Moama RSL boosts veteran kayakers’ fundraising efforts

Moama RSL boosts veteran kayakers’ fundraising efforts


LAST year there were more than 5800 homeless veterans in Australia.

It’s a figure that shocked Robert Kilsby, himself an SAS regiment and Vietnam War veteran, who’s kayaking the length of the Murray River to raise awareness for those he calls the “invisible people”.

“A lot of people don’t want to say ‘I’m homeless’, they want to hide away — they go bush, couch surf or live out of their car,” he said.

“That number was a real shock to me. It’s a serious problem, and it’s almost 50/50 men and women.”

The Long Paddle, a Warrior Racing Limited event, has three goals; to raise awareness of veteran homelessness, to fundraise and to be role models for other veterans.

“You don’t have to sit on the couch or get on the booze — get engaged and have a go, that is a fantastic thing for people’s recovery,” Mr Kilsby said.

Moama RSL’s Jonathan Keele presents Robert Kilsby with a cheque to go towards their fundraising efforts for homeless veterans. Photo: Steve Huntley.
 

He said although RSLs and the support service Bravery Trust were there to help veterans, there just weren’t enough homes available.

“A lot of the organisations have the money but can’t get the housing, it’s an ongoing thing,” Mr Kilsby said.

The 69-year-old Queenslander is joined by Middle East veterans Matt Hanrahan, who was a clearance diver in the navy, and Brad Grant, infantry and military police in the army

The group was originally meant to comprise five veterans, but Mr Kilsby’s good friend Jim Truscott died suddenly on another expedition just before the trip began, and Mr Kilsby’s son Sean, a police officer, was ruled out with a knee injury.

“Jim was going to do the last section with me; he’s a great man, it’s a great loss to Australia,” Mr Kilsby said.

After a call-out in the Riverine Herald for somewhere for the vets to stay during a rest stop in Echuca-Moama, Mr Kilsby got a call from Moama’s Lance McNamara — a fellow member of the SAS regiment 40 years ago.

“It’s been great to see he and Lorraine, and they’ve been able to look after us,” Mr Kilsby said.

“We also got a call from Lara at Moama Pizza who said they’d shout us a meal. We’ve found everyone is very supportive of what we’re doing.”

They stored their kayaks at Echuca Moama Canoe Club on the Victorian side of the Murray, which nearly went pear-shaped when the statewide lockdown was announced, but after a quick dash over the border to retrieve them, Mr Kilsby said their trip wouldn’t be affected by the ongoing restrictions.

The trio took off from Echuca-Moama on Saturday, May 29, after a few days’ rest. Photo: Steve Huntley.
 

Mr Kilsby is a volunteer and a director of Warrior Racing Limited, a frontline resource providing emergency accommodation for homeless veterans and referring them to support services.

Their fundraising efforts of about $3000 so far received a boost from Moama RSL, with a $200 contribution.

After resting and recalibrating in Echuca-Moama, the men set off again with the first phase of the trip to end near Wentworth and the rest to be completed after a regroup in October.

The men have seen a lot of wet and cold days on the water and nights camping on the riverbanks, as well getting through an electrical storm in their first few days.

“It’s not an easy thing — you’ve got to be very attentive while kayaking,” Mr Kilsby said.

“It’s not just a dawdle down the river, it’s low and there’s not much current.

“The way I see it, the men and women who are homeless are doing it a lot tougher than us.

“This is the least we can do so people have the opportunity to donate and spread the word.”

You can follow the Long Paddle journey on the Veterans on the Murray Facebook page and donate by visiting thelongpaddle.com.au

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