Written by Kerrie Alexander
Dayman Park was a hive of activity on one bright Sunday morning last month with members of the Naval Association of Australia – Fraser Coast Sub Section all coming together for their monthly catch up.
There was lots of laughter and a mass of smiles; you could feel the warm and welcoming atmosphere that all the ex-Navy veterans embrace.
Not to mention the smell of a good old Aussie sausage sizzle to feed the crew.
Their aim is to be a dynamic and contemporary organisation supporting the ex-Navy fraternity in a variety of different ways.
There’s of course a monthly meeting with minutes and agendas but that all gets done and out of way ASAP so they can get on with the fun stuff like sausage sizzles, bus trips and lunch outings.
After having a chat to a few of the members it was very clear that the association has one common thread and that is camaraderie.
It’s about being able to meet and socialise with like-minded ex-Navy men, women, and their partners who “speak the same language”.
Many of the members spent 20, 30 or 40 years in the military; it’s not a job you can just finish, walk away from, and never speak of again said President Danny Meredith.
As it was in service, mateship is at the core of the group’s ethos.
Danny joined the Navy at 15 and stayed in the service for 41 years in various roles including being an underwater weapons specialist, seagoing disciplinarian (Coxswain)and later advanced to Lieutenant Commander, taking on a welfare management role to look after sailors with compassionate and other specific concerns.
For Danny, the fellowship of the association and being able to talk about those days with those who understand it best, is what keeps him at the helm of the group.
The Association will also provide support for the members’ children in the future, with many following in their parents’ footsteps and joining the military.
“A lot of our members are veterans and suffer from some sort of PTSD and for me, this gives me something to be involved in and not sitting around doing nothing,” Danny said.
“While you are in the service you have the comradery by being in the defence force but when you get out, you’re on your own.
“Every one of our era still talks the same language you do. It’s always been a really good group and all these guys have a lot of fun.” Deb Taylor couldn’t agree more.
The 63-year-old was in the Navy for 20 years in intelligence and communications and was proficient at morse code. Her husband also served.
“It’s about keeping in touch. I was in for 20 years, from 17 I left home and joined the Navy, and everybody knows someone, who used to know someone,” Deb said.
“Even if you don’t know the person you are still part of a big family.
“You don’t have to explain yourself to people and you use terminology that only Navy people use, and everyone knows what you’re going on about.
“You can be with a group of civvies (civilians), and they have no idea what you’re talking about.
“You did things that civvies never got to do like parachuting out of an army plane. … normal people don’t understand.”
I was also lucky enough to sit down with Peter McDermott, who was the founder of the group six years ago.
He served in the Navy for 20 years as an Electronics Technician.
However, Peter stepped away from the president’s role to follow his heart and help veterans in need as a Wellbeing Advocate.
He was prepared on the day, handing me an A4 sheet of paper with dot points of just some of the things his volunteer role covers, and the sheet was full.
Peter can invest anywhere from 90 to over 100 hours a month filling out paperwork, visiting veterans in hospital, nursing homes, or in their own homes.
Not just Ex-Navy veterans, any veteran who reaches out.
He liaises with vets to get pension reviews, transport them to medical appointments, look after their dogs, provide minor maintenance to homes, attend funerals, and look after their overall health and wellbeing, just to name a few.
“The important thing is to maintain contact with them, mostly at home and sometimes that’s very time consuming,” Peter said.
“Some of the people I visit might not see anyone else at all if they don’t have any family, and that’s not unusual.
“They really look forward to your visits. Some are just living at home, looking at four walls.
“The reason I became an advocate was to provide company to these people.
“I feel like a chaplain almost and I love to look after my flock.
“It’s a very rewarding role.”
Peter also ensures that widows of veterans get the help they need.
“I had a call from care provider (recently) to ask for help for a widow whose husband passed away three months ago and has had no help at all. It’s important that they know their entitlements.
“People slip through the cracks if their husband has never been one to ask for help.
“The women are very deserving. They have looked after the servicemen and their families all their life and are often the ones that pay the price.”
Peter currently has a trainee under his wing but would love nothing more than for a few young veterans to learn the ropes.
“I have about 30 clients, including widows, so we’re trying to build the advocate network in Hervey Bay, and I think we’re doing a good job of it.
“But I’ve only got about five to 10 years left in me so if we can attract some younger veterans … beauty!”
To find out more about the association you can visit the Naval Association of Australia – Fraser Coast Sub Section Facebook page, email email@example.com, or phone Danny on 0412 523 737.
For welfare, email any questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, or phone Peter on 0409 260 255.