Life as a defence partner – ABC Brisbane – Australian Broadcasting Corporation

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Life as a defence partner – ABC Brisbane – Australian Broadcasting Corporation

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While they’re away for months at a time fighting, training, peacekeeping, how do their partners keep everything together at home?

The life of a defence partner isn’t easy.

Army wife of nine years and southern Queensland representative of Defence Families Australia, Caetlin Watch likens it to being a single mum, but married.

"We go through the same things as separation," she says of defence partners.

Defence spouse of 12 years Melissa Hingston established a Facebook group for women in Brisbane whose partners are in the defence forces.

"It’s a rollercoaster," says Mel.

"No two days are the same."

Although Mel says separation is the biggest challenge, the practical matters also take their toll, such as doing the banking.

"Just trying to finalise loans… not being the primary account holder."

President of the Defence Force Welfare Association, Rob Shortridge spent 36 years in the airforce and experienced the challenges from the other side.

"I had an instance where I was shouting at the tax office in Tasmania from outside a hotel in Baghdad because they refused to talk to my wife, even though she had the power of attorney," says Rob.

"It’s pressure that my wife doesn’t need and also in that environment where you’re working 18-20 hour days and it is dangerous, it’s a pressure you don’t need."

And from both sides, there’s constant nervousness about media reports.

"We get drilled into us – if it hits the news and you haven’t had someone turn up on your doorstep, it’s not your partner," says Caetlin.

But she says it is still nerve wracking.

"Doesn’t matter how many times you get told… your heart still misses a beat when you see it on the news."

After such a stressful separation, Mel says the homecoming is one of the biggest highs a defence partner can have.

"How many times do you get to fall in love with the person that you love over and over again?"

But coming home also requires readjustment and Rob says it takes time to come down from the long, stressful days of defence work.

"I found… I needed down-time but I needed up-time with the family and those two didn’t neccessarily mingle particularly well," he says.

"That caused a little bit of stress on the family."

Caetlin says in her experience it’s been important to remain emotionally aware of each other at that time.

"You’ve got to take in the fact that you’ve just spent a week, six, nine months separated from your partner… you’ve got to let the reigns go a little."

And she says it can be especially challenging when those defence force personnel are also parents.

"Sometimes those children have been born while they were away so they’ve never met their father or mother, it can be really hard," says Caetlin.

Compounding the strain on family relationships, the women say people in the general community are often reluctant to befriend defence families.

Caetlin says they are no different to anyone else and just want to be treated the same.

"It’s definately not like the Army Wives TV show… we don’t get free medical, free housing, we pay taxes, our husbands do pay taxes," she says.

"We’re integrated in the community, we don’t live in little patches on base anymore."

Mel says she would like to broaden her social circle outside of other defence families.

"We just want people to have an open mind when they meet us in the street," she says.

"Not segregate us into – oh well they’re defence families, they’re not worth getting to know because who knows in two years they’ll be gone."

From left: Hannah and Caetlin Watch, Melissa Hingston and Rob Shortridge. (Ursula SkjonnemandABC Local)

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