starting to miss days at work. He’d go and then come home again because he couldn’t cope. He’d have anxiety attacks. He would pick the baby up and he’d have these flashbacks, maybe because of Rwanda. I decided that he wasn’t going to seek help on his own, that he didn’t want to get the diagnosis. And so I did this really mean thing. I’ll probably never forgive myself but I gave him an ultimatum. I said to him, ‘I can put up with it and I can put up with you. I could do that forever but with kids we can’t do it. The kids can’t have fighting. That’s it. So either you go and sort yourself out or I am going to pack my bags and leave.’ It worked. He went in to see a psychologist who was subcontracted to the army. He was a lovely guy, which was lucky because it’s hard to find really good psychiatrists and doctors up here. It’s not like the big cities, our services are pretty limited. So Ben saw him and he got some medication and finally we had a diagnosis. Once you’ve got a diagnosis, nobody can pretend anymore. When you’ve got

And that’s just photos, that’s me just looking at them. Not taking them, not being there, not the smells or the atmosphere or seeing every day what people can do to each other. 





something on a bit of paper, there’s no going back from that. The lid’s off the box. It’s out and it’s big and you have to deal with it. He was discharged on full TPI [Totally and Permanently Incapacitated] in 2002, just after our second child, Harry, was born and suddenly we’ve gone from him being away so much of the time to being home all the time. Every single day. 24/7. Where’s my space gone? I’m on the toilet and he’s talking to me. I clean up and then turn around and there’s a mess again. Where’s my space? When do I get a break? Suddenly there was never a time when there wasn’t a whole extra body to think about. I don’t know what he’d be like without his medication. He’s on fairly high doses for the anxiety and the depression and I think it definitely helps him maintain a more steady level. It’s hard to imagine him ever going back to work. Things set him off and he gets really upset, really emotional. When we met he was a very extroverted guy; he got along with everybody and liked going out. Now he’s a man who won’t leave the house. I can’t think of the last time we had a stack of people over, we just don’t do it. I mean, we can but I’ve got to let him know in advance and he needs to know who’s coming. Or where we’re going. It’s exactly like my dad. My dad is exactly the same. It goes like this…

I try to keep everyone on an even keel and sometimes I do that very successfully and sometimes I lose the plot, but when I lose the plot everything goes downhill pretty quickly.

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You’ll say, ‘So and so has invited us over for a barbecue in three weeks.’ And they go, ‘Yeah, that sounds like a good idea.’ And then a week before, they’ll start to fester and you can see it coming. And then they get grumpy and they’re short tempered and they don’t want to go but they don’t want to say they don’t want to go because they’ve told you that they will. So they’ll make everything so awful that on the day you’ll say, ‘Stuff you, I’m going by myself and you can just stay here! I’ll take the kids.’ And as soon as you do that, they’re happy. I’ve got a really good group of girlfriends, maybe four or five, who are fully aware of the situation. I used to ring up and lie to get out of things before: I’d say, ‘You wouldn’t believe it, Ben fell off a ladder this morning and hurt his back and he’s laid up in bed.’ I could really tell some porkers. I didn’t have the same sort of friendships as I’ve got now and I suppose I wasn’t comfortable telling everyone. That’s the thing about mental health, people can’t see it. People think, ‘Well what’s wrong with him? He’s a big bloke and he looks all right and he sounds all right, so what’s the problem?’ People say, ‘Christ, get over it mate. Get a life.’


I’m at the point now where I can say, ‘We won’t be coming today. Between Ben and Lachlan, it can’t happen.’ Because Lachlan hates going out too. Not long ago he was diagnosed with autism. He was one of those children that you’d take to play group and within the space of five minutes he’s hit five different kids. And you’d leave crying because all the other mothers were doing the ‘What’s wrong with this child?’ and ‘Don’t let him hit my child.’ I knew there was something wrong but Ben couldn’t handle the idea. He’d say, ‘I think he’s just a boy and boys are a bit slower to develop. He’ll be all right.’ He so didn’t want to go there. So there was that lid on the box again until finally I can’t go down to the school with a child who’s kicking and screaming anymore. I say, ‘Okay, I’ve had enough of the lid now. We’ll take it off so we can do something with it.’ Between Ben and Lachlan we’ve got a lot going on and it’s not easy to separate what’s the autism spectrum sort of stuff, what’s the post traumatic stress stuff and what’s the normal, family, married relationship stuff. I try to keep everyone on an even keel and sometimes I do that very successfully and sometimes I lose the plot, but when I lose the plot everything goes downhill pretty quickly. It’s a struggle managing his needs with my needs and the kids’ needs. It’s constant awareness. You’re constantly looking out for where Ben is at. If he’s good, you know it can’t stay good, so you’re thinking, ‘What will the signs be? And how will I deal with it. And how do we try and get around it?’ Privacy is a big thing with Ben; it’s a big reason we live here on five acres. There’s a lot of veterans out here actually. They come out to escape. They’ve got their own block and if they don’t want anybody coming onto it, they put a filthy big padlock and a chain on the front gate. Out here you don’t have people looking for donations, people coming to sell you stuff. You don’t get surprised. You’ve got your own space and it’s quiet and you can make it like a haven. It’s really a big safety zone and that’s why we’re all here. The thought of ever moving back to the suburbs makes me feel physically ill. Because of the ruckus that always goes on, you know? Lachlan can get quite upset, quite distraught. It’s very loud; he’ll scream and the tantrums can go on for an hour. And then there’s Ben’s issues. To put us all in a suburban house again? Honestly, I couldn’t; I couldn’t do it. At the moment we’re doing extensions and it’s a big job. It’s been a nightmare. I mean, Ben looks out of his window in the morning

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and there’s people and there’s noise and there’s cars and there’s no escape. And Lachlan looks out his window and he wants to know exactly, specifically what’s going on, and you explain precisely and hope that it happens like that. But the nature of a building site is not like the military where eight o’clock means eight o’clock, so it’s very difficult.

‘couples relationships’ but she hadn’t taken the time out to bring me into the office and meet me. The other psychiatrist, who had been so good, had me come in almost immediately to talk to him. The family and social aspects of PTSD [post traumatic stress disorder] are massive. It’s not an individual thing, you can’t take it in a little bubble, there’s just so much else involved.

Ben is intolerant of people who don’t tow the line and he can get very uptight and these days it only takes a tiny bit extra stress to spill over. He’s not very diplomatic and he’ll tell people what he thinks straight off and I know it’s going to upset them. I used to feel the need to jump in and smooth things over or explain ‘He’s a bit upset’ and, you know, try to stop him from looking horrible basically. It’s that protection thing. But now I don’t. It might be because I’m too damn tired but I think it’s more that I’ve learnt to be a little more laid back. I can look at the situation and understand why he did it and I’ll take him aside later and talk about maybe there might have been a better way of going about it, but he was in the right to do it.

It’s the logical thing to talk to the partners. If she gives him a strategy to use, I want to know what it is so that I can help implement that at home. So it can be generalised, so I can say to him, ‘Don’t forget…’. Whether I talk in front of Ben or by myself, that’s fine. Whatever. It’s how can we work together to fix this? Or make it bearable.

I guess the nature of our relationship is that I’m still learning to be the way Ben was. I’m still learning to step back because I have always been the fiery one. Now if I press the buttons, he doesn’t just laugh it off like he would have fifteen years ago. Now he bites back, so basically it’s a role swap and I’ve got to learn to take a deep breath and let it go. He sees the psychiatrist once a month. I don’t think he says too much. I often wonder if he goes just to keep me happy. He sees a psychologist at VVCS [Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service] but we haven’t done family counselling yet. It was suggested at one point when things got a bit rocky. It came through another psychiatrist and to be perfectly honest at that stage it got my back up. She sent Ben home with a chapter on

But in this case, I wasn’t included and I felt left out and cut off and not trusted. It felt like I was being told that I was part of the problem. Am I part of the problem? I’ll be honest, there’s been times when I have not dealt with things appropriately but I can very quickly look at the situation and go, ‘Oh God Jane, you know you shouldn’t have said that. That was really uncool and that was not the way to manage it and you know better than that, you know?’ I get upset with myself because it’s true. I should know better. I’ve got four years of psychology. I’ve been managing this man for fifteen years with about twelve of those where he’s had an issue. I grew up in a family where I saw my Mum and Dad handling these things. My mother has always managed so well, they’ve been married thirty-seven years. So I should know better. A lot of my persona is wrapped around perfectionism. I’m the perfectionist control freak in this relationship and I’m trying to let go of that. My way of doing things has always been to find a way to fix things. If you tell me what it is, I can fix it, I can make it better. We can spend ten minutes talking and you’ll go away and you’ll feel much better, and it’ll all be resolved!

I’m still learning to step back because I have always been the fiery one. Now if I press the buttons, he doesn’t just laugh it off like he would have fifteen years ago. Now he bites back so basically it’s a role swap and I’ve got to learn to take a deep breath and let it go. 12


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It’s my space and when things get too much I say, ‘Just going to the shade house for ten minutes.’ And I’ll take my milk crate down there and I’ll sit in my little shade house on my milk crate, gazing around until I’ve got myself back under control…

So I still try and fix this thing with Ben but I know I can’t. I know I can’t. I can try and provide that environment and support for getting through each down spot, but I can’t fix it. Nobody can fix it. And that’s when I get angry I suppose. I try not to get angry but I do get angry because I think, ‘Well somebody broke him. I gave him to you and he was okay and you gave him back and you broke him. And you can’t fix it, it’s not fixable.’ It doesn’t matter how many drugs or treatments you’ve got, there’s nothing you can throw at it and fix what we’ve got. And while he’s fantastic, he is a really nice guy and I would never, never, never not be here, he’s not who he was. I know this is a lot of ‘what ifs’ and I don’t know how this sounds but… I could have had something else. I did have something else. Do you know what I mean? I can’t give Ben enough praise for how good he is with the kids. I know people with PTSD can be so detached and that the problems with children can be quite massive, but that’s not the case in this family. He’s really got a lot of love and support to give and he plays with them and he’s just such a good dad. And they love him. There will come a time where things will have to be explained to them, when they’ll start wondering why both their parents are at home and not at work. And Ben is horrified at the idea they won’t learn a work ethic, and he won’t be a good example for them, and what are they going to say when the other kids say, ‘My father’s a fireman, my father drives cranes.’ So I say to Ben, ‘You were in the army for eighteen years. You did heaps of jobs.’ And I always say to the kids, ‘Your dad used to fly all over the world and he took photos and a lot of his photos went in the newspaper and he did lots off cool stuff. He can drive a tank!’ And all that boys’ stuff. Because even though that’s not what he’s doing now, they want to be proud of their dad. And they’ve got to

have something concrete to say when someone asks, ‘What does your dad do?’ For now, we’re all close. Lachlan’s quite happy in his own little world and what he’s doing, but Harry is very, very sensitive and perceptive. He’s only six but you can say to him, ‘Dad’s having a bit of a downer today, you just need to give him a little bit of space. If you’ve got an issue, come to me.’ In fact, one of the things I worry about is where does Harry fit into the picture? Because we’re all so busy talking about how Ben is and how Lachlan is and everyone presumes Harry’s okay because he doesn’t have a problem like the rest of them. So I’m very conscious of making sure he gets the positive attention and it doesn’t all go over there. So I step back and look at him, because I can’t forget about him, you know? There was an incident at school where I had Lachlan with me when I went to pick Harry up and Lachlan got upset with all the kids streaming out and he started screaming and screaming and Harry comes out of the classroom and walks straight past us. He doesn’t break stride, he doesn’t look at us. He walks around the corner and waits where people won’t see. And I just wanted to cry. Ben is very good at looking and saying, ‘Okay, you need a break or you need the day off.’ At home, I have my shade house and my orchids. He made that for me. He built it just exactly like I wanted it and he’s given me the money to slowly fill it up with things. It’s my space and when things get too much I say, ‘Just going to the shade house for ten minutes.’ And I’ll take my milk crate down there and I’ll sit in my little shade house on my milk crate, gazing around until I’ve got myself back under control or whatever it is and then I come back.

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Just before Lachlan was diagnosed Ben and I thought that a window was appearing for us. I love to ride and Ben is a horseman from way back – I call him ‘the Horse Whisperer’ – and so we got these horses. The whole plan was that once both kids were at school full time, we would ride together off into the sunset with our picnic and bottle of champagne! No, I’m joking. But we did think that we would be able to spend time together again. We could go out to lunch, go for a ride. Like normal people. But then Lachlan was diagnosed and sent to a special school which is a long drive away every day. So now I’m there, helping out at the autism office until it’s time for him to come home. Ben has joined a horseriding club though and he rides and loves it which is great. I have just taken a small part-time job at the autism centre: it’s flexible and I can work from home and I don’t earn much money which is important for us. I know that sounds mad but if I became the primary breadwinner, where does that leave Ben? Self-esteem-wise? The money he gets from his entitlement, he’s earned. He doesn’t work but he still supports his family and if he’s cranky he can still turn around and say to me, ‘Well I bring in most of the money.’ And I can say, ‘Yes you do.’ But what sort of bloke does he feel like, what sort of father, what sort of husband when his wife’s off earning all the money because he’s incapable of holding a job? Ben will say, ‘Go and do it Jane if you want that.’ But as much as he says it, I don’t want anything brewing under there. There may come a point where he’s one hundred per cent okay with that but so far, not working has been very difficult for him. At least now he’s more likely to say to people that he’s retired. Originally if he

was asked what he did, he’d say ‘Army’ and then take off. But I said to him, ‘Mate, you can only do that for so long. Six months? Maybe string it out to a year but soon you’re going to have to say, ‘I used to be. I used to be in the army.’ He does leatherwork now, makes bridles and things and as long as he doesn’t have a deadline, he’s fine. So we’re just taking it a little at a time. Once a year we get away together when Mum and Dad come up and look after the kids for a few days. My girlfriends say, ‘Why don’t you go to the Casino or have a nice dinner in a nice hotel.’ But all we want to do is go fishing. I just want to sit in the middle of a river with my fishing rod in the water and just nothing. It’s the rocking, you know, the gentle slap of the waves on the side of the boat. And Ben and I load ourselves up with all really great little gourmet nibbly things that we never can afford, and a couple of bottles of wine and some nice expensive beer and we just sit there and that’s my recharge. I’m looking forward. I’m always looking forward and I’m pretty sure that we’ll get through it. It’s just how we’re going to fare. I mean, I know that we’ll still be together, it’s just do we get through it whole? Or do we get through it in pieces? But you’ve got to look forward. Even if it’s just the next ten minutes. Because what’s done is done. You’ve got to learn and move on. Some stuff you can’t change.

But all we want to do is go fishing. I just want to sit in the middle of a river with my fishing rod in the water and just nothing. It’s the rocking, you know, the gentle slap of the waves on the side of the boat.

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Jane’s mother

J

ane could salute before she could talk. I mean it was just one of those funny little things. Her father Laurie was a drill instructor at that time and he would say to his recruits, ‘I have a ten-month-old daughter who can salute better than you.’ ¶ He was her hero and that was it, right from the start. ¶ Laurie did two tours of Vietnam, consecutive tours. We were married two weeks after he got back. I was twenty-two. There were the signs of PTSD right back then, I see that now. He tried to strangle me on our honeymoon for a start and that’s got to be unusual! I rolled over in bed and touched him on the shoulder and he reacted instantly. It was a bit scary. I didn’t do it again. ¶ Jane was always a really strong individual, very independent. Even as a child, I knew that I never had to worry about the other two kids if she was home. I never put her into that role, she adopted it for herself. She was the one who, while you were still drawing breath, would say to her brother, ‘You haven’t washed your hands!’ She’s still like it. She’ll tell you herself that she’s a Type A personality. ¶ I don’t think the way she grew up would have any influence on what she’s doing now apart from the fact that she saw me cope. You can’t turn around to a six-year-old and say, ‘You wait until your father gets back in fifty-six days!’ It doesn’t work. When Laurie was away, I was in control. I made the decisions; I paid the bills. When he retired then suddenly he was doing all that. He had nothing left to be in charge of but me. These days we like to have a peaceful life. We make the compromises we need to make because we want peace. ¶ Jane would have to be to the point of ‘I can’t cope’ before she will ring and tell me. She will ring though: she will spend an hour going yap-yap-yap and then she’ll go, ‘I feel better now, thanks Mum.’ She needs that about every tenth call. I regret that we don’t live closer. I love Ben. He knows I love him dearly. All we can do is listen, be prepared to go up there at a minute’s notice and visit a couple of times a year. ¶ I worry about Jane like any mother worries about a child, but maybe I worry about different things, like her own mental well-being. She’s so busy looking after everybody else I worry that she may not last the distance. But I’m very proud of her. Of all of them. That’s the bottom line. She’s got her work cut out for her and I don’t think it will get any easier. That’s why we send her a lot of funny cards: just to make her smile when she picks up the mail. ¶ 17


Stand still with me…

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Melissa (daughter)

M

y family just got on with life. Because we had to. We knew there were some effects from what had happened to Dad but my father tended to bury those. He really sought comfort from the community that he built up within the defence force: the mates he had. They would meet up and talk at the mess – that was a typical scenario. Or they’d often come out to visit. But you know, we just got on. Mum and my brother and I, we would just get on with it. My brother and I come from a mixed marriage. Mum is very fair, a blue-eyed blonde from a Scottish-Irish background, so my father really stands out. As a child I wanted to know more about these differences and I discovered that the Aboriginal side was not something that was celebrated. That was quite upsetting and something I had to put aside. I was born in 1971 and it was only in 1967, four years before, that my dad was recognised as an Australian citizen and given rights. When he came home from Vietnam, he couldn’t join the RSL. There was still segregation up until the 1970s. Subconsciously, I think I knew the struggle that he’d had in his family growing up: a variety of schools, sometimes being denied education, limited

wealth, no stability. Dad had a struggle not just to progress but even to be employed and I can imagine how difficult that must have been given the brilliant mind he has and the good that he always wants to do. Subconsciously, I think I also knew there was hardship for my father and my mother just from the differences between them. Dad was still in the navy when we moved to western Sydney. I was four then and my brother was eighteen months older. We lived across the road from our primary school and I remember Dad used to stand out the front and watch me go and I wouldn’t turn and wave to him because I didn’t want anyone saying anything cruel. ’Cause he’s black and ’cause kids can be cruel. It took me from when I was four until when I was eight to turn around and wave. And when I did he fell to his knees and he cried. I know that when we have struggles we become harder people and my father is quite hardened by what’s occurred in his life. No one chooses that. People don’t have control over every situation and as a result of his struggles, he’s a very hard man, you know? His competitiveness, and his drive for perfection that he probably couldn’t deliver himself, carried over to the children, to me. He wanted me to be the best person I could be, whatever it cost me. I took the responsibility path, the rules path, very early on. I took it on and I took it all the way through. When I look back to that time I see a child with responsibilities like you wouldn’t believe and no opportunity to not take up the responsibility. I see lots of things going on but just having to move forward. I loved school. I had a wonderful time and great friends. It was a bit of an escape, you know? There were lots of fun things to do. I was the school champion in swimming at primary school and I used sport a lot to create a sense of community. I was very enthusiastic and very committed to studying and I leveraged every opportunity I could to get help. I moved onto 19


higher education and then into positions where I was competing on merit. This was the time of pre-apology and you just had to get on with business, walk through the one door. Now it’s about celebrating diversity and getting excited and forming partnerships and cultural preservation but that wasn’t always the case. I followed my head in terms of what would give me choice and allow me to travel and purchase a property, those sorts of things. I have very high expectations of myself and I would say I’m a driven person. I remember when I was sixteen and the first Aboriginal fashion parades began in Redfern and I was picked out of the background by John Singleton on 60 Minutes. I’d done various photographic shots and when 60 Minutes came back to me, I said, ‘Well I don’t actually want to be a model. What I want to do is go to university.’ I had the full support of my best friend Shannon but looking back, I still can’t believe that I was making those decisions on my own and that I knew, even at sixteen, exactly what I wanted. Dad’s not the sort of man to pat you on the back. He was a hard man to please: very, very hard. He threw challenges all the way throughout my life: tests for his little daughter. I can remember a time, just before I went to university: I was given a car and I was all excited. I was just a poor student wanting to have fun and the car wouldn’t start. I couldn’t get it to go. My father had actually put water in the distributor cap and I had to work out what the problem was. I know he did that because it’s really important for him that we’re able to stand on our own two feet. But for me it was like, ‘Here we go again! Another mind challenge just to satisfy the old man.’ Dad ran a tight ship in a submarine but it wasn’t as tight at home as he would have liked. The lovely submarine has lots of fantastic, strong men and every team member has a role to play and knows

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specifically what the role is. There’s no ‘I’ or ‘me’ and they’re all doing very important jobs. But in civilian life, you don’t have that massive team around you so you’re left with the capabilities of your immediate family: people with different priorities and no deadlines and a different way of thinking. You come from the submarine where there’s an expectation that you make a command and it’s completed in the way one expects. But families aren’t able to do that. So there’s a lot of impatience because you just can’t deliver to the expectations. Everything had to be fast, you know? Like you got no time to deliberate and then it’s cranky, cranky. My mum’s an amazing woman and she really kept the family unit together. She was always employed and every morning she would get up and get through her tasks and manage everything. She’s an inspiration: very quiet demeanour, very polite but very strong, even though she doesn’t realise it. When you’re just a child, an innocent child, you see the day-to-day through the person you spend it with. In this case, it was Mum and I stood up for her a lot. Dad could be domineering. I didn’t always fall into line. Growing up was hard. It would have been good to be supported, the sort of support where you can talk: there was a lack of communication about the real issues. It was all too painful to be talked about. The elephant was always in the room. As a child you know something’s going on but when you ask, you get told, ‘No, everything’s fine.’ And what that does to a child is to stop you trusting your gut. Your gut feel is that something is wrong but then you’re told that it’s not. So you grow up always secondguessing. You say to yourself, ‘I must be wrong.’ And then you ignore the feeling and you just get on with business, which basically means survival on a day-to-day basis. I think a lot of things come back to the fact that these men came home from Vietnam and they weren’t celebrated in defending their country. And Dad’s had it in double doses. He was a native of this


country and not acknowledged and then he fought for this country and was not acknowledged. And so it comes down to respect. My dad is carrying a lot of pain. We’re in a society that’s bound by rules and there’s more rules in the defence force and there’s still more rules in the male community. And these rules are very, very, very deep. It’s too hard to look in the mirror. The pain builds and it’s locked up and you can’t penetrate it. There have been times I just couldn’t reach him. The one thing I would love my father to do is stop and reflect and put in the time to do that. I know there is no easy fix. It’s a longterm illness that needs to be addressed. But I want to say to him that he should just be kind to himself: that it’s okay to backtrack; it’s okay to regress and make mistakes. And I would also say that ‘pleasing people’ should be about being kind to yourself and the people who support you, as opposed to everyone else. From where I sit now, thirty-seven and looking back, I think Dad’s been amazing. And he is still amazing. He does so much good, it’s unbelievable: he’s always out doing something for someone. But I think it’s running away. I am standing still and I wish he could stand still with me. I have a lovely seven-year-old, a wonderful boy. And I think he’s my little change agent. Having him gave me time to reflect and change and I’ve been doing that since he was born, really. My own reflection has been about forgiveness and learning. I’ve been interested in why we make certain choices and now I’m on a career transition where I’m connecting the head and the heart. I have an undergraduate degree in business and a postgraduate degree in Project Management and Intellectual Property Patent. In my last position I was an Industry Director in telecommunications. Recently I took a career break to join a university in a region that has the highest Indigenous population

outside of the Northern Territory. In this work I’m doing behavioural tracking and I can address community well-being, health, life expectancy, employment, disability. It’s been scary and it’s pushed me outside my comfort zone but I’ve got great support here and I have opportunities to change people’s lives. I do work very hard and I probably work too many hours but it’s costly to provide the opportunities I want for my son. I want Jordi to have a strong sense of place, good self-esteem and nice values. So I do make sacrifices for that and the trade-off is that my parents probably spend more time with my son than I do. It’s difficult for me because sometimes I want the control back. My dad is softer with Jordi than he was with us. He takes the cheeky little mite and he’s his little soldier and he’s instilling that sense of responsibility and independence. Jordi’s a very, very charming boy and he makes people laugh. He’s an amazing rugby player and has a lot of determination, like me. I was living in the eastern suburbs and it was getting a bit tough without the family support nearby and so I moved back closer to home. Because of Jordi, we’ve grown closer together again and I think my parents see this as a second chance to get it right. I would never want to take that away from them. I’m a bit ‘out there’ in my family: not in a bad way but I never cease to amaze them. And they are very proud of me, I know that. I’m very much a risk-taker and I’m prepared to let go. That’s something that perhaps they should think about too. But I couldn’t imagine being without them. I speak to my dad about five times a day. He still makes me laugh. He’s so ballsy in his statements and you know he still surprises me. Forgiveness is very hard but you know what I wish for him? I wish for him to forgive himself and be kinder to himself. He has such a heart.

The one thing I would love my father to do is stop and reflect and put in the time to do that. I know there is no easy fix. It’s a long-term illness that needs to be addressed. 21


Dave (‘Dags’) I’m a black man, blacker than most urban blackfellas and I was always a mouthy kid. So I was in for it… The schoolteachers in Casino they used to let me out ten minutes early so the gangs couldn’t get me. Every now and then, the white boys, they cornered me in a flogging. That happens. When I was a young bloke I copped it from coppers and other Aboriginal mobs; from the whitefella, blackfella, you know, everyone. I never backed down. I certainly always knew they weren’t any better than me. I was about four years old when my uncle drove a Garret steam locomotive engine into Casino. It was the powerfullest steam engine in Australia, built for the wheat trade. My uncle, a black man, was in charge of that and he pulled me up on that engine and we drove into the marshalling yards and I swore that day that I was going to be an engine driver. The only difference was that the one I ended up with had a bloody big propeller hanging off the end of it. I loved the navy. We were good and we were fit and we earned respect. I’ve had twenty-three members of my family fight for the defence of this country, from the Lighthorse right through to the present day. My young nephew’s a petty officer in one of our submarines. I had four goes at trying to leave the service and I finally discharged in 1993 after twenty-nine years. I’m sixty-one now but I still haven’t cut the umbilical cord because all my life revolves around ex-servicemen, their families, welfare, pensions, community duties and all those sorts of things. Basically I’m just wearing civilian clothing.

I joined up in 1965 and went to Vietnam five months later. I was in engineering. My job was to get the ship to point B after it started at point A. We had escort duties, taking the troops up and back. It was my duty to stay below deck, in the engine room and do whatever I could, provided I was still in one piece. The defence force is easy; a lot of people don’t understand that. At the end of the day it comes down to this: you get up, do your job, go to bed and when you’re asleep, someone’s watching your back. Living here in Sydney, I’m in a worse situation than I ever was in the military. I mean, who’s watching my back when I go to sleep now? My wife thought I’d be normal when I left the force and I think she’s annoyed that I’m involved in a lot of issues now. That never happened when I was in the navy because I was too busy but now I’m out, people are coming to me to seek advice. I never learnt how to say no to someone who asks for help, so now I’m a volunteer and I wear about ten different hats. I work with a lot of black issues now too: black forums and those things. If I didn’t have all that, I don’t know where I’d be honestly, both in marriage and the community: in a whole lot of ways. Being able to help other veterans, helping them deal with the frustrations, is what gives me survival. We’ll never, ever fit 100% back into Civvy Street. When I left the forces, I started my own business in property maintenance. I saw there had to be more to life than just getting up, going down the club and talking to blokes which is all a lot of us do. But in a business you’ve got to employ people and they’re not as passionate about the work as you are and, you know, if you call them even just some basic names, they take it to heart! So you shake your head, you know. Then Mr Keating, he was

The defence force is easy; a lot of people don’t understand that. At the end of the day it comes down to this: you get up, do your job, go to bed and when you’re asleep, someone’s watching your back. 22


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Treasurer at the time, he sent me a tax bill for $3,500. Then I had to have knee replacements and things got a little worse medicallywise, so in the end, it was time to give up the business. I went to the doctor about my knee and the old fella said, ‘What else is wrong?’ And I didn’t think anything but I got talking about different injuries and accidents and by the time I came out of there, I had so much wrong with me I thought I’d have to be medivac’d home! That’s how crook he thought I was: overweight, blood pressure, bad back, knees, coughs, colds, sore holes. After that, I had a choice. I could go off and smoke dope and drink myself to death like so many of the other poor blokes have done, or I could keep busy. And that’s what I’ve decided to do. I’m still healthy enough to do a fair bit so while ever I am, I’m going to continue on this road. You know, I do a little bit, my mate over the road does a little bit and there’s another fellow down the road doing his little bit and it’ll all work out. You can’t just sit on your backside and expect someone else to do it. But my fuse is getting shorter. The longer we stay in the forces the more dangerous it is for us when we come out. One day I’m in a position to help my submarine fire missiles and blow cities off the face of the earth and the next I’m on Civvy Street, listening to some individual complain about someone running into his car. Diddums, you know? I try to be caring and sharing and understanding but it’s difficult.

One day I’m in a position to help my submarine fire missiles and blow cities off the face of the earth and the next I’m on Civvy Street, listening to some individual complain about someone running into his car.

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And I feel challenged a lot, like when I get to the airport and I’ve got two blokes going over my body with a little electronic device and challenging my identity and I want to tell them, ‘This is me. Look, I’ve had a knee job.’ But they’re not interested in me or the doctor’s card and it feels like all they want is to humiliate me. And so I get agitated, very agitated. But poor buggers, they’re just doing their job. I just want a pass to say, ‘Let this little blackfella through the gate!’ That’s what I need. It’s the same for a lot of us. That’s why so many blokes are up the river or gone off bush. It’ll be hard for our young diggers coming home from Iraq too. They’ll come home to petrol prices going through the roof and some smart arse on a train who won’t stand up for someone else or there’ll be some bloke wanting to gob off at them. Those young diggers’ll look around and see everyone’s


happy, laughing and giggling and they’ll think to themselves, ‘What are you doing? Don’t you know what’s really going on?’ I get unhappy if I I’m in a train of thought and there’s an interruption. I just get so angry, then. Say my daughter rings me up in the morning, when I’m with Junior, you know before I take him to school. It interrupts my routine: on deck by seven hundred you know: bang, bang, bang. I’ve got a routine; I want to stick to it. I was hard on my daughter growing up: I wanted the best for her and you know, she’s defiant. She and her brother knew they had to perform; there was no question of that. They had to be accountable: you don’t leave the toothpaste top off, you always change the dunny roll, you fill the kettle after you’ve made a brew. I still expect it. I do the rounds, I unconsciously do it but I do it all the same. I always expect them to know better. Other people I can allow but I expect them to know. My kids grew up in a much stricter environment than my grandkids have now. Just look at this carpet: Junior’s been in here with his fruit juice and as I say to my wife, the instigator, ‘That’s the result.’ My kids wouldn’t have even been allowed in here. I would have told them, ‘The family room’s out the back, not here.’ They had rules and a certain time to get moving. Thirty seconds. If they didn’t move, it was corporal punishment. Simple as that. But if I had my time again, I’d be more with family. I’m so dirty that I missed my kids growing up. I see things now in my little grandson, I see him do things that I should’ve been there to see with my own children. But I wasn’t. I was playing soldiers. And now I’ll never get that back. My daughter is an adult now, we have an adult thing and it’s a shame that I didn’t realise what I was losing when she was younger. I stopped cuddling her when she was twelve ’cause you know, she was growing and developing and I thought that’s what you did. Big mistake. I didn’t know better. Who tells you how to be a dad? She thought she’d done something wrong. I didn’t realise it until my wife said something later on, maybe twelve months down the road. And I saw that it was a big blue.

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…I missed my kids growing up. I see things now in my little grandson; I see him do things that I should’ve been there to see with my own children. But I wasn’t. I was playing soldiers. And now I’ll never get that back.

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My children can buy and sell me. My son’s electronics, engineering and satellite communications and my daughter was an executive for a corporate company and now she’s made a choice decision and she’s at the university making a difference. And my wife, she’s brilliant really: she just made a mistake of picking me! With a mixed marriage, she copped a fair bit of crap from ignorant people in my absence. Sometimes it might have been eight or nine months before I got home, so she put up with a lot. And when I first got married I was still running around like a single bloke. That’s what the navy required you know. You’re on the piss with the boys, drinking in the pub. The trust thing I didn’t understand at all. But my wife was always a wife who allowed me to be a navy person. And that’s a big call for all our women. None of us men get anywhere unless the women sacrifice so much. We never see it until this far down the track either and a lot of us leave it too late. She’s had a hard innings with me. I really can’t speak for her anymore. I’d like everything to be happy ever after but you know, it doesn’t always work out that way. My wife’s very independent and she’s become harder. I have too. I keep busy in what I do and she does what she does. The times we’re real happy now is when we’re not in this house and we’re out and the grandkids are with us and it’s like the old days when we used to go camping with our own kids.

It was one o’clock in the morning when they found me and after that it was, ‘Get these into you, son.’ Instead of getting first aid, you get two big cans of grog and a durry stuck in your bollard. I don’t smoke though, never have smoked, but I like drinking. I like to be the last man standing: I like to show people. My nan used to say, ‘Someone is always watching you boy; they’re waiting for you to fail.’ And so I just like showing people that I can have a few beers and not fall over or want to fight. And I do it on a regular basis. That’s just me. If I get depressed, I go and get liquored and sleep it off. I’ve been seeing a psychologist for a while so that’s pretty cool. I’m supposed to be on all this medication and I know it does people good but, me…? I need some control. I mean, I can take these anti-depressants but I notice that my attitude changes and I’m saying, ‘She’ll be right mate’, and I’m slack. That’s no good for me. If I don’t do something productive, after a few days I start getting really angry with myself. I have to do something and then when someone says ‘Thanks mate’ at the end of it, like they do every single day, then that’s my medicine. You never get reprogrammed to be a civilian: we’re taught 24 /7 ‘Can do, can do’. The older we get the more difficult it becomes to maintain standards, whatever that standard may have been. We’re saying, ‘Can do, can do, she’ll be right mate’ until we drop dead but the thing is, it’s not all right; we’re not all right. We don’t even know that we’re broken.

Naturally, I drink to excess. I never used to drink. I started after the diving accident I had in Vung Tao. I bloody nearly drowned.

If I don’t do something productive, after a few days I start getting really angry with myself. I have to do something and then when someone says ‘Thanks mate’ at the end of it, like they do every single day, then that’s my medicine.

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The important things

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I

had no photo training or anything. I just went to see the Commanding Officer and I said, ‘Boss, can I be the unit photographer?’ And he went, ‘Can you take a photo?’ And I said, ‘Well, I’ve got a new camera!’ I’d seen some photographers in uniform getting around East Timor and the photos that were coming out were so powerful – images of these soldiers walking the streets with little, tiny kids in their hands. And I thought, ‘Wow, that would be an awesome job. That’s really saying something. That’s really showing families back home what it’s like for us here.’ I aspired to get into the Army Public Relations Service but it wasn’t going to be easy. The culture for army photographers at that time was ‘infantry male’. And you had to be a corporal. I was female and a private and I’d been in the army for all of twelve months… I was born in Tenterfield, New South Wales. My family were Salvation Army and we lived in lots of different places. I was nineteen when I joined up. Dad said, ‘Don’t join the army, that’s crazy. What about the wars?’ And I said, ‘Australia hasn’t gone anywhere since Vietnam, don’t worry about it.’ Six months later I was in East Timor when the big conflict occurred in ’99. It was mind-boggling. Everyone was unprepared for it and I was so young and so new and I’d never left Australia before. We were peacekeepers but we were deployed under war-like circumstances. It was a very fine line between peace enforcing and peace keeping, especially in the beginning. How do I explain it? You carry a fully loaded weapon at all times. There’s always,

you know, two people together. There’s a whole kind of armed defence around everything. I was with Ammunition Platoon. We had boxes and boxes of rockets and grenades and bullets and our job was to basically keep it safe, catalogue it, and send it out. We also took control of all the confiscated weapons. We had shipping containers lined up in our compound just chockers full of militia contraband. Really horrific, brutal homemade weaponry. It was pretty tense. In Australia, the ammunition magazines which hold your ammo are kept far away in empty spaces and bunkers. In Timor, we were inside the same compound as the ammo; we were sleeping on boxes of grenades. And it’s so hot there and the ammo shouldn’t be exposed to heat like that, so it was very stressful. But – and this probably sounds strange – it was kind of boring too. You’re on alert, the ‘enemy’s’ out the gates, but you’re sitting in the same spot day after day. It’s ordinary and huge, both at the same time.

Photo: Corporal Belinda Mepham, Australian Defence Force

Bell

Six months later, you come home and you’re trying to keep the experience real but you’re also trying to merge in again with everybody back home. It’s hard. You’ve been with these poor people in this Third World country who don’t have anything; who’ve lost everything and it makes you want to appreciate the things you have. You don’t want to waste your life or feel that you’re selfish: you’ve got cold beer in the fridge; you’ve got hot water. But when you come home, it feels like everyone takes things for granted. It’s almost like people are naïve or totally out of touch with what’s really going on. I know it’s not fair to impose our experiences onto their nice, peaceful little world back here in Australia, but you get impatient. It drove me ’round the bend to hear Australians complain about their life, particularly older people. It just drove me bonkers and I thought, ‘You’ve got no idea of what life is for other people.’ The frustration level can be 29


so high at times – you go to the shops and get so annoyed with people dawdling along and carrying on like wombats. Then you have a beer with a mate who was in East Timor with you and you go, ‘Jeez, I hate going to the shops: I hate the crowds.’ And they would understand exactly, ‘Yeah, tell me about it.’ And you find out it’s been the same for them. And then, I’d drink more beer and so it goes. I wasn’t a drinker until I joined the army. After the first couple of months in Dili, you’d get two beers per day, per man, mostly. Dili was the ‘safe area’ and that’s what you were allowed. So, every day I wasn’t on duty, I’d be thinking, ‘I can have two beers tonight.’ It’s your reward basically. And after a while some of us would be doing anything to make those two beers, four beers. You’re swapping tickets and stuff like that. It’s like you’ve earned it or something. I came back to Australia with the idea that drinking was the way to do business and everybody does it, right? It isn’t that you’re an alcoholic but to not have a couple of beers a day annoys you. You don’t realise that you’re putting it first above everything else. I see it as more of an addiction now and it has had consequences that I didn’t even realise. For example, I know I used it to prop up all the walls I was building around myself: you’re stressed and wound up and your family don’t get you and you’re frustrated. So you have a few drinks and that makes you even harder to talk to and it’s always there. I was single and living up in Townsville when I came back from Timor. It was so far away from my family but that wasn’t really a problem: your family are now the friends who were with you when you were away. And your real family have got no idea what’s going on for you anyway. You’re back, so they think you’re okay. They’re like, ‘Oh, you’re home, you’re safe and life goes on.’ So, nobody rings you and checks and asks, ‘Hey, how are you going?’

Nobody knows how disconnected you feel. They assume that you’re the nineteen-year-old you were when you left home. They assume a lot of stuff and so much of it is wrong. I was very focused on becoming a photographer. I set my mind to that, got my skills up and started writing some articles for the army newspaper. Eventually after some work experience with them, I got a position, got my promotion and then went into the Public Relations Service, which was just phenomenal; it’s the best job in the defence force. You deploy around the world chasing soldiers, taking photos, telling people what it’s really like and all the time you’re thinking, ‘Wow, in twenty years time, these pictures will be on the wall in the War Memorial and people will be coming in and going, “Oh, this is what the troopies were like then”…’ Pretty cool stuff. Over the next four years I went back to Timor once and to places like Bougainville and the Solomon Islands. And then on Boxing Day 2004, I got a call from the boss. I was standing in the Canberra Zoo with Kerry, my partner, looking at Sumatran tigers. At that stage I wasn’t deploying anywhere because I only had another six weeks to serve – I had decided to go for a discharge so I could do a graphic design course. The boss told me that there’d been a tsunami and he couldn’t find anyone else to go. We didn’t know much at that stage but we thought it would be a short trip: I’d jump into a Herc, fly over to Colombo, drop a pallet of aid, take pictures of it, get back to Darwin and continue with my plans. I packed enough for a couple of days: my toothbrush, my camera kit and I was out the door. From the time we took off in the Herc it was clear that things were developing quickly. We’d gone from a team of five and a pallet of medical supplies, to picking up a whole medical team and all their stores in Brisbane. In Darwin, there was more news. The tsunami was much, much bigger than anyone had thought.

…your family are now the friends who were with you when you were away. And your real family have got no idea what’s going on for you anyway. You’re back, so they think you’re okay. 30


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Photos: Australian Defence Force


32 Photos: Corporal Belinda Mepham, Australian Defence Force


The water’s nice and crystal clear and then all of a sudden, it turns to chaos. You’ve got dark water; you’ve got debris all through it. You can see trees and bodies in trees and this is still the ocean. We haven’t even got over land yet.

We were now heading for Medan in Sumatra. By the time we got there for the briefing, the footage of the tsunami was everywhere.

door comes down and that kind of tropical smell hits you. It’s that musky, sweet tropics smell and you’ve smelt this before…

I’m in the foyer of this big five star hotel and there are these big screens all around us, with images of people getting washed away by water: dead people, houses, dogs. This wasn’t one town or something: this was eleven countries; the whole Indian Ocean. By the time we take off for Banda Aceh, it’s a crisis response. It’s huge. People need our help. The videographer and I would be doing reconnaissance imagery to help brief Canberra as well as following our PR brief to capture Australian personnel working with the Indonesians.

Normally what would happen now is you’d be carrying a weapon with you because you’re landing in a situation that might require some security. So you’d normally be checking your weapons, making sure everything’s right, getting all your kit together. You’d be busy. But we were doing nothing; we’ve got nothing with us anyway. And there was no other aircraft at that point. Looking out across the airfield, we can see that we’re the first ones to get in there. We’re in Banda Aceh.

As we fly towards Aceh, I’m strapped to the doors of the C130 Herc looking through the window. The water’s nice and crystal clear and then all of a sudden, it turns to chaos. You’ve got dark water; you’ve got debris all through it. You can see trees and bodies in trees and this is still the ocean. We haven’t even got over land yet. I’m zoomed in on my lens, watching the seascape go by with one eye and then, picking things out with the other. The bodies are face down in the water, their arms and legs splayed out like they’re a frog on the cutting table. And I’m thinking, ‘Oh that’s not on a television. That’s really people in the water.’ And then all of a sudden, there’s land below but there’s nothing on it. There’s a house here and a house there but everything’s gone: silent, empty mud. There’s nothing. It’s just all gone. It’s so empty and it’s so still and then I see that it’s not just this little bit below us. It’s all the way down the coast: the magnitude is revealing itself. And we keep going lower, lower and lower and the next minute we’re over rice fields and we’re landing on an airfield. You’re out the back door of the Hercules and no one is sure what to do. ‘Guys just get off and wait for further instruction.’ So the

The only other people are the thousands of locals sitting on the grass over near this little regional terminal building. I see them and I know, all those people, they think we’ve come for them. They want a rescue right out of there. They start talking amongst themselves and getting up to come over and see if they can get on our plane. Next minute, the Indonesian military and Indonesian police appear out of nowhere and head them off at the pass. They say, ‘It’s not for you. Go away, go and sit back on your grass.’ I started to get a real sense of the emotion in the place and it was scary stuff. That’s when this little lady from the International Organisation for Migration rocked up in a ute with this local bloke. She spoke English, which was good because at that point no one we’d found had spoken English. She’s come to take us down to crisis headquarters and she’s handing out these facemasks, surgical facemasks to stop the stench and she doesn’t have enough so the videographer and I being soldiers and not officers, and being the hardened PR corporals that we are, we said, ‘Oh, don’t worry about us. We’ll be fine, you know.’ But she said, ‘You need it; in town it’s indescribable.’ 33


And so it went on like that. It was chaos. More and more: debris and bodies and traumatised people. I tried to take it day by day, muddle through…

She just looked so tired. She had gumboots on that were huge and she looked completely worn out and I asked her how she was doing and she said, ‘I’m exhausted, but I’m alive.’ And then she says that she’d just been down to the morgue and I hear her saying, ‘We’ve got no space but we’re trying to find people before they move them out to the mass graves; before they bloat too much so we can recognise them.’ And I say, ‘Oh yeah, cool, no worries…’ It’s like all this information’s coming in but the reality isn’t sinking in. I’m hearing it and my head’s spinning and I’m thinking that this is really heavy. And how can I go in there and expose myself to those things? I’m thinking, ‘I’ve got a life to go on with in Australia. This is going to hurt me.’ It was like I was being given a big challenge and a chance to change my life and I just did not know if I wanted to take it. About six or seven of us piled into this little 800cc Mazda ute. It’s burning hot; there’s nowhere to stand. I’ve got my feet perched up on the top near the roof and I’m up front so I can take the pictures because, you know, that’s what I’m there to do. And everyone’s got their nice facemasks on and the mood was… brace yourself. And we start to move off and I’m thinking, ‘Here we go.’ 34

We drove past the mass graves and the bodies, mostly wrapped in sheets, bloating on the side of the road and the bulldozers rolling the bodies forward into ditches and the terrible smell that was everywhere. And the little woman keeps warning us of what’s ahead. And then there’s smoke over the trees, not too far in front and the woman says, ‘They’re burning the children.’ And I said, ‘Oh yeah, right, no worries.’ So I get the camera ready and we turn a corner and there’s piles of bodies: smaller kids, bigger kids and they’re trying to sort them out and there are adults, possibly relatives, looking amongst them. And so it went on like that. It was chaos. More and more: debris and bodies and traumatised people. I tried to take it day by day, muddle through, pick the best photo and support the other service personnel. Our orders were basically: ‘If the medics go in, you go in.’ I’m taking the pictures and sending them back but I still didn’t know if people understood what was really happening. Every day was a week. I was there for fourteen days. I know it sounds like I was there for months; it felt like months. Back home, my boss knew that my course would be starting and he said, ‘You’ve got your plans to keep going with.’ He suggested


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I should take my two weeks leave but complete my discharge first, ‘And before you go, make sure you see the psych.’ The session with the psych was a tick and flick questionnaire. Did anything over there disturb you? Yes. Did at any time you feel your life was in danger? Yes. Is there anything you want to talk about? Yes. But there was no real talking or debriefing. He didn’t ask if anything had happened since I left that would make me worry about myself. Or if I’d done anything that was weird. If he had, I could’ve told him something and I’m sure he would’ve gone, ‘Oh, that’s something that’s probably going to need some attention.’ But he didn’t ask. I would have told him that on the plane home, somebody gave me a steak for a meal and I just lost it. Like I saw burnt kids straight away, smelt them, the whole bit like a flashback. It’s not abnormal to have vivid reminders after a big trauma, I know, but I think it’s probably a good sign that maybe some follow-up could help. I went ahead with my discharge and looking back, this was not such a clever idea. I should have delayed and stayed in the army for six months just to process the trauma in a familiar environment. I was losing a big piece of my identity and struggling with a trauma. All at once. It might be that Aceh on its own was enough for me to struggle on my return to Australia. But it’s also possible that Timor set me up for it and Aceh was the straw that broke the camel’s back. My partner Kerry and I had only been together for a year and, you know, our relationship was pretty sweet for the first year. She

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noticed the differences in me when I came back: the depression and the edginess. I was jumpy, sometimes aggressive, withdrawn and with a kind of numbness. A lot of numbness. I found it really hard to connect even with the person I loved the most. Like, rightly so, Kerry’s going, ‘Hang on, this isn’t nice. I don’t like where this is going.’ And I’m saying, ‘I don’t like it either but I don’t know what to do about it.’ There were nightmares and dreams. Constantly stressed, constantly wired, constantly depressed. Just always battling with life. I think that after something like Aceh, nothing else can get you excited anymore. Nothing else is interesting anymore; nothing else feels as intense and therefore it’s not as meaningful. But everything feels so hard. You just want a normal life and you don’t know what the problem is: you don’t realise how much energy is going into fighting to have a normal day. I started the design course but it didn’t go so well. Coming off an experience like Aceh and going into a classroom with young people was frustrating. I’m used to the army and in the army you’re there on time: you don’t wander in late; you respect your teacher; you don’t use your mobile in class; you don’t rock out whenever you feel like it. I was going home every day and saying, ‘People are just f***ing stupid… they have no idea.’ Absolute frustration. And then I would start drinking. I was self-medicating, I know that now. You dull off emotions that you should probably be feeling and learning how to deal with – that’s nearly verbatim from my counsellor anyway!


About four months after I started my course, Kerry got offered a job in Melbourne and we decided to move. That was huge: a new city; our relationship still quite new; leaving the army; walking away from the course I’d discharged specifically to do. And things got very, very bad. She’s been loving me and supporting me but she got to the point where she’d say, ‘I can’t do this. I can’t live with you like this anymore. I want out. If you can’t turn this around, I have to leave you because it’s too hard.’ And that would scare me. I’d say to her that it wasn’t my fault. I’d say, ‘I didn’t ask for this, I don’t want this. But for some reason I can’t stop it.’ You feel like an idiot that you’re not coping… You feel stupid because it’s not like you went to war and someone shot at you. For goodness sake, I wasn’t even in Aceh when the wave came in. And so you think that you shouldn’t really complain. Almost a year after I left the army, I was referred to VVCS and that’s been instrumental in helping me process the experiences in Aceh and put it in a positive place. I think the hardest thing is mostly linked to feeling so isolated by what you’ve experienced: isolated from friends, family and the community. But for anyone in the forces, that isolation starts early, right from the first day. Way before you ever go away… There are things that families don’t understand about what soldier training does to you. You’re a normal kid off the street – and most of us are kids – and they line you up and they say, ‘Right, you’re no longer a civilian. You’re now a soldier in the Australian Army.’ And in that minute on, you are different to everybody else. You end up thinking you’re somehow better than people who haven’t trained like you. You’re not conscious of it but in your mind you’re going, ‘Oh you’re just a civvy, what would you know?’ It’s not so much an elitist thing as a ‘separate’ thing. It’s such a typical trait of defence people. It’s a tone, not arrogance but an undercurrent: ‘How could you possibly understand – you’re a civvy?’ We don’t realise that it started the day we got off the bus and they said, ‘Recruit, form up.’ That’s the day we start thinking that being a recruit is more important than being anyone else. And that’s kind of ridiculous in terms of how that can affect your ongoing relationships with other people.

I don’t knock the defence system. I still think it was the best thing I ever did but I just think that we need better education for people in the forces and their families. My family would benefit so much by having someone sit down and explain to them what a soldier is trained to think. How they are now a different person. That they’re taught how to deal with aggression differently, taught how to deal with leadership and control differently, taught different ways of getting esteem. Families need to know: ‘This person doesn’t use the same tools that you do anymore to feel okay about their existence. We’ve changed all that. We’ve given them a structure, a ladder to climb on and this is how they’re thinking now.’ I believe it would help families to know it, but nobody tells them. My family leads a very different life to me and they have a different way of viewing the world. Anything bad generally happens close in their community like a bushfire or to someone’s kid driving off the highway at night. Their kinds of tragedies are not like the ones I’ve seen. I’ve been with people that they know nothing about. So why should I expect them to understand me? Just because they’re family? Who am I to say, ‘You need to switch on and get the idea of what it’s like to be me?’ It’s only this year that I’ve been able to let go of that expectation. Disconnection is inevitable, physically and emotionally. It’s rare that you’re posted to the same town as your family. You’re all over Australia and you have these competing priorities and when you do, your service comes first. It’s as simple as that. Time to spend with your family is reduced a lot and before you know it, they’ve moved on to other areas of their lives. They’ve missed things that you’ve experienced but you’ve missed things of theirs too. While you’ve been away, they’ve gone through life-changing events too: maybe it’s getting pregnant or having a miscarriage or maybe someone died. Our life takes us to very different places yet we still want to have the same closeness that we had when we lived under the same roof. The best bet for me was to get formal counselling. I learnt there was no way that Kerry could possibly be the support that I needed. As much as she wanted to be or I wanted her to be, she couldn’t. It takes more than love to work somebody through what I’ve been through: it takes a totally different set of skills. She’s

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loving me and supporting me but it would be like a podiatrist trying to help someone with diabetes. We’re doing some couples counselling at the moment because communication is a big issue and there’s also an age gap so we’ve got different experiences and we’re at different stages of our lives. Throw PTSD and the military service into that mix and it becomes a whole new ballgame. There have been so many stressors over the past couple of years but it is starting to pan out now. I got into uni down here and the course I ended up doing was better and at a higher level than the one I left. I got my degree, Kerry got her job and because I couldn’t cope with a normal nine to five job, I’ve started a photographic business. And it’s going really well. It’s got me out of the house, it’s got me to reconnect with people and I wouldn’t give it up for quids. I’m doing some cognitive thinking work with my counsellor too. I’m trying to change my structure and my self-talk. I’ve cut my drinking down by half and I’m trying to get motivated about nutrition and fitness, though I still struggle with that immensely. I’ve learnt now to try and give myself a break and say, ‘I don’t have to be perfect. I don’t have to make every decision the right decision. I’ll do my best, that’s all.’ I honestly don’t know why Kerry has stayed with me. It’s been a long, hard road and it’s not over yet. Kerry knows that PTSD can flare up any time. She’s looking into the future and asking herself, ‘Do I want to be with someone who may go down this road again? I can’t do that again. This has cost us too much.’ So, I guess she’s got some pretty big choices to make when you look at it like that. I know it’s not fair that people have been through pain because of my experiences and I wish I had the bits to make that right.

Kerry (partner) I’m not saying I’m perfect and you do learn to deal with it but you also think, ‘When is this going to end?’ When I met Bell, I met this vivacious, this energised, creative bundle of energy who was in the zone with her photography. And what attracted me to her was the creativity coming out of her; the work she was doing at that time was just amazing. I met her at Fairday; that’s a gay and lesbian event, like a giant fete. I was there on a stall helping out a friend and I spotted Bell, standing with her camera. I couldn’t stop staring at her. I thought she was so cute. I’d been single for five years at that stage and I am extremely shy when it comes to meeting people and particularly someone I’m attracted to. So I got friends to help and they coached me in what to say because you know, I was so completely out of my depth and tongue-tied and stuttery and we met up at a dance that night and we hooked up after that. It was a few months after she left the army, when we moved to Melbourne, that the PTSD behaviour really manifested. It was the way she would speak to me. She was very hard. And very angry. And she would often say to me, ‘Oh just harden up.’ That’s a typical military term really. And I would just say to her, ‘Please don’t say that to me, it hurts my feelings. I don’t like it.’ But she would keep repeating it and repeating it and we were going around in circles.

I’ve said from the beginning that Aceh was a phenomenal experience: the best and the worst experience of my life. The worst because it’s impacted on other people like Kerry. The best because there’s so much to learn from it.

I noticed the drinking at that time too. Before then, I hadn’t really seen it as a problem. But then we bought this house together and so there was also the stress of the financial burden and then the new business and it all came down. I think the move to Melbourne hastened the PTSD. It might have lain dormant in Bell for years but because we put all these other stressors in there, it came out. And if you think about it from a positive perspective, it’s actually a good thing that it happened then; that it happened so soon after the tsunami.

I’m grateful that it has made things important that should be important. I’ll be drawing from it for the rest of my life.

Bell would often bring information home: pamphlets and videos and things for me; counselling had mainly been her thing. I was

I might say, ‘I didn’t sign up for this’ – but then, obviously neither did Bell… We often talk about the ‘Bell Before’ and the ‘Bell Afterwards’ and I know that person is still in there. 38


working these big jobs and I wasn’t really available. I wasn’t there for Bell and I feel really guilty about that. Last year, I went on my own for some counselling with VVCS. I only went for six sessions and the counsellor told me, ‘I think we’re done here’ and I’m like, ‘Oh no, I don’t think so.’ I think she didn’t know what to do with me. There’s often a lack of understanding around gay couples; things aren’t addressed because they don’t know how to address them. They don’t have the resources. But I have a great counsellor now and we have her as long as we need her. I go for a weekly session and Bell and I go as a couple fortnightly as well. The counsellor is amazing. Bell is a person who needs to talk things through and it’s part of her healing. She’s an awesome communicator; she verbalises whereas I’m probably on the other end of the spectrum. I have an auditory processing disorder. I was born hearing but I was deaf by the time I was six and even though it was repaired, it means that I learnt how to process things differently. So while Bell is really quick and moves on, I take a bit longer. I tend to think about things in my head and talk to myself in my head. She might ask me a question and I’ll answer it inside and think she’s heard it. So now we’ve learnt to say: ‘Say it out loud.’ For a long time it was so tough and very dark and we were both asking ourselves, ‘Why are we doing this? We’re fighting all the time.’ It would have been so easy to walk away because neither of us understood the behaviour. Now I can understand more. I can recognise a PTSD moment. We have always tried to talk and we can be brutally honest with each other. I might say, ‘I didn’t sign up for this’ – but then, obviously neither did Bell. We take it day by day. I just keep going back to the Bell I met. We often talk about the ‘Bell Before’ and the ‘Bell Afterwards’ and I know that person is still in there. I also know that I’ve been lost along the way as well. We catch a glimpse sometimes. Recently, it happened. We looked at each other and it was like… ‘Oh, there you are!’

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Lucky for me…

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I

Lloyd

spent three-and-a-half years as a prisoner of war and one of the things that I took out of it was that when I got home, I was going to be a gentleman and I was going to let Muriel have a good look at me first. I wouldn’t be expecting her to do anything: not to marry me or stay with me. As prisoners we said, we correctly said, ‘We’ll all be changed.’ Well, we had to be after going through a coolie sort of life, and the bashings and seeing the things that you don’t want to talk about. We felt unclean I’d say, inside and out. I don’t know how we thought others would see that in us. Or maybe we thought they wouldn’t be able to see it and that’s why they needed to be careful. I thought it was the fairest thing to let Muriel have a long look first… We met in 1937 in Grenfell and we were pretty keen on each other. I was nineteen, a clerk in the Bank of New South Wales and a mad tennis player. I didn’t take a drink, other than a milkshake! Muriel was not quite seventeen. We were all churchgoers and I think her brother used to keep an eye out for anybody he could invite home for his sisters. I joined up on the King’s Birthday weekend in 1940. I knew nothing about the war. Like most people, I watched it develop and was happy to watch it, but once Italy came in, we knew that it wasn’t a picnic that was going on over in Britain. There was a rush to join up. Everybody joined: the whole of Grenfell – all the

young blokes. If you didn’t, you might get a white feather in the mail. Virtually all the families in the town would have someone leaving, and some more than one. Brothers, cousins. There were 20,000 of us in the 8th Division – we were all volunteers. I was allocated to the signals and then in 1941, we sailed off in the Queen Mary to Singapore: yes, we went to war in style. We were excited and thrilled to be a part of it. The first thing I thought about war was the terrible din of it. You’ve got no idea how frightening that is when you get guns on both sides, and quite close together really. That was one of my early impressions. 1942 – we were in trouble. We’d always believed we could defend Singapore. None of us thought we’d be giving in and there was a lot of hurt about that. When our officers instructed us to put our arms down in unconditional surrender, it shocked us. But we had no counter for the bombings and no hope for holding off the Japanese landings. Singapore was a British base of course, and a lot of them were not trained for frontline operations. Most of them didn’t even have a rifle in their hands. And the civilian casualties had been heavy. The whole of the 8th Division were there for the capitulation. There were thousands and thousands of us so it was a bit of a mess, you could say. For starters, the Japanese didn’t really know what the devil they were going to do with everyone. They were baffled. I was held at Changi for seven months; I saw my brother there too, and I had two or three cousins as well. Food was a big problem; it got serious straight away. You were always hungry and I think you were frightened that you weren’t going to make it. It continued like that right through. Even worse. Changi was the best camp I was in. After that, I was moved to Adam Park in Singapore and then to Japan: to the shipyards at Kawasaki [Kobe] and the Kyushu mines. It was very bad in the coalmine: ten hours every day, and an hour to walk in and an 41


hour to walk out. We were still working on eight ounces of rice a day – not enough to even sustain body heat. I was almost always ready to show off in front of the Japs, to show that I was still strong and I could go and do the work and bugger you, sort of thing. I suppose it might sound a bit like bragging but as a young fellow courting Muriel, I was very fit. I used to run five miles just for the fun of it. I think I did better than a lot of blokes because of that. We used to have a hill coming back into the camp from the shipyards and some of the fellows used to get a bit rickety. You’d see their mates just throw their arms around them and nothing was ever said. It was lovely to see really. We used to watch one another. That was the benefit of being a POW: the mateship. The experience you’ve had with those particular ones, like brothers, you can’t ever forget. I wouldn’t really be able to describe it because I don’t understand it enough, but I think when you’ve been to the pits with people – yes, they’re like brothers. I know when we arrived home and were discharged, suddenly there was no longer any 8th Division. That probably didn’t help the way things went. I would have missed them. I did miss them. I kept in touch with the closest ones that I had a great respect for. They were mainly in Victoria. They’re all dead now bar one: John. He’s up the coast. He tells me he reads my records now and again to cheer him up. I wrote those memoirs in 1986, forty years after I came home. It was the first time I thought I wanted to talk about it. I don’t know why I didn’t want to talk before; not many of us did. I think we all wanted to be regarded as ordinary and normal and we probably felt that we weren’t quite normal. That might be a way to say it. Also, I suppose we all had fears that we’d let the

place down; that affected us early in the piece. It’s the sort of thing that you’re more likely to think about when you become a prisoner of war. So anyway, I thought I should write it all down; record it. I had the thought that we must leave some information on just how bad it all was. I call it a narrative because there’s no blood and guts in it at all; I didn’t want to write it like that. I was roused on by the family because I didn’t make it very personal. They said it was written like a bank manager. But I got the things in order. Got the dates, did the research, and I think that perhaps writing triggered a change. Could be that I stopped hating when I wrote that. I think that when I got to thinking about it and writing about it, I thought, ‘Well blow you, I’ll forgive you!’ And once I’d forgiven them, even if it was only a figure of speech, I felt stronger. I felt better; I’d shaken it off. You have to do what you can to keep going. As prisoners, we all seemed to have diaries even though they were taboo, absolutely taboo. We had no way of communicating with home. I couldn’t know what was going on but I would write in the diaries, and I’ve got them still. The only trouble with a diary is that you’ve only got one little book. You get to the end of a year and you need to start again. So I used to rub out 1942 and put 1943 in and so on; not easy, especially as the pencils were forbidden too. Tiny stubby things we had. These are the sorts of things that keep you alive. I left the diaries behind when we were moved from Kobe to the coalmines. I buried them and an English bloke found them after the war and sent them back. It was marvellous. I used them when I was writing my story. It was almost two months after the war ended before we got home. The Yanks flew us down to Manila from Okinawa and fed

I think that when I got to thinking about it and writing about it, I thought, ‘Well blow you, I’ll forgive you!’ And once I’d forgiven them, even if it was only a figure of speech, I felt stronger. 42


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us up. I used to have two breakfasts, one lunch and two dinners. Nobody controlled us and we were just plain bloody hungry. But I still felt pretty strong. I felt I was strong. It was being fit that helped me later too. I kept the tennis going; I used to play championships in Armidale when I was posted up there with the Bank. And I suppose I kept mentally fit with study. I did two degrees and studied hard and got into management quite convincingly later on. I ended up with a top job in Sydney. I had two assistant managers and two manager’s assistants and two typists: nearly fifty staff. I used to feel the nerves a bit; it made it harder and I worked too many hours. Shouldn’t have, but I loved it so much, so that sort of compensated. The Bank of New South Wales… well, I felt the Bank was a big family then and I was a part of it. When anybody asked me how I coped when I returned, I would say I had Muriel and Peter and the family. And the Bank of course; and my tennis. And I’ve been with Legacy for forty years. 44

I was discharged A1, but little did they know, and perhaps little did I know, that there was a bit more physically than that – I had a bit of bravado like quite a few of them. It’s my nerves that have always been the problem, but I’m a stubborn old bugger and I’m fortunate that I don’t have any temper at all. All my family are the same: dead losses like that! ‘Deeds Not Words’… that’s on the family crest. And I think it’s pretty right. The first years back were hard: nightmares and nerves. The pair of us in the double bed and neither could go to sleep… and it wasn’t for the other reason! I can still remember the day we returned home. We sailed in on one of the main aircraft carriers for the British. Everyone was wonderful to us: fed us up like mad again. It was a lovely way to come home. I felt strong right up to the point when we sailed up Sydney Harbour, and then I cried. Just a bit; not a lot but a bit. I just felt we didn’t have to live on our nerves anymore. We could safely let go.


Muriel It was such a funny thing at our 60th anniversary party a couple of years ago, because our son – he’s quite a good orator, Peter – he said, ‘What a wonderful day it must have been when Lloyd arrived back and met up with Muriel again.’ And I said, ‘No Peter, it was awful. It was an awful day.’ And Peter looked at me and said, ‘Mum, you’re spoiling my story!’ But that’s how it was, really. I’d been a nervous wreck, an absolute nervous wreck ever since I’d heard Lloyd was coming back. And the day turned out to be all so different to how I’d imagined it. I mean, we knew when and where they’d be arriving and we all gathered down on the pier very early in the morning. It was marvellous to see the ship coming in and our boys coming home but when they disembarked, they didn’t come down to us. They were all put straight into double decker buses and taken out to Ingleburn. We had to follow them all the way out to camp. Those were the days when we didn’t have much in the way of hair care, and I used to do my own hair and it had fallen down. And then of course, I was chasing around trying to find him and there were family and everybody with us – so it was very hard to feel anything much, really. For so long, during the war, I’d waited and we’d heard nothing. I hadn’t known whether he was coming back or not. There was no communication to speak of. In the time he was a prisoner I had one letter from him. It brought great excitement all over Grenfell but it was twelve months old. It was very precious; it was written in Lloyd’s own hand but when my excitement simmered down, I thought, ‘Good heavens, that was twelve months ago. What’s happened since?’ From the time the war ended I started to write again. I didn’t know whether he was alive or dead, but through the Red Cross we were given an address and I wrote every day. He’s still got those letters and he says it was rather remarkable to see the change in the writing as the days and weeks went by and I’d heard nothing. He said he could sense the doubt coming into my mind. All the lists had come out but there was no Lloyd; he just hadn’t been reported. I had no news. Still no news… still no news. It was a terrible time. I had friends who had husbands coming back and some who didn’t. I had one very dear friend who had to find out her husband had been dead for over a year. She was 45


married with a little boy and she’d prepared for his homecoming. That was dreadful. And then fortunately, we heard that Lloyd was safe. It had taken them a month to find the little camp he was in. A fellow flew back with the news and he got in touch with Lloyd’s brother Brian. When Brian rang me, I had to put my sister on. I said, ‘I can’t talk to him, you’ll have to get on there and find out.’ And it was later the same day, that the official word came through. Lloyd wasn’t much changed to me, except he was fatter. You know what the Yanks are like – they do know how to feed you! And he did look quite unnatural in that way. I know that he felt that his experiences had changed him. I think it was after having worked in such filthy, horrible conditions, especially down the mine; I think that’s where it came into being. He felt dirty within himself somehow. He wanted me to see if I would still find the bloke that I knew before he went away. I didn’t ever have any doubts, you know. From the time he was able to write, after he’d been found, we wrote loving letters which were still exactly the same as they had always been. And I never had any doubt that Lloyd could ever be changed in any way that I couldn’t cope with. Of course, I’d made up my mind already anyway. I wasn’t going to let him get too far away. All I wanted to do was get married and have children. It was decided very quickly.

We’d both lived on our nerves for so long that finally, when we should have been feeling marvellous, there was that let down, you know? Feeling very flat.

I found the last lace in the shop: eleven yards of it, I think. And I went home to Grenfell and rang this lass and I said, ‘Would you make my wedding dress?’ She said, ‘I hope you got lace because I dreamt about Lloyd coming back. I dreamt I would make your wedding dress and it would be lace. With a fishtail peplum.’ Three months later we were married. But the first twelve months were terribly difficult. Everyone was coming home at once and the dear Bank of New South Wales that Lloyd had worked for, couldn’t find accommodation for us anywhere. Seventy per cent of their staff had enlisted and they agreed to take anyone back and post them anywhere that they had a roof over their heads. So we went back to Grenfell and back to live with my parents for twelve months. It’s not quite the way you expect to begin married life. We both had morning sickness every morning just about. My poor father thought I was pregnant but it was just the letting down. We’d both lived on our nerves for so long that finally, when we should have been feeling marvellous, there was that let down,

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you know? Feeling very flat. It just affected us that way once we had no problems. I mean, we did have problems of course, but we didn’t think about them like that. There was no help for those boys when they came back from World War II. They were just discharged and that was it. It was like, ‘Go on your merry way and somehow get over it all.’ It was pretty awful trying to settle back into normal life again. It was the fact of trying to be normal. We both lost weight and we were both ill. Neither of us slept well: Lloyd had nightmares for years and years; has them still. He always had Japanese soldiers chasing him and jumping all over the bed. The fact that we couldn’t get a home of our own didn’t help. We couldn’t settle. My dear mother and father, they moved themselves out of their own big bedroom and down to the other end of the house for us. Lovely thing to do, wasn’t it? Lloyd and I used to go to bed rather early and about a half an hour later there’d be a little tap on the door from my mother, ‘Would you like a cup of tea?’ I didn’t think anything of it at the time; we just accepted that our parents looked after us so well. We were very naïve and they were so discreet. Very discreet. I remember Lloyd and I had a bottle of sherry that we’d keep in the wardrobe and we used to sit on the floor and have a nip. We drew from each other to a great degree, and we did have some wonderfully happy times and a pretty active social life even though we were very nervy and uptight. He didn’t talk a great deal in those early days and the wives were told not to ask questions. Later, if I asked anything, he always answered. He was never reluctant, but there were still things that he didn’t really tell me. And probably things I didn’t want to know. I only spoke about things with my sister, not to anyone else that I can remember. I think we were all trying to start life anew and be happy and jolly. Everyone was the same. Many things were not said or referred to in those days. It was that way when we lost our first child. I got pregnant very quickly once we finally got our own roof over our heads. So quickly that I always said, ‘Just as well I was a good girl!’ The baby was breech and the birth was badly handled and by the time they took the child, it was too late. The nurse said he was a perfect, beautiful little boy who had just been left too long to be born. 47


His health was affected in various ways by the war. Always nervy. He would have certain things or thought he had, but they would always turn out to be a nervous reaction of some sort.

In those days, you were not allowed to see the baby. I begged and begged: ‘No dear, it wouldn’t be wise… no dear, you mustn’t.’ My sister, trying to help, went to the house and removed all the baby stuff; nobody talked about it. Some of my friends even crossed to the other side of the street so they wouldn’t have to mention it. It was strange the things they did in those days. They were so wrong. So much not spoken of. So much closed away. I had to get that out of my system too. Two years later, we had our son Peter and our life continued. Lloyd went on to study for two degrees and worked very hard, night and day. His health was affected in various ways by the war. Always nervy. He would have certain things or thought he had, but they would always turn out to be a nervous reaction of some sort. And this was something he wasn’t very proud of because he thought, you know, that he should have been able to manage. And mostly he did. We just thought it was something we both had to work our way through, and we did, nine times out of ten. Heavens above, we were together! And he was back doing his job

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and we still had, you know, lots of fun in between. It was just that something was there and I suppose we knew little about it. We only knew why it was there. When so many boys didn’t come back, you felt guilty in a way. I still feel guilty about the fact that I’ve still got my husband because very few of my friends now… well, most of them are on their own. And I sort of think, ‘Why are we so lucky?’ And I think Lloyd feels the same. Why is he the lucky one to still be around when all his friends are gone? When I look back at what our lives have brought us, I think we have probably felt pleased with ourselves that we were able to cope. It was just a case of ‘had to’. You thought, ‘We’re here, we’re still alive. Let’s pick up the thread and keep going.’ And we still do it. Each morning when I get out of bed, I think ‘Oh… I’m not going to be able to move.’ And then I think, ‘Come on old girl, you’ve still got a bit of life left in you. You’ll scrub up well enough. Get on with it.’


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That’s happened several times with the younger generation, which really, you know, makes you feel so good when they say that. When they say, ‘Thank you for what you did for us.’

He Says… She Says… Muriel: I led a fairly normal life when Lloyd was away, not that there were many boys left to go out with in Grenfell, I might add. Lloyd: Lucky for me… Muriel: I still did go to dances and things, but everybody in a little country town knew that I was committed. It was only Lloyd who didn’t think so, apparently! On a particular day he said… what did you say? That we had an understanding? Lloyd: Oh dear… Muriel: I said that I thought it was a b****y commitment! Lloyd: I got into some hot water there. Muriel: I should think so… Lloyd: [laughing] We’ll pass onto the next subject. Muriel: I was always under the impression that you were going to marry me some day. Lloyd: When I got home you said, ‘If I have to go back to Grenfell without a ring on my finger, you’re going to be in big trouble.’ Muriel: [laughing] By golly, did I? Lloyd: Something like that… Muriel: Yes, I did say that and it was very true because they had all been through it with me. All the town had, hadn’t they?

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Anzac Day Lloyd: I march every year… Muriel: It was a family day for us: we’d all go out for lunch. We still do. This last one we had at old Parliament House with family, old friends and neighbours – our son’s generation who are marvellous to us. Lloyd: Shouted lunch for them all. But I miss the older times, the reunions. I’ve watched my best mates go. Now I have none to march with. There’s no one in the 8th Division, not a one. Muriel: You… Lloyd: Hmm? Muriel: Yes, there is one. You. [laughter] Lloyd: Yes. [laughing] Well, that’s why I march! Muriel: We’re very lucky here in Canberra, it’s only a short march. And they build all the stands for them to sit after they’ve marched. It’s wonderful. Lloyd: We used to love it in Sydney: it was just long enough to get a swagger up. Muriel used to come and we’d go and meet the mob afterwards. Muriel: We used to wait until the Viet boys went through though, always.

Muriel: We’d wait for them to give them some support. Once they started to march they were just so pleased to see that they were being appreciated at last. Lloyd: Muriel and I were at the War Memorial a couple of years ago… tell the story Muriel. Muriel: About the boy? It was a special day, the Celebration of 100 Years of the Army and there were all sorts of things going on – we’ve had some wonderful get togethers – but anyway, that doesn’t matter. We went into the War Memorial and went down to have a look at the POW section and there was a bloke there with a group of young boys. We found out afterwards they were from college in Bathurst and we just sort of stood and listened for a while and I went up to him and I said, ‘You’re talking to the boys about the 8th Division and the POWs. Would they like to meet one?’ And you know, they gathered round and Lloyd talked and answered questions and I was amazed at how interested and how polite they were, and they thanked him no end when he’d finished. I said, ‘You know that’s good of you to listen because that does him good.’ And anyway Lloyd started to walk away and a young chap came tearing after us, ‘I’m terribly sorry,’ he said, ‘I want to shake your hand and say thank you. Thank you for what you did.’ That’s happened several times with the younger generation, which really, you know, makes you feel so good when they say that. When they say, ‘Thank you for what you did for us.’

Lloyd: We felt sad about the way the Vietnam fellows were treated when they came home. We were all very much ashamed. 51


One generation after another

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Sherreie (widow)

I

’m a welfare officer now. I used to go into schools and teach about Vietnam. There were five of us. I talked about the impact of war on the families of the men who came home. When you think about it, there’s been one generation after another that’s gone to war; you had fathers and sons in World War I and World War II, quite close together. Then you had uncles and brothers in Malaya and Korea, then sons in Vietnam. Now you’ve got the sons again in Iraq. One generation after another… The army was a part of my life always. My uncles were in the army and my dad was a POW. He was in Changi. They’d done a mock execution on him and he had a scar right ’round from here to here. He’d lost all the marrow in his legs and one was shorter than the other. He spent a year in hospital when he returned; he just had a lot of terrible injuries. Dad was fifty-two when I was born and he was TPI by the time I was nine. When I was twelve, Mum ran off with another bloke – she was always running off with other blokes. She’d met Dad in about 1948, after the hospital, so I mean, she must have known what he was like. You can’t meet a bloke who’s been through that and think he’s going to be the most perfect man in the world.

He was a beautiful dad, the best dad in the world but a horrible husband. He never raised a hand to me but I saw him raise it to Mum. Every Friday night, there was alcohol and you could tell there was going to be a big fight. You knew it was coming and you made yourself very scarce. After Mum took off, Dad and I went to Sydney to live. He had lots of mates, very good friends and he was President of an RSL Club. If he had welfare cases, or had to do something for the Club, I was always with him. When I was about sixteen, I started volunteering at Concord Hospital. I was in the section with the young boys coming home from Vietnam. I’d read to them and write letters for them. It was the first time I’d come into contact with people taking drugs. They were coming home addicted. Then in 1968 when I was nearly eighteen, I joined the army myself. In those days, you couldn’t turn on the TV without seeing photos of Vietnam and the body bags lined up everywhere. Everyone saw it. They sent it all around the world. I was in town for the first march and this woman, you know, she threw red paint on the boys and she screamed, ‘Murderer, baby killer.’ I was on the sidelines when she did it and I just cried. There was an old lady near me, she’d been an entertainer in the Second World War and she was totally devastated by what she saw. She screamed back and the filth that came out of her mouth was incredible. She was screaming to the woman, ‘How can you do this to our boys?’ And the young woman was screaming back, ‘Baby murderers, baby murderers.’ And we were all stunned. We didn’t know what to do. The tears were just streaming down our faces. I can still remember going out to meet my cousin at the airport. They used to bring them in from Vietnam at midnight. We’re all standing there waiting for them to get off and they diverted the boys to the hangar to get changed into civvy clothes first. It was 53


because they were frightened they’d be belted up: that’s why they made them change. Those boys were straight off the plane, into civvies, onto trains or buses, back home. And they might not have been in uniform but they still stood out; their haircuts gave them away. It was very hard. I mean, in earlier times the soldiers went to war on a ship and they came home on a ship. These boys got on a plane and went straight into war the next day. At the end of it, they got back on a plane and into normal life, in a matter of hours. They never had those months, together on a ship, to come to terms with it. You saw the young soldiers go over there with big smiles on their faces because of the great adventure and then you saw them come home and they were very quiet. I had three mates. They were all married and when they got back, they had a favourite pub they used to go to. And they’d go in there as soon as they got off duty and they’d sit there until it was time to leave. They sat in a corner, the three of them, and they would put their money on the table and nobody went near them ’cause they all knew if they did, these kids would erupt. They weren’t there to hurt anyone but the boys who came back from Vietnam, a lot of them were very opinionated and there was a lot of hate in them because we’d let them down. Terry was nineteen when he went to Vietnam and I only knew him vaguely before he went. We started going out in 1971, a few months after he got back. My son Grant was born that year. His father was another soldier; I was four months pregnant when I found out he was killed. Terry and I were married the next year. I didn’t really know much about him except that when he drank he was the most wonderful, happiest bloke to be around, real happy-go-lucky. I loved being around him. But there was another side. On my twenty-first birthday, we were on a train and I said something Terry didn’t like and then… whack!

I jumped off the train and I rang Dad up and I said, ‘Dad, Terry’s just belted me up; he slapped me, belted me up in the train.’ And Dad came and got me, took me home and said to Terry who was sitting there, Dad said, ‘You get out here, we’re going out.’ I don’t know where they went but Terry came home with a box of chocolates and a big bunch of flowers and apologised. And my father took me aside and said, ‘If he’s done this once, he’ll do it many, many, many times.’ He understood what I would be up against. He said, ‘You’re marrying someone who’s been to war. Are you prepared for this?’ Terry was so different when he was sober: he was hard. You walked around on tip toes. He’d come home from work and run his finger along the top of the chairs, the doorknobs, anywhere. If my linen cupboard was out of synch or my pantry, he’d rave and rave for hours and just wouldn’t let it go. My friends would say, ‘He’s such a control freak. Why don’t you leave him?’ But I didn’t see anything wrong with it. ‘How is he a control freak?’ It was probably ’cause I’d lived with Dad that it didn’t really affect me like it would someone else. At that stage, it was normal to me. My father had needed things to be done in a certain way as well. And in the beginning, Terry was the best father around. It was the moment Grant bucked the system and questioned him that it turned. Grant was about seven, I think. He’d been naughty at his Catholic primary school and the Sister rang up and Terry answered. When Grant come home, he got a flogging and I was… I was just stunned at the violence of it. I couldn’t do anything. I’d never seen this complete violence: it was as though this blackness come over Terry. I was so terrified I couldn’t go to work the next day; I had to stay there. I had to make sure that he couldn’t get his hands on Grant again. But actually that wasn’t the way it went with Terry. After he flogged him, it was all over and done with. We were terrified but to Terry it was finished. My father had died two years before that. He would never have tolerated Grant being hit. He would have got us out of there very

It was very hard. I mean, in earlier times the soldiers went to war on a ship and they came home on a ship. These boys got on a plane and went straight into war the next day. At the end of it, they got back on a plane and into normal life, in a matter of hours. 54


quickly. He used to say to me, ‘Are you alright?’ I’d always tell him that I was. The last time I saw him, he said ‘I want you to do one thing for me and I don’t want you to tell Terry. I want you to put $20 a week away in a bank account that he knows nothing about and if you ever have to leave, you have that money there to leave with.’ And I done it, just as he asked. And about that time when things had started to turn, I did leave. I thought ‘I don’t have to live like this.’ I packed us up and drove to the airport, flew to Sydney and then to Queensland where some friends put us up. But Terry came after us and found where I was hiding. He said, ‘I have a gun in my pocket’, and he threatened to shoot the lot of us. I didn’t even pack. I just got in the car with Grant. And I never heard from those friends again. I would say they were too frightened. And after going through that, I wouldn’t have tried it again either. Never. He isolated us completely from other people. I would go to work and come home and that was it. No phone calls to girlfriends or anyone. His theory was that from the minute he got home, you did nothing but be with him. My friends stopped coming around; he couldn’t tolerate them anyway. I took time off from the army at one stage to go to uni because I wanted to be a welfare worker and obviously, he was very against that. I’d get up every morning and throw up because I knew how much he didn’t want me to do it. But I still went and I did get through it and I did leave the army and I did start my job. I was a wreck though: he made everything so difficult. As the years passed, he wanted me to get a job at home and not go anywhere and it was, ‘You be here, don’t you go there, don’t you do that’. It really was just like a gaol and when I look back I think that’s where Grant’s rebellion has come from. I had a lot of bruises but he’d hit me where people couldn’t see and I used to get very, very sore you know, in that lower part of my body. The thing I still don’t understand is why I didn’t

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You know that they [neighbours] know and you have to face them every day. There’s nothing you can do about it. And you can’t hide it, so you hide within yourself instead. You live two lives.

tell anybody outside. I mean, I was out walking, I had ample opportunity to tell people that I was scared to go home, but I never done it. I never done it. I don’t know if it was because I felt Terry would hurt them or that he would kill Grant. I’m not sure. Neighbours always know a lot but they turn their heads. They don’t look at you. They turn their heads away and they don’t say anything. You know that they know and you have to face them every day. There’s nothing you can do about it. And you can’t hide it, so you hide within yourself instead. You live two lives. You never tell your friends. Sometimes you know, they’ll say, ‘Gee, you look stressed today, what’s the matter?’ And you’ll say, ‘Oh Grant’s just misbehaved again.’ You can always blame the child. Mothers can get away with that. And I was an expert at how to cover up the bruises on my cheekbones and you know, I wore long shirts a lot. We had an army doctor in the camp and he was a pretty switched on bloke and he knew what was going on. There wasn’t only me; there was a couple of other women in the street that were in the same situation. But in my experience, army doctors will not go in to bat for the wife. They don’t want to get involved. I mean, all they done was patch you up and pat you on the head. And once Terry left the army, he never let me see a doctor separately. He always came and the doctors would believe his excuses. Like one day he broke my ribs and I couldn’t breathe and he took me to the doctor and stayed with me and I remember he said, ‘She fell off the horse and she’s broken some ribs.’ Terry could never say sorry. Would never say it. We’d have to make love instead. I used to hate it. I used to hate it. That was the way he got over it and he’d be all right after that, for a while. Until the wall went up again. 56

It’s complicated. It was like this thing came over him. I mean, we had a lot of soft times. He would always hold my hand and whenever he walked past me, he touched me. He could be very giving until the wall went up. He would pull you in and then push you away and then drag you in again. That’s how he got away with it. And people on the outside can never understand what’s it’s like on the inside. They don’t know and they never will know the full story of what happens in a house. It got worse as he got older: the spark of anger for no reason; the shaking. These days I’d say it was post traumatic stress and sometimes I think, if only I’d known then what I know now? I’m not sure that I would have been able to get him help anyway though. You could never really talk about it to him. You couldn’t say, ‘I think we’ve got a problem’, because you knew you’d get your head smashed in. You never, ever said it. As Grant got older, it got more difficult. He was a bit of a terror at school and every time he’d done something wrong, instead of sitting down and talking with him, Terry would break out the fist. And take everything off him. He wasn’t allowed anything and he just had to sit in his room all by himself. He had these expectations of Grant. He would buy him the best of anything, but for Grant to keep it? That was another thing. Like I remember once Terry got him a beautiful skateboard. It was about this big… he had it made for him. Of course we had to have the kneepads, we had to have the elbow pads, we had to have the helmet. And one day Terry saw him without the helmet and so he just smashed the skateboard. He’d paid hundreds of dollars for it and it just took it and smashed it and never bought him another skateboard again. That’s what it was like.


At the end of primary, when he was about twelve I took Grant to a psychiatrist. He couldn’t do the schoolwork so his thing was to be as big a disaster in the classroom as he possibly could. And he was just so easily led. He wanted to please others and he still does, that’s why he’s in so much trouble now. But anyway, I took him to Concord Hospital where they had a special section for kids that have got problems and he spent three months there under the scrutiny of a psychiatrist. The doctors declared him as hyperactive and put him on Ritalin. I personally don’t think they wanted to know the full story. They wanted to know Grant and his problems but not about his family life. One psychiatrist came up with all these theories about Grant that didn’t make sense to me at all. What he saw and what I knew to be true were completely different and the only thing I could put it down to was that Grant was making up stories to make the psychiatrist happy. So I’d say to Grant, ‘Please don’t ever lie to the psychiatrist, he’s there to help you.’ And he’d go to me, ‘Okay Mum, I won’t.’ But I don’t know. The good times for us were when Terry was away because then Grant and I could do what we wanted to do. We had a wonderful time. He was in the Cubs and the Scouts and he was so gorgeous. I had my little piggybank and we would go over to the beach for the day or when the big shows like Jesus Christ Superstar were on, I’d say to some of the army women, ‘Would you like to come to the show?’ When Terry was gone, we had a whale of a time but as soon as he rocked back up, everything stopped. Grant used to say to me, ‘When’s he coming home?’ And I would say, ‘On Sunday.’ And he’d say, ‘Oh okay then, so we’ll have all your good clothes put away and he won’t see them when he comes home, will he Mum?’ And I’d go, ‘That’s right darling.’ Because I had two sets: I had the clothes that I could wear when Grant and I went out, like

jeans and things and the clothes that Terry wanted me to wear. Dresses and skirts. And we’d keep the other things hidden. When Grant was about thirteen, I managed to get him away to boarding school. It was getting pretty nasty at home. He was back-answering Terry and challenging him and Terry couldn’t stand to be challenged. And with Grant away, it was quieter. Terry was happier, he had me to himself. He left the army and went to work for a newspaper and he kept moving us to bigger and bigger houses on bigger and bigger acreage so he didn’t have to talk with people or deal with them. Looking back at myself, I can’t imagine how I did what I did. I ran two businesses while we were married: a cleaning business and a newspaper delivery service. And right at the end, I was CEO of the local fire brigade. It knocks my socks off the things I did in the hours he was away or asleep. At fifteen Grant took himself off Ritalin and applied for the army when he was seventeen. About a month before he went in, he came home when Terry was giving me a punch in the mouth and he grabbed Terry and I thought they were going to kill each other. That was the first time Grant had reacted like that and after it, Terry backed right off and he never touched Grant again. Four months after he went into the army, Grant had a fall during training. He wrecked his knee and he was discharged. Not long after, he was married. He was eighteen, she was fifteen and they had a baby. Then more babies. Three children before he was twenty. He has five kids all together. It was in his twenties that he started using. He was a bouncer at a nightclub and he got really heavy into drugs. I remember it came out in court that the first time he held someone up, he was crying while he did it. It was in his friend’s mother’s video shop and he

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When I first moved here, I went to Legacy House and a lovely man, a Vietnam veteran, welcomed me and he said ‘I think you’d better join Legacy and War Widows, it will give you a leg in to come and join us.’

had a baseball bat and he apologised. He said, ‘I’m sorry. I have to do this for the money.’ I never, ever knew he was on drugs. He never asked me for anything and he was working. He rang me one day and said, ‘I’ve got to go to prison Mum. I’ve got to go to court, will you come?’ I couldn’t understand it. I said, ‘Where are you?’ And he said, ‘I’m in the Perth lock-up.’ I said, ‘What’s a lock-up?’ And he said, ‘It’s a gaol. I’ve done something silly.’ And until I went into court, I didn’t know anything. I’m sitting there listening to them speaking about Grant and I had no idea who they were talking about. It was like I was hearing about somebody I didn’t even know. And I’m thinking, ‘How did he do all this? Why didn’t I know?’ I mean, I saw him every week. He’d ring me up every night. Why didn’t I know? You couldn’t see it. He wore shortsleeved shirts; there were no tracks on him; there was nothing. His skin was beautiful… While Grant was in gaol, Terry died of cancer and I waited a year for Grant to come home before going to Sydney to make a new start for us. He got out and I went over to find us a place and while I was away something happened. There was a fight and someone died and now he’s in gaol again for a very long time. If you met Grant, you would love him. He’s warm and caring but he’s got this black side. Like me. Both of us need anger management. I didn’t know I needed it but I can get so angry. Anyone will tell you that. When Grant was about two, I started to keep a journal and just before Terry died, I read it. Then I ripped it up. It was such a damaging look at our whole life and it was terrifying because I thought, ‘How could two adult people do this to a family?’ The whole situation was destructive from the time we teed up until the end. It was so sick. Even on his deathbed Terry was telling

me how I’d fail without him. I couldn’t understand why I’d lived with it for thirty-seven years. Why did I do that? It felt like it wasn’t even me I was reading about. It was this other woman and her husband and her child and I was thinking, ‘I feel so sorry for those people.’ But here I am now, in this lovely house on the other side of Australia and I am happy. When I first moved here, I went to Legacy House and a lovely man, a Vietnam veteran, welcomed me and he said ‘I think you’d better join Legacy and War Widows, it will give you a leg in to come and join us.’ And then I joined the Women’s Auxiliary and now I do the welfare work and I’m Assistant Secretary down at the VVAA [Vietnam Veterans Association of Australia] cottage. It’s fun with all of us: they’re my type of people and I know where I am with them. And we understand each other. We can do for each other what the lady next door can’t… Sometimes I get a little frightened of what I’ve achieved. I’ve designed this new home for myself the way I want. I sold everything, moved here and now I’m trying to get Grant moved to a prison in this State. If I get him here, Vietnam veterans will go in and do the counselling; we’re just waiting to see. A little while back I was up the back of a Sons and Daughters of Vietnam Veterans meeting and I heard this young man speak and it was the first real story I’ve heard from a child of a veteran. I felt I was hearing Grant through him and there were so many tears. After that, I rang Grant and I told him about what this boy had talked about and he said, ‘I’ve been telling you that for years now.’ And I said, ‘ I understand now but I didn’t hear.’ And he said, ‘I know you didn’t hear Mum.’ And of course, I cried again and he said, ‘Don’t cry Mum, it’s all over now.’ And I said, ‘It’s not over…’

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Grant (son) I’ve always loved my mum but I never called her that. I always called her ‘dearest’. She’s a grouse mum. You couldn’t ask for a better one.

I’d make up excuses like that I did it playing footy. As a young kid, I was very withdrawn but as things got worse, when it went from the belt to him actually punching me, that’s when I started to become pretty violent and I was forever getting kicked out of school for fighting.

I didn’t know and I still don’t know the full story. I know there are a lot of things that have happened that my mum won’t ever tell me. When I was younger I couldn’t understand why she stayed with him and I was pretty angry with her for a while ’cause I said to her a few times, I said, ‘Mum, let’s leave. Let’s get away.’ And she packed and was ready to go and then decided not to and then we stayed and everything would be good for another couple of weeks and then bang… it’d all start up again. Mum sent me away to boarding school when I was thirteen. I didn’t know why at first but over the years, I sort of figured it out. It was just pretty much to save my arse.

I’ve got a huge anger problem. I grew up thinking violence was okay but I’m starting to realise now that it’s probably not the best way to deal with something. Mum has always been very supportive and never turned her back on me for anything, even though I’ve done a lot of stupid things. We’ve always been very close. When Terry was away, we were inseparable; in fact, I think that the way Mum and I were together made Terry feel left out. Mum and I had such a great bond that he felt like an outsider when he came home. And I think we did make him an outsider. I hated Terry for so long and it wasn’t until he died that I actually started to forgive him. I was about thirty-three then.

There was good and bad times. Mostly when he was away they were good. When he was home it wasn’t always good. He was a very intimidating man.

I haven’t really had much of a chance to be a father to my five kids, mostly ’cause I’ve been in prison and my ex-wife took off with them and everything. But when I was there, I was as loving as I could be. And I never hit them and I always sat and played and, you know, got up in the middle of the night.

I think he tried to be a loving dad but he was, I don’t know, just screwed up in the head. After I joined the army myself, I started to understand why he was the way he was. I listened to other people talk and I’d hear things that happened to them in Vietnam and whatnot and it made me think of how it probably affected him. He was very loving when he was drunk but when he was sober he used to lash out at me if I did the slightest little thing wrong. Like if my homework wasn’t done right, if there was an easy question I got wrong, if I was five minutes late coming home. I pretty much kept the beatings to myself. I never thought other people would understand. I’d go to school with a black eye or something and

I have a parole date of 2015 and if I don’t get paroled my release is 2017. I’m studying my Cert III, Cert IV and Diploma in Community Services through TAFE so when I get out I’ll be able to work with not just juvies but with ones older, ones who have been in the same situation as myself. That’s what I really want to do. I think if there’d been some organisation to help wives and kids, it would have made everything a lot easier. I know Mum didn’t have anyone to talk to. We just had each other.

I listened to other people talk and I’d hear things that happened to them in Vietnam and whatnot and it made me think of how it probably affected him. 60


61


A bit naïve

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Phil

I

remember Dad telling me about how, when he was young, he was in the Scouts and he went to the World Jamboree in England. He would talk about catching the boat across and the people he met. It was a bit like a legacy and that was the thing for me, you know? That when you get a bit older and a bit wrinklier and you’re talking to your own kids, you’re telling them your stories. That’s what I think I was heading towards: an experience, a legacy. I was born in Tasmania and we grew up in the Salvation Army. We were sort of restricted in what we did and where we went, so my brother and sister and I never ventured out too much. We used to go camping down to my uncle’s farm on Bruny Island with Mum and Dad and we’d do a lot of volunteer stuff, helping out in old people’s homes, raising money for bits and pieces. I was a twenty-eight-year-old carpenter when I joined the air force and I was probably a bit naïve about how the rest of the world worked. I hadn’t had that rough and tumble of life like a lot of people. And I stood out like a sore thumb. That first year was very hard. I mean, when you first join the air force, in the first ten weeks of basic training you’ve got to do a lot of study and you’re sleep deprived. It all hit home pretty hard and

I did see a psychologist a couple of times. I found a lot of the guys used to say to me, ‘Don’t be so serious’, you know, ‘Loosen up.’ But I’ve been like that ever since I was a kid. Anything I did in life, I took seriously: probably too seriously sometimes. Maybe that’s what sort of brought me unstuck. I’d found with the Church that there was always this hierarchy of people and when I arrived in the air force, the hierarchy was there too. The guys who’d been on deployments were higher in the pecking order than the guys who hadn’t. You played second fiddle to them and so you’d move hell and high water just to get overseas. My first deployment was in Bougainville in 2002 and it was a great experience. A really positive experience. We were there to repair the runway for the peace-monitoring group and we were able to work with the locals on the island. We had no weapons and our uniform was yellow t-shirts so we really stood out. We had our names written in texta on them and the people were very accepting. It was great. Then in 2003, I was deployed to Iraq. My girlfriend didn’t want me to go. I’d met Lisa just before I went to Bougainville. We were on base with a very laid back, social culture and there were always parties and barbecues. One night, I was at the nightclub and Lisa saw me standing there and she grabbed me and dragged me to the dance floor. I love to dance and so I did a bit of the old wriggle and that’s how we started. It was my first serious relationship. We were living together but we spent a lot of time apart: we both did courses and training. I remember Lisa saying it was about eighteen months we were apart in those first two years. When the Iraq deployment came up in 2003, I thought, ‘Here we go...’ I was thinking I should be able to make us some good money, you know? But she didn’t want us to be separated again. We were married a month before I left. 63


In Iraq, we were supporting the air traffic controllers at Baghdad International Airport. The Australian contingent was running the tower. We had plumbers, electricians, medical staff and ground defence all supporting each other as one unit. My job was everything from my normal carpentry duties to doing basic security around the compound. We had a roster of picket duties on the front gate or in the tower and then in-between I focused a fair bit of time making sure the air traffic controllers were okay. I sort of took it on as a goal of mine to make sure they were all right: keeping all their doors secure, making map boards and things so they could work better. I also made timber lamps, which were fitted fluorescents that shone brightly on their maps but wouldn’t shine out to attract attention. The base was about four or five kilometres out of Baghdad so we were basically living with the Iraqis all around us. You were on alert all the time but night-times were the bad times I found, for me. If something’s going to happen, it’s going to happen then. When I look back on it, I didn’t cope very well. I used to walk around the buildings as my own bit of duty, just to try to turn off some lights so the building didn’t stand out so much. Or I’d go through and check if the Iraqis had left something lying around that was a bit suss. We had about thirty Iraqis working in the building every day. I was on a heightened sense of alert the whole time; everybody was. But for me, I’ve always needed to know all the details of something and the pros and cons and I need to know that if something goes wrong I can fix it. So I was always concentrating on the details: what could happen and what couldn’t happen and trying to be ready for it. I was just always on: hyper-vigilant. Everything had to be right. We had satellite phones and we could pretty much ring home as much as we wanted. I’d ring Lisa nearly every day but it didn’t go so good because your communication skills aren’t great when

you’re away and you’re stressed to the max. It’s tense. And there’s a lot of things you can’t say. I’m one of those people who stick to the guidelines and when things are going on, you’re not supposed to be talking about it on the phone. So a bomb might have dropped really close and Lisa would pick up that something was wrong but I wouldn’t talk about it. She knew I was holding back and this made her more stressed. I was in a dangerous part of the world and we’re apart but a lot of the time, I’d be talking about ordinary stuff, like money. And about how we had to pay off all our debts. I had this thing about us getting debt free. I just focused on that and that was where our problems started. She felt like she couldn’t go out and spend money and she was being controlled. That’s what Lisa said I did and I’d have to agree. I mean, you would feel that, wouldn’t you? It was never intentional but I’d get on the phone and I probably sounded like I was just whinging and carrying on. There weren’t a lot of positives coming down the phone to her and in turn, she got negative. She’s got a very robust attitude though and she doesn’t take things lying down so, you know, she’d always give me what-for if I did or said the wrong thing. If there’s stuff in your relationship and you haven’t dealt with it, it doesn’t go away just because you’re thousands of kilometres apart. It still exists whether you’re in Iraq or your lounge room. I think I expected Iraq to be scary but I don’t think I realised how scary it was going to be. We had numerous attacks and rockets would come in from the township. They’d fire off these old military rockets and it was a bit of hit and miss where they’d land. There was a lot of political stuff going on and politicians coming and going and that didn’t always leave you with a good feeling. But I remember one politician came over and he arrived for his tour of the building and he actually came up to all the guys

The base was about four or five kilometres out of Baghdad so we were basically living with the Iraqis all around us. You were on alert all the time but night-times were the bad times I found, for me. If something’s going to happen, it’s going to happen then. 64


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out front and met every one and talked to them and wanted to connect. It was Kevin Rudd. Funny to think about that now... During our time away, the stress got to everyone. Arguments would break out and I remember one time for example, I was bitching about one of the guys and I sat down later and I thought to myself: ‘I’m not that sort of person.’ I mean, I know it was the pressure but I didn’t like the person I was becoming. I’d go down to my workshop of a night-time just to get away. You needed that time by yourself. You’re living it, breathing it. The tension was going through the roof. The one thing I would have liked was some help in understanding the way you feel when you’re overseas and the way you think. If you had that, then when you go home, or even when you’re still away and just on the phone, you could be a little more careful about the way you approach things. The only piece of advice I got was from my warrant officer. We were about to head home and he sat us all down and he said, ‘I’ll give you a bit of a tip guys. When you get back home to Australia don’t just rush straight into telling the family what to do. Just sit back and live life for a while and recognise the hard work that your partner’s doing because if you step back in there and start saying ra-ra-ra, do this, you do that, it’s going to blow up in your face.’ And then he said, ‘You can take it from me!’ Which we thought was pretty funny. But that was the only advice I got. Lisa met me at the airport and I went straight home for a couple of months. I’d filled out the leave forms in Iraq and now I think it was the worst thing I could have done. It probably would have been better if I’d actually gone back into a work environment where there was some structure and stability. When you’re on leave, it all goes out the window. You’re sitting at home and you’re just doing nothing and you end up staying up late and not going to bed and while I never had a problem with alcohol, I know a lot who do.

It was only a few days after I got home that the first shock came. We were driving down the road when a guy just looked across at me and I had this angry outburst like, ‘Have another look mate and I’ll rip your head off.’ Something like that. I’m normally such a passive person and Lisa just went, ‘Holy s**t Phil! What was that?’ She’d already noticed other changes in me. Like I wouldn’t want to go out to the shopping centre where the young hoons were revving up their cars or had their loud stereos going or I might be with people who even looked Arabic. I was getting so anxious in those sorts of situations and so angry in the car. Like I’d go from zero to a hundred real fast. Or I’d shut down and Lisa couldn’t get a word out of me. She’d ask what was wrong and I’d say, ‘Just give me a couple of days and I’ll be right. Just leave me alone.’ But it was hard for her, you know; the way I’d switch on and off as I needed to. I think for her it felt like sometimes I was in the relationship and other times, I’d just be a hunk of meat. There’d be times I was the loving husband she married and then other times I’d just be useless. And I think she felt used. We never got into shouting matches. It was more that one of us would say something that upset the other and then the shutters would go up and you wouldn’t get a word out of her or a word out of me. Or we’d keep prodding and poking each other and antagonising and in the end, it would take days for the mood to change. I was severely depressed. I’d never had that before. Your heart rate picks up, you feel tight in the chest and sweaty. You don’t want to talk to people and sleeping was terrible. I just couldn’t sleep of a night-time, which meant Lisa couldn’t sleep either. I’d have those terrible nightmares and I’d lay in bed and roll around and then I’d get up and then she’d get up to check how I was doing and then next day, she’s tired when she goes to work. And I’m tired. We’re all tired. I did a sleep study course

I’d go down to my workshop of a night-time just to get away. You needed that time by yourself. You’re living it, breathing it. The tension was going through the roof. 67


because when I first got back, we couldn’t understand what was happening and we thought it might have been sleep apnoea like my father has. But no, they said, I didn’t have it. I sit back now and think of how it must have been for Lisa because she would always want to cuddle up in bed. But I had the night sweats and the dreams and I would be pushing her away all the time, you know. I always wanted my little piece of bed just so I could try and get more sleep. And Lisa would sort of roll over and cuddle up a bit more and try to be a little more intimate. And there I was pushing, pushing her away. Twelve months ago, it would never have dawned on me how it had affected Lisa or affected anyone but now I think about it. I’ve got time to sit down and think it through. I got no de-briefing when I came back from Iraq. There was no one that met us at the airport. I could have come home and been a monster and who would have known? There was Lisa waiting for me and there was no one else there for her: to check she’s going to be all right or to say to her, ‘Look, he’s going to be a bit different. Any problems you ring this number. You will get support.’ There was nothing. There was no one. It was Lisa who ended up connecting the dots. None of it had hit home for me: I was just muddling through. She went for counselling first. She was seeing the base psychologist about stress at work. She was trying to deal with me at home and then she was under a bit of pressure in her section. She knew a little bit about depression already and she was explaining to the doctor what was going on for us at home and he coaxed her to get me to come along to her sessions. It was about three or four months after I got back. And that was about the time I started pushing for a de-brief from the Unit. We all met in an auditorium on base and we filled out these questionnaires and they scored you. I can’t remember the questions exactly but they were like: ‘How do you deal with problems? Do you talk about them? Do you feel motivated to get out of bed? Do you stay up all night and watch TV?’ Normally, you bullsh**ed those things but this time, I thought, ‘No, bugger it. I’m going to tell them how I’m feeling.’ I remember handing my sheet up to the sergeant reserves and his lip dropped when he saw the score. I knew I was in a bad way.

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Once I was seeing the psychologist, it wasn’t long before my deployability was reduced and Lisa and I sat down and tried to work out what we were going to do. I think I knew I had to get out of the military at least. Lisa was discharged by then with a knee problem and she just wanted us to make a fresh start. She didn’t want to be a RAAF wife. I discharged and we both decided, with a bit of pushing from me, that we’d get away from our families as far as possible and make a new start. That was the theory anyway. We decided to go to the other side of the country, to Perth. We had no jobs lined up. We just sent all our stuff over and we got a unit organised. I’d had no medication prescribed to me while I was in the military. It wasn’t until I left and I went into the RSL and found who was a good GP. I got referred to a psychiatrist who worked with veterans and then to an ex-army doctor and Lisa was telling him about our problems and he prescribed some anti-depressants. They did help but there were obviously things I had to sit down and deal with and we both went and got some counselling. I finally got work with a big hardware chain in their trade department.And that’s when I started having trouble with customers and dealing with management. I never blew up at any of the customers but it all built up inside and then I’d go home and I’d be ranting about ‘idiots and stupid questions and stupid behaviour’ and all those sorts of things. One thing that really helped me was I had these two people working with me in the timber department who were so supportive. Jimmy, a rough as guts little fella and Shirley, a top lady with a big heart. I explained to them about me having stress problems and they looked after me. I survived there just on twelve months but I think I used up four weeks of sick leave to manage it. Then the time came when the managers wanted me to work on the counter instead of out the back and they tried to force me to do it. But the thing was that I liked it out the back, packing the orders, ’cause it kept me away from the customers and Jimmy and Shirley were there with me. In the end, I just had to leave. I said to Lisa, ‘This is ridiculous. Why don’t we just pack up and go back home where your parents are?’ And she was over the moon. It had been my idea to leave the families in the first place and it had been so hard for her dealing with me without her family to support her. So we just pulled the pin and basically got rid of


everything we owned. I took all my tools and bits and pieces to Cash Converters which was so difficult, but I had to do it because we just couldn’t afford to transport all this stuff all the way back. We were still struggling financially. We’d acquired so many debts from the military life. The military lures you into a false sense of security because you’ve got a pay check coming every week and you can always get cheap rent and you just pick up these bad habits. And Lisa and I, we were buying and selling cars because we were trying to treat ourselves when we were down and we just made things worse. It was the worst time: I had just quit my job and I wasn’t coping and Lisa had to have a major operation before we took off again. It was too much and I knew I just wasn’t going right, so I booked myself into a mental hospital for two weeks and left Lisa at home, you know, all sore from the operation and everything and trying to pack up a house and having complications and going back into hospital herself. And, you know, I’m supposed to be the loving, supportive husband and I’m not there for her: I’m in the nut house. She carried on. As soon as we got back east, Lisa moved hell and high water to get me on the PTSD course, which was the best thing that had happened to me, and we got our own little place and we set ourselves up. The course went for seven weeks and I was the youngest guy there but now most of the courses have guys in their twenties. On one course that Lisa came to with me, we saw a guy and he’d come back from Iraq and he just sat there. He was just a blob on a seat. And if you said something to him, you wouldn’t get much of a reaction. Lisa sat down and talked to his wife and sort of said to her, ‘You know, you need to get him to a PTSD course and some couples counselling.’ You could see the wife was desperate to get her husband back. There’s more and more young guys and girls coming through the courses and a lot of the guys I’ve met who have turned up for things like anger management, turn up in uniform. They’re still serving. The military is a lot more switched on now and they’re actually getting these guys the treatment they need. And what’s good for a lot of the guys is they’re getting medically discharged

The military is a lot more switched on now and they’re actually getting these guys the treatment they need… they’re getting medically discharged and getting the support and the rehabilitation as soon as they leave…

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and getting the support and the rehabilitation as soon as they leave whereas I, I had to chase it.

too. Until recently, I had a beautiful dog called Mojo and I used to sit and talk to her and she’d be there looking up at me, listening.

Well actually Lisa had to chase it because I wasn’t much use. If it hadn’t been for her, I wouldn’t have got medical help even if I had landed in a really bad place. I don’t like to talk about it but I reckon I would have wanted ‘out’. And things would have gone very pear shaped. I got my TPI only a couple of months ago but now I’ve started doing a work trial that’s connected me to a brilliant woman who’s helping me with communication skills and interpreting things and a lot of psychological stuff as well. She teed up a work trial in a local library for a while, eight hours a week, covering books and helping people. And now I’m working with Red Cross. I started with twelve hours a week and I’ve just put in for twenty hours and I’m feeling so great about that.

Lisa and I have been separated nearly two years now. The divorce came through a while back. When we separated, the first thing she gave me was a diary so I could write everything down so I knew where to be and what to do. Because she used to do all that for me. We went to Relationships Australia and mediation to sort out all the nitty gritty bits of who gets what and everything. It was quite quick when we separated. Well, to me it was quite quick but then, considering what Lisa had gone through, she wanted to move on.

The biggest thing for me now is to be a more productive person and work in society again. A lot of the guys are cut off from the rest of the world because of their PTSD: you live and breathe it. I used to be like that too. Now I’m much more out and about and talking to people. It’s still hard work from time to time but I think I’ve got the skills now to adapt to a lot of situations. I don’t have to rush off to a counsellor now if things get a bit stressful. Like when I received a letter from the lawyer a few weeks ago it was like, ‘Oh my God…’, but then I sort of just think ‘slow down, think it through, what’s the game plan?’ I’ve got a game plan now for if I get stressed. I might go to the movies and I’m more aware of what I watch of TV. I don’t watch stuff about Iraq anymore. And I don’t sit at home staring at four walls. I go to VVCS on Fridays and we have a music session for stress disorders and I have a bit of a bash. I’m not real good but I make a noise! And if I get a bit stressed, I’ve learnt to go for a bike ride and I ride until my brain turns off. Pets are a fantastic help

I’ve found that things are slowly coming together. On the relationship side, I haven’t started anything up again yet. That comes with time. It needs a little bit of work yet. But as my doc says, he said, ‘Your next relationship will start with your partner knowing about your PTSD. They’ll know your background and they’ll know what they’re up against.’ I remember at one of the PTSD courses we had a session where we all got a pot and we put it in a hessian bag and we smashed it and then we went back inside and we sat on the floor and they gave us a tube of glue. Some guys turned it into a mosaic on the floor. I sat there and started putting it back together again. If I’d had more time I would have found every piece. There’s the pot up there, see? It was like a metaphor: the pot before was me; no chips or dents, not a crack. Now I’m the pot that’s a bit rough around the edges, a couple of pieces missing but it looks all right. I don’t know whether I’d put water in it just yet though!

The biggest thing for me now is to be a more productive person and work in society again. A lot of the guys are cut off from the rest of the world because of their PTSD: you live and breathe it. 70


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Come a long way

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Simon (son)

T

here really wasn’t a start at all and well, that’s half the problem. It all just happened. One day I was born and I was brought home from hospital and basically after that, it’s the way things were. Dad used to get angry and people used to get upset and that was just our family. We didn’t even really figure out that we had problems until I was sixteen.

Those problems didn’t start to get fixed until I was about eighteen and here I am almost twenty-one and they’re still being worked on quite a bit. Whether I’d be different if I was brought up in another family, I can’t say. Mum always tried to make the whole situation at home peaceful and happy but it was a strict childhood. Dad’s expectations of my brother Chris and myself were exceptionally high. We were always perfectly behaved – exemplary manners and all those sorts of things. We were taught when to speak; we were taught Mr and Mrs always; we were always dressed properly: all that. My teachers would probably say I was a model student: lovely, thoughtful, hardworking. I was choir captain; I got the top award in Cubs and the premier award in Scouts. I was regional champion for public speaking. When I decided to do something, I’d do it exceptionally well. But there were things happening consistently through my childhood and growing up that Mum and Dad didn’t necessarily

know about. I was getting into fights with other kids, I’d snap and things would happen that weren’t good. A lot of it never came out and I became a bit of a compulsive liar. I’d keep things from Dad because it always seemed to be that we had to keep Dad happy and the way I saw it, that meant I had a choice. I could tell the truth and cause trouble. Or I could tell a lie. If I lied, it would be worse when it all came out but until then, it would keep everyone happy and everything would be okay. With Dad, black is black and white is white and never the twain shall meet. You’re either right or wrong; you’re either left or right; you’re either going here or you’re not. You’re never just about to do something; you’re always doing it or you’re not doing it. Dad was already out of the forces before I was born and in a way that was difficult because my brother and I were in the strange situation of being raised in a military household with a father who wasn’t actually in the military. Nobody understood and Chris and myself got very good at putting on a facade so when we went to school the teachers would never guess there was a problem. I think there was one girl once at primary school whose father was in the army but he wasn’t in the army really. Like he might have gone to base every day and done all the hoopla and all that but he wasn’t a vet. He wasn’t anything like my father was. I was always trying to find something to make Dad happy – and I’d do the same with Mum – but it was pointless really. Dad could get really, really angry without it having anything to do with us. He’d get angry whether you’d done things or not. Often it was like he was walking around looking for things to get angry about. There were times, for example, where Chris and I would get into trouble for sitting in our rooms. We weren’t doing anything, we weren’t hurting anyone, we weren’t making any noise but it was the wrong thing to do. In this house, it’s always been very much the case of ‘You’re damned if you do and you’re damned if you don’t.’ 73


A lot of the time it was because Dad hated work or something like that. But rather than tell it to the people he worked with, he’d bottle it all up and come home and let it loose on us. Like he never hit us; he never drank; he never gambled – nothing like that. He just used to get angry. I’d hear that back door slam and it was just… the whole house would shake. And when he’d focus that anger on you, the things that used to get said and the force of it. You’re standing there, it’s right there… I’m not saying that Dad didn’t love us or anything like that but he used to get angry and it was all your fault and what do you do? S**t, I wasn’t brave enough to say, ‘Well, did you ever think that you have a problem?’ We didn’t know that then anyway and it just built up over such a long period that you couldn’t know. So I used to stand there and take it and try not to show any emotion, then go down to my room and cry for half an hour. I don’t know what the feelings were – whether I was scared or whether I was devastated or whether I was angry or I was upset. I don’t know; I never really knew. All I knew was I felt gutted. I wouldn’t let anybody else see. That’s the way we were raised: you don’t cry; you don’t show emotion; you don’t let anybody in; you don’t get close to people because they’ll hurt you if you do. Chris’s survival technique was different. He did wear a lot of Dad’s anger but he could just walk away from it, whereas I’d sit around and sort of put up with it, trying to make it better. Appeasing people constantly. The number of times, there’d be a fight while we were sitting around the kitchen table and Chris would storm off and Mum would storm off and Dad would storm off and I’d sort of be the last one sitting there. Then I’d go around and get people talking to each other again because, Christ knows, they were never going to do it themselves. I felt that I was the caretaker of the family basically; they were my responsibility. 74

At the end of the day though, the issue I had is that nobody was really looking out for me. It was when I was in Grade 10 that it all came down. Things changed. I was failing most of my classes and I used to write poetry: really morbid, terrible stuff. It was Mum who found the poems initially; she was looking through my schoolbooks and she went upstairs and she actually tore out the pages and I tried to tear them up. The poems scared Mum and they scared Dad too. The s**t really hit the fan. I don’t remember a lot of it but a breakdown is probably the most accurate way to describe what happened to me, although I’m not really sure what exactly a breakdown is. I remember I didn’t go to school for two weeks: I was struggling to get out of bed; it was like my whole immune system shut down. I spent two weeks just going to counselling and sleeping basically. For the next three months I was seeing three separate counsellors. There was the school counsellor, one from VVCS and one from the Department of Health and Human Services or whatever. I still don’t really know how to process what happened but it was a big thing and from that point, everything changed. First, Dad started to deal with his problems. I wouldn’t say things became easier around home; in some respects they didn’t but two years ago Dad quit work and he started going to a counsellor every week. Giving up work was really significant. He had been working for a big store with a heap of other guys. Some of them he didn’t like terribly much and some of the customers he didn’t like terribly much and so, yeah, it was a recipe for disaster. So he gave it up and started working on the problems he has as well. And granted he still has his blow ups but they’re nowhere near as bad as they used to be and nowhere near as often.


I don’t remember a lot of it but a breakdown is probably the most accurate way to describe what happened to me, although I’m not really sure what exactly a breakdown is. 75


In fact, if I had snapped sooner maybe things might have changed sooner because the thing is, nobody saw what was happening in our house. As a family, we don’t have a lot of close friends. We don’t have a lot to do with Grandma and Mum’s side of the family and Dad had really nothing to do with his side of the family until quite recently. So there was nobody who could actually see us and say, ‘Well maybe there’s a problem there…’ Once Dad gave up the job and the counselling started, the family was let out of the high pressure situation we were in. I wasn’t having to be constantly worried about what was happening here and I could focus a bit more on my studies. That was the big difference. I finished school and now I’m at uni, half way through a combined law degree. I’m not on a consistent roster with the counselling now: every six months I might go in for a tune up, as it were, just to sort of talk to them and get a few things off my chest. It depends what’s happening. I use the counselling when I know in myself that I’m reaching a point where I want to talk to somebody. It might be that I’m having bigger mood swings with my girlfriend or I know I’m hitting a barrier and I need somebody to vent at and I don’t want to vent at Mum. It’s usually a combination of factors, not just the fact that it’s getting hard at home. When I go to VVCS, we look at the issues and talk about how we can cope with it. They haven’t actually said, you suffer from PTSD for example; it’s more like understanding that this is the way I am and what are the results of growing up in this household.

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My girlfriend went and found out about PTSD and she now understands my mood swings a lot more. And she knows when to tread carefully around me because I can be just as bad as my father in some respects. I go through really destructive phases in our relationship where I just want to ruin it. I wouldn’t call it rage or anger: it’s more disappointment or disillusionment. I get angry but I try not to get angry. I get upset, feel disenfranchised and I think that I’m not good enough. That eats away at me. And a lot of the time I don’t feel heard. It’s been difficult. I’ll always expect the glass to be half empty rather than half full when it comes to people and I tend to look more at what people aren’t going to do rather than what they are – and most of the time it seems to be fairly spot on. But the weird thing is that I do know that I always try my best and as much as I hate to admit it, I’m an inherently good person. I don’t necessarily want to be like that. It’s not that I want to be a bad person but it’s just that I don’t want to be the sort of person that has to feel and put up with people’s emotions and all that sort of crap. I just want to do what I need to do and get on with it. So I can be a very caring person, a very emotional person and I’ll go out of my way to help people – but only when I have to. Most of the time now I tend to cut my losses: I tend to keep an arm’s length. I don’t care, outside this house. I don’t seek people’s approval. And yeah, in some respects I’d like to think of myself as a nasty person just to make life a bit easier. I’ve never used alcohol or illicit drugs as a way to cope and I don’t ever want to be on medication because I’ll lose my edge. I feel that


I’d be losing something, like my ability to make snap judgements and quick reactions. They’re things that I think I’ve got from Dad. A lot of the things he’s taught me are good: being able to hold my own in an argument; being able to talk to people properly; the ability to get something done when no one else can and the way I can really get things organised. I can make decisions where a lot of my friends can’t: they won’t be able to make up their minds and I’ll just go with instinct. I look at an issue and I break it down into black and white, yes or no. That’s all because of Dad and I think they’re valuable things. I would hope that I could raise my children to be a person similar to how my father has raised me. Not necessarily with all the drama and the garbage that’s gone along with it but to raise my kids, my mum and dad’s grandkids, to be honest, respectable, not necessarily reasonable, but people who can stand up for themselves. My relationship with Dad has improved vastly. We do have our moments still but that’s probably always going to happen. There’s a lot more distance in our relationship now and I don’t mean bad distance, I mean physical distance. I’m at uni; I work two or three nights a week; another night I’ll be out with my girlfriend, so even though I’m still living at home, we don’t see each other as much. We’re not in each other’s pockets. I don’t take the crap that I used to and I don’t get angry with him anymore. And Chris and myself, we’re just as good friends as we are brothers. We never sold each other out. It’s only recently that we had a conversation about what happened to him when I fell in that heap. He talked about suddenly feeling he had an older brother who couldn’t cope so he needed to be the big, strong, tough man. That’s when he started to disaasociate more. I never knew that. I thought it was just Chris being Chris. I never knew he was relying on me. He doesn’t think he needs counselling: it’s for girls. He’s Dad’s son. But I think he could use it; he just won’t be told. I look ahead and my only desire is to travel. To get a job and live and work in a city overseas somewhere. And then after ten years or so, I could move back and live here and maybe have a family. The only thing I wouldn’t pass to my kids, that was passed to me, is about emotion. I wouldn’t want them to think that it’s wrong to show it or to let people in, or that people will hurt you if you do. That’s not the way it always has to be.

Dianne (Simon’s mother) I realised just how bad things were when I found that poem of Simon’s. I read it and it was like, ‘Oh my God… how could I have absolutely no idea that this is what is going through his head?’ That’s the first thing you think… How bad a mother am I? It was a suicide poem. It was about his father – Richard – and how Simon could never do anything right so he may as well not be here. It’s hard to remember what happened straight after but I don’t think I felt I could tell Richard at first because I knew it would be terrible for him. I went to talk with our GP, then I spoke with a Brother at the school and between them they suggested I get in touch with VVCS. I met Richard in 1981 when he was still in the navy, a couple of years before he got out. I know now that he’d been in Borneo and the Malaya conflict before he served in Vietnam. He didn’t talk about his experiences at all: just about all I knew was that he was at war at seventeen. Looking back now, I realise that there were signs in the beginning that things weren’t right. Even when we were first going out there was behaviour that wasn’t really normal but I just accepted it, as you do. You don’t know anything really. Once he left the navy, he didn’t have any contact at all with anyone from the services. It finished, full stop, from that day forward. He was in a new job, in a new life and we were busy so I didn’t take too much notice of it. After that things changed gradually. For a long time I thought it was my fault and nothing I ever did was right. And then with the kids, you’re so busy just living that you don’t stop and think, ‘Hang on a minute, there’s something really, really wrong here. Life shouldn’t be like this.’ You’re so busy with sport and school and Cubs. I was on the Parents and Friends Committee and Richard was working and always obsessively involved with any organisation he belonged to. So I think you’re just sort of focused on getting from one day to the next and you get so bogged down in a survival mode that you never actually stop long enough to think, ‘What’s happening to us?’, or how to get help. I look back now at us as a family and the way it was and I think it’s really sad. I know how much Richard loved the boys and how much he wanted to do good for them but it’s like he doesn’t know

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Simon was a huge support to me and if he hadn’t been such a caring person, I don’t know whether I would have survived. I don’t know whether I would have made the distance.

how to have fun, doesn’t know how to relax. One of the last jobs he had in the forces was teaching at the Naval College and when our boys were really young it sometimes seemed like they were being treated as if they were seventeen-year-old cadets. Even when they were children, his expectations were very high. A lot of it I think was fear. His fear of losing the boys or having them hurt themselves is so great that he wants to protect them and be on guard over them all the time. Absolutely all the time. So simple things like riding a bike were never simple. It’s like: ‘Where are they riding? Have you checked their tyres? Are the brakes working? They can’t go down that driveway, it’s too steep.’ And all that sort of stuff. The things that should be fun couldn’t be fun because he was so stressed and it took all the pleasure out of it. I’m not saying there wasn’t ever any fun; there was, but even as two young boys tumbling together and having stupid wrestles on the floor, he couldn’t cope with that. ‘Don’t fight with each other…don’t make noise.’ And so they’d go off and try and do their own thing and then he’d feel left out and isolated and ‘No one loves me, I’m a terrible person.’ And over time, he just gradually got worse and worse. I used to feel like the pig in the middle because I was trying to protect them from what was going on and trying to keep the peace with him at the same time. It was a real balancing act. Sometimes you’d see the way he’d react to something they were doing and you’d know it was just so wrong. And well, sometimes you could say it but sometimes you had to bite your tongue and then just go and talk to them quietly afterwards. A lot of that used to go on rather than confronting it at the time, which would make things even worse than they already were. So it would be just a matter of get that one out of the way and then go down and put your arm around the other ones and say, ‘Look, what you were were doing was not wrong. It’s not you.’ I used to say to the boys,

‘Pull the blind down and don’t let it touch you.’ Other times, after an outburst when Richard would storm out, I used to really fear for his safety. I’d worry that he’d harm himself and never come back but I never wanted the boys to know that. Simon was a huge support to me and if he hadn’t been such a caring person, I don’t know whether I would have survived. I don’t know whether I would have made the distance. He used to come and, you know, put his arm around me: ‘Are you all right, Mum?’ And it was because of him and Chris that I could keep going. When I’d get upset and the situation was too hard, I’d have to pull myself together and try and put the happy face back on so they didn’t see how upset I was. It helps a lot when you have to be strong for them. But sometimes I have thought, maybe I told him too much. I’d talk to Simon because often he was the only one I could talk to and now I sometimes wonder whether that’s why he struggles more than Chris. Because, you know, maybe he was carrying more of a load than he really needed too. When Simon started his counselling, things changed for all of us. Suddenly we had help. Before that, I had no idea, absolutely no idea that there was any support or information whatsoever available. And I find that surprising really. Because I’m not a stupid person: I’m well travelled, fairly well informed. I’ve had a lot of involvement in the community through the Scouts and schools and so on but I had no idea. And I think that’s really sad too. Really, really sad. When I told Richard that VVCS had suggested that maybe he needed to go and see someone himself, surprisingly, he did go fairly quickly. It was just to try and please me at that stage or please everyone, but he went. At first, he would go and sit there because it was still, you know, that there was nothing really wrong with him. But sometimes when he’d come back, he was a little bit better and now he’s been going weekly for a few years 79


and it’s been in the last couple that he has actually started to take stuff on board. I mean, a lot of the time he still has no idea what it is that’s making him crankier and crankier. He just knows something’s annoying him and then all of a sudden it’ll just hit the fan and everyone’s left thinking, ‘Well, what was that? What went wrong?’ But the difference probably is now, with all the counselling and everything, he has learnt to recognise some of the triggers and he knows that quite often these outbursts have nothing to do with what’s just happened but that they could be in relation to something yesterday or a week ago or a month. Or it could be that it’s just that time of year; an anniversary of a traumatic experience. He’s learnt to explain things to people in the family too, and knowing how hard he works at improving has really helped us to accept his problems. For so many years I didn’t know what was going on at all and, you know, the stupid thing is that when Chris was only about three years old, I suffered post traumatic stress as a result of an armed hold-up. I fell in a heap a few months later and saw a psychiatrist and he was able to reassure me that just because I couldn’t see someone’s face behind their sunglasses, I would still be fine. So I knew all about PTSD for myself but I still hadn’t really related that to Richard. I didn’t make the connection that a lot of his behaviour was to do with him needing to know what was happening around him all the time. I just didn’t put it together and it had been happening to him for probably thirty or forty years. It was only when we went to the Couples’ Lifestyle Residential course that it clicked. It was probably about four years ago and even on the morning we were supposed to be going, Richard was like, ‘Oh no, I’m not going.’ And I said, ‘Well, I am.’ And he was like, ‘You’ll be the only single one there, they won’t let you.’ And I said, ‘Well, if they turn

me away I’ll come home again but I’m going anyway because you may not need the help, but I do.’ I think he realised how serious I was then and he did come along and it was just a lifesaver for our family. And I mean a lifesaver. There was a room full of guys feeling the same way he was and women who knew exactly what our lives were like and the funny thing was, I realised that all these things that I’d spent the last ten or fifteen years doing to try and make life better, weren’t really any of the things that mattered anyway. I mean, it was stupid things: like I always tried to keep the house immaculate and the garden immaculate, but I found out that what really annoyed Richard was the fact that I put the mail and whatever on the end of the kitchen bench. He liked to see the kitchen bench tidy. And it didn’t matter to him what the meals were like that I cooked but when he asked what was for tea, I needed to be able to say chops or sausages or vegetables or whatever. And it didn’t even matter if that was what the meal actually was or not, as long as I had an answer about what it was going to be. It was just knowing when one was going to eat and what was planned and that the kitchen bench was tidy. That’s all that mattered. So all these years I’d spent vacuuming and dusting and picking up everything, for nothing. Good to know and better late than never! Because of all the tension, a lot of the fun the boys and I would have, was when their father wasn’t around and one of the things I regret is the times I worked full time. I should never have gone to work full time. I think they probably missed out on a lot of fun because of that. Sometimes I wonder how we got through and why I didn’t leave. It was a big conflict for me because I really felt that if we walked out on him that would be the end of him. But for so much of

But the difference probably is now, with all the counselling and everything, he has learnt to recognise some of the triggers and he knows that quite often these outbursts have nothing to do with what’s just happened… 80


the time, I felt really loved and I knew he wanted the best for us. Life would be so good and we would all be so happy and then for no apparent reason, the mood would change. You just couldn’t understand how someone who loved us all so much could suddenly get so angry. If he had ever laid a hand on any of us, I would have been gone but he never did. I remember at one stage, the boys would probably have been in high school and things had got very bad and I could see that it was all really getting to them and I said to them, ‘Do you want to go? Will we leave?’ And they said no and so we didn’t and now I can look back and think, ‘Well I’m really, really glad I did hang in there.’ A psychologist had been telling Richard for a couple of years that he should not be working and about eighteen months ago, we made the decision that if we were going to survive as a family, Richard had to stop. We couldn’t put up with him working any longer. It was just too stressful. He was losing it at work and it got so bad that he said to our GP, ‘I’m almost scared to go back to work because I got so angry.’ And our GP said, ‘I’ve been waiting five years to hear you say that.’ So we made the decision that he would apply for the pension and if he didn’t get it, it didn’t matter. We’d sell our house and that would have to be it. It was either that or we weren’t going to make it. I was absolutely exhausted by then. I couldn’t have sat here and told this story, I would have been balling my eyes out. I can’t believe that I’m not actually – I guess that shows I’ve come a long way. Healthwise too, it’s better. I went through a terrible period where I had shocking problems with my balance and blood pressure and different things and it was all stress. But now things are much, much better. Simon still does get emotional sometimes but I’m more confident about him now and that he’ll be all right. I’m probably more

Sometimes I wonder how we got through and why I didn’t leave. It was a big conflict for me because I really felt that if we walked out on him that would be the end of him. But for so much of the time, I felt really loved and I knew he wanted the best for us. 81


And when things got too hard, I used to go and sit on the rocks by the sea and I used to look at the waves and think, ‘Give me strength to keep going with this.’

concerned about Chris because whereas Simon would talk about how he felt and how upset he was, Chris wouldn’t. He’s never really talked about it; there’s absolutely no way I’ve ever been able to get him to talk. He says that nothing fazes him and he doesn’t remember any of it anyway. I don’t know whether I can get through to him. He’s his father’s son. He thinks counselling is for sissies. So how can I know that he won’t do something stupid like one day just say, ‘Well, that’s enough for me’, and walk away? Not long ago I found out for the first time that he used to lose it at school. He was always the model student in the classroom but apparently at lunchtime he would get into a lot of trouble. His school reports used to just say: ‘Chris could improve his social skills in the playground.’ Or something like that. But in fact he was getting into terrible fights and had detentions all the time: someone would say something to him and he’d go off the deep end. The teachers never ever told us anything about these angry outbursts. I mean, I was down at school every day and always at Parent and Teacher nights so it’s not like I wasn’t around. I wish they had: if I had known about it, I know it would have shocked me. I’m not sure what I would have done but I would have done 82

something. I would have had a go. And I would have spoken to someone. And who knows what would have changed if these things had come to the surface sooner? It has been good for Chris to go away to college. He’s in a safe, secure environment and he can come home when he wants; he’s got that space to find out who he is. It surprises me that Simon hasn’t moved out. I mean, in some ways I think it would be good for him to do that. I say to him, ‘You need to find out who you are away from here and away from us.’ As a family, we love the beach. When the boys were quite a bit younger we used to go in a caravan – I don’t know how we survived in a van, but we did! And when things got too hard, I used to go and sit on the rocks by the sea and I used to look at the waves and think, ‘Give me strength to keep going with this.’ If only I’d known what we were dealing with sooner. I could have managed things and made life better for everyone. It would have made all the difference.


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Just a girl from the mill

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Mary (wife)

I

  was seventeen when I met Ken. I lived in a little shipbuilding town in Scotland and I was working at the sugar mill. In that town, you just grew up to work in the mills; the boys all went to the shipyards and the girls all went to the mill, and if the teachers saw any spark in you, you’d be a nurse or an accountant.

to Australia with me.’ He was a lovely man, he looked after you. When we married I was in white and I was justified to wear white. So I left my family behind and travelled by ship to Sydney while Ken travelled around the world with his submarine to bring it home. We’d only been here in Australia a few weeks when he came back to the flat with some Military Police; they said he had to report to Concord Hospital. I didn’t know what was happening. I was only eighteen and my Scottish accent was so strong that no one could understand what I was saying. I didn’t know what to do. Everything was strange; I didn’t even understand the money yet. I was given directions to the hospital: ‘You go on that bus and that train and that next train and eventually you’ll get there.’

All the girls, we had our hair in the turbans like you see in the movies. And we’d get on the buses after work and go home and do our hair up lovely and then meet to go out dancing. I met Ken at a pub called The Locker, after Davy Jones’s Locker. He was twenty-one and he’d been on loan to the English navy for two years. He was stationed in the town waiting for a submarine to be built. When he walked me home, we had a pash in the little lane between the houses and he said, ‘I’m going to have to marry you.’ And I laughed because my mother always said ‘Never believe what a sailor tells you. They have a girl in every port.’

The doctor came out and he said, ‘So what do you think has caused Ken’s condition?’ I said, ‘Well I don’t know. I don’t know what’s wrong with him to start with.’ I told him that whatever it was, the navy had obviously caused it so maybe if he wasn’t in the navy, I could look after him and he might be all right. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see Ken walking towards me and I just looked at him; he was a totally different person. And I just cried and cried and cried. The doctor left and I was just left there crying. I said to Ken, ‘I don’t know what’s happening to you.’ He looked like a broken man. He didn’t even look like him.

He was very gorgeous, very gentle and he had a beautiful nature with women. I’d see him only about once a month because he was doing sea trials. One night after the Submarine’s Commissioning Ball, I got home very late. I was the eldest of nine children and my parents were so strict with me. They were waiting up and they said things that they shouldn’t have, terrible things about what they thought I’d been up to with Ken. I got very upset and I ran out of the house to find him. He said, ‘You’re coming back

A few days later, there’s a knock on the door. It’s about seven o’clock at night and it’s Ken and he says, ‘I’m out of the navy, I’m out of the hospital and I’m home.’ He looked like he’d been taking something. He told me, ‘Well, they gave me this little bottle of pills for if I got nervous. And I got very nervous, so I took the lot.’ I said, ‘Oh my God.’ And that’s how it started. He couldn’t cope with noise; he had a stutter and this violent shaking and claustrophobia. At night 85


with his nightmares, he would sweat so much it would go right through to the mattress and Ken would wake up and he’d say, ‘That’s not funny Mary, throwing a bucket of water over me!’ Looking back, he obviously had post traumatic stress disorder. I know that now, but we didn’t know it then. I didn’t know what it was. I thought it must have been something to do with the hospital. I know they had him in a padded cell and I know now that they gave him ECT [electric shock treatment] but Ken couldn’t talk about it; he didn’t tell me anything at all. I thought, ‘Well, I’ll just have to work with what I have.’ I was absolutely devoted to him and he was absolutely devoted to me and that was all we had. We tried to put all those traumas behind us and live in a little cocoon – just me and him. It was hard because we didn’t have any money. He got no discharge papers and no counselling or re-training and it was only years later, when we accessed all his medical records, we found out they’d given him only a ten per cent chance of working in civilian life. So he was obviously very sick but apparently he was ‘too well’ to receive a proper pension. He got a pension called DFRDB [Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Scheme]– it was never enough to live on; never enough for him not to work. I think the most it ever got up to was $150 a fortnight. So he had to work. Our first daughter came along when I was twenty-one. We were so poor I used to take a cup of one-cent coins up to the corner store to get a loaf of bread and a carton of milk, because that’s all we’d be eating that day. And I remember one day going to the bank, because that DFRDB money would go straight to the bank, and we just didn’t have any food. And I remember the girl said, ‘The money’s not here, it hasn’t come in,’ and she looked at me and then she went and spoke quietly to the bank manager. The bank manager comes out and sees me there, and I hear him

say, ‘Just give her the money.’ We were so poor. I know it makes you better people but we were so ridiculously poor. He must have gone for hundreds of interviews. From working down the mines to moving furniture. Jobs never lasted long because once people got to know him, they knew something wasn’t right and when it got to that point, that’s when he knew it was time to leave and get a job somewhere else. He didn’t like his work being scrutinised and he couldn’t stand making mistakes and by that time, he would not have been coping. He’s always been hard on himself. For so many years he’d say, ‘I’m really dumb, I’m really stupid’, yet he was so good at everything. When we had our second child he knew he needed to make better money for us, to make a better life. At that stage he was working for a printing place, helping this fellow do the boilers and this fellow knew Ken was clever, even though he was pretending he wasn’t. He knew Ken was on the submarines and had been an electrician and diver, even though he could never do electrics again because he was too shaky. And he said to Ken, ‘If you spent one hundred hours here with me on this, you could go and do your boiler certificate and you could run big boilers.’ And Ken said, ‘I could do that.’ And so he did. He had to do like tech drawing; these diagrams of the boilers. He knew how they worked and he just had it all in his head. He did that course that was supposed to take three years, in three months and after he got that certificate, he ran the powerhouse at a big food company for twelve years. He was able to do it because he was on his own. He worked by himself and he worked shift work. I worked and then he worked: I would be getting out of bed and he would be getting into bed. It was good for him because he wasn’t there in the house with the children all the time; he was able to get away on his own. He

…but Ken couldn’t talk about it; he didn’t tell me anything at all. I thought, ‘Well, I’ll just have to work with what I have.’ I was absolutely devoted to him and he was absolutely devoted to me and that was all we had. 86


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He was a good dad and a fun dad too and he would always, always say to them ‘I love you’ or ‘I’m proud of you’. But there were those moments when he just didn’t cope.

needed to be isolated. During that time, Ken was really good on the surface. If I had to leave at 5:30 in the morning for my shift, he would make the girls’ lunches and their breakfast, do their hair and get them off to school. Or if they had a recorder recital or their Physical Culture, we’d go as a family because I would just say, ‘You have to do that, we have to go.’ So he would come along to all those things. Our girls were gorgeous little girls and they were never ratty or all over the place. I was a fairly strict mother and I’ve apologised to my girls for that. When I look back, I’m sorry, but they’ve said to me, ‘The way you brought us up didn’t do us any harm; we never did without, ever.’ And they know their father’s really ill. But for many, many years I knew they were angry with me for putting up with it. They grew up in a house where everything was placed exactly where it should be. Like all perfectionists, Ken needed things to be run his way. A lot of the time we’d be walking on eggshells. I mean, you had to be so quiet say, when the news was on and I’d be always trying to contain things, to foresee what could happen or where things were heading. You’re all the time trying to keep to the plan because as soon as you divert from the plan, you know you’re going to suffer the consequences. He was a good dad and a fun dad too and he would always, always say to the girls, ‘I love you’ or ‘I’m proud of you’. But there were those moments when he just didn’t cope. We’d be sitting there having a meal and even though everyone was trying so hard, the atmosphere would suddenly change. The kids had to live up to a standard and they knew how they had to behave. I did the discipline; Ken didn’t do any of it with the girls. He felt that he couldn’t do it because he might not be able to stay in control so he always said it was better that I did it.

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His moods could change out of nowhere. I remember some nights, I’d get the kids in bed and we’d be sitting there just the two of us; I might be having a glass of wine, he might be having a beer and we might be having a really interesting conversation; nice talk about life and stuff. And then he’d go to the toilet and he’d come out and it was like Jekyll and Hyde. He’d come out and he’d be cranky and talking about something completely out of the air that wasn’t even in our conversation. Ken argued a lot. He ranted and raved but I never argued back. Something unbeknownst to me told me how to react for my safety and protection; I somehow knew that to raise my voice would be an attack on him. I had grown up with a physically violent relationship between my parents. My father was an alcoholic and when I grew up I knew I did not want to be a part of that. And so if that means me not saying anything until he has run out of words, if that keeps us safe then it’s the best way to go. He would be angry at the whole world and he would be yelling. It would feel like he was the headmaster of the school giving you a lecture and you’d feel so small. I mean, he’s dreadfully sorry after the fact but I know now that that was emotional abuse. It’s definitely emotional abuse and it’s every bit as painful as being hit. Ken never hit me. I never felt frightened. And he never swore; that was something I always appreciated. It was part of all those nice things about the Ken I knew. But it’s been a struggle, a real struggle and probably the worst part of it is the loneliness. I mean, we met some lovely people but Ken was such an isolated person. Shift work was great for him because it was always an excuse not to go out to parties or go to someone’s house. And you didn’t want to tell people that ‘Ken’s a bit strange’, you know. Or what life was like for us because no one would understand. People just say, ‘Well, why are you still with


him? Why don’t you leave him?’ And that’s what you don’t want to hear. Our life was a secret really. I had no one to tell my secrets to. I couldn’t say how I was feeling. Not even to Ken. I cried a lot but I couldn’t cry to Ken. And we’ve talked about that. He said that he couldn’t cope with my sadness because he has his own sadness. He said, ‘You’re going to have to go and talk to somebody else because I can’t cope with it.’ And I think that’s so sad because none of your feelings or emotions are taken into consideration. I know myself that I’ve been affected and sometimes I have to have quite a few glasses of wine. It’s my only saving grace. I couldn’t even be sick because he was sick. He was the one who needed all the attention so if I had a migraine headache, I couldn’t tell him because he’d be devastated and emotionally distraught, not knowing what to do. It’s like, ‘Oh my God, here is my rock falling. What will happen to me?’ He’d fall to pieces, so it was pointless me being sick. I know I have actually become his mother in a sense and his counsellor. Even today he’ll say, ‘I wish you’d been my mother.’ He’s thinking about the little caring things you do for your kids; the things I did for mine. We had no support from family, absolutely none. I didn’t share what was happening here with my family because I didn’t think they’d understand. They understand now. They love and respect Ken and they really know he’s not well. Ken’s own parents, they weren’t loving people. His father was an officer in the navy. He was a true officer and Ken’s stepmother was the true officer’s wife:

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you know, the mink stoles and the diamonds and the officers to dinner and the cocktail parties. So his father couldn’t accept this abject failure of a son who was put out of the navy with a mental illness. No, he didn’t want any of his people knowing that. Only now, after thirty years are they coming to terms with it, thinking, ‘Well, maybe there is something wrong with him.’ And they’re grateful to me for staying and sticking by him. But I say, ‘Well, why wouldn’t I be here? That’s the person I love more than anyone in the world.’ During all this time, we had our ways of coping. We had our three daughters and things were going okay. Ken was happy at work. He knew every nook and cranny of that boiler house and everybody knew he knew his job. When the talk started about a re-structuring, it made him unsettled. They offered him either another position or a redundancy and we’d always spoken about moving up north and so we left Sydney for Queensland. We thought it would be cheaper too. We were still renting of course and even though I was working two jobs, we never seemed to have any money. We took our youngest girl and put her straight into high school and we started to look for jobs but we couldn’t get any work anywhere; there just wasn’t the work. We had to draw on our super and that’s when his depression started to set in. Ken decided he’d have to go away and look for work. So he got in the car and started driving; he was looking for anything, he would do anything. But he couldn’t find it and he’d ring me at three in the morning and he’d be crying and I’d say, ‘Just get in the car, just come home, come home.’


After that, he was crying every day and I got a job in a chicken shop outside of Coles and it was damn hard work but at least I was working, I was doing something. And I said to Ken, ‘You can look after me: you can clean the house and do the cooking.’ And he did, but the post traumatic stress disorder was really kicking in by then and I knew there was something really seriously wrong. He started seeing a wonderful GP who he still sees now and who has a real connection with Ken and an empathy with him. He tried with medication to keep Ken at a level that we could cope with and he listened to Ken. We never thought we could afford a psychiatrist. Ken talked about suicide every day and I never knew what I was coming home to. One day he’d be good and the next day he’d be bad and poor Trisha, I’d say to her, ‘If you get home from school and your dad’s killed himself, it’s not your fault. It’s where he wants to be and there’s nothing you could have done about it.’ I was able to get a better job by then, in a department store. I’d been there for about two years and Ken was getting worse when one day, out of the blue, I got this big envelope in the mail and it was from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. It was a survey for Vietnam veterans and their families. I said to Ken, ‘You didn’t tell me you were in Vietnam.’ And he said, ‘No, that’s ridiculous tear it up, throw it out, that’s rubbish, I wasn’t there.’ But he had been. He was on the Vietnam Roll. He was up in Vietnam at seventeen-and-a-half just after he joined the navy. We’d been

married thirty-four years and after all we’d been through, I never even knew. I didn’t throw that letter out. I decided to just put it away because I knew one night something would happen on the TV and he’d get on his soapbox and when he did I’d give him the form and I’d say, ‘Fill it out for me: let the government know just how angry you are.’ And that’s exactly what happened. I sent it away and then I got a phone call. Somebody who’d opened that letter up, knew Ken needed help and they’d contacted Peter who is a Vietnam veteran and he rings and says, ‘Mary, I believe your husband’s not very well. I’d like to come around and visit.’ And I said, ‘Pete that would be wonderful because he is a mess and I didn’t know what to do.’ I asked him if I should have the day off work and he said he’d call me if he needed me. He arrived at ten o’clock at our place and I got a phone call about ten-thirty at work: ‘You’re going to have to come home. He can’t even get the words out, he’s just sobbing so hard.’ And when I got home Pete told me he was trying to get Ken into the hospital because he really wasn’t well. And I said, ‘But what happened? What did you say to him?’ And he said, ‘I didn’t say anything; I got here, he opened the door and I said, “Welcome home mate.” I put my arms around him and he hasn’t stop crying since.’ Pete got him in to see a psychologist first and only a few days later he was in the hospital. By that point, he was so sick and the stutter was so bad he couldn’t speak. His whole body was shaking; he was walking like this little old man all hunched up and couldn’t hold a cup. Ken was in hospital for five months; that’s how sick he was. He got a wonderful psychiatrist who said he knew immediately that

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this was a classic case of post traumatic stress disorder. ‘If I was teaching someone about PTSD, Ken would be my subject.’ It was all such a relief to me. It was a burden taken off, just that peace of mind that he was being looked after by somebody else. I felt I was able to breathe. I didn’t have to worry all the time about how he was feeling. Or be thinking, is he going to eat today? Because there’s lots of days when he just won’t eat. So yes, for the first time I didn’t even have to think about that. I could go out and not worry when I had to be home and I could make as much noise as I wanted in the house – even though that’s not much because I’m so used to being quiet anyway. When he was in hospital, we started work on getting him his TPI and that’s huge. Pete put us in touch with Harry who was ex-navy and he was going to help us with our case. He helped Ken talk about his trauma without taking him back there. He and I went to the Board when Ken was still in hospital, and Harry did all the talking but at the end they asked me, ‘Well, how do you feel about this?’ And I said, ‘Well I just feel very sad. My husband’s in hospital; he’s been in there for five months. I don’t know if he’ll ever get out, that’s how sick he is and it’s just so sad he’s had to wait all this time to get help.’ That’s all I said and without raising my voice, and they said to me, ‘Well we hope everything goes well for you’ – and that was all. You had to wait six weeks for the results and I remember Harry running into my work: ‘We’ve got it, we’ve got it,’ and I thought that at last Ken had the acknowledgment that he needed. He was still in hospital when I wrote away for his medals. They came in a brown paper bag and I thought, ‘How do you give a hero his medals in a paper bag?’ So I rang Harry and I asked him if he could present them. And he said, ‘No, I couldn’t do that.’ And I said, ‘Have you got other plans for today?’ And he said, ‘No… I’d just be crying like an idiot.’ So I said that we’d all be crying and we agreed to meet later. I rang Shelley, the head nurse – the

nurses are like family to me now, I know every one of them – and she organised this big room for us and about fifteen Vietnam vets who were in the hospital at the time, and they all sat around in a big, big circle. And Ken came in, thinking it was just a normal meeting and Shelley announced it was for him and she had the letter from the Governor-General thanking Ken for his service and da de da de da. We’re all crying and Ken’s crying. He went around and every veteran gave him a hug and welcomed him home and it was just wonderful. I’m a very healthy person normally but about this time I got very sick. Terrible pain in my back and the doctor said it was shingles. He says, ‘Are you suffering stress at the moment?’ And I just laughed and said, ‘Well, you could say that!’ And that’s when I decided I’d done enough. I went straight to the store and said that I wanted to leave that day. They were shocked. They had no idea that I’d been going through this. I hadn’t told anyone what I was living with. ‘But what’s happened? Why?’ I told them all about Ken and the suicide attempts and the hospitals and about him being a veteran and they couldn’t believe it. They were really supportive when they understood and the boss came down and said, ‘Mary, you are a valued person to this company, your job is open any time, any hours you want.’ But I said I wouldn’t be back. Now that Ken had been acknowledged for what he did, now he’s been gratified, now it’s time to look after me. We’d heard that the Vietnam veterans here were going to have a drop-in centre and the wives could come in too. I didn’t know anybody. There was five ladies in the beginning and one of these ladies said that we should organise some sort of a meeting with Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service and try and have something just for the wives. And so they’d organised for one of the counsellors to facilitate a meeting for the wives. There’d been nothing before that and when we got there, there

…one day out of the blue I got this big envelope in the mail and it was from the Department of Veterans’ Affairs… I said to Ken, ‘You didn’t tell me you were in Vietnam.’ And he said, ‘No, that’s ridiculous tear it up, throw it out…’ 92


must have been forty ladies in this tiny lounge room. And we’re all crying and we’re not knowing why we’re crying but we are. And so we went around the circle introducing ourselves one at a time. I was first. I just got up and said, ‘I’m here because I’m lonely. I don’t know anyone that’s going through what I’m going through and I just want to meet veterans’ wives who understand.’ And then I sat down and the person next to me was crying, she couldn’t even say her name. And it went around to the next woman who couldn’t even stand up, ‘You’ll have to come back to me.’ And it went on and on. And we were all saying exactly the same thing: we’re lonely. The facilitator said we should make up our own group; decide what we wanted out of it. None of us wanted to have a president or anyone organising it. We did not want to be making sandwiches for the men. This was a group to look after us. We came up with the name POSH which was ‘Partners Offering Support and Hope’. The men reckon it stands for Partners of Super Heroes. Or on bad days, Partners of S**t Heads! We got VVCS on board to access speakers and courses for us. The first thing we did was to go to a Lifestyle Program. It’s for couples, usually about twenty couples and you go away for a week’s residential program and it’s everything to do with PTSD. It’s diet, it’s exercise, it’s chemists talking on medication, GPs on alcohol and drug abuse and you’ll have psychiatrists talk about how families are and it’s a whole week-intense course. I tell everyone that it’s the one thing you must do. You hear stories and you think, ‘That’s me!’ Because they’re all the same. You’re all living the same; some behaviour might be a little bit different here or there, but basically you’re all going through the same stuff. Understanding my co-dependency was huge for me. I started off by saying, ‘I’m not co-dependent. I’m not co-dependent.’ But soon I was going, ‘I’m soooo co-dependent!’ I realised I was always watching what I said and thinking, ‘Is he going to agree with that?’ It was all about keeping the peace. I’ve learnt so many wonderful, wonderful lessons through our POSH group. One big one was not to take things personally. So if Ken’s pouting around the corner somewhere I don’t think, ‘Did I say something? Was it me?’ Now I don’t even go there. I used to think maybe I shouldn’t be out so much. I’m always busy and I’m always out, but that’s because I have to be out. Because Ken’s always at home and he never goes out. You know, I love Ken to death and I can understand where he is at; that he’s depressed 93


and needs to stay away from people, but I can’t do that. I can’t just sit there with him sitting there and then he gets up and has a cigarette and comes back and has a coffee and sits and sits. I’d go mad going mad – I have to get out! So my personal space is out there and that makes me sad sometimes because I’d like some personal space at home. Even when Ken goes to the shop to get some milk I go, ‘Ahhh, personal space!’ And then the dogs are barking and he’s home. But I can cope with all that now; I really can cope with that. And Ken realises that when he gets angry, I won’t sit and take it anymore. Once I would have sat in front of his face and taken it. Now I just go, ‘Talk to the hand’. And I just pick up the dogs and the car keys and I’m out the door. It completely stops the whole situation, pulls him back in and he knows he’s gone too far. It happened the other night: he actually walked to hospital. He rang the psychiatrist and said, ‘I am out of control, Mary has left with the dogs and I need to be in hospital.’ Which is amazing because he hates the hospital. He hates it but he needs to go. There are signs when he’s getting very, very sick. The first thing he’ll do is shave his head. That’s him preparing to go to hospital. Now he doesn’t tell anybody that, but that’s what it is. He won’t eat for three days, and he’ll shave his head and he’ll speak more about suicide. Normally I go with Ken to all his psychiatry visits so the doctor can ask, ‘So what’s he really been like this week?’ But when Ken is really not travelling well, he won’t take me on those visits. So I ring the doctor’s mobile number and before he gets to the appointment, I can say, ‘Well, he’s not travelling too well…’

My overview on my life is: it was tragic to start off with but I’m at a place now where I’m educated, I know how to cope with myself and I have dear friends. I never had any friends and now I’ve got lots. I can call them at any time or go to the support group. Some days I just say, ‘Don’t even talk to me today, I just need to cry.’ Any one of us might be like that. Twice a year we go on a retreat and when I do, my daughters look out for Ken. They’ll say, ‘Dad, what have you eaten, what are you up to? Mum will be very disappointed if you get drunk all the time.’ They’re fantastic with him and he listens to them. They know him as a lovely man. Sometimes they still get angry with him and he can still sulk or get offended by something they never intended. And then I will find myself with him again, after they’ve gone, explaining everyone to him and what was really meant. So this journey is taking a long time for us but there’s light at the end of the tunnel. Our life is much better and he is getting better slowly. We went to Europe on a cruise. Who would have thought the man around the side of the garage who says, ‘You go, I’m not going, you go…’ would travel through Europe, go to Barcelona, travel on the cable car up the Pyrenees Mountains to the Montserrat Monastery and ohhh… Venice? He was so romantic the whole time and my daughter said, ‘I’ve never seen this side of Dad, never known him like this.’ I wish I could have got the help sooner. I wish I’d known sooner; I wish there’d been the information. But there’s definitely hope for us. As we say at POSH, we don’t make sandwiches for the men. We don’t make sandwiches for ourselves. These days, we order in!

Our life is much better and he is getting better slowly. We went to Europe on a cruise… He was so romantic the whole time and my daughter said, ‘I’ve never seen this side of Dad, never known him like this.’

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T h e Nat i o n a l V e t e r a n S ’ M e n ta l H e a lt h a n d Wellbeing Forum

The Forum is the main voice for the veteran community to advise the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs on mental health issues. Forum members also educate and inform the veteran community about what the Department of Veterans’ Affairs [DVA] is doing around mental health. The members of the Forum are appointed by the Minister, with all major ex-service organisations represented. Forum members collaborate on mental health issues allowing for improved monitoring and development of mental health services for the veteran community by DVA. Austr alian Gener al Pr actice Net work

The Australian General Practice Network [AGPN] represents 111 local organisations (Divisions) as well as eight state-based entities across Australia. More than 90 per cent of GPs and an increasing number of practice nurses and allied health professionals are members of their local Division. In association with our wide network of committed GPs, AGPN is delivering local health solutions through general practice. We support GPs and allied health professionals to provide quality care to people with mental health and substance use issues. Your GP can provide you with a comfortable and confidential setting to discuss your drug and mental health questions and help you and your family manage mental health issues through medical and/or psychological approaches. Your GP can work with you to help keep you physically and mentally healthy. GPs are experts in treating complex problems including mental health and substance use. They are able to provide advice, assistance to help you stay well and offer treatment or referral when you are unwell.

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C on tac t s V VCS – Veter ans and V e t e r a n s Fa m i l i e s Counselling Service

beyond the call stories from veterans and their families Moya Sayer- Jones

At times when veterans or their family members feel vulnerable or at risk it is important to know that there is a person to speak with. If you cannot speak with a friend or family members then you could consider the VVCS – Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service. VVCS provides counselling and support to all Australian veterans, peacekeepers, their family members and eligible ADF personnel. This service is free, confidential and provided by professionally qualified psychologists and social workers. VVCS has 15 centres across Australia and operates an after hours telephone counselling support and crisis assistance service, Veterans Line. To contact VVCS during business hours or Veterans Line after hours (7 days a week) call 1800 011 046 (free local call, calls from mobile and pay phones may incur charges). For more information about VVCS services and programs go to www.dva.gov.au/health/vvcs

“…but Ken couldn’t talk about it, he didn’t tell me anything at all. I thought, ‘Well, I’ll just have to work with what I have.’ I was absolutely devoted to him and he was absolutely devoted to me and that was all we had.”

D e pa r t m e n t o f V e t e r a n s ’ Affa i r s For copies of the book or information for veterans, providers and carers on: > understanding mental health; > managing mental health; > online tools; > resources for health providers; or > contacts and events; go to www.at-ease.dva.gov.au Your local Gener al P r a c t i t i o n e r ( GP ) Your GP is well placed to provide confidential, all round health care, including support for you and your family when you need help with mental health or substance use. GPs can also provide referral to specialists in these areas of health care.

“…your friends are now the friends who were with you when you were away. And your family have got no idea what’s going on for you anyway. You’re back, so they think you’re okay.”


Tear off and use as a bookmark or pass on to someone who may find this information helpful.

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V VCS – Veter ans and V e t e r a n s Fa m i l i e s Counselling Service

At times when veterans or their family members feel vulnerable or at risk it is important to know that there is a person to speak with. If you cannot speak with a friend or family members then you could consider the VVCS – Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service.

At times when veterans or their family members feel vulnerable or at risk it is important to know that there is a person to speak with. If you cannot speak with a friend or family members then you could consider the VVCS – Veterans and Veterans Families Counselling Service.

VVCS provides counselling and support to all Australian veterans, peacekeepers, their family members and eligible ADF personnel. This service is free, confidential and provided by professionally qualified psychologists and social workers. VVCS has 15 centres across Australia and operates an after hours telephone counselling support and crisis assistance service, Veterans Line.

VVCS provides counselling and support to all Australian veterans, peacekeepers, their family members and eligible ADF personnel. This service is free, confidential and provided by professionally qualified psychologists and social workers. VVCS has 15 centres across Australia and operates an after hours telephone counselling support and crisis assistance service, Veterans Line.

To contact VVCS during business hours or Veterans Line after hours (7 days a week) call 1800 011 046 (free local call, calls from mobile and pay phones may incur charges).

To contact VVCS during business hours or Veterans Line after hours (7 days a week) call 1800 011 046 (free local call, calls from mobile and pay phones may incur charges).

For more information about VVCS services and programs go to www.dva.gov.au/health/vvcs

For more information about VVCS services and programs go to www.dva.gov.au/health/vvcs

D e pa r t m e n t o f V e t e r a n s ’ Affa i r s

D e pa r t m e n t o f V e t e r a n s ’ Affa i r s

For copies of the book or information for veterans, providers and carers on: > understanding mental health; > managing mental health; > online tools; > resources for health providers; or > contacts and events; go to www.at-ease.dva.gov.au

For copies of the book or information for veterans, providers and carers on: > understanding mental health; > managing mental health; > online tools; > resources for health providers; or > contacts and events; go to www.at-ease.dva.gov.au

Your local Gener al P r a c t i t i o n e r ( GP )

Your local Gener al P r a c t i t i o n e r ( GP )

Your GP is well placed to provide confidential, all round health care, including support for you and your family when you need help with mental health or substance use. GPs can also provide referral to specialists in these areas of health care.

Your GP is well placed to provide confidential, all round health care, including support for you and your family when you need help with mental health or substance use. GPs can also provide referral to specialists in these areas of health care.

Moya Sayer- Jones

V VCS – Veter ans and V e t e r a n s Fa m i l i e s Counselling Service

stories from veterans and their families

C on ta c t s

b eyo nd the ca ll

C on ta c t s

beyond the call s to r i e s f rom ve te ra n s a n d th e i r fa m i l i e s

Profile for Only Human Stories

Beyond the Call  

Stories from service veterans and their families

Beyond the Call  

Stories from service veterans and their families

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