Theatre project opens the door to awareness

Published on SBLT Bianca Wise (author), Lisa Tomasetti (photographer)

Topic(s): Health, Fitness and Wellbeing

Will Bailey in the Sydney Theatre Company and ADF's 'The Long Way Home'.  (photo: Lisa Tomasetti)
Will Bailey in the Sydney Theatre Company and ADF's 'The Long Way Home'.

Attending opening night of the Australian Defence Force Theatre project, The Long Way Home, was a challenging experience for Leading Seaman (LS) Daniel Cunningham who has a special insight into Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

LS Cunningham, who was diagnosed with PTSD in 2006 was in awe of the honesty of the Defence members involved.

“I was really impressed by their courage to be open and forthcoming about their journey with PTSD. It was really good to know that I'm not alone, that a lot of people have similar symptoms and if you accept help from Defence you can deal with it.

“Not only did I enjoy the performance but it was a great experience for my partner, Eric, who found it gave him a greater understanding of combat PTSD.”

Originally from Auburn in Sydney, Daniel's 14 year Naval career has included sea time in HMA Ships Sydney, Manoora, Darwin, Adelaide, Canberra and Newcastle, and submarines Sheean and Dechaineux.

“I’ve had tremendous experiences in the Navy, including the opportunity to work on the Indigenous Youth Program, rebuild schools in Cambodia and deploy to the Middle East Area of Operations.

“Experiences like that are why I want to stay in the Navy, there is plenty of good to take from the fabulous career I’ve enjoyed. When it comes to moving forward and handling PTSD, there is help if you are brave enough to take the step and ask for it.

“It’s a partnership with your treating specialist. It doesn’t mean you’ll be kicked out or end up on medication and it certainly doesn’t have to end in darkness.

“There are positive results for people who speak up and from my experience it’s certainly well worth taking the step.”

In an address to the packed house at the opening night, the Chief of the Defence Force (CDF), General David Hurley, was emphatic in his support of the initiative.

“This performance will shock, surprise and hopefully impress upon Australia and the community that we have an issue but also that we are dealing with it.”

The theatre project was created as part of a broader rehabilitation program and highlights the impact of service that Navy, Army and Air Force people, and their families, are facing on a daily basis.

“The big message here is that Defence-wide we know our people are suffering,” said General Hurley.

Chief of Navy, Vice Admiral Ray Griggs, agreed with CDF and emphasised the need for wider awareness.

“We can't think this is just an Army or Afghanistan issue, the message is as relevant for our people conducting maritime security operations in the Middle East, border protection operations at home, and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations in our region. You don’t have to be in combat to experience situations that trigger PTSD.

“Every day the Royal Australian Navy has personnel deployed across the nation and around the world in complex and high tempo operations. Their service and sacrifice often comes at great cost to them and their families. The Long Way Home is as much an honest and revealing look at the cost of operational service to the men and women of the Navy, as it is about the war in Afghanistan,” said VADM Griggs.

The show has a week long run in Sydney, and then goes on the road to Darwin, Wollongong, Townsville, Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth.

To show your support for the men and women grappling with the effects of their service to our nation, please consider buying a ticket and attending a show when it comes to a theatre near you. Details on the dates and locations of shows, ticket purchase information and details of how to make a donation to the project are available at http://www.sydneytheatre.com.au.