Saturday 25 April 2020 would have marked the first time that parkruns in Australia and New Zealand took place on ANZAC Day. Instead, it will see parkrunners and the Veteran community alike devising positive and innovative ways of marking this special day.
Bek Milne from Queanbeyan parkrun, who is fifth generation military with more than 20 years of service and 155 parkruns to her name, reflects on the everyday challenges faced by Veterans across our two countries and explains how ANZAC Day this year represents an important opportunity for all of us to connect with family, friends and our communities.
ANZAC Day is the most important day on the calendar for many of the 660,000 Veterans throughout Australia and New Zealand. So in the lead up to this year’s commemorations I’ve been feeling a little unsure and concerned about how they will mark the occasion. Normally we would be involved in any number of activities but in the absence of those opportunities we will need to be creative. And, given the current circumstances, it’s more important than ever that we find ways to stay connected.
A ‘normal’ ANZAC Day for me would be to attend a Dawn Service and enjoy a Gunfire breakfast at an RSL, and depending on my location, the opportunity to participate in a local council march and ceremony. Last year that was in Queanbeyan where I attended with my Girl Guide Unit as they marched in the contingent and paid their respect.
This year will be different. Like everyone else we will choose alternative ways to reflect and commemorate our fallen brothers and our own service.
My Girl Guides are participating in a 24 ‘Virtual Camp’ to work on their ANZAC Day badge which I will help facilitate. We will also be attending our Driveway Dawn Service as a family and hope to be joined by other members of our street as we join the nation in support of this special day. The Driveway at Dawn Service is being promoted by the RSL State Branches in Australia as an opportunity for everyone to stand at the end of their driveway or balcony at 6am on ANZAC Day, and I know every veteran who is choosing to step outside for their own personal service would love to see your support.
I’m not a clinician or researcher and I don’t want to speculate on what additional challenges Veterans are facing because of COVID-19. But it’s quite likely that many of the challenges Vets face, such as isolation, PTSD, depression and broader mental health challenges – which often lead to self harm and in some cases suicide – have the potential to be compounded by the absence of ANZAC Day activities and the all-important social interactions they involve.
Social isolation is something that all Veterans are familiar with and most of us have coping mechanisms and strategies to lessen the impact, but there is no panacea. 18 house moves over 20 years of service is challenging for even the most bubbly and outgoing of people. Melbourne, Brisbane, Darwin, Perth, Wagga Wagga, Canberra – you name it and I’ve probably lived there.
My mum is an “army brat” and always said to me that in the military it’s like you have two homes. One where you came from which will always be part of you, and a ‘now home’ where the mail goes and your life is today. She always told me to unpack straight away, hang the curtains, meet the community and integrate. You can still miss your last location and the friends and memories, but if you live in that past you will miss the now.
It’s no surprise that us military folk like our routines, and a deviation from that routine can be difficult. I know that many of our Veteran community are very much missing our normal volunteering and the social contact and fulfilment it provides. Whether that is the local kids’ footy team, volunteer emergency responders, reading at schools, taking senior members of the community shopping or just checking in on neighbours. There are no usual trips to see people or places, group physical activity opportunities such as parkrun are suspended, and time with small children has changed with playgrounds being closed. There is no ‘incidental’ bumping into people like frequently happens, and the quick catchups are now planned rather than spontaneous.
This Saturday presents an opportunity for us to connect in some way with our Veterans and each other and there is no right or a wrong way to ‘do’ ANZAC Day. Some groups are arranging ‘online reunions’ for parts of the day and are getting more engagement than usual as people can just log in and not travel! I know there are plenty of people who will choose to self-reflect at home in a quiet way, with some one-on-one phone calls with mates and watching commemorative services on TV. I know of a few people who are planning a movie marathon of all their favourite war movies, and some who are gathering all the movies they watched on a deployment and having a re-run session.
parkrun as a concept has so much to offer the military community and even in the absence of Saturday morning events can have a significant impact. Personally, I’ve been loving doing the School of parkrun activities online with my daughter, it’s a massive help to embark on remote learning for the first time with the support of fun and engaging online content, not to mention how enthusiastic my daughter is when it’s not mum setting her the work! For any parents and pupils out there who haven’t discovered School of parkrun yet, I suggest you check it out.
My own parkrun journey started in 2016 when I was posted to Perth. I was scanning social media and noticed a post from a friend in Victoria (thanks Rhonda), to a mate in Queensland (gotta love the dispersed military family!) about this ‘parkrun thing’. It sounded interesting and I looked up my local area to find out there was one less than 4km away, and Bibra Lake became my parkrun home.
Full disclosure – I don’t like running – but the core team at Bibra Lake parkrun had a big impact on me. The event always appeared seamless, the vollies always smiled, and it was just a comfort to go to something on a routine basis that ran how I expected, was on time, and choreographed to the letter. It made sense to my military brain, it hit all the points on my list of how I think events should run, and they replicated it each week even with different volunteers. I was hooked. I was lucky enough to get to know a few of the team better while doing volunteer duties and just really enjoying my new community. I was asked if I would like to learn to become a Run Director, which I was super excited about, and when I was posted to Canberra some time later and there was no parkrun within a short distance I decided I would set one up. So hopefully, once this is all over, you can visit us for parkrun in Jerrabomberra!
parkrun has many of our shared Australian Defence Force values built-in. It’s a routine, it’s an excellent way to start your weekend off with an endorphin kick, a sense of accomplishment early in the day, and of course, coffee and bacon. It’s structured, with a sequence and set of drills around it that are comforting. It has milestones to achieve and unofficial clubs to chase and join and tourist opportunities to give you the reason to do a little travel. For those still serving it’s a chance to visit other locations and meet likeminded people while you are away from family, in an environment where you know the drills and how it will work before you get there, and for those not serving it’s a chance to add a new ‘family’ of mates to your week.
parkrun allows you to pick your interaction level. You can turn up, nod at a few people, walk or run or volunteer, get scanned and go home, or you can chat to new people, run and grab a coffee. After a few parkruns, you might like to try volunteering which comes with free, straightforward training and no pressure to do a particular role. If you like it a lot, one day you might want to join your local RD team. If you are injured you don’t need to miss out on your parkrun fix; you can help fill the volunteer roster and earn that purple shirt while serving your community and making the event possible for others while you recover. It’s almost a passing comment to add in the fitness part of parkrun – yes over time it’s going to help your fitness if you join us as often as you can, but to be honest, that’s just the ‘bonus round’.
We serve to protect, to honour and to try and make life better for our countrymen, and really that is all we want everyone else to do too. Look out for each other, be kind, and be grateful each day for the country we live in.
I have no intention to be moving away from the military. Yes there are challenges, like with any workplace, but they are always surpassed with tradecraft opportunities, professional development, the desire to serve and the mateship it provides.
Now, perhaps more than ever, let ANZAC Day remind us that the concept of mateship is a lifeline for us all.
“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.”
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