Albany Yok and Sheryo
I live just up from Strawberry Hill Farm, on Middleton Road. From my block, I can lie in bed and see all the way out to Michaelmas and Breaksea Islands. I came down to Albany in 1985 as a TAFE lecturer in Accounting, because we had to do country services in those days. Basically, apart from two years in the Solomon Islands with Australian Aid, I’ve been here ever since. When we moved down we had Aidan, our eldest, and then Cam was born down here, and then Liam was born in ‘88.
I’m a Justice of the Peace. So that’s once a week. I’m either in court or in the signing centre. I’m the Returned and Services League President, I’m the Treasurer for the Great Southern Sports Talent Association; I’m in Rotary; I’m also involved with Australian Southern Cross Masters’ Hockey, and I work on the Eisteddfod every year, I’m a volunteer announcer there. I think I’ll get a job to get some time off.
There are all sorts of things that I think in Albany are still hidden. It doesn’t matter which way it’s blowing, you can find a beach that’s out of the wind. I’ve got my own boat, I fish, but if my wife Barb comes out with me, she takes the camera, and we go around the coastline taking photographs. If you go out the back of Breaksea Island in the morning and look back east, there’s actually a big hole in the rocks, and the sun comes through it like a spotlight. It’s stunning. But you’ve got to find it.
I’m a Vietnam Veteran. I got called up in 1968, but I deferred it a year for study. Unfortunately, at the same time I was playing State hockey and hockey took priority over study, so I failed my exams and had to go in January 1969. I went to Vietnam in January 1970, and came back that December. I suppose in many ways, like a lot of Vietnam Veterans, when we came back, the reception as a Vietnam Vet from the RSL wasn’t brilliant. You may have heard stories about it. “it wasn’t a war”, “you haven’t even been away”, you know, things like that. So I dropped out of the RSL, I wouldn’t have anything to do with it. Until my father, who’s a World War II Vet from New Guinea, made me come back. When I transferred down here, basically, with three young boys, and hockey, and community and all sorts of things, I didn’t bother until ten, fifteen years ago. I just heard there was a quarterly meeting, came in the door and I was treasurer. You know, one of those ‘volunteer’ situations. I didn’t take that step back quick enough!
The National Anzac Centre’s been a godsend, because that’s brought untold numbers of people into town. Albany’s got about twenty five to thirty thousand people. We would get six thousand of them at the dawn service. My youngest son comes down every year for Anzac Day. Rain, hail or shine, he’ll come down. I suppose it started with Dad. I went with him, and now Liam’s coming with me. I just hope they never get called up and there’s never another war, because I don’t want them to go through some of the things veterans have gone through.
A lot of Vietnam Vets, they didn’t like getting called up, but once they came back they were different people. Some it affected medically, but they’re very close. Veterans are always close to one another; people don’t realise that. They are a close-knit group. We’ve got a bikie crew that belongs to the RSL down here, the Patriots. We get them turning up at our services on their bikes, in their leathers, but they’ll have their medals on. Now, they all have to be veterans to belong to Patriots, but it’s a bit frightening when they roll up to the RSL Club, and I’ve got the craft groups in here. The average age of those ladies is probably 75 to 85, and these bikies roll in on their big bikes, and they’ve got their leathers on, and the ladies go “Oh, Geoff – what’s going on?” And then they go and sit with these old ladies – and they’re no different.
One thing that will never change, that relationship you form with another Vet is very strong, and it goes on for life. That’s the thing I’ve found down here since I’ve been involved with the RSL, especially as president: the number of Vets who’ll come in and just want to sit down and chat… about anything. But they will always chat to another Vet, and they’ll always go and help another Vet if they need help. It’s a very strong community. It’s just that we’re all getting older.