Veterans of recent conflicts offered quiet place to ‘recharge their batteries’

War and conflict can have a devastating impact on veterans’ mental health and wellbeing.

But a new project in Tasmania’s Central Highlands is aiming to support servicemen and women and their families.

Work is underway to transform a former Parks and Wildlife shack at Lake Sorell into a retreat for current and former Defence personnel.

It will become a place where they and their families can stay to recharge their batteries and improve their mental health.

The Tasmanian president of the Vietnam Veterans Association, Terry Roe, said it was aimed at younger veterans and current service personnel who had served in more recent conflicts.

“It is important that the young contemporary veterans have a place where they can go away and spend some quality time with their family and their mates to forget about some issues they’re dealing with from a result of their service,” he said.

President of Vietnam Veterans Association Terry Roe.
President of the Vietnam Veterans Association, Terry Roe, says military service can take a psychological toll.(ABC News: Daman McIntyre)

He said the lakeside retreat would play a crucial role in helping current and former soldiers open up.

“Any opportunity for the young veterans to talk about their service and their experiences is helpful,” he said.

“As difficult as it might be for them to open up, it is critically important they make that step and do talk about their service because every time they talk about it helps and it diminishes whatever issue they might be going through.”

He said veterans’ family members would be encouraged to come to the retreat.

“Quite often they’re the forgotten ones and unfortunately sometimes they wear the brunt of whatever their husbands or their partners might be dealing with, so it is important we provide a facility for them to come away and recharge their batteries,” Mr Roe said.

View from veterans property Lake Sorell.
Both retreats are located on quiet Lake Sorell.(ABC News: Damian McIntyre)

‘They’re having psychological problems and this can help them’

The association secured the building after an expression of interest process.

It received $100,000 from the State Government to develop the site and the building is now undergoing a transformation.

The insides have been gutted in readiness for the renovation.

The configuration will be changed and extra rooms will be added.

Decks will also be added to make the most of views of Lake Sorell.

Main room veterans shack Lake Sorell.
A State Government grant is being used to renovate the shack.(ABC News: Damian McIntyre)

The site will complement an existing retreat for Vietnam veterans located next door.

“The Vietnam veterans bush retreat has been here for about 30-odd years for our veterans,” Mr Roe said.

“It’s just an enormous benefit they’ve received from that over a lot of years and we can see the same benefit to this next generation of veterans.

Fellow Vietnam veteran Malcolm Cash agreed.

“A lot of people don’t know they need it,” he said.

“They’re having psychological problems and this can help them.

“You get a lot of laughs and it gets you over a lot of problems.

“We’ve all had problems and I know it’s helped me mix with the other veterans.

Inside veterans shack Lake Sorell
The shack is being renovated to make it easier for families to spend quality time together.(ABC News: Damian McIntyre)
Vietnam veteran Malcolm Cash outside veterans' hut.
Vietnam veteran Malcolm Cash says mixing with others and talking is a big help.(ABC News: Damian McIntyre)

The secretary of the Australian Defence Force’s welfare and wellbeing team in Launceston, Diane Brzeski, frequently visits the Vietnam veterans’ retreat with her husband Richard.

“My husband’s a Vietnam veteran and we’re up here for the weekend having some respite and a little bit of relaxation, a bit of quietness — and we’ve done this quite a few times over the years,” she said.

“To have another building renovated, I think that’s going to be great for the younger vets.

“They’ve got younger wives, they’ve got younger children, and to have something like this for them to be able to come up and enjoy, I think it’s one of the best things.”

Diane Brzeski and husband and Vietnam vet Richard Brzeski at Lake Sorell.
Diane Brzeski and husband Vietnam veteran Richard Brzeski visit Lake Sorell regularly.(ABC News: Damian McIntyre)

The second stage of the project will include the creation of a multi-purpose indoor facility.

Veterans will be involved in working bees at the site over coming months.

The retreat is expected to be finished by the middle of next year.