The Symbolic Sleep Out, held on the eve of ANZAC Day at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, is designed to commemorate the centenary of ANZAC Day and give the civilian community an insight into returned veterans’ needs, as well as raising money for services to meet those needs. In the lead up to this year’s sleep out event, we caught up with one of the organisers Laura Prout, Marketing and Communications Manager at Currumbin RSL, and returned veteran Gavin Bellis.
“The hope was for people to really connect with this moment in history and get a glimpse into the sacrifices made on behalf of the freedom we appreciate today,” Laura explains.
Those sacrifices made by soldiers often come at significant personal cost, with many returning veterans requiring differing levels of care once they are home. Gavin highlights one of the major issues.
“The stats speak for themselves,” he states.
“There’s more people that have died through suicide since involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan than lives lost in the actual conflict itself.”
Another major concern for those returning is reintegration into civilian life. The Currumbin RSL’s Veterans’ Support Centre provides advice, counselling and referrals and now houses a part-time clinical psychologist who looks after contemporary veterans.
“When you leave the military, whether that be due to medical discharge or you’ve finished your career, it’s like anything,” says Gavin.
“People lose their sense of identity. To be connected to other veterans – people who can feel welcome and part of a group again, it’s a big thing.”
Gavin was serving in the Solomon Islands when he fell taking a run around an airfield. It wasn’t until he was sent back home that he received a diagnosis of spinocerebellar ataxia, a rare degenerative illness.
The diagnosis meant that Gavin was medically discharged from the army and is now suffering from gradually worsening communication between his brain and spinal cord, a condition which will eventually see him in a wheelchair.
How did he respond? By taking up rowing and going on to represent Australia at the Paralympics, of course. He competed in both the London and Rio games with his rowing partner Kathryn Ross, with whom he also won three gold medals at the World Championships.
Now retired, Gavin is interested in continuing with sport as both a personal and social form of therapy. Through Currumbin RSL and Soldier On he has connected with a group of veterans who surf together.
“It’s another thing for a group of guys – that outlet, that interest. Water therapy is a great thing for anyone,” he says.
“Everyone in the community just wants to have their place – whatever that be. Through the RSL and these services, it gives you back that link, that feeling of community that you had in the military.”
The Symbolic Sleep Out is a family event.
“Currumbin RSL believes strongly in educating our youth,” says Laura.
“There is a more light-hearted side to Sleep Out with a ‘Critters Craft’ area where children can move away from the more formal part of the evening.
“There will also be a wondering wildlife experience occurring throughout the night where guests can get up close and personal with some of the sanctuary’s wildlife.”
Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary and Currumbin RSL work closely together to put on the event and staff volunteer their time. Many of the Club’s suppliers also donate bottles of water, fruit and snacks for the attendees to have when they wake up.
500 tickets are available for the sleep out, where guests will have access to the sanctuary from 12.00pm before experiencing a unique night under the stars, sleeping in swags. When they wake in the morning, will be just a stone’s throw from the Currumbin RSL ANZAC Day Dawn Service at Elephant Rock.
All profits raised from ticket sales and from food sold at the sanctuary cafe will go directly to veterans’ welfare.
Tickets for the event are available at australiaremembers.com.au and include exclusive parking at the Sanctuary and access to a reserved area on the beach for the dawn service at Elephant Rock.
IMAGE (c) Lamp Photography