Mates supporting mates
DON SPINKS AM
The last two years have been very challenging for all Australians, including the Defence and veteran community. It is important we take the time to be there for those who may need our support. A simple, effective and practical way you can provide support is by regularly checking in with each other. This simple principle of ‘mates supporting mates’ is a great practice that I encourage you to embrace and support each other’s wellbeing.
Ex-service organisations (ESOs) continue to be vital throughout this time, providing much-needed support day in, day out to our veterans and their families.
ESOs began more than a century ago as a safe place for veterans, offering somewhere to gather and keep mateship alive post demobilisation. Although the work of a lot of ESOs has expanded, providing essential advocacy and welfare services, I still believe ESOs are a living, breathing example of mateship and mates supporting mates.
If you or someone you know is struggling, joining such an organisation can be a really good way to reconnect with the veteran community and build support networks.
Earlier this year, and in between COVID lockdowns, I visited the South Coast of New South Wales with Disaster Relief Australia (DRA) to observe their work with bushfire recovery. As its name suggests, DRA provides support to communities that have been impacted by natural disasters. Its volunteers are mainly veterans, but it includes first-responders and other volunteers.
In the Bega Valley area, the 2019–20 fires were devastating, and caused loss of life and widespread damage of property in the region. This included the deaths of four people, large numbers of livestock and wildlife, and the destruction of more than 460 houses and 1,000 or so other structures. Two years on, these communities are still recovering.
The Strike Teams I joined rebuilt fences, removed debris and helped with small civil works. The experience was immensely rewarding and the teams were grateful for the sense of community and mateship it provided them during that difficult year.
The community were also endlessly thankful. Along had come a group of veterans and civilians who gave them a hand and helped fix up their property. It just took some of the pressure off in what was a stressful time already.
This is just one example of the outstanding work that our ESOs do, but it happens every day and often goes unnoticed. Our ESOs and community organisations always have something going on, they are always helping in some way and you don’t have to rebuild fences to get involved.
There are hundreds of such organisations across Australia, all with different focuses and goals. My advice is to shop around until you find one that resonates with you. I’m also a Lions Club member and have found a great sense of mateship through both volunteering to support the community, and simply being involved in recreation activities.
I’d like to finish by thanking our ESOs for the work they do. They make a difference to so many lives in the veteran community. I’d also like to thank veterans for continuing to reach out to their mates and their families throughout these challenging times. Checking in with one another is really important because life can be difficult at times.
I’d encourage everyone to keep this up as the year draws to a close and we enter the festive period. That way we’ll be able to continue supporting each other regardless of the challenges we might encounter in 2022.
Remember you can’t care for others unless you take care of yourself first. If you need to talk but don’t want to disclose your details, please call Safe Zone, which offers an anonymous counselling service for Australian Defence Force personnel, veterans and their families. It’s free and available 24/7 on 1800 142 072. Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling also provides a range of self-help resources and wellbeing tools at www.openarms.gov.au or call 1800 011 046. Help is only a phone call away.
Helping out Disaster Relief Australia on the NSW South Coast in March 2021.