Government Whip in the Legislative Council

Liberal Member in the Parliament of South Australia




The Contemporary Veteran

Wednesday 16 May, 2018

I rise today to share with this place a deeply moving speech, by Peter Haran. He is a journalist, author and Vietnam Veteran. Earlier this year, I had the privilege of listening to his address during the ANZAC Day Commemorative Service, on the Memorial Grounds of the Jamie Larcombe Centre, earlier this year. It was the first such service held by the Centre, which specialises in providing mental health care for veterans and first responders suffering Post Traumatic Stress. The staff at the centre carry out vital work and do so to an exceptional level.

As the Premier’s representative, I was honoured to attend and lay a wreath on his behalf. I commend everyone involved in planning and conducting the ceremony. I look forward to seeing it grow from strength to strength in coming years.    

In Peter’s address he speaks about an article by Major Clare O’Neill from the Official Journal of the Vietnam Veterans Federation of Australia. This piece discusses the feeling of disconnect, that the modern veteran has with the stories of past ANZACs and that of her own. These feelings resonated with Peter, as they were similar to the experiences he faced on his return from Vietnam. The address had such a profound impact on all who attended. In particular, his words have left a lasting impression with on me.

He has graciously allowed me to share his address in this place and I thank him for the opportunity. It starts:

The Contemporary Veteran

Last week I read in a veteran's newsletter comments by Major Claire O’Neil, Royal Australian Engineers and Afghanistan War veteran.

On the eve of Anzac Day Claire wrote:
“The word veteran may never sit comfortably with me when pointed in my direction”

She calls herself a contemporary veteran – she struggles to equate with the terms Anzac and veteran because she is a contemporary veteran – that is generally a serviceman and woman who has been involved in conflicts since 9/11. She said she was searching for her identity.

I know how she feels. I am a veteran of the new wars, those post Korea and WWI and WW2. In my 20s and 30s I was contemporary veteran.

20 years after my war I had no identity, I wasn’t comfortable inside my skin. I wasn’t comfortable being called a Vietnam veteran. I certainly wasn’t Anzac.

My first Anzac March I walked along the ranks of old diggers – there were also some WWI Veterans then (Anzacs).

I thought I had little in common with these servicemen and women at the front of the parade. I still don’t.

Now I’m like those old blokes, aged with issues, looking at the modern day returnee. I have little in common.

I don’t know their war, what they did, I am not tech savvy like them. I don’t even know their music.

Major Claire writes she has a blank canvas for her image and the Australian community know little about East Timor, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Solomons and Rwanda anyway.

Back from Vietnam, RSL members rejected us for not being part of a real war.

Today some Vietnam vets ask contemporary vets why they are wearing their medals on the left – relatives should wear them on the right… you’re probably getting the point.

One thing will change all this – the relentless march of time. The old vets are passing on – 50 (march) today I think.

I am no longer at the back of the march but the front.

And I am referred to as a veteran. A War veteran. Not any particular war… today’s generation see me as just a veteran… with my medals on the left hand side.

Contemporary vets are walking the same track. It’ll be the same story. One thing doesn’t change.

And contemporary vets should never forget that my veteran era doesn’t need to know about your battles, your miseries and suffering – and good times.

Because we can all feel those experiences.

We share them without saying a word. Don’t struggle to describe war events. Just lean on me and rest assured I know what you felt and are feeling now. I once felt and still feel just like you… I always will.

Major Claire doesn’t need to sea
rch for or define her identity as a veteran. She already is one.

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