Veterans Retreat


An old cattle station in Western Australia’s Pilbara region has been transformed into a camping getaway for war veterans and servicemen and women from all around the country.

Along the banks of the Nullagine River, near Marble Bar, is the new Meentheena Veterans Retreat.
Vietnam veteran Bill Thompson describes it as beautiful country.
“At the moment there’s not even a cloud in the sky and you can see for distances around here, and the different colours of the hills, you get the sense of peace and tranquillity in the area, and it’s nice,” he said.
The idea was to develop a retreat where veterans could unwind and share their stories.
Veterans’ Retreats WA is a non-profit organisation which helps veterans cope with their experiences in past conflicts.
It was the president Norm Whitburn, who came up with the idea to get permission to access a large section of the state-owned Meentheena station.
“The purpose of the retreat is mainly to get veterans who are still suffering from their operational experiences and also veterans who are in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, navy, army, air force, police, fire fighters and ambulance”, he said.
Mr Whitburn hopes the retreat can act as a respite centre for veterans.
“Meetheena is 75 kilometres east of Marble Bar and it’s in a remote area,” he said.
“The veterans have got nothing else to do but sit down and talk, walk around, do a bit of fishing, sit down on the banks of the Nullagine River, catch a cat fish or two, talk to their mates or anyone who is there, it’s really an ideal situation.
“We have set it up as a camp, it’s mainly a camp because people can relax a little bit better at a camp and it brings people closer together as a camp”.

Healing effects

Mr Thompson has spent the past week at the retreat.
The Vietnam veteran says places like Meentheena can play an important role in the healing process.
” I have post-traumatic stress so it is good to get away,” he said.
“When you are relaxed it takes away the sense of being crowded in, and what you are going to worry about next, and you go back with a whole different meaning of life.
“It’s part of the healing process and, being Aboriginal, you are back to a part of the land and it really is great.”
Mr Thompson says the retreat is an ideal spot.
“In the afternoons, we have people come from around the place to a gathering section and have a couple of beers and have a little chat to each other then head back to your respective caravans,” he said.
“You can get together and have a chat and then find out what you want to do, people tell you the stories of what they have done while they are here, what they have found, but they don’t tell you where they have found it,” he laughs.
“I have found that once a digger always a digger and they get on well with other diggers.”

Helping hands

Among the many people who helped get the retreat up and running, were those from Meentheena’s neighbouring station, Warrawagine.
Robin Mills says it was great to be able to lend a hand.
“They contacted us and said they needed to be able to lift some dongas, so we quite willingly organised for two loaders to come down, and we also have a grader which came down, and re-do the airstrip and clean up the camp,” he said.
“So, all in all, over a two year period we had quite a bit of equipment and people coming down and helping out with things.”
Mr Mills says it was all in the name of respect.
“They said to us at the time, why do you do that and not charge for it?”
“I said, I was never of an age to be a servicemen and so forth and you guys put your lives on the line and it’s a little way that we can help to give something back for the effort you put in years ago so that’s how we came to be involved in it.
“We now have the security of knowing that there’s people you can rely on and keep an eye on this end of the property; it’s a big relief to us.”
At the official opening of the retreat, Regional Development and Lands Minister Brendon Grylls said he was pleased the State Government could help the VRWA make their vision a reality.
“I am very heartened to see so many people here, some displaying medals, who might find some comfort from being able to come here and share some rest and relaxation,” he said.
“If that can help veterans move on, or people who have been in the services who have had difficult times, that’s a great thing.
“Hopefully this is some small recognition that your service was very much respected and valued.
“As time goes on, the understanding of the Vietnam campaign becomes stronger and stronger, and that my little guys Tom and Jack and Oliver, they need to understand what people who served in Vietnam went through why and how.
“I hope that Meentheena station veterans retreat can be a place for reflection but also for celebration and mateship and allows people to move on through difficult times in their lives.”

Open invitation

Mr Whitburn says veterans and service men and women from around the country are invited to visit the site.
“We do have facilities out there for disabled veterans, we have a four-bedroom donga it has a shower toilet and also air-conditioning,” he said.
“We have hot showers, toilets and a solar electrical system which is powering the camp.
“This is stage one of the camp, and stage 2 on the other side of the river, I am hoping the veterans will take hold of it and develop that as well.”
Mr Thompson encourages fellow diggers to plan a visit to Meentheena.
“Why wait until ANZAC Day, that’s the major day, but if you can get together some time throughout the year and meet up with old faces, like the men you have served with,” he said.
“It’s a comradeship, it’s a place where you can come to and enjoy life as it’s suppose to be.”

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