TARN knows her husband Benn will never be the same man he was before his active service overseas, but for a few short days Cobden provided some rare relief.
Benn suffers from chronic post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). In Tarn’s own words their “quality of life sucks – plain and simple”.
However, the Gippsland family of six found their smiles last week when they spent three days at Heytesbury House B&B as part of Cobden’s Heytesbury Haven project – one of a few destination towns involved with the Australian Veteran Respite Program.
The initiative provides free holidays for returned veterans like Benn who live with the pain, stress and anxiety of Australia’s conflicts and their roles in them.
“I’ve known Benn since I was 12. I saw physical changes when he came back from basic training, but it’s the mental side that has changed since he saw conflict – it’s irreversible and we live it every day,” Tarn said.
“Benn was discharged 10 years ago. His PTSD is really hard for all of us – he doesn’t like crowds, finds it hard to meet people and talk to people and his depression and anxiety is just awful.
“We know it will always be there.”
Tarn said she spoke with some friends at Solider On who convinced her to apply for one of the respite holidays. Then she said she had to convince Benn to do it.
“He didn’t want to come, but now he doesn’t want to leave,” Tarn said last Thursday before returning home to Gippsland.
“The boys are really happy and we haven’t been walking on egg shells. Normally the kids get up not knowing what sort of mood their dad will be in, but he has been good.
“I’ve had three amazing days of peace. Three days of not worrying about breakfasts, lunches, the shopping…three days not worrying about anything.”
Tarn said Benn settled in almost immediately – after first giving their accommodation a once over for all the exits in case he felt threatened and needed to get them all out.
“That’s what we live with and it sucks. At home it’s hard to get Benn out of bed and to get him motivated to do things – it’s all a challenge,” she said.
“Benn joined the army as an 18 year-old and left as a 31 year-old. He was used to the discipline and being told what to do and when to do it. He thinks about going back because civilian life is much harder for him. That’s his reality.
“What we’ve found here at Heytesbury House with Kathryn and Andrew (Stubbings) is moments of relief and that’s wonderful for us – wonderful for me.”
Tarn said the Cobden community had been “simply incredible” and showcased the best in people – something that was important for Benn’s health.
“On Anzac Day he was spat on. We always go to the AFL that day and then I’m a Melbourne Storm fan so we were walking from one game to the other. Benn had his medals on and his suit and someone spat on him – just because,” she said.
“These things are amplified for Benn. Things like this become huge things he thinks about for days, weeks, months…probably forever.
“But here in Cobden, the people have been lovely. They don’t even know our story and they’ve been lovely, which makes it even more genuine.
“I don’t know what to say to Kathryn and Andrew and the town of Cobden – they have just been amazing and we are so, so grateful.
“My message to everyone is that people like Benn chose to serve this country, but they couldn’t control where they were sent overseas. Just understand that their experiences over there are for life – they will live with them for life and it’s not easy.”
Benn’s surname, place of residence and details around where he served abroad cannot be disclosed publicly as part of the ongoing restrictions over his service history.
During their stay they played mini golf, enjoyed meals at local establishments, visited the Cape Otway lighthouse, Otway Fly Tree Top Walk and a range of other things – all at no cost courtesy of Heytesbury Haven partners.
Heytesbury House owner Kathryn Stubbings invited any other businesses who would like to support families like Benn’s to contact her at Heytesbury House in preparation for the project’s next beneficiaries.