12 July 2023

Guitar group brings vets together to make music and chew the fat at Kiama

| Katrina Condie
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The Veteran Guitar Group is bringing southern Illawarra veterans together. Photo: Rick Meehan.

Craig McCorkell believes music can help soothe the mind and soul so, when he’s stressed or feeling a bit down, he picks up his guitar and finds his happy place.

The former Navy medic and Victoria Ambulance paramedic taught himself to play while at sea, and now he’s sharing his passion for music with others at the newly formed Kiama Veteran Guitar Group.

“Music and the guitar make me feel peaceful,” Craig said.

“With a background in the military and the emergency services, I came across tough times and music always helped me. I found it beneficial for relaxation and de-stressing by taking my mind away.

“Music has always helped me and I wanted to do something for other veterans. I thought someone else with a similar background to me would also benefit from learning how to play the guitar.”

It was important to Craig, who now lives in Kiama, that the group was free, comfortable and accessible for all past and serving vets, whether they have previously played music, or never picked up an instrument in their life.

“I think there are veterans out there who have always wanted to learn but might think they are too old, can’t afford it or that lessons are for young kids,” he said.

“My plan is for the group to provide some tuition but also create friendships for people who might otherwise be isolated and just need some contact.”

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The new group is a space where vets can come together, share their stories, talk about their time in the military and, as Craig says, “take the Mickey out of each other”.

“The first night nobody new each other and, within two minutes, we were all laughing and joking and talking about our injuries, which is a great indicator that we all come from a common place,” he explained.

“We understand each other on a certain level because of our shared experiences. We share a common language and a common feeling, and have a great respect for each other.”

Craig says playing music releases “feel good hormones” which can help “spark interest” in people who may be living with PTSD or depression.

After only two get-togethers, the new group is growing organically, with vets from Kiama, Jamberoo, Albion Park and Shellharbour picking up a guitar.

The group was given a boost via funding from the Keith Payne VC Veterans Benefit Group (KPVBG) and the Department of Veteran Affairs, and was also given 12 refurbished guitars by Canberran Col Greef.

Fred Campbell OAM and Rick Meehan from the KPVBG attended the group launch, one of many support networks helping vets with their mental health and the challenges of PTSD, including surfing, martial arts and walking groups.

“It’s important to offer as many activities as we can because PTSD is quite prevalent among men and women veterans and we’re just trying to find different avenues to help them out,” Rick said.

“Fred and I went along and ran into three guys that we served with. The veteran space is so big and you often run into people you haven’t seen for donkey’s. It’s great to catch up with old mates and have a lot of fun and banter.”

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Rick says veterans are keen to “jump in and help each other out” whenever possible.

“We get together, have a brew and get them out of their social isolation. A bit of banter, chewing the fat – that’s what it’s all about.

“We’re here as an organisation to get as many veterans into a good headspace and prevent suicide. It’s very important to all of us.”

The group invites veterans from the southern Illawarra region to join the fun at the Kiama Jamberroo RSL sub-branch every second Wednesday from 6:30 pm. Or check out the Veteran Guitar Group page on Facebook.

If you or someone you know needs support, you can contact:

  • Lifeline’s 24-hour crisis support line – 13 11 14
  • Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467
  • Kids Helpline – 1800 551 800 or kidshelpline.com.au
  • MensLine Australia – 1300 789 978 or mensline.org.au

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