The site of the Rockingham RSL Club, in Memorial Drive, Peron, has a Remembrance Wall and WW1 Roll of honour as well as other War Memorabilia, and on Vietnam Veterans Day this year, being the 18th August 2021, a unique statue dedicated to homeless veterans was unveiled, including a poem written by Councillor Hayley Edwards (City of Rockingham Councillor) titled the Homeless Soldier.
The story behind the Nameless Homeless Statue and the poem, involves three people coming together (two veterans and a Homeless advocate).
Owen is a West Australian Homeless Advocate and assists people on the streets. He took Laurie Drage (who was a homeless veteran after being demobbed in Darwin after the Vietnam war) out on his morning pilgrimage a few times and Laurie realised that some of the guys on the streets were veterans.
The statue, was made by Port Kennedy veteran, Laurie Drage, with the assistance of manpower from Owen Farmer, as well as financial support.
Whilst the impact of war on people is known, this story starts with the intertwining of the experiences of the two veterans, those being Councillor Hayley Edwards and Laurie Drage and a homeless advocate, Owen Farmer.
The story of the statute and poem all started Anzac Day 2019 at the Port Kennedy service, where Owen Farmer introduced Cr Edwards to Laurie Drage. Laurie is an ex medic and so is Cr Edwards, so the two had tonnes in common and hit it off immediately.
Cr Edwards advised that it was Owen's idea to have a memorial to raise awareness for homeless veterans. The gents went off and got quotes to get a statue made and the amount was unattainable, so Laurie decided to make it himself over a 2 year period.
No plans or blue print, all done from his mind and scrap metal!
Cr Edwards advised that:
She was part of the Aeromedical Evacuation Team for the Bali Bombings in 2002. The poem was influenced by her own trauma of losing friends to suicide post returning from traumatic events whilst serving, which is connected with the plight of the homeless veteran, who are at high risk of drug/alcohol abuse which increases the likelihood of suicide.
For me the exposure of the statue is attempting to seek acknowledgement and raise awareness of the lack of support for returned service people is what the overall objective of this initiative would be from my point of view.
The Nameless Homeless Veteran Statue by Laurie Drage
On the 26th June 2019 Owen Farmer and Laurence Drage (Laurie) had an idea about building a statue that would bring attention to the many homeless veterans around our state.
Owen, being the advocate for the homeless would take Laurie along to see how things were going. To see these people was an eye opening experience Laurie had heard about them, but like most never got involved. Sitting and talking to them was a great help to them, they have no one but seeing and meeting some of them was a shock as some of these people were veterans from conflicts that the Australian military had sent them to, there were vets from Vietnam, Afghanistan Iraq, plus some other conflicts that the Australian army was involved in.
To see these people who went to war and to see and experience the awful things that happened, changed their outlook on life and it gives them grief every day and when they come home to their families they were not the same person who left for war.
The family would suffer and breakup and they would lose everything. His partner and children don’t know them anymore they lose their jobs because of the problems they have mentally and not being able to cope, they end up on the streets destitute and homeless.
Many of those veterans have ongoing issues with the trauma that they saw, that changed them and was the thing that causes most of their problems.
No job, very little money meant that a house to rent was an impossible task as the agents required too much deposit and high rent and when agents found out that they are homeless, they get totally refused. So the streets become their home. They sleep rough that’s for sure, in cars, alleyways, under walkways, under bridges in scrubland with a tent if they had one. Most of their belongings were in a bag or shopping trolley and that’s their life, all in a bag.
When a soldier comes home from war, their service has ended and they are discharged. Help is not there for the transition back into the community and Laurie was shocked that they don’t get a pension because they are able to work. It’s not what should happen, it shows that some veterans cannot live within the family unit again and the streets are where they end up.
Most of these homeless veterans have names but people don’t know them or even see them. It’s like being invisible, the community just think it’s another homeless person, a blight on our streets and should be hidden away from people because if you don’t see them then they don’t exist.
And this is why I built the statue. It’s to recognise that there are homeless veterans who are forgotten about and nameless, hence the nameless homeless veteran name so to bring some respect to veterans who have lost it all and are alone. The statue of the vet is sitting on the ground, the hand is reaching out for a helping hand and not begging, all that the veteran owns is in the duffle bag between his legs ,the blanket is his shroud of protection, his hat is not on his head because he is letting people know that he is a veteran, with the army hat with the badge sitting between his legs, his out-stretched hand saying that you can touch and shake his hand as you would with a living homeless soldier it seems that many post-traumatic stress disorders (ptsd) veterans are thought of as crazy, stupid and are all criminal, this is not what they are. War does some bad things to the human mind whether or not you have killed or seen people killed, the heart ache of seeing innocent woman raped killed and children killed and maimed.
The left leg of the statue contains a spent 762 cartridge. In a discussion with Laurie, he recalled that the last soldier he had to attend to as medic in the Vietnam war was a soldier that had been shot in the leg left leg. Laurie also gave a name and engraved that name to each of the parts of the statue.
The humans mind gets affected and when you are in the middle of a fire fight with all the shooting and bombing of people the brain goes into the (oh holy shit) mode giving the soldier great despair making them a different person from what they were before and not having family support because of their mental state they are all on the streets living rough.