Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Oh What a Night! The HMAS Harman Aussie Heroes End of Year Reception........

Oh my goodness! I do not think I am over-stating it when I say that I think that our Dinner on Saturday night was a huge success. I am not sure I can fit it into one blog post so here are my words and photos and then I will share some feedback received from some who attended in a second post.

Come Saturday night at 1730 everything was in place and ready to go.  
The room was lined with 12 quilts on hangers and everything looked fabulous.

We are coming to the end of our fifth year of operation and these dinners have become an Aussie Hero Tradition, providing an opportunity for those that sew for us, our Aussie Hero Friends to meet those that we sew for, our Aussie Heroes.  They are a rare opportunity for Aussie Hero Friends to get a better understanding of the impact of their quilts and laundry bags on our deployed men and women first hand.  

The Commanding Officer (CO) of HMAS Harman, CMDR Alison Westwood and the Executive Officer (XO), Lieutenant Commander Anthony (Squiz) Taylor joined my husband, David, and I for a quick photo before we started to welcome the guests as they arrived. 

XO, myself and the Ship's Warrant Officer Scott (Bomber) Brown

The lovely ladies from Lone Pine Medals were in attendance.  These gorgeous girls are the ones who replaced my replica medals and got them to me within two days of the fire.... as an unsolicited gift! Absolute gems!

And they set up a fabulous display for everyone to enjoy!

Warrant Officer of the Air Force, Warrant Officer Robert Swanwick and Warrant Officer of the Navy, Warrant Gary Wight were both wonderful guests.

Once all the guests had arrived Squiz welcomed everyone and then invited Rear Admiral Trevor Jones (Rtd) to speak.

RADM Jones, was the Commander of the Joint Task Force in the Middle East until January this year. He did not know about Aussie Heroes until he arrived in the Middle East and then was so impressed by the impact we are having that he came up with the concept of the Centenary of ANZAC Quilt that we all remember making and presenting to the Australian War Memorial last year.   As he pointed out on Saturday night, that is the ONLY quilt that has flown all around the Middle East, in a Hornet, in a C17, as well as going into Afghanistan, onto HMAS Success and so on.

When my home was destroyed I lost my copy of the certificate and presentation photo that all who participated in the construction of the Centenary Quilt received.  On Saturday night RADM Jones presented me with another copy of the certificate and photo,

and a beautiful book of photos of the Centenary Quilt.

What a lovely gift and one I shall treasure!

Rear Admiral Brett Wolski AM, Head of People Capability Division, was kind enough to attend.  He is also the Chair of the Royal Australian Navy Relief Trust Fund.

RADM Wolski, along with the WO-N surprised me with a fabulous donation for Aussie Heroes in the form of a Grant for $2000 from Keeping Watch (part of The Royal Australian Navy Relief Trust Fund RANTF)!  What a generous donation!  We will certainly be able to manage lots of quilts and laundry bags with that.  To put it into context $2000 should buy enough batting (the padding that goes inside our quilts) for 200 quilts!!!  Thank you so much.

Wouldn't you love to take a cheque this size to the bank...

not sure it would fit in my handbag.....

Next it was my turn to speak... you can just see the part of a massive pile of laundry bags that the attending Aussie Hero Friends had made to present to HMAS Harman. This has become a tradition. Whenever we attend an Aussie Heroes function at a military establishment enmasse each Aussie Hero Friend attending takes along a laundry bag as a thank you gift. In this case, the CO of HMAS Harman will distribute a bag to every member who was involved in the running of the night, and then will distribute the rest to those she feels are deserving around HMAS Harman.

After welcoming everyone.....

I invited the CO and XO of HMAS Harman to unveil the HMAS Harman quilt, our gift to say thank you for their massive support with the dinner.

The quilt was a joint effort. I created the appliques including the HMAS Harman Crest and the Navy Crest, Gail completed piecing the top, adding in the photos and then Bridget quilted it on our wonderful Simply 16.  Gail then bound the quilt.

What you can't see is the inclusion of morse code along the bottom as HMAS Harman is a communications station that has been "On watch since 1943" and it is also the home of the WRANS, as evidences in some of the photos.

During my speech I explained how and why Aussie Heroes was founded and talked about some of our achievements this year...

I also introduced two recipients.  First was Warrant Officer Michelle Griffith who was the Command Warrant Officer in the headquarters located Al Minhad Air Base in the United Arab Emirates.

Michelle said in part
"I relate to this quote..

The mind is a space of its own, it can make heaven of hell and hell of heaven

So what is the worth of a laundry bag and a quilt?  Again the answer is never the same. To the artist who designs and sews it I can only imagine, but my guess is that it is a labour of love, time, money and effort.  To the recipient it is a gift which is not expected and is difficult to explain or express in a few words.  What I can tell you first hand is that is it is a burst of colour to a bland living area which is mostly white, grey or tan.  It is also a link to Australia that sometimes feels a long way away.   It is a very strong message to the troops of appreciation by our wider community and the link to why we serve.

Going back to the quote, a quilt influences the recipient's mind to balance towards the heaven end of the spectrum.  I know this because I watched the mail being delivered in many locations and on more than a few occasions watched recipients open their parcels. Even the tough warriors were proudly showing off their quilts on arrival.  Aussie Hero Quilters can trust you have touched some very strong warriors in a place that many cannot.  Please continue to do what you have been doing so well and please remember that some of us are not great at expressing our gratitude but maybe we should get better on this point."

As a thank you Michelle was presented with a small version laundry bag in an appropriately themed fabric (you will have to ask her to tell you the story.... she would kill me! LOL) and also some ANZAC biscuits.

Our second speaker was SGT Bill Guthrie who has seen Aussie Heroes in our first year whilst on deployment in Afghanistan and also more recently has returned from a deployement with the Air Task Group.

It was a hard task for Bill to follow the other speakers as they stole a lot of his points but he still managed to convey just how much the quilts and laundry bags mean.  He called on all the serving members to raise a cheer to the Aussie Hero Friends present, which is a lovely military gesture.  .

He then requested those who had a part in making his quilt to come forward for a photo with his quilt.

Pictured is SGT Guthrie, Katie L, myself and Keryn

Of course Bill was also presented with a small version of the laundry bag.. this time appropriate for the RAAF Photographer that he is ... and also with ANZACs inside.

The third speaker was Chaplain Mark Willis who kindly consented to read out a poem written by one of our past recipients, LTCOL Barham Ferguson.  I will publish the poem in a separate post as I don't want it to get lost in the bulk of this post.

Lastly it was time for some words of thanks and with such a big event there were more than a few.

There were far too many people for me to name as much had gone on behind the scenes to bring the night together, but I did have to name a few.  

Charis, daughter of Chaplain Alan Williams, spent countless hours putting together the slide show that played in the background all night.  Big BZ Charis.

A big thank you to Chief Petty Officer Cath Harvey, not only a recipient, but also a quilter, for sorting the quilt frames, name tags and directions.  Cath also sold RSL Poppy badges on the night....

Seen here with Pam and Lynda from Victoria

A big thank you to Drew and Bill for being our unofficial “official” photographers.

I also had to thank my dear friend Drew.  He and I have known each other since I was 19 years old as he was on the Air Traffic Control two before mine way back when.  Our friendship is indicative of the sorts of friendships you develop in the military and I am so blessed to have him. He was such a huge help loading my car, setting up, organising the music, and most importantly, forgoing the opportunity to stay at home and paint his toenails to attend the dinner instead.   Drew always says he can't come to events as he has to "paint his toenails" so I presented him with a lovely bottle of RAAF Blue nail polish!  Seriously, he should have seen that coming.

I took advantage of the opportunity to give a huge thank you to all of those who sew for us and support us in any way.   Much like defence, Aussie Heroes is a big team, with many people working behind the scenes, as well as those who make the quilts and bags.  Everyone’s contribution is another step towards putting smile on the face of a serving member.   I believe we have the most amazing and dedicated volunteers and I am incredibly proud of them.

I also had to give a huge, heartfelt thank you to one person who, above all, makes Aussie Heroes possible. Without his support, tolerance, patience, understanding and love I would not be able to devote the bulk of my time to doing what I am so passionate (he might say obsessed) about.  Of course I was talking about my husband, David.   So many photos taken on the night and only one picture of the two of us. He was flat out all night making sure that I had water to drink and food to eat as I would have gone thirsty and hungry otherwise. Before the dinner he helped to set up and at the end of the night, whilst I was still getting around to talk to everyone, he was organising the packing up.  My very own hero!

As most of you know, unless you have only joined us recently, this has been one heck of a year.   At 1am on the 12th of June, my son woke my husband and I to tell us that our house was full of smoke.  Ten minutes later the entire house was engulfed in flames.  We got out with our lives, our dogs and a car load of quilts.  As well as losing our home and most of the contents, I lost all of my Aussie Heroes infrastructure, resources and my laptop, with all my records on it.  I also lost just about all of my memorabilia from nearly five years of running Aussie Heroes.  One of the few pieces that survived the fire was a flag that was flown over the base in Iraq on the Centenary of ANZAC Day last year and was given to me by a commando.  I had sent it off to be framed and the Kirsty and Alex from Lone Pine Medals delivered it at the dinner.  They were the only ones I would trust to frame it. The girls do beautiful work but they are also a class act!   

 I have photographed it on an angle to avoid the flash and other reflections.

After the speeches, we drew the winners of the raffle prizes...  We had a print by Amber Martin of Digger Art, generously donated by Chaplain Mark Willis and a collectible bear donated by The Military Shop.  Charis drew the winning ticket.... 

her absolutely thrilled mother, Sharon...

and the winner of the Great War Bear was Michelle Mulhall

seen here with her husband Major General David Mulhall. They tell me that their nine year old daughter will be delighted with their win....

We also auctioned off the evocative quilt called “The Reunion” made and donated by the very talented Lucy Carroll.  This was won determinedly by BRIG Matt Hall and I am told that as soon as his wife, Amanda, saw it, she said that after so many deployments she related to it and was intent on taking it home. I have heard that it was hung in pride of place in their home that very night.

The final auction item was a last minute donation of work to the value of $500 from Kirsty and Alex from Lone Pine Medals.  Again this was won by Major General Mulhall.

Aside from the speeches and the raffles and auction, the focus of the night was on Aussie Hero Friends and Recipients having a chance to mix and mingle, and from that point of view, it seems the night was a roaring success.

Chief Petty Officer Cath Harvey was finally able to meet her quilter, Lynn Field, and her husband Arthur.

There was just time for a quick photo op for myself and the CO of Harman, Alison with the laundry bag I made her  and the quilt our mutual friend, also called Alison, made for her when she was deployed.

Warrant Officer Bomber Brown gave us so much assistance organising the dinner that we presented him with his own laundry bag... made by Clarissa... DBF stands for Diesel Boats forever... every submariner would know what that means....

and someone was seen polishing off one last homemade ANZAC biscuit at the end of the night....

Til next time...... stay tuned for a couple more posts.... the morning after breakfast and the beautiful poem by Barham....

Jan-Maree xx


  1. Wonderful stuff indeed. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Thank you for such an informative account of the night, J-M. Sounds like a very successful night.