Stories from the Frontline – Episode 2, Sergeant Dan Tellam

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.

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. When I went into the shed to do it, my dog scratched on the shed door. 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.

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.

As soon 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.

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?

"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."


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Publication date: 15 March 2023
Publication type: AudioPodcast
Language: English