A message from our Director
Welcome to our new-look newsletter.
Every month, The Defender aims to tell you everything you need to know about the Defence and Veterans Legal Service.
We kick off this issue with the inspiring story of Dan Tellam, a veteran who started a volunteer-run drop-in centre in Darwin for Defence personnel, veterans and first responders.
Sometimes a place to go, and the listening ear of someone who gets it, can go a long way.
We follow it up with one of our own, Karen Mills, who is very much the backroom hero of DAVLS and needed some ‘gentle persuasion’ to talk about herself!
We hope you like what you see. Tell us what you think, or your story. We’ll do our best to include it in future issues.
Best contact is the editor: William.firstname.lastname@example.org
Stay strong and remember – we’re here to help. Don’t hesitate to get in touch.
PS. Don’t forget that it’s Veterans’ Health Week until October 9. The focus this year is on eating well. You can find a list of events in your state by clicking here.
On the front line
DAN TELLAM is an Army and RAAF veteran who founded a well-being centre in Darwin after the RSL burned down. He is part of our Expert Advisory Group.
Story of a survivor: Sergeant Dan Tellam in his days as an Army truckie.
I always wanted to be a fighter pilot as a child, but my nickname is ‘Tank’, so I failed to get into the RAAF. I joined the army as a truckie and loved it.
I would still be serving now if I didn’t get injured. I had a few work service injuries.
I had a pretty bad fall in 1997 which started the rot, and in 2012 I fell backwards off the back of a truck, and it jarred my spine. I had two discs replaced but after about 18 months, I started getting my mobility back.
Then they slipped and had to go through the whole process again. That put me in a really dark spot.
I left the military on April 26, 2015. I saw it coming because I had five years when I couldn’t do anything. My mates didn’t have time for me anymore. Work just went on without me, so I felt replaceable.
I turned to prescription drugs and alcohol and even had a plan to kill myself. My dog saved me. It struck me then that no-one would look after her.
That saved my life.
I’ve been active in the RSL since 2007 and was in their well-being centre.
I was getting heavily involved with helping more veterans and the RSL burned down! That was another huge setback.
Rising from the ashes
Then I found a community centre that was too noisy for children because it was close to the RAAF base. Billeroy House was born.
We’ve helped hundreds if not thousands of veterans, first responders and medical staff. I’ve also taken people straight off the street.
We offer a place for everything from morning teas to wakes after people have passed away. We have user groups such as the Military Wives Choir or the RAAF Darwin Fishing Club, the Naccaroos/North Force Association – the group who founded North Force during the Second World War.
We even have Aboriginal kids who have trouble at school come and grow everything from pineapples to pumpkins.
Here to look after each other
As soon as people arrive at the door, we become equal. If you have a problem, it can be discussed without any ramifications. We’re here to look after each other not to stab each other back.
I am a fully qualified well-being office and counsellor. We act as a referral service, so specialists come here to offer mental and physical health services at no cost.
We also have offices set up so veterans can use the IT and they can have appointments with specialists, so it saves them lining up in hospital.
We’re a hub for any veterans’ service that you can imagine.
I don’t have any paid people, it’s all volunteers. I won the Chief Minister’s Volunteer of the Year Award last year.
Purpose and belonging
Billeroy House has kept me alive. That’s the bottom dollar. It gives me purpose and a sense of belonging. I have mates and we all have the same issues, and we work them out.
We don’t sell alcohol and we’re family friendly too. Even when we have a barbeque it’s alcohol-free.
I am advocate at the Royal Commission for a mate who was a 15-year-old who was raped as a Navy apprentice.
I am also telling my story – how I was bullied and harassed after standing up to senior officers over a staffing issue.
My message to anyone out there thinking about telling their story?
Get it off your chest
“Go and talk about it. Get it off your chest. It has to be brought up that there are people in the Defence Force who are germs. We have to weed them out because they’ll stick together.”
Want to read more? Click here for the story about Billeroy House from ABC News.
KAREN MILLS is the office manager at DAVLS. She keeps the show on the road.
'I understand tough times - and how to survive them'
What interested you in working for DAVLS?
I have family in the military, and I love the challenge of the job. It was so different to anything I had done before.
I have learned so much in this role. I am a pretty good organiser and have learned that I can juggle so many different things. Getting it all done and keeping everyone happy – I can do that.
What were you like when you were young?
I was the teenager you fear having, I didn’t think about my future or the decisions I was making at the time, that made my life harder than it needed to be. I look back and see how far I have come and can honestly say that I am proud of where I am now.
Perhaps I understand the needs of people surviving tough times because of my own experience as a teenager.
In a nutshell, what is your role?
Keeping the show on the road. It’s basically keeping the service running, organising training, travel, doing a budget, entering all the data for any advice or information that we give to clients, assisting stakeholders and anything else that comes up.
I am a pretty good organiser and have learned that I can juggle so many different things. Getting it all done and keeping everyone happy – I can do that.
It’s not the typical office manager job. It’s keeping an eye on everyone above and making sure that they have what they need to do their job.
If you had to name your single most satisfying moment so far, what would it be?
One time this year, I had to get behind a podium and address a room full of stakeholders.
I was so glad for the podium, because otherwise the whole room would have seen my legs shaking. I was petrified.
I don’t remember a word I said, but I enjoyed it. It showed me that I could do things that I had thought were out of my reach.
What do you do to unwind and manage stress?
My ideal day would be to sit on the beach and read all day. I am a bookworm.
I love reading – anything, as long as I can get into it.
I loved Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens or The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Jenkins Reid.
I used to do boxing, martial arts and heavy weights, but injuries got in the way. I still go to the gym, but these days I just do classes. It’s very boring.
I’m also a sucker for a good market – Mollymook on the NSW South Coast is my favourite.
Outside the wire - outreach across the nation
We continue to visit the Territory regularly to assist clients with submissions, private session preparation and to answer any questions about the upcoming Royal Commission hearings. We have been to Katherine and Darwin and surrounds.
In July, we held an information session in Tiwi and attended the ADF Transition seminar at the Convention Centre.
We also visited in August and September to assist clients who want to engage with the Commission and has helped a number of clients complete submissions.
We met most of these clients not at an office but often at locations near them like cafes, libraries or local centres where they feel comfortable to chat.
Solicitor Rachael Vincent was lucky enough to have time to visit the local military museum in Darwin and really enjoyed learning more about local military history.
The Commission will hold hearings in Darwin from 18 October at the Hilton, Darwin. DAVLS staff will be available each day at the hearings to answer any questions people may have.
We visited the northern tip of South Australia last month to tell people about our services.
Our session in Coober Pedy attracted some media engagement with the local newspaper in attendance.
We were also fortunate to have a chat with the South Australian Attorney-General Kyam Maher about the DAVLS service.
We had success with the distribution of Indigenous resources with community organisations and local noticeboards. Many were unaware of the Defence and Veterans Legal Service and of the Royal Commission before our visit.
Overall, small but passionate groups attended our sessions. Some community members individually shared their experiences with us, many deciding they will put forward submissions to the Royal Commission, which is a great outcome.
We also visited Anangu Pitjantjara Yankunytjatjara communities.
We attended a World Suicide Prevention Day event in the Brisbane CBD mall conducted by https://rosesintheocean.com.au/.
We were one of a number of stall holders including Lifeline, Mates in Construction, Australian Transgender Association, Queensland Police Service, This is a Conversation Starter (TIACS), Eating Disorders Qld, and Headspace.
We had some good conversations with other stall holders and hope to work with them in the future.
In particular, we know that Mates in Construction and This is a Conversation Starter (TIACS) has veterans in their midst.
We travelled to Townsville in June where the Royal Commission was holding hearings.
The decision to hold these hearings in Townsville was a significant one as Townsville is the largest garrison city in Australia with about 20,000 ADF personnel and veterans.
That was why the Commission changed the format from stand-alone lived experiences to hearing instead from senior ADF personnel, ministers and academics.
The focus of these hearings was about the systemic issues specific to deployment, transition and post-service and how these things relate to suicide and suicidality.
We were able to meet with the Commissioners and have productive conservations about our experiences with facilitating participants engagement with the Commission.
This was an opportunity to speak with many notable figures in the ADF and veteran community and spread the word about DAVLS and the work that we do.
We were also able to provide guidance and support to those who attended the hearings as observers about engaging with the Royal Commission and how they may share their lived experiences safely.
13 Brigade, Australian Army Reserve
We have recently engaged with 13 Brigade, Australian Army Reserve which is headquartered at Irwin Barracks in the western suburbs of Perth.
The brigade is responsible for the majority of the Army Reserve units in WA and is particularly focused on supporting veteran mental health and wellbeing.
On 3 September, we operated a stall at a Family Open Day for serving personnel and their family members hosted by 13 Brigade.
It was a great day (despite the inclement weather) consisting of various service provider stalls, some regimental displays, food and drink, live music, and activities for kids.
Every quarter, the brigade hosts an Ex-Service Organisations round table where various organisations – including the RSL, Open Arms, RAAF Association, Military Brotherhood Military Motorcycle Club, and Jarrahdale Veterans Retreat – attend to discuss veteran issues.
We were invited to the next round table where we expect to provide an update on the Royal Commission and talk about how our service has been helping clients in WA and across Australia.
Reaching veterans in prison
As part of its efforts to reach veterans amongst the prison population in WA, we will be attending Acacia Prison this month to talk to staff and prisoners about the Royal Commission and the legal support available.
Acacia is a privately managed medium security male prison facility located in Wooroloo, a town in the hills east of Perth.
There are around 80 veterans amongst its prisoner population, with veterans also constituting approximately 20 per cent of its 500 staff.
Most of this group are former members of the ADF with the remainder having served in foreign militaries.
Our Tasmanian DAVLS lawyers, Clare Mittermayer and Donetta Ditton started in April.
They hit the ground running in the lead up to the Commission hearings in August to link in with stakeholders and help clients to prepare written submissions and talking points for private sessions.
Clare states that sitting in on the private sessions and hearings in Hobart was educational in terms of learning about local organisations and the experiences of Veterans, but it was also difficult to hear so many accounts about a system that has not supported them well.
It was encouraging though to hear statements of determination from each of the Commissioners to make a difference to the future of serving and ex-ADF members.
It was also great to hear from witnesses like Drs Lane and Clarke who are dedicated to improving the health of veterans.
In Tasmania, DAVLS continues to help people to engage with the Royal Commission by assisting them to prepare submissions to share their story.
Veteran Family Services
We have also been working with Victorian Veteran Family Services, a service jointly funded by the Victorian State Government and Melbourne Legacy.
The mission of VVFS is to support families of veterans during the Royal Commission, acknowledging that some veterans and their families will face difficult times as the Royal Commission does its work.
VVFS supports families of veterans with community outreach and engagement, counselling and wellbeing management.
VVFS is staffed by veterans who understand the importance of connection and community and are focused on providing people with individualised support and professional case management.
VVFS aims to enhance wellbeing through peer support, social connection, community engagement, group recreation, and learning new skills.
VVFS and DAVLS look forward to using their complementary services to support veterans and their families, and we have been invited to speak at the first of a series of information sessions focused on the Royal Commission process.
The event will be hosted in person at Legacy House on Swanston St Melbourne and will also be online.
Carry on café
Spring has sprung except in Victoria. But in defiance of the cold and rainy days, DAVLS has been getting out and about, connecting with some of our most valued stakeholders.
We have been lucky enough to get out to some regional areas as well as meeting with metro-based organisations.
A trip out to Albury and Wodonga provided a chance to meet with some of the dedicated staff and volunteers of Soldier On.
We were warmly welcomed to Soldier On’s Coffee Catch Up and we are planning another visit to the region next month.
A client appointment in Morwell in the coming days will also provide the perfect opportunity to drop into the Carry On Café.
While serving delicious food and coffee, Carry On Café provides a supportive place for the veteran community, and directs 100 per cent of profits back into supporting veterans with housing instability, and we are looking forward to a coffee and a chat with the staff there.
New South Wales
We travelled to Wagga Wagga in September for the ADF Transition Seminar at the International Hotel Wagga Wagga, where DAVLS held a stall.
We were able to engage with many transitioning Defence members and their supporters to explain the Royal Commission and how they can get involved. They were also able to meet and make connections with many other service providers at the event.
They also held a stall at a morning tea meet and greet at the Riverina Veteran Wellbeing Centre.
DAVLS will be returning to Wagga Wagga in late November when the Royal Commission will be holding their public hearings.
NSW South Coast
After a great meeting with Andrew from Soldier On we were invited to activities that he co-ordinates in the Shoalhaven.
So, on Wednesday 14 September we attended the ADF Transition Day at the Shoalhaven Entertainment Centre.
The next day, we attended the Kookaburra Retreat, Kooka morning tea. This is a group for the spouses and children of current serving ADF members. We chatted with the partners while having morning tea and a craft activity and discussed the best ways for spouses to engage with our service.
Our lawyer, Yolanda D’Aquino attended the RUOK event at Albatross Base with Andrew of Soldier On, where we spread the word about DAVLS.
On the line – taking your calls, helping to share your stories
We provided information, advice, referrals and help with submissions and private sessions, and referrals to more than 600 callers through to 30 June 2022 through our free DAVLS helpline on 1800 33 1800, and call volumes continue to rise.
Our dedicated legal team can help members of the defence and veteran community access a range of protections when they engage with the Royal Commission and, where relevant, support them to make anonymous or confidential submissions. This may be important for witnesses who are concerned about the impact of giving evidence on their defence career, or that of a loved one. We can help you stay in control of your story through the life of the Royal Commission and beyond, including by providing advice about ‘freedom of information’ provisions and protecting your information after the Royal Commission concludes.
You can explore your options with us and hear more about the protections available in a confidential advice session. Getting advice from DAVLS does not commit you to take any action but can help you decide if and how you want to engage with the Royal Commission.
DAVLS in your community
Our lawyers are working with local ex-service and veteran support organisations across the country, delivering community presentations and attending community events. You can catch up on a recent webinar on our website. If you would like DAVLS to deliver a presentation or attend an event in your community, either in person or virtually, contact DAVLS Engagement Officer Nicholas Warren at DAVLS@legalaid.nsw.gov.au.
We can answer your questions about engaging with the Royal Commission, what is involved and how it can benefit you and others in a friendly, relaxed environment. Depending on your event, we can also include opportunities for confidential, one-on-one discussions.
We have been attending all Royal Commission hearings and staffing an information stall at the hearing venues. These have been a valuable point of connection with interested members of the Defence and veteran community and an opportunity for information exchange with members of the Royal Commission team.
We are working closely with support organisations across Australia to spread the word about the specialist services we provide. You know your community and your community’s needs. Through this work, we have identified some groups who may face additional barriers when it comes to engaging with this Royal Commission:
- Defence families – We are staffing stalls at family fun days, giving presentations to families through wellbeing centres and events, speaking about the value of families’ experiences and delivering presentations in the community that highlight the important role family members can play in shaping the Royal Commission’s recommendations and legacy.
- First Nations people – Through close consultation with First Nations communities, we have developed a range of resources including posters and brochures targeted to First Nations people.
- Veterans in prison – We have developed posters for display in correctional facilities and are working to ensure people in prison can access our services wherever they are in Australia, including by offering a separate phone line for prisoner contact to ensure calls are answered as soon as possible and to allow a quality service to be delivered in the limited time prisoners have for phone calls. Follow-up services will be delivered via audio-visual connections.
Future hearings and dates for your diary
The Royal Commission has held public hearings in Brisbane, Sydney, Canberra, Townsville and Hobart.
Further hearings will take place in Darwin from 17 October 2022, and Wagga Wagga from 28 November 2022. The Royal Commission has indicated it will hold hearings in Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane in 2023, with the schedule subject to confirmation. Hearing details are provided on the Royal Commission website when confirmed.
Key dates to be aware of:
- 28 April 2023 – deadline to register for a private session (sessions run until December 2023).
- 13 October 2023 – submissions close.
- 17 June 2024 – final report due.
website. We are also happy to send out supplies for you to share.
Many of our resources are available for download from our
We have additional promotional materials if you can help us get information out about our free services
To order free resources, including posters, brochures, wallet cards and factsheets, or inquire about promotion, please contact us at DAVLS@legalaid.nsw.gov.au.
For immediate help in a crisis, please contact one of the following services: