Lest we forget: 100 years of war veteran care

Australia’s 100-year history of repatriation services for returned servicemen and women has been outlined in a new Department of Veterans’ Affairs history book.

Ahead of ANZAC Day, South Australian Historian of the Year 2017 – Flinders University’s Professor Philip Payton – says the history reveals how repatriation services have changed significantly over the years.

Professor Payton was commissioned to tell the story of the Australian Government’s care for returned servicemen and women in Repat: A Concise History of Repatriation in Australia, published by the Australian Department of Veterans’ Affairs, in hardback and eBook pdf.

Its release, timed to commemorate the centenary of Australia’s Repatriation Department, outlines the gradual shift in focus and modernisation of support and services provided for veterans.

Veteran health issues, in particular, have come under keen public scrutiny in SA since the closure of the Daw Park Repatriation Hospital in November 2017, after 75 years of care – although the facility had not been run by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs since the 1990s, when its administration was handed over to the State Government.

“The Department of Veterans’ Affairs is using its resources differently, as it has moved from being a health provider – shedding its bricks and mortar hospital assets – and is now a major health services purchaser, on behalf of the veterans,” says Professor Payton.

“But health is only a part of the Repat story, along with pensions, employment, housing, and the department is making efforts to explore more total care.

“It is less about compensation and more focused on the overall, ongoing welfare of veterans.”

Professor Payton says the “fourth wave” of Australian armed services veterans to be assisted by Repat (including those who served in Iraq, Afghanistan and East Timor) have challenged the department to keep re-assessing its services.

Flinders Professor Payton with the new Department of Veterans’ Affairs publication Repat: A Concise History of Repatriation in Australia.

“This is a younger cohort of veterans that bring a variety of new issues, attitudes and expectations that need to be addressed – with women now representing a very significant number of veterans – and it has resulted in Repat moving significantly with the times.”

The book begins by examining the Australian Soldiers’ Repatriation Act 1917. Acting on the promise made by Prime Minister W.M. ‘Billy’ Hughes, the Commonwealth Government moved to look after the interests of Australia’s returned servicemen and women by creating a specific Repatriation Department in 1918.

The story continues through what was done for troops returning from World War I, through Australia’s involvement in conflicts during World War II, Korea, Vietnam, East Timor, Afghanistan and Iraq, through to the policy and initiatives of today’s Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

“It’s a complete picture of how Australia has responded to the needs and aspirations of its veterans over the last 100 years,” explains Professor Payton.

Professor Payton is the author or editor of more than 50 books and has written extensively on Australian, military and maritime history, including such titles as Regional Australia and the Great War (2012), The Maritime History of Cornwall (2014), Australia in the Great War (2015), and One & All: Labor and the Radical Tradition in South Australia (2016). Last year A History of Sussex and Cornwall: A History was published.

As well as Professor of History at Flinders University, he is Emeritus Professor of Cornish and Australian Studies at the University of Exeter in England.

After graduating from the University of Adelaide, he served in the Royal Navy for 30 years as both a Regular and Reservist and after a stint as Senior Lecturer at the Royal Naval College Greenwich, he was recalled to active service in 2003 on the aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal during the Iraq war.

Professor Payton as Commander RN in HMS Ark Royal in the northern Arabian Gulf during the Iraq War in 2003.
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