Save Our Heros Summit held at the Preston Stanley in Parliament House of NSW. Daily Telegraph political editor Sharri Markson chairs a panel with Dr Daniel Mealey, Victoria Cross recipient Ben Roberts-Smith and James Brown. Picture: Toby Zerna
Save Our Heros Summit held at the Preston Stanley in Parliament House of NSW. Daily Telegraph political editor Sharri Markson chairs a panel with Dr Daniel Mealey, Victoria Cross recipient Ben Roberts-Smith and James Brown. Picture: Toby Zerna

Why we must listen to the mothers of dead soldiers

Julie-Ann Finney's marvellous and courageous son Dave was a navy petty officer teetering on the edge when he was ­ordered to get out of bed, put on his uniform and march the ­gangplank with his colleagues.

Dave was sobbing. He was on ­suicide watch.

Even the routine task of doing up the buttons on his shirt was ­excruciating, so ruined he was by military life.

The message was that he was an inconvenience. If you ask for help, we'll ruin you and get you out of the way, says his mum Julie-Ann.

But everyone believed Dave understood the monstrous consequences of PTSD and was therefore relatively OK. Horrifyingly ignorant that now seems.

Deployed to offer humanitarian aid in places like the ­Middle East, Dave had rescued children whose parents had been shot dead.

He had counselled other 'brothers' about stress and depression.

But he took his own life in February.

He was just 38 years old.

Julie-Ann Finney, mother of Dave Finney during The Daily Telegraph’s Save Our Heroes Summit. Picture: Jonathan Ng
Julie-Ann Finney, mother of Dave Finney during The Daily Telegraph’s Save Our Heroes Summit. Picture: Jonathan Ng

And still his mother had to buy a uniform to bury him in.

A petite lady with a core of steel, Julie-Ann sat on a high stool flanked by other military mums while she told part of his story at our Save Our Heroes Summit at NSW Parliament House on Wednesday.

They make them, break them, and throw them away, she said.

The giant box of tissues was untouched. Then she choked on a tear, ever so slightly, and the hands of Nikki Jamieson and Glenda Weston instantly shot out to grab hers while the rest of us in the crowd of nearly 100 people - MPs, ministers, veterans, families - could only sit in ­silence and wonder.

Julie-Ann Finney speaks at the Save Our Heros Summit as Glenda Weston (left) and Nikki Jamieson (right) listen. Picture: Toby Zerna
Julie-Ann Finney speaks at the Save Our Heros Summit as Glenda Weston (left) and Nikki Jamieson (right) listen. Picture: Toby Zerna

The Daily Telegraph's Save Our Heroes Summit was hosted in the Preston Stanley Room, named after Millicent Preston-Stanley, our first female MP in NSW.

A line from her inaugural speech on the wall nearby read: "I only hope, realising as I do that every woman's question is a national question."

And the question in that room on Wednesday was this: How did we get to such a point where Julie Anne Finney, Nikki Jamieson, Glenda Weston, Colleen Pillen, Jan Hewitt plus Karen Bird are now unintentionally and tragically allied and bound to one another through a shared experience of unimaginable suffering - and how do we make sure their sons are the last we lose like this?

Their boys - Dave, Daniel, Bradley, Michael, Brock and Jesse all cherished from nappies to enlistment day and beyond - are the reason why Prime Minister Scott Morrison has a moral duty to sign off on a royal commission into military suicides.

 

Jan Hewitt, Karen Bird, Nikki Jamieson, Scott Morrison, Colleen Pillen, Glenda Weston and Julie-Ann Finney met with Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday. Picture: Adam Taylor Picture: Adam Taylor
Jan Hewitt, Karen Bird, Nikki Jamieson, Scott Morrison, Colleen Pillen, Glenda Weston and Julie-Ann Finney met with Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday. Picture: Adam Taylor Picture: Adam Taylor

There were other non-military mums in the room like myself and we subtly worked our way into ­conversations with these remarkable women, such was the need to ­acknowledge them in person.

It's a club that none of them ever imagined could exist.

It's one thing to kiss your son on the cheek and push down that sickening terror in your stomach that he could be killed on active service.

Karen Bird with her son Jesse.
Karen Bird with her son Jesse.

It's altogether another to have the system treat them with the sort of shocking lack of empathy detailed on Wednesday, compounded by the insidious insurance assessor-style treatment of veterans, eviscerating the ones who do actually have the courage to say, 'help me, please'.

As they spoke, each son's image was resplendent in uniform in framed photos on two individual podiums.

Daniel's picture showed him in a slouch hat and there it sat on the table, mesmerising in its sadness.

Nikki Jamieson with her son Daniel Garforth.
Nikki Jamieson with her son Daniel Garforth.

There was one set of ID tags and several small, blue velvet ­pillows upon which score of ­medals lay.

Colleen's son Michael, a 29-year-old army private, says he was most vocal in saying he needed counselling and support. He deserved to be discharged on medical grounds.

Michael begged for his paperwork and it arrived sure enough - on the afternoon of the day he died.

Glenda's son Bradley was born on Remembrance Day. He killed himself on Anzac Day this year.

Private Bradley Wayne Carr, 34.
Private Bradley Wayne Carr, 34.


He was a soldier who loved being a soldier but he became a veteran we forget, a stinging reminder delivered to the audience of the mantra we wheel out every year.

For six years Bradley tried to get help. He was 34. Later his mum told me that when she went to the ladies' room at Parliament House, the soap had a label Bradley on it.

Funeral for army veteran Bradley Carr in Charters Towers, Queensland in May. Glenda Weston, mother of Bradley, lays a poppy on his coffin. Picture: Alix Sweeney
Funeral for army veteran Bradley Carr in Charters Towers, Queensland in May. Glenda Weston, mother of Bradley, lays a poppy on his coffin. Picture: Alix Sweeney

She still sees him in the most unexpected of locations, as she would do.

She told me: "I'm going to shout my son's name, I'm going to shout them all because they all need to be seen."

Glenda's right, of course. With at least 500 military suicides to date, we will not bury and forget out ­country's bravest.

Ben Roberts-Smith, Jim Molan and former RSL president James Brown all spoke with conviction to us about the fight for those who have been lost to suicide and the fight to protect the living.

Victoria Cross recipient and Afghanistan veteran Ben Roberts-Smith pictured with mothers L-R: Glenda Weston, Colleen Pillen, Jan Hewitt, Julie-Ann Finney and Nikki Jamieson. Picture: Toby Zerna
Victoria Cross recipient and Afghanistan veteran Ben Roberts-Smith pictured with mothers L-R: Glenda Weston, Colleen Pillen, Jan Hewitt, Julie-Ann Finney and Nikki Jamieson. Picture: Toby Zerna

Brown revealed how hopeless the net was in capturing our Aussies who sign up to protect us. We don't know how many veterans we have in Australia and where they are living, he said.

No wonder that precious boys like Dave, Daniel, Bradley, Michael, Brock and Jesse felt discarded and opted themselves out of the ­society they vowed to protect.

These mums deserve everyone's support. And our heroes deserve ­better so that these tragedies are not repeated.

If you or anyone you know needs help, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14 or Beyond Blue on 1300 224 636.

@whatlouthinks

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dave Finney had counselled other ‘brothers’ about stress and depression but took his own life in February 2019.
Dave Finney had counselled other ‘brothers’ about stress and depression but took his own life in February 2019.
Afghan veteran Brock Hewitt went missing on January 7 and was found dead 3 weeks later on Australia Day by the river in Western Australia. Brock with his Mum Jan. Taken in 2017. Supplied by family
Afghan veteran Brock Hewitt went missing on January 7 and was found dead 3 weeks later on Australia Day by the river in Western Australia. Brock with his Mum Jan. Taken in 2017. Supplied by family
Sydney army veteran Michael John Powers, 29.
Sydney army veteran Michael John Powers, 29.