Last week we all witnessed the incredible Invictus Games in Sydney which demonstrated above all else the unique strength of military families from around the world.
Over the past few months, DFA embarked on a photographic project to acknowledge and recognise Australian Defence families.
Hopefully you might relate to some of the Defence families who share their stories, because your story is our story too.
Clare, Jamie and their two daughters.
We joined Clare, Jamie and their two daughters out on one of their regular family activities, walking through a local bushland park. Only a few minutes into the trail we passed a man on a bike but on recognising the family he came to a screeching halt. The girls greeted him enthusiastically like an uncle, and everyone was pleased to run into a good family friend.
It was lovely to see the girls giggling in Mum and Dad’s arms, this is the stuff happy memories are made of.
After our walk we had an opportunity to chat with Clare and Jamie who first met through volunteering with the SES in Adelaide. Clare has now served 21 years in the RAAF including on operations overseas.
How do you think Clare being in the ADF has impacted on your family, on you?
Jamie: I think it has made us closer as a family unit because we don’t have our wider family around us.
Clare: I suppose in the absence of family we have had to become self-sufficient.
J: We’re both professionals, so we’ve had to make choices about whose career takes priority at different times over the years. I’ve been relatively fortunate, the hardest was 18 months in a small town where work in my profession was limited – I moved to the city for a while to get work. That worked out pretty well in the long term though, as that company, which I stayed with through two moves, brought in some really family friendly policies. For example, in Clare’s current job she travels quite a bit – the company has allowed me to work part time, or flexible hours, or from home in order to manage our family life while she was away.
And your children?
C: They’re away from extended family. Away from grandparents and cousins, I think that’s a little sad. I know my mum and your (Jamie’s) Mum certainly feel it as they miss seeing them grow…
C: I think the positives are that they make friends quickly and they absorb new kids into what they are playing (to feel included).
C: It makes them very good travellers. Because we travel back and forth to go and see everyone (going to visit extended relatives interstate) whenever possible. I think they have been on more trips on airplanes than most kids their age who aren’t Defence.
C: I think a strength though is we build families where we are. Friends become almost like a family. They have great relationships with adult friends of ours. Our friend you saw on the bike earlier, they love him and his wife.
J: That becomes your extended family
C: The children warm to them quickly. They become great family friends.
There are times when the serving member is absent, or families are new to a location when they can be vulnerable. Do you have any examples where you as a family have been helped out by another Defence family? Or, can you think of a time where you have been able to provide assistance to another Defence family that you might like to share?
C: We moved to Canberra three and a half years ago. We had been in the house for a week and a half when Jamie went on a bike ride early one morning with a group of Defence friends.
It was 7:30 on Sunday morning and I had a phone call saying “You need to find the hospital because Jamie’s had quite a bad bike crash. He came off his bike”
The girls were still fast asleep. I remember standing there in my pyjamas thinking I don’t even know where the hospital is. I don’t know what I’m going to do with the girls. I was just standing there. I thought OK, get in shower, get dressed and then figure the next bit out. When I got out of the shower, wet hair but dressed I was thinking, right I need to find the hospital….
Do you know that the guy on the bike you saw earlier during our walk? Well, he is a RAAF colleague who was out riding with Jamie that day. His wife, was there!
They live not far away. She walked in my backyard, in my back gate and said “I’m here, I’ve got the girls. This is where the hospital is that you need to go to. Another friend will get the bike and pick up the other boys, and you don’t need to worry. It’s all going to be okay. Just go, be as long as you need. I will be here all day.”
We’d only been here a week and a half. But I knew, I knew we could leave my two and a half year old and four year old with her and it didn’t matter what time I would get back because they would be okay.
I remember walking into the hospital. Where Jamie fell was red dirt and I did not know this, so when I arrived at the hospital and saw him lying there in all the spinal stuff it looked like he and the sheet around him was covered from head to toe in dried blood. I was shocked! Thankfully he was okay but it could have easily been not…
Jamie are you okay now?
J: Yes, very fortunately.
Are you allowed to ride the bike anymore?
J: That bike was retired. But I have another one now.
C: But he is only allowed to ride with (those) friends…
C: That’s our biggest rallying point
J: If it happened now, it would have been a completely different response if everything was familiar…
This is the first in a series of stories we will be bringing to our community in the coming weeks.
Thank you to Clare, Jamie and your daughters for participating in this project.
For 24/7 Defence family assistance please contact:
Defence Family Helpine (DCO) 1800 624 608 or DefenceFamilyHelpline@defence.gov.au
Open Arms (formerly VVCS) 1800 011 046
With special thanks to Sean Davey Photographer www.seandavey.com.au