Springbrook community ANZAC Day speech

I want to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet, from the Yugambeh language group, and pay my respects to their elders past, present and emerging. I want to acknowledge as well that some of these traditional custodians of this land have served in conflict with Australian servicemen and women from other cultural backgrounds and the freedoms they all fought for together, helped shape Australia, the nation that I and my family now enjoy. The stories they tell and have told, and the story through life we; you and I and our families; are now writing as we live out that freedom they fought for, is possible because of those who sacrificed their own lives before us.

I also want to acknowledge Ros Bates MP, Member for Mudgeeraba, with whom I work closely, and John Crauford who invited me to speak to you today. John was also instrumental in his advocacy for some small improvements to this park which today we enjoy. I know John cares deeply for the Springbrook community and the legacy of local servicemen and women and I’m honoured to be invited by him to speak. Thanks John.

The last time I spoke on Anzac Day in Springbrook, a few years ago now, I was able to share a story of my own family. Pilot Officer Edward George Wicky of the Royal Australian Air Force, died in 1945 aged 22 after a unfortunate air accident following a successful mission during World War II. He is my grandmothers brother. When I last spoke of him here, I wore his Distinguished Flying Cross, which my family now shares around on Anzac Day to remember him. Today, I’ll join with you and remember him, as well as remember with you members of your families and members of our community who have served and made the ultimate sacrifice in service of their country.

Flight Sergeant Edward George Wicky and Flight Sergeant Oswald Mountford (October 1944). Photo courtesy Australian War Memorial via http://aircrewremembered.com/wicky-edward.html

But today I want to speak of two important things unrelated to my own family history.

The first is why I think Anzac Day in our community is so important. As many of you would be aware, our community shares lots of divided views on lots of issues. Particularly in areas like Springbrook with so many different variables; socially, environmentally and politically; opinions can fly around pretty easily. Some people share their opinions sensitively and some lack that same empathy, meaning that sometimes people withdraw and exclude themselves from valuable community exercises to avoid that conflict. Often, that’s the hardest part about leadership; helping people see how competing views; views that might even seem contrary to each other; can actually be equally important. It’s not that all the opinions all have to result in everyone’s favoured outcome; that’s impossible. Frankly, when you try to please everyone no-one seems to like it that much. But I do wonder how many conflicts in the world might have been avoided by wrestling with those hard conversations where everyone gets to say their piece, and mutual respect for each other is demonstrated. Where we, perhaps surprisingly sometimes, find common ground and are able to linger there a while.

An example of that common ground, where we linger together, is Anzac Day in Springbrook. I love that the community of all ages and all persuasions comes together and remembers. It reminds me of why community is so important. People who might otherwise not share a meal, or stand with each other together; on Anzac Day put aside their differences to join together for a greater cause. This is one of the things that makes our community stronger.

And it leads me to my second point today, which is informed by two friendships I have formed with local men who more recently served in conflicts overseas.

The first is Garth Callender whose book “After the Blast” I am slowly getting through to grasp life in military conflict. As a person who has never served in conflict, I’m fascinated by the mind of a soldier and how they reconcile their obligations against their circumstance and their values. Garth’s book, however, near its conclusion gives a glimpse of the issue I want to share about today;

In April 2014, there were several television reports about a former soldier, Matthew Millhouse, and his fight with younger onset dementia. Matt served with me in Iraq and his illness has been linked to the IED attack in which we were both wounded.

My wounds were obvious and I was treated with surgery and hospitalisation; Matt’s wounds were not obvious, but were much worse and much more sinister Matt has suffered from depression, post-traumatic stress and now dementia.

He only received treatment years later, when his condition became debilitating. His current state is such that he has been admitted to a nursing home because his young family is no longer to look after him. He is 34 years old.

I owe Matt a lot. He helped protect me when I was injured in the streets of Baghdad, when i couldn’t protect myself. He assisted in my evacuation to hospital. He sat by my bed when I was in recovery after surgery.

Like all of the men from my old troop, I was gutted by news of his illness, as well as being quietly concerned that my mind, too, could start to tune out, any day now.

I visited Matt in July 2014. He had trouble walking and speaking clearly. His partner told me that his condition is deteriorating quickly and she notices weekly changes. It appears the bomb blast that I survived in Iraq will kill a soldier, but many years later than anyone expected.” –
After the Blast – An Australian Officer in Iraq and Afghanistan” by Garth Callender (Blank Inc Books, 2015)

The second person is a mate of mine who lives in Tallai with his family, Andy Cullen. He and I are closer than Garth and I, and his book “Resurrected” and the charity he and his wife Zoe have subsequently formed “PTSD: Resurrected” addresses the issue of post-traumatic stress disorder, and its impact on ex-servicemen and women and the additional impact on families. He explores his own experience in this snapshot I’ll read from his book;

As I lay there staring at the ceiling I found myself asking the question: “How did I get here?” A little while ago I wa sin a position of pain, suffering and despair. To end up in hospital at this time in my life was not altogether unexpected as I had been suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and major depression for some time and I had been medicating with alcohol and Valium as well as numerous anti-depressants and anti-pstchotics. In addition to this my family situation was extremely strained to say the least. My wife was losing strength in her will to support me through this difficult time as she was burning out raising four kids on her own and dealing with my mood disorders. My children didn’t know which father was going to greet them from one moment to the next and it was driving a wedge between us, that if not repaired soon, would tear the bond forever.

I had significant anger issues and was abusing alcohol as a self-medicating tool to sleep; not the best drug to consume if you’re already depressed, can’t sleep and on a fist full of pills every day. I did this in a desperate attempt to block the vivid and horrific hallucinations and dreams I would be confronted with each night. These events were a constant reminder of my time spent in Afghanistan. The nightly torment became unbearable over time and wore me down to a state of mental and physical exhaustion. All in all, I was doing my best to simply hang on from day to day.” – “Resurrected: A Story of Hope” by Andrew & Zoe Cullen (Linky Muller, 2016)

Zoe and Andy are doing a sterling job in this space and if you want to find out more, please grab me after todays service and I’ll connect you with them.

The point I wanted to make about these men, and the excerpts I’ve read, is that there is a battle continuing. It isn’t fought with weapons and force, guns and grenades and IEDs. It is fought in the mind and it’s strongest opponent; the weapon with which it is best combatted; is community, informed by the values of the Anzac. You know; mateship and loyalty, compassion and courage under fire… all those values you’ve heard about when men much greater than me have addressed you from this dais on Anzac Days before today.

That concept of community that seems almost surreal at times, and often isn’t what we expect of our government officials or governments, is actually the weapon most powerful to combat that which is destroying our women and men returning from conflict and those impacted as first responders to disasters. Community; with the values of the ANZAC. People rallying around a project or a mission, or getting together to commemorate an event, or even as simple as sharing a meal on regular basis is the most effective weapon to centre a person and bring a reality check to those suffering through mental anguish. That doesn’t mean for everyone that large groups of people meeting together is right sort of community. No; but it does mean that connecting regularly and keeping in touch, offering compassionate opportunity to get together and share challenges together has incredible value men like Garth and Andy recall as most important as they return from war.

My point is this; on Anzac Day in particular Springbrook is a shining light when it comes to community informed by Anzac values and I want to thank you. The broader Gold Coast could even learn a thing or two from Springbrook mountain’s commitment to community on days like today. And like any community we can always do better as well. So, to close, my call to action for you today is this;

As you remember those you love and are grateful for today, on Anzac Day, think of ways tomorrow you can apply that Anzac spirit to the way we build community and demonstrate courage and compassion to our neighbours, in this great city of the Gold Coast. I know if we do, we’ll honour those who have fought for us not just a few days each year, but every day, and our city and community will be the very best it can be for everyone. Lest we forget.

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