After arriving in Warwick in 1993, Mr. Johno Felton was advised to go and find a shady tree and watch the world go by, it was the early days of PTSD. Thankfully Johno and others in similar situations were not about to give up or give in, instead they banded together and helped many veterans find a renewed lease on life, after being diagnosed with psychiatric or similar disorders.
Johno and a fellow veteran who had served in the Vietnam war, met the minister of St. Mark’s Anglican Church in Warwick, Reverend John (Jack) Hammer, Rev Jack had served three tours in Vietnam (3RAR 67-68, 5RAR 69-70, AATTV 70-71) and knew of other veterans around town who had served. Archdeacon Rod McDonald had been a Padre in Namibia with (UNTAG) peacekeeping mission 1989-90, with the Engineers and all got on well. After mowing the lawns around the parish, Rev Jack thought it would be a good idea to start a ‘support group’ in Warwick for other veterans and facilitated a ‘get-together’ in the childcare rooms of the church during late 1996. Before the first meeting Johno approached the Warwick Daily News for some editorial content to promote the morning tea and a journalist (also a Vietnam veteran,) who had worked there previously, wrote the article. There were about ten veterans who attended that first morning tea and from this small group to some months later, the idea of becoming a support group of the Warwick RSL Sub Branch was touted. However, the president at the time was not amiable towards Vietnam veterans and this failed miserably.
Mr Alan Dorber the secretary of the Veterans Support and Advocacy Service Australia Inc. was invited to attend a morning tea and on his second visit, Alan brought with him the President of VSASA Inc Mr. Paul McPhee, Paul encouraged the group to join VSASA as the Warwick Auspice and start undertaking pensions, welfare and advocacy work on behalf of the Vietnam veteran community in Warwick.
The morning group had grown and were it was invited to meet in the former Rosenthal Shire Council building in Willi Street, Warwick, which was shared (somewhat unsuccessfully) with other groups. It was during this time that Mr. Des Edmonds a former DVA employee) joined the group and his knowledge of how the DVA worked and what was necessary to guarantee that pension claims were successful became an integral part of the group. Des became the first advocate and set about training others. As VSASA Warwick Auspice started to take shape, several more people became involved and these included World War Two veterans, who were seeking assistance with their claims with DVA. As each successful claim became general knowledge, word soon spread, and the group grew to include many veterans of other conflicts who were made to feel welcome by the younger veterans. Ms. Arietta Carson who worked with the Vietnam Veterans Counselling Service in Brisbane, came to the group with an offer of $500.00 to support the morning teas and out-of-pocket expenses, so the group held their first Annual General Meeting in 1998, where Johno Felton was elected President, Robin Farrell - Vice President, Gordon Nielson - Secretary, Eddie Marshall - Treasurer and Peter Troon, Dave Nicholls, Steward Roots and Greg Linnett making up the first committee.
The members set about leather work, lawn mowing, maintenance, garden care, window cleaning and other odd-jobs for older veterans and war widows. During 1999, the Tooth Street building now occupied by SDESA Qld Inc and formally VSASA Warwick, became available and an agreement and lease was reached with the then Warwick Shire Council. The building was an old Skillshare building, which was used to train youth in fitter and turning skills, welding etc. It was in a mess, the three-phase power had been turned off and wiring hanging out of the walls, a lot of it had been trashed. However, wanting our own premises, it was roll up the sleeves and get to work. A lot of the material came from Ike’s Motel, where the Vines Motel now stands. Members did the hard yards and getting the building to some presentable stage. Mike Cody and Ray Wingett did a lot of the re-wiring, funds were raised through garage sales, wood raffles and big-hearted donations, via the Palace Hotel in Warwick and Big ‘W’ Distribution Centre.
Our aim was to provide a safe and friendly environment for veterans, wives and families, (with no alcohol or smoking permitted), to appreciate each other’s company, while apply for pensions and respecting other people’s views. As veterans retired from full-time employment, more and more started attending Friday morning ‘get-togethers’ and they formed the backbone of the organisation.
From 1998 until 2018, VSASA Warwick Auspice has continued to be a strong association within the Warwick community. We have been involved with the School Cadets, (now the Australian Army Cadets), the Warwick ‘Redbacks’ AFC ANZAC Cup, Vietnam Veterans Day, ANZAC Day, Remembrance Day, school visits, community groups attending our Services Memorabilia Displays and much more.
We had been advised by VSASA Inc, that they were going to close both the Ipswich and Jimboomba Auspices, but it was a complete surprise when the Warwick executive was summonsed to meet with the executive of VSASA Inc, on Monday the 17th July 2017 at the Coffee Club in Warwick and told that VSASA Inc, had decided to close the Warwick Auspice and that VSASA Inc Toowong, will cease operating and close its doors on the 20th November 2020. We were also advised that “the name of the ‘Veterans Support and Advocacy Service Australia Inc” is neither being surrendered nor will it be allowed to be used by anyone or other organisation. This was to protect and safeguard the integrity and excellent reputation, mutual trust and emotional affinity that VSASA Inc established with Government Departments, both Federal and State, other Ex-Service Organisations and civilian organisations in its 25 years to date.”
Further, “VSASA Warwick Auspice was to give serious consideration to its future and direction and take the necessary action accordingly to be able to continue into the future as a viable and independent ex-service organisation.”
Hence following many committee and general meetings, the adaptation of a new constitution, applying for Incorporation through the Office of Fair-Trading Brisbane, applying for an ABN, Insurances, new leases with the SDRC, new signage, books, registrations etc, we were kept very busy and so was born the ‘Southern Downs Ex-Services Association Queensland Incorporated” on the 1st July 2018.
The committee also decided to not only extend the membership to Australian Defence Forces, but also extend our membership to Australian Emergency Services. (Police, Fire and Emergency Services, Ambulance, State Emergency Services). Members can spend time socialising in a safe, supportive environment among friends who understand their needs each Friday morning, who also enjoy monthly dinner visits for singles or couples, in and around Warwick, luncheons and sewing groups for members wives or partners.
We encourage amongst members a Spirit of National Loyalty and to perpetuate a sense of comradeship within the community such as was obtained in the Australian Defence Forces and the Emergency Services, during warlike, military operations, campaigns, peacekeeping, peacemaking and emergency services duties.
“We welcome all members, families and visitors alike and hope you enjoy your time with us.“
SDESA Qld Inc.