In a bid to raise awareness about veterans suicide, a group of motorcyclists gathered at the Vietnam Veterans Commemorative Walk early in the morning on December 30 before setting off to the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne.
The event was created by a member of Young Veterans, Matt Bull, after he was sitting at home scrolling through on a different Facebook group, and discovered that the non-official figure for veteran suicides that year had hit 83 people.
‘‘I thought, that’s enough, we’ve got to do something about it, we’ve got to get this out into the public’s attention a little more,’’ he said.
‘‘It’s all well and good being inside our little closed ex-service group, but if we don’t get it out into the public’s attention, they aren’t going to be aware of it.’’
Young veterans, Mr Bull explained, includes anyone who served from the Vietnam War onwards, and because of this he said choosing to start the ride to the Shrine from Seymour was quite meaningful.
‘‘For me the significance of Seymour was that the Vietnam War Veterans walk is there, and the fact that Young Veterans, as an organisation, are encompassing from the end of Vietnam war, moving forward — Somalia, Rwanda, Timor, all the UN missions through Bougainville and that region, the Middle East conflict, Border Protection ... we encompass all of that,’’ he said.
‘‘You don’t have to have been to a certain conflict, or anywhere, to be a part of the organisation; it’s just there to allow people with like-minded views and values to get together. So with Seymour we could start at a point of significance — you can link where we start historically as an organisation to where we left from in the ride, and then riding to the Shrine, that’s the most sacred bit of ground in Victoria for veterans.’’
Mr Bull, who served full time for 26 years before joining the Army reserves a couple of years ago, said the issue has touched him personally.
‘‘I know a lot of blokes affected by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) ... and I’ve had my own issues with a little bit of anxiety and everything post-service,’’ he said.
‘‘We found out recently that we’d lost a veteran only three kilometres as the crow flies from where I live in the Dandenong Ranges. No one even knew this young kid was there and that was the tragedy for us — no one could help him.’’
Part of the solution, Mr Bull said, is for those who have served to reach out to each other, as well as their family and friends, when in need.
‘‘We spent our whole time when were overseas talking to each other and keeping each other alive, but when we get back to Australia we sort of forget that, and we stop talking,’’ he said.
‘‘I think some of the blokes are a bit more bravado and don’t talk as much, but that’s just a straight male thing — guys don’t like talking and sharing emotions and feelings, but maybe girls don’t mind having a chat about that sort of stuff. That’s probably where you’ll see statistically a higher rate of male suicide than female suicide.’’
Matt Aldridge, the Seymour local who was on hand to cook up breakfast for the Young Veterans on the morning of ride, said he started up the Coo-Wee Ride Ride, a two-week ride from Barmera, South Australia back to Beechworth, last year to raise money and awareness for veterans’ PTSD and suicide.
‘‘We’ve seen the great work the Young Veterans do ... and we just raise money and donate it to them so they can help the veterans out where they know it needs to go,’’ he said.
The Veterans Suicide Memorial Ride is going to become an annual event in Victoria, with plans to launch it in NSW and Queensland later this year.