Canberra region peacekeepers have reflected on their years of service in a new short film screened on the 76th anniversary of Australia’s involvement in peacekeeping operations.
Produced by This Story Australia to commemorate local peacekeepers, the film was shown at the close of a ceremony at the Australian Peacekeeping Memorial earlier this month.
The ceremony marked 76 years since Australians became the first UN Peacekeepers to deploy to the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia) on 14 September 1947.
Following a period of civil war on the South Pacific island of Bougainville, Canberran Christine Lawrey was one of the civilian peace monitors to join the multinational effort to help set Bougainville on the path to peace between 2001 and 2002.
“I felt very fortunate to be chosen and I enjoyed meeting the people and I actually enjoyed working and living with the military as well,” she said.
“I don’t know if you’ve read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, but it kind of felt like that. You’re in a whole different world.
“Then you step back out of the wardrobe and it looked as though nothing had changed, but it kind of had.”
Etienne Ryckmans was raised and educated in Canberra before being deployed overseas in Bosnia’s capital for almost a decade as part of the UN’s mission in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
“The shelling was just so heavy that literally 90 per cent of my stint in Sarajevo was spent in that building,” he said.
“Every night a round would drop near my side on the western side. I would pick up my sleeping bag and go to the northern side, lie in the bed, get some sleep and then a round would drop on the northern side, and I would get out of bed again and move it to the southern side.
“It rattled you. I got used to living without sleep I think. You’re running on adrenaline.” Mr Ryckmans said he slept for 24 hours straight on his first night back in Australia.
“I was so hyped up and so used to the rounds landing every day and hearing it that when I got the split, the quietness and peacefulness just blew me away,” he said.
Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) secretary Alison Frame paid tribute to Australia’s peacekeepers, including the 17 who lost their lives.
“More than 66,000 military police and civilian personnel have stood as a faint figment of light amid the darkness of hate,” she said.
“They have prevented violence and preserved police. They have helped communities rebuild in the wake of devastation. They’ve served in countries that were not their home.
“They have saved lives, not because they were Australian, but because all lives regardless of race, faith or nationality deserve protection. This embodies the finest qualities of the ANZAC tradition.”
The day prior to the ceremony, peacekeepers gathered at Ainslie Football Club to conduct a mental health check, before speaking with the DVA’s acting repatriation commissioner Glen Ferrarotto about changes to improve the lives of veterans and their families. Ms Frame, who has headed the DVA since January this year, spent the majority of her speech discussing the same topic.
She said standing up for the cause of peace was part of who we are as a nation, but acknowledged the “far reaching consequences” this service can have on physical and mental health.
“When [veterans] return home, it is incumbent on our department on behalf of the nation to acknowledge that service and provide support whenever it is needed,” she said.