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Anthony Freebairn — Tomorrow is always a new day

A man sitting down wearing black pants, a brown John Deere jacket and a green and white baseball cap. There is heavy industrial machinery, including tractors, behind the man.

Anthony Freebairn

A call to service

I joined the Royal Australian Navy as an electrician in 2001. I always wanted to join the Forces from school and the Navy had a position for me ready to go straight out of school so I didn't have to wait. It was good, I thought it was the right decision to make. Once I was in recruit school training they said would you like to be an electrician, so that's what I decided to do, Marine Technician Electrical.

There were plenty of things that I enjoyed about being in the Navy, but probably my favourite memory is enjoying some leave overseas after a long stint at sea working around the clock watch-keeping. It was a bit of a nice reward after working hard for quite a long period and being able to step ashore and have a bit of a look around, which I hadn't done until I joined the Navy.

Transition from the ADF

I had an injury in August 2005 and that rendered me unfit for service. I was riding home and a car in front of me turned down a back street without indicating and I didn't have time to stop. So I hit the brakes and skidded into him and then went over the car and hit a light pole and that is what severed my spinal cord. I knew at that instant that I had big problems. I wasn't discharged immediately, and was able to continue serving for about another 18 months where I was allowed to work in recruiting and stay a part of the Forces, but inevitably I had to be discharged because I was no longer fit for service. That's the rules, and that's what I had to do.

My rehabilitation journey

I was still enrolled in the Navy when I went through the majority of my rehabilitation. So post-discharge I haven't really done much physical rehabilitation but I did do a lot of workplace rehabilitation. Prior to being discharged, I worked at recruiting for about nine months and in that time I had set up a path that I wanted to go down and training was my goal. So after discharge, I had training identified for me and I just transitioned into that quite quickly.

DVA organised the training through a third party. I had a rehabilitation provider and we were able to sit down and identify future goals for employment. We talked about the training involved, then basically the entire feasibility of the whole plan. I was fortunate enough to extend on from what I'd already learned in the Forces and I built on that knowledge and from that I was lucky enough to land a really good job at the Australian Submarine Corporation (ASC).  I did work experience at ASC before I got the job so I was lucky enough to get a bit of a taste for the job before I started.

My rehabilitation provider suggested ideas and some of the ideas that he had for employment didn't take my interest immediately. They were sort of more administrative and clerical roles and I felt like I had more to give. I'm not really sure how he was able to justify my direction but he probably was able to do it by looking at my history and my qualifications. And with that information he was able to create a feasible plan.

To get to know me, my rehabilitation provider would do home visits and we would discuss goals or whatever the other requirements were and then there were times I would go to his office. That was also part of the rehabilitation too, you know, getting out the house and meeting people in their office.

I really wanted to stick with the engineering role and I went back to TAFE to do drafting and that led into mechanical design, so it furthered my knowledge even more. I'd always had an interest in drafting, I didn't do very much of it at school but I did do a bit of basic drafting during my training in the Navy. I had an interest in that area. Having the injury, you think a lot about what you can and can't do, and I just kept going back to that idea about drafting because I enjoyed it. And I thought, anyone can do that sort of thing from a seat.

Since finishing my qualification at TAFE, which took two years full-time, I've been fortunate enough to get full-time work. At present, I work for a John Deere dealership called Emmetts. I do five days a week and I'm the Parts Manager. I enjoy the job, it's good.

Thankfully, DVA was able to fund me a pension and with that I was able to cover my rent and living expenses while I was training. It's worth mentioning that the course itself was covered under the rehabilitation plan. So all I had to do was be there, you know what I mean? I had everything provided for me and I just had to complete it. I feel I got more than enough support. I really do feel like I got a golden handshake. Yep, I was looked after really well.

The importance of having support

Once I left home it wasn't my family's responsibility to look after me any more, but through my injury, they've been great support. I'm sure they've mourned, like I have with the injury, but I try not to let them get exposed to anything that can hurt them. I just want to make them proud.

Since all of this, I have been fortunate enough to find a lovely woman, and only recently we've had a little baby boy named Thomas. And I attribute that to me getting back on the horse, working again and leading a normal lifestyle. Because I felt that if I wasn't at that tempo and I was feeling down and blue and all that sort of thing, then I probably wouldn't have been as fortunate as I have been.  Every day has its ups and downs, but tomorrow is always a new day. I try not to dwell on unfortunate things, but some days you have good days and some days you have bad days. So I be positive as much as I can, and know that it will go on.

I have quite a number of support networks, more than I can remember. There was a group I got involved with called Vietnam Veterans Support Group. They were working out of TPI House down South Terrace in Adelaide. They took me out fishing, it was just good to rub shoulders again with Servicemen because I had lost touch with a lot of fellas and friends and the comradery that goes with that, so those little support networks were really good. I had lots of advocates and they were willing to go in and bat for me if I felt like I wasn't getting a good enough deal through MRCA and DVA. But thankfully I never needed it.

My advice to other veterans

I think they need to bite the bullet, put all the inhibitions in black and white and let your rehabilitation provider know. Choose something that they are interested in. I would say that if they have the possibility to work in an area that they enjoy, it has to be a priority for them. They may have to retrain and that's where it all comes into the feasibility study. I would say just get on with it really.

My dreams for the future

I would hope I'm still employed here, this is my forever place now. The next move I make will be in the ground. I just want to raise my family here on Kangaroo Island. This community is such a tight community. We are sports orientated and in our sports club we've got like a family type community and it's just the best place, I think, to be raising a family. I'm just in a happy place. I'm just happy. I hope to still be happy.

Open Arms — Veterans & Families Counselling (formerly VVCS), is a national mental health service that provides 24-hour free and confidential counselling, group programs, and suicide prevention training for current and ex-serving ADF members, and their family. To get support, or to find out more, call 1800 011 046 or visit Open Arms.

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