IMG_6191-2Kevin McLeod of Grand Designs said, Buildings have a powerful potential to heal. This is a rare place of healing, built in 1937 for WWI veterans, where over 1,000 survivors per week of all conflicts and battles from Gallipoli to Long Tan have come for rehabilitation support.

Quiet efforts over the past few years by a dedicated team to preserve this WWI related site from sale to developers, during this Centenary of WWI period, have been to provide a sustainable world’s best practice, Arts and health response to the growing challenges faced by veterans, for whom this place was built. We aim to make 310 SKR, once again, a place of supported healing for veterans with a shared lived experience of war and service.
Government currently spends $180 million on mental health; that clinicians themselves admit is only partially effective. Our political leaders and ex-service organisations have all called for more to be done. The Chief of Defence recently said more needs to be done outside the medical system to support veteran’s mental health. Frankly, something different needs to be done. At ANVAM, a unique charity dedicated to the Arts for the ADF and veterans, we emphasise innovation in service delivery; to change the paradigm while working collaboratively with Government, DVA and veteran communities for a common goal; the wellbeing and quality of life of our veteran survivors. Part of our approach to innovation is to learn from the first Australian’s, including our local Wurundjeri people, about the role of the Arts in creating community and their proud culture and identity. Thanks to this place the possibilities for learning and innovation are enormous; Books will be written, doctorates awarded and lives changed.

Applying the Arts to veteran’s mental and social health is not new. Our highly professional and qualified creative Arts facilitators have worked in clinical and community settings with survivors in their 90s through to family members in their early teens for over a decade now. Our person centred approach tailors facilitated Arts engagement that can and has been, for many, transformative. One young veteran, for example, wrote that he was a soldier and now calls himself an artist.

By providing hope, purpose, dignity and validation of service through facilitated Arts we are indirectly addressing social issues like homelessness and unemployment, particularly during times of transition. We are, in effect, putting into practice the words of one surgeon and elite sportsman, military leader and prisoner of war; Weary Dunlop when he said “give the troop’s access to the Arts so that they may have an interest in life”! Weary would have travelled past here on a daily basis after the war; and I can imagine how he would have wondered through those doors to check on the wellbeing of the survivors inside.

There are also many veterans whose experience of service has been extremely positive. Through the Arts we are able to celebrate their experiences and pay tribute to them too. Some of Australia’s most celebrated artists who have contributed enormously to Australia’s culture and identity, are also veterans or family members; Banjo Paterson, Sidney Nolan, Clifton Pugh, Bud Tingwell, Jack Thompson, Judith Durum, Anthony Field and Richard Flanagan to name a few. It was a veteran, Gordon Darling, who founded the National Portrait Gallery and eight veterans share 23 Archibald prizes for portraiture between them. Decorated naval veteran Ken Myer led the NGV for many years and our current Federal Arts Minister is a veteran. The Prime Minister’s recent public reflections on his veteran grandfather includes references to the Arts and the Defence Minister has said she was “Particularly encouraged to pursue her own interest in the Arts by her father, a veteran of WWII”; which is an opportunity we aspire to for all veterans. The last veteran to serve as Prime Minister, Gough Whitlam, established our peak Arts body, the Australia Council; with whom we aim to establish a positive relationship.

While only slightly out of context, when Winston Churchill asked, “for so much what shall we repay?”, perhaps the answer is that we, as a nation, owe it to our veterans to given them a cultural place of their own. It is also, in part, an answer to the call of one young veteran, James Brown, in his book ANZAC’s Long Shadow, for a place for younger veterans to tell their stories. To achieve this ANVAM aims to create, here at 310SKR, that place for all veterans to feel that they can come and leave their mark; to tell their own story, authentically, on canvas or clay, in song or film, on stage or a page. We invite all veterans, young and old, to be involved and feel a part of this place that has already heard so many stories of survival, and will honour and hold dearly all of those yet to be told. And we ask for the generous help of all Australian’s in creating this place of healing, and celebration of survival, for our veteran community.