Collaboration allows veterans to enjoy active lifestyle

In 2014 Maxine Starkey’s life really changed. After being together for 14 years, her husband Michael joined the Navy as an Aviation Technician Avionics (ATV). While Michael was at recruit school, Maxine found herself seeking the support of others living the Defence lifestyle. She had heard of Kookaburra Retreat, and felt it was now time to step out of her comfort zone.  

“From the moment I walked in the door, it was like coming home and my involvement has been life changing for me,” Maxine said. She was nominated as the President in 2015 and then hired as a Community Support Coordinator in October 2017. 

Kookaburra Retreat is the home of the Shoalhaven Defence Families Association Inc (SDFA), a not-for-profit organisation operated by a volunteer committee, with the purpose of providing support to the Defence community and the challenges and demands that come with Defence life. The SDFA aims to bring fun and friendship to members, to reduce isolation, develop a sense of community and connection, to build confidence, self-esteem and wellbeing, provide training and learning opportunities, and to provide respite to parents with young children through their creche service. 

“This support creates strengthened family and community functioning,” Maxine said. “Kookaburra Retreat provides a positive and welcoming atmosphere, where activities are tailored to the needs of members. Activities can include fitness, cooking, every kind of craft you can imagine, social nights and playgroups to name a few. We also host morning teas with other ESOs including Soldier On”.    

“Being a serving member or family becomes part of your identity. It is something to be proud of. The sacrifices families make are often undervalued though or not acknowledged. When members discharge for whatever reason, it can often be hard to readjust to civilian life and to find ‘where you fit’,” Maxine added.  

Soldier On recently formed a partnership with Invictus Australia to better support the health and wellbeing of Australia’s veterans and their families. The partnership will see the facilitation of more sport and recreational opportunities, events and resources being offered to the Defence community. Maxine has been able to access support from both Soldier On and Invictus Australia.    

Unfortunately, Michael will be medically discharged from the Navy after more than eight years of service due to being diagnosed with MS in September 2021. Maxine has also been through her own health challenges, dealing with an auto immune disease.  

“Before our health issues occurred and after having children, we never had much time for sport. Invictus Australia has really sparked our interest again and it has motivated us to go along to organised events. We appreciate the variety that is being offered to Veterans and their families on the South Coast, which has a positive impact on or mental and physical health,” Maxine commented. 

Invictus Australia’s Veteran Engagement Specialist, Debbie Dimmock said, “It’s great to partner with Soldier On and to be able to share our knowledge and expertise in sport, by working together to bring more opportunities to the Defence Community.   

“The power of sport whether playing, officiating or volunteering can be so good for health and wellbeing, but it also gives social connection and friendship.  Helping someone to find their tribe and the difference it makes to their life is so rewarding”, she said.  

As Maxine and Michael come to terms with their new way of life, they will be actively looking for activities they can do as a family. The importance of Defence support services like Soldier On and Invictus Australia play an integral part in helping veterans and families to connect with others in similar situations, or to maintain that sense of identity.   

To take part in fun, collaborative activities in your area, register as a participant or reach out to activities@soldieron.org.au.


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