The conversation surrounding the mental health of ex-service personnel and first responders was well and truly opened on Saturday night at the ADF and National Service Reunion dinner.
The crowd of 200 current, returned and ex-servicemen and their families packed into the auditorium of Moree Services Club on Saturday night, where they heard the powerful story of guest speakers Major retired Andrew Cullen and his wife Zoe.
Andy, a 17-year army veteran of the Australian Army, was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) following two tours to Afghanistan. Together, he and his wife Zoe, battled through the many challenges that living with PTSD brings and, fought to save their marriage, their family and Andy's life. After coming out the other side as a stronger family unit, the pair co-wrote a book, Resurrection - a raw account of their story; a broken veteran's battle with PTSD and his wife's refusal to give up on a marriage that she had every right to walk away from.
“It resonated with so many people," Moree RSL sub-branch member and reunion coordinator Cr John Tramby said.
“It brought an awareness to them. It’s an injury that you can’t see, can’t feel. Even the person who has got the problem doesn’t understand it. It impacts everyone in the family.
“[Andy and Zoe's book] is also the greatest love story. His wife stuck by him through many occasions when most would have walked away. You need that support, you can’t take it on yourself. Women in the audience went up to Zoe afterwards and gave her a cuddle. They were feeling what she had felt. It went over very well."
It was so well-received in fact, that Andy and Zoe sold out of the four boxes of books they brought with them to sell on the night.
Cr Tramby admitted that when he first read Resurrection, he felt like he was reading his own story.
"I thought he was talking about me, not himself; the reactions from situations are very similar," he said.
He hoped Andy and Zoe's story might also encourage other people to open up about their own mental health issues, even if they've been hidden for years, and start to seek help.
"It brought home a few home truths," Cr Tramby said.
Following the success of their book, Andy and Zoe established a charity, PTSD Resurrected, which aims to help veterans and first responders, as well as their families, heal from PTSD and depression.
Cr Tramby said it was surprising to hear that among their clientele are Korean and Vietnam war veterans who have been fighting demons for up to 60/70 years.
"What is very sad is that in Afghanistan, 42 Australians lost their lives, but over 300 have taken their own lives since and it’s still happening," he said.
"In Afghanistan they’ve counted, but post-Vietnam they didn't bother to count. We lost 500 in action in Vietnam - how many have now succumbed and taken their own lives?
“It’s a hidden problem that’s not being addressed by organisations.
“You need the right atmosphere to get people to open up and talk about their experiences that have been locked away in the recesses of their mind for years."
Cr Tramby said that is why it is so important for people to get together at events such as the ADF and National Service Reunion.
“It’s good to get together with people who have had similar experiences, that’s why we have the reunion, to support each other and encourage each other to work our way through the problem," he said.
Local vocal group Serendipity were also a hit with the crowd during Saturday night's dinner, while a large crowd gathered for the march down Balo Street and memorial service at Moree Memorial Hall that morning.
Cr Tramby said the visitors had a great time, and were all overwhelmed by the "warmth" of the Moree community.
"What made it enjoyable was the support of the community, the bus tours, Tourism Moree, shops and businesses that made them feel very welcome," he said.
Most people have already re-booked their accommodation for next year's reunion. Cr Tramby said the biggest issue next year will be finding a suitable space for the dinner, which was this year limited to 200 people.