Page 4123 - Week 11 - Thursday, 21 September 2017
Jeremy’s life is not dissimilar to many such lives here in Canberra. The remarkable thing about him is that, having been through all of this and having seen things that most of us will never want to see in our lives, he has come over into politics and is still serving his community today.
In 2004, just a few weeks after I married my husband, who is an engineer and serves as a major in the Australian Army, he was called to go to Indonesia to assist in humanitarian service in the wake of the Boxing Day tsunami. My dominant memory from that time was having to rush home from the Air Force base they were leaving from to find his textbook from his studies on how to rebuild roads in disaster zones and get together a few pieces of his webbing which were missing—the over-uniform belt that they wear to carry all the accoutrements that a soldier needs on duty—because they left at very short notice.
Today I am a much more robust person, able to handle things much better, but at the time I was just married, I had just moved to Darwin, I was totally alone in the city and I knew no-one. A profound change occurred in me at that time. Bernard was gone to a dangerous place, and while he was clearing up dead bodies from the mud after the tsunami destruction and restoring drinking water to the Indonesian people, I was totally alone. It struck me that because of the timing of the tsunami, there were families like mine all over Darwin who, in many cases, were posting into that city over Christmas without a husband or a dad around to help. Bernard’s unit, being the engineers, is all male. I went to the Army headquarters where he was working from, and I asked for a phone and a list of the families who were posting in. I went through that list, and we rang every woman, every wife, every partner and every girlfriend. We spoke to them and made sure that they were okay.
As Australia Day approached and the guys were still all overseas, we had a barbecue. We had a barbecue on that day because I was very aware that those families would not have their dads on that day. We still did not know how long that deployment would be. I am really proud of what the military does to support the families of Defence Force personnel and what we achieved together on that day. It might seem like a small thing, but when your husband or partner has just disappeared off to a difficult zone, that is the kind of help you need.
In 2008 my husband went to Iraq to serve in the Australian Army headquarters at Baghdad airport for seven long months. I was standing as a first-time candidate at the time, and I have to say I was always grateful to be really busy doing something I loved while he was gone. We had two small children at the time, and the person who kept our whole lives together was my mother-in-law, the wonderful Crystal Austin, who dropped everything to come and stay with us and to help with the little boys while Bernard and I served our communities in different capacities. Every time there was an injury or a death of an Australian soldier, my heart would stop and I would quietly melt down, telling myself that it was okay, holding my breath until the name was released and I would know that it was not him.