Michael Davey ran away from home and joined the Navy as a 15-year-old. He was enrolled as a junior recruit at HMAS Leeuwin in Perth and eventually worked with aircraft at HMAS Albatross. After a fostered and institutionalised childhood, the Defence Force provided Michael with a sense of family, structure, and discipline. By nineteen years of age, he had travelled the world, an experience he describes as “breathtaking”. Michael served for 10 years, and says he loved every second of it.
When the time came to transition out of Defence, though, he struggled. He estimates he submitted 300 job applications and attended scores of interviews. He felt he had no transferrable skills, that he wasn’t equipped to deal with civilian life. This struggle left him in a dark place. But, after getting professional help and after completing his HSC as a mature age student, Michael discovered skills he never thought he had and went on to university, where he won two scholarships; one a PhD and the other in medicine.
Personally aware of the struggles our Defence personnel go through, Michael is now determined to do what he can for those who are in that dark place he once found himself. He was appalled at the suicide rate amongst veterans. “More than 1400 veterans have committed suicide in the time we were in Afghanistan,” he says. Driven by a desire to help Defence personnel get into counselling and receive the support that they need, Michael set out to raise both funds and awareness on the back of a bike.
Last year, Michael and a small group of ex-ADF members rode postie bikes around Australia in support of Soldier On, covering an impressive total of 21,000 kilometres, creating awareness for the for harsh toll that mental illness can take on Australian veterans and raising an incredible $41,000. This year, Michael is tackling a journey of roughly 14,500 kilometres on a pushbike, setting a fundraising goal of $100,000 to help Soldier On continue to deliver its lifesaving work.
Starting his journey on July 1, Michael headed over the Sydney Harbour Bridge before pedalling his way up to Brisbane, followed by Rockhampton. His journey will then take him to Mt Isa, Katherine, Broome, and the Kimberley. Perth, Esperance, Norseman, Port Augusta, Melbourne, Hobart, Bendigo, Griffith, and Canberra are also on the route before he arrives home in Nowra in October.
Michael’s drive to destigmatise mental illness is evident. Having suffered PTSD himself, he knows some people experience a self-imposed pressure to ‘man up’. Having sought professional help, he found more constructive ways to think. “[Seeking help for] mental illness is not a sign of weakness – it’s a sign of strength to be able to recognise the need for professional help,” he says.
Michael hopes the ride around Australia will be the start of a conversation for many veterans battling mental health. Astride his pushbike dressed as Where’s Wally, he certainly stands out. The costume is a fun attention-grabber, but it also serves to communicate a serious message about not hiding in plain sight like Wally. Those suffering mental illness will sometimes hide or mask what they’re going through, and from the outside looking in, it can be hard to determine that any issues even exist. Michael’s advice to those struggling is clear: “Don’t hide, get help, start a conversation.”