Two two driving forces behind the successful Shoalhaven Digger Day, Rick Meehan and Fred Campbell are embarking on a new adventure with Victoria Cross recipient Keith Payne.
Mr Meehan and Mr Campbell have been hand-picked by Mr Payne to head up the Keith Payne VC Veterans’ Benefit Group.
While they will still continue to organise local Digger Day activities with the Shoalhaven and Kiama rugby clubs, the pair are set to embark on another of their passions working for and with veterans.
“We are both extremely honoured to be chosen for such roles,” said Mr Meehan who will be the group's chairman, while Mr Campbell will be vice-chairman.
“For many years Keith has been a great advocate for veterans. Forty years in fact.
“He has supported and helped veterans who might be down on their luck. He has done that off his own bat.
For many years Keith has been a great advocate for veterans. Forty years in fact. He has supported and helped veterans who might be down on their luck. He has done that off his own bat. To be chosen to continue his work is a huge honour.Keith Payne VC Veterans’ Benefit Group chairman Rick Meehan
“He’s helped on a variety of fronts, fighting for veterans’ rights, looking after vets and has even organised short term housing.
“But he’s 85 and he acknowledged he needs and wants to slow down a bit.”
2019 will be a big year for Mr Payne, May 24 will mark 50 years since the action took place in which he was awarded the Victoria Cross.
Mr Campbell said he was “blown away” when approached by Mr Payne prior to last year’s Digger Day with an eye of taking over his “many projects”.
“We have been so lucky and fortunate to have been welcomed into Keith and Flo (Mr Payne’s wife) inner circle,” he said.
“For him to choose us to pass on his legacy to is very humbling - especially as he held us in that regard.
“Keith Payne VC is his own identity. He is powerfully aware of the voice he has when it comes to veterans. And he’s not afraid to use that for the benefit of veterans.
“Keith has the ears of so many influential people, including government and ministers for many years.
“We hope to be able to continue his work and continue to work to look after our veterans.”
And that starts this Thursday, March 7, when the pair along with Mr Payne travel to New Zealand as the bequest of another VC, Willie Apiata who is launching his new foundation Post Transition Ltd.
“Willie and his partner Jenny Martin care deeply about the veterans in New Zealand,.” Mr Meehan said.
Keith Payne VC is his own identity. He is powerfully aware of the voice he has when it comes to veterans. And he’s not afraid to use that for the benefit of veterans.Keith Payne VC Veterans’ Benefit Group vice-chairman Fred Campbell
“There has been eight suicides of Kiwi veterans this year alone,” Mr Campbell said.
“Willie’s a proud Maori man and a proud veteran. He cares about the vets in NZ and through his organisation wants to be able to help veterans transition from the military to civilian life.”
“In the forces they [vets] are looked after but in civilian life they are often forgotten,” Mr Meehan said.
Post Transition Ltd aims to address and support the many challenges faced by those transitioning from uniform to civilian life.
Post Transition Ltd is a social enterprise highlighting the social value of service personnel to workplaces and companies and will walk shoulder to shoulder with them from their final days in uniform through to completion of their first year in a new career.
The launch will be held at the Auckland War Museum.
“I’m sure there are things we can learn from Willie and his organisation,” Mr Meehan said “things they are doing to help Kiwi veterans that we can put in place over here in Australia.
Willie’s a proud Maori man and a proud veteran. He cares about the vets in NZ and through his organisation wants to be able to help veterans transition from the military to civilian life.Keith Payne VC Veterans’ Benefit Group vice-chairman Fred Campbell
“With our connections with Keith, Willie and UK VC recipient Johnson Beharry our efforts can be pooled to help veterans internationally.
“It is a chance for us to look at the big picture issues not just here in Australia but across the world.”
“We see this as a chance to continue our passion for working for vets,” Mr Campbell said.
“We are hoping through Keith those doors remain open.”
“We aim to meet with the Minister for Veteran Affairs a couple of times a year,” Mr Meehan said.
“We want to continue to work with and talk with our veterans, hear their concerns and take them back to the minster.
“We can give the information to the minister directly from the veterans.
“We want to continue to improve vets’ lives. Give them a voice directly to our local, state and federal politicians and ministers.”
Mr Payne has attended every Digger Day event in the Shoalhaven and will this year again attend the eighth installment of the event on July 27.
“We aren’t abandoning Digger Day,” Mr Meehan said.
“We still know how important it is not only to us but the local area and its veterans. It is aimed at working for the wellbeing of veterans and in particular for those suffering and dealing with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
“And we want that to continue for many years.
“In fact we want it to go even further, hopefully even nationally.
“We have events here in the Shoalhaven in NSW, last year events started in South Australia [in fact Keith Payne’s son Ron launched the event].”
Mr Meehan stills harbours a dream of being able to promote Digger Day with the Australian Rugby Union.
“Both the NRL and AFL have special Anzac Day events, the ARU has nothing - imagine if you could put on a special Anzac test between the Wallabies and the All Blacks, both wearing a one-off specially designed jersey,” he said.
“It could be huge.”