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July 09, 2021

Jack of All Parades

Looking for someone who’s done it all? Meet Wayne Dixon – former reservist, firey, ambo, sub-Branch President, homecare volunteer, and more. If there’s a parade going, Wayne probably belongs in it – but he’d say he just likes to help people.

I was an Army Reservist for about six years, and I’ve moved around a lot. When I was in Coonamble, I was President of the RSL sub-Branch for three years.

Back in Coonamble, I volunteered for St John Ambulance and the Rural Fire Service. When they had the big bushfires in Victoria, I drove the fire truck from Coonamble to Victoria. We spent more than a week there putting out bushfires, and I was flown to Victoria again a few years later to do the same thing.

Fighting those fires was an experience that’ll live with me forever. We were all getting ready to go down there and watching the news on TV – they said people were losing houses and their lives. When we drove down, people held up little placards saying ‘thank you’ and waving to us.

You see all the burnt houses, and you turn around and it’s all burnt everywhere, you just see burnt areas and places. It makes you so proud to be there though, to help each other in times of crisis like that.

LEAVING HOME

In the ’80s, I had an aunt who used to live in Wangi Wangi, and I’d come down this way then and I just loved visiting the place. So when I started to get arthritis in my spine, I decided to move there to be closer to doctors. There’s an Aboriginal Medical Centre in Cardiff and I go there now.

I’m single, and I’ve got a little Jack Russell terrier, Bear – he’s about 11 years old, and I’ve had him since he was a puppy. I was staying with my cousins in Morisset and looking around for a house for me and Bear. But things weren’t working out and I was going to commit suicide at one point there.

At the RSL sub-Branch, I met an Affiliate member, Wendy – her father was a Vietnam vet, and she helps veterans looking for houses and jobs. Wendy got onto Mamour at RSL DefenceCareRSL DefenceCare and told him about me, and he was a really great help to me.

MAKING A HOME

Walking into my new place with Bear – it was freedom. It was. It’s my own little granny flat, and I don’t have to tread on eggshells like I would if I was at other people’s places. I can do things myself – my own shopping, put up some photos for myself and make the place liveable.

I’ve got a little rocking chair on the verandah where I sit and rock on that. I don’t drink – I haven’t for so many years – but I go outside and have a smoke now and then.

When I first moved in, the neighbours welcomed me to the street and they’re all good neighbours. If you’re out the front there, they pull up and have a yarn, come up and have a yarn. Everything’s nice and peaceful here. At night, there are no parties, you don’t hear dogs bark or anything like that.

When I was ready to start looking for work, Mamour [through RSL DefenceCare’s financial assistance program] helped me get a laptop I could use to look for work, and connected me with the RSL Employment Program.

Then the bus driver at the Wangi RSL Club left, and the team there thought, “Who are we going to get as a bus driver?” So the manager rang me and asked if I would like the job. I said yes.

I’m going to do some training on the computer as well, and that’ll give me another bit on my résumé. I sit with the guys at the sub-Branch, and the President there is looking for a Secretary. Soon I’ll be able to help with that.

With my licence, I can help with the schoolkids from the Wangi Wangi Public School too. They’ve got a school carnival coming up next month and they’ve asked me, on my days off, if I’d like to drive them to the school carnival. I said, “Yeah, that’s not a problem.”

I’m getting familiar with all the people, and they’re really nice. The boss is a good manager there, and the bar staff are really nice too. I marched on ANZAC Day and people were watching from both sides of the street. I did the lowering and raising of the flag, and then they said it was my day, and I should have the day off.

They all looked after me, even all the patrons. Everything’s going good.

MAMOUR SECK, HOUSING PROJECT OFFICER, RSL DEFENCECARE

My work has many highlights. I work with veterans who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless across NSW and help them get into housing.

I work with veterans who literally have nothing – they’re sleeping in parks or sleeping in tents – to get off the street and into a property. Then I assist in settling them into their new home.

A while back, I worked with a 74-year-old Vietnam vet. When his wife had passed away, he’d just walked out of their home and never returned. I met him 20 years later – he’d been sleeping rough that whole time. I managed to get him into housing and he settled in. That was a real highlight to see that change.

But the easiest client I’ve ever worked with – that’s Wayne. He had the prospect of going back into the workforce and he was willing – we just needed to get him into stable housing first. So we worked through all the required paperwork, submitted the applications, and identified a property in the Newcastle area. This was done through the Rent Choice Veterans program.

Once he settled into the property – and that was very quick – Wayne said he was ready for employment. So I referred him to the RSL Employment Program, another program of RSL LifeCare Veteran Services. It was only three weeks later that Wayne started driving the courtesy bus for the Wangi RSL Club.

Working with Wayne was a pleasure – everything went swiftly with no major issues. In no time he managed to get a job, and I’ll continue to work with him to make sure he can maintain that employment.

This article originally appeared in the June edition of Reveille magazine.

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