Together we stand: Zita Vafiopulous and David Clarke

Zita and David

When Zita and Wayne Vafiopulous arrived for a stay at the National Centre for Veterans’ Healthcare (NCVH), they were blown away by the generosity shown by Five Dock RSL sub-Branch Secretary David Clarke.

As told to Lachlan Haycock

David Clarke

David Clarke is Honorary Secretary of Five Dock RSL sub-Branch and President of the Western Metropolitan District Council.

When the NCVH started up, we made it known that the members of Five Dock RSL sub-Branch wanted to be of assistance. Before they had an RSL NSW Liaison Officer, the case officers at NCVH would ring me and ask, ‘Can you help over the weekend?’ During the week they have fairly stringent programs, but veterans can sometimes sit twiddling their thumbs on Saturday and Sunday.

We started by taking a few of them out to breakfast with a few of our members. Often it was a yum cha lunch. We try to pick a mix of Navy, Army and Air Force, young, old and middle-aged, to give variety to the conversation. We do what we can.

Now there is a volunteer RSL NSW Liaison Officer in Bronte Pollard. NCVH contacts Bronte, and Bronte rings me to organise something. And it’s not always us – Bronte uses other organisations as well to open up a wider spectrum of assistance. RSL NSW is preparing to make that a funded position, which I think is a good move.

I rang Zita and asked what suited them. They’re both ex-Navy, so we tried to go for a drive out to North Head so they could look at our beautiful harbour, but North Head was closed. They had the road blocked off. I’ve never known it to be closed. Nonetheless, we drove back and stopped at the HMAS Sydney memorial on the headland in Mosman. Then we took them back to Five Dock and bought them lunch and a couple of drinks.

Zita was telling me how she’d done a fair bit of work building up the Tumut RSL sub-Branch’s memorabilia display. I rang David Ingram, Treasurer of the Windsor RSL sub-Branch, and he organised for us to visit the Penrith RSL sub-Branch’s memorabilia display. They’re lovely people. It’s been really great for them, a really good experience.

Veterans, including those from the sub-Branches in the area could all pitch in and help in some way, and I’m sure they will. I think that’s where the RSL NSW Liaison Officer can take it: Bronte can reach out and call on help not just from the Inner West but from the whole veteran community.

If I ever get visitors to Sydney, the first place I take them is North Head. Wayne and Zita still haven’t seen it, so the next time they come up, they’re on.

Zita Vafiopulous

Zita Vafiopulous served two and a half years in the Navy in the 1970s, and is now a volunteer historian at Tumut RSL sub-Branch. She and her husband Wayne, also a Navy veteran, stayed at the NCVH in July 2022.

I’m an ex-RAN motor transport driver (MTD) and Wayne was the Chief Quartermaster Gunner (QMG). We got married on 1 July 1972. Back in those days, WRANS were not allowed to associate with sailors, or even sit next to each other in the picture theatre. Wayne and I used to have to ask our commanding officers for permission to meet at Wayne’s parents’ house for Christmas – this was after we were married.

They shipped him off to Sydney, and I stayed at HMAS Cerberus in Victoria – never the twain shall meet. I left the Navy in January 1973 because they wouldn’t let us serve in the same state. It was a funny time, but that was what the services were like back in those days.

Now Wayne and I live in Tumut, in the Snowy Mountains, and we hadn’t been to Sydney since 1980. When an article about NCVH was printed in Reveille, RSL NSW’s quarterly magazine for members, this year, I popped onto the website and had a read. We were initially unable to attend the clinic in person, and began telehealth with specialists in chronic pain management, occupational therapy, physiotherapy and more.

Eventually we made it up to Sydney and stayed at the NCVH onsite accommodation, Fussell House. Bronte Pollard, RSL NSW Liaison Officer, couldn’t meet us until the day before we left due to having COVID, but he organised for David Clarke, Secretary of Five Dock RSL sub-Branch, to take us out for a trip on the weekend.

David took us all around Sydney, driving up to the memorial at North Head. We spent two and a half hours on the road. It was just a fabulous afternoon; we were gobsmacked at how much Sydney had changed. Then he brought us back to the Five Dock RSL sub-Branch to have lunch, which was absolutely fabulous. Nothing was too hard for him. I know how busy he is as an RSL volunteer.

As we were talking over lunch, he suggested he take me out to meet the President of Penrith RSL sub-Branch and the memorabilia team – because I look after all the memorabilia at our sub-Branch in Tumut. He picked me up on Thursday morning, and off we went. Penrith has the most wonderful display of memorabilia and I credit Phil and his team for their hard work in setting up and maintaining it. Since then, I’ve set up a network with one of the memorabilia team members, sending emails back and forth on the databases we’ve been developing.

It was only two days, but it was good for our spirits. It was good to talk to a like-minded person. We returned to Fussell House feeling totally relaxed, having enjoyed a very pleasant day in great company. The big thing we noticed about NCVH was that it brought us back to being a part of a team. We always had each other’s back in the services, and it was like stepping back in time.

Both of us are home now, feeling uplifted by the support from NCVH, Fussell House, Bronte, and David, and looking forward to continuing to collaborate with the staff at NCVH.

About NCVH

NCVH is an outpatient service of Concord Hospital. Veterans who are referred for treatment at NCVH from regional areas or interstate are eligible to access the accommodation at Fussell House, which was funded by a $6.7 million contribution from the Australian Government via the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA). The services provided at NCVH are free for all patients.

Fussell House was named after Lieutenant Michael Fussell, who was killed in action by an IED in 2008 while serving with the Special Operations Task Group in Afghanistan.

NCVH recognises that veterans often need very different care to the general public. Learn more about eligibility and the referral process.

 

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