People and Places
The invisible cost of trauma

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Mount Eliza resident James Farquharson is a house husband, and he’s OK with that. At 52, this ex-Australian Army member and now PTSD sufferer was born in Canberra and has been living on the Peninsula for the past 10 years. Life hasn’t been easy, but as he puts it: “My wife and I are both so stubborn that we made a pact to get through this.” And they are. Now the president of the Mornington RSL, James still has the gift of a giggle, albeit one tinged with a sense of wry acceptance. The trauma of serving in East Timor in 2002 and the subsequent guilt he felt on leaving his wife and two small children behind, and the loss of four students in his pastoral care in Bendigo, have left their mark.

He explains: “I’m TPI – totally and permanently incapacitated – so I take care of the house while my wife Miffy teaches at Woodleigh. It’s been extremely difficult for her and our two girls, Molly and Jesse. I’ll never forget when Jesse was five and followed me outside in the middle of the night to the Portaloo we were using while renovating. I was trying to close the door until I finally realised she was there making sure I didn’t disappear again.”

James and his two brothers grew up around the Army. His father had two uncles in World War II, while his mum’s great uncle was a brigadier. He joined the Army Reserve when he was at Melbourne University studying secondary teaching, and went on to the Royal Military College, Duntroon, where he developed chronic fatigue syndrome after contracting glandular fever, and became depressed. He continues: “I quit the Army only to find later on that I hadn’t been discharged and had been posted to Queensland. They had marked me absent without leave. Weird. The Army Reserve is deployed in civilian time of need. Many of my mates were the ones who went in after Black Saturday to recover the bodies. They don’t talk about it. Our job was to provide military aid to the civil power and low-level operations, but my Reserve unit was deployed to East Timor in 2002, which was the first time this had been done since the Vietnam War. We trained for five months in Darwin before heading to East Timor and operated mainly on the border of Indonesia. We had to do foot patrols throughout the region. I never had to shoot my weapon but we always patrolled with them loaded and three militia were killed as a result of battalion operations. Five out of nine family members were also killed in a bombing. I was also stationed at the Dili Embassy just after the first Bali bombing, and the ambassador was driven around in an armoured Land Cruiser because there was always a constant threat. My PTSD was triggered by my deployment and I struggled to return to civilian life, then four students died while I was teaching in Bendigo and my friend Greg Sher, whom I went to East Timor with, was killed in Afghanistan. It’s hard to get help because you are supposed to be tough, but sometimes you just can’t be.”

No, you can’t, James, but life continues and we try to find ways of moving forward. For James, this means painting, sailing and staying close to family and mates. He concludes: “I get out on the water once a week, which is very calming; I am doing a visual art course at Chisholm in Frankston and do some part-time work for friends. I’m getting help.”

Anzac Day is April 25, readers. Remember it. Remember them. 

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