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How far would you walk to help a mate?


Sylvia Pennington

Special forces soldiers will walk 1600km to raise money for their comrades.

Special forces soldiers will walk 1600km to raise money for their comrades. Photo: iStock

Twelve special forces soldiers will spend August on the march, tramping 1600 kilometres from Brisbane to the far western town of Birdsville to raise $500,000 for wounded and war-weary comrades-in-arms.

The troop's oldest member will be a retired SAS veteran of 74; its youngest a serving soldier in his twenties. They'll head west from Anzac Square, the home of Brisbane's eternal flame, on August 3.

They will spend 33 days on the move, walking in relay and camping in convoy in a journey that will take them through Toowoomba, Dalby, Roma, Charleville and a clutch of one-pub outposts, en route to Birdsville.

The mega-walk is an initiative of Wandering Warriors, a foundation established by the Special Air Service Association's Queensland branch to raise money for services the military and Department of Veterans Affairs are unable to provide.

The SAS Regiment comprises a small, elite fraction of Australia's armed forces. Established in 1957, it operates under the motto "Who Dares Wins".

In the past 15 years the regiment has had multiple deployments to a steady stream of hotspots, including Afghanistan, Iraq, East Timor and the Solomon Islands.

Thirty-nine Australians have died in Afghanistan and 253 wounded in action since 2001; around half of them from special forces. SAS soldiers Mark Donaldson and Ben Roberts-Smith received the Victoria Cross, Australia's highest award for gallantry, for acts of battlefield valiance while serving there.

Extended absences – tours of duty can last up to 12 months and many SAS soldiers spend nine months of the year away – can place a strain on relationships at home.

Wandering Warriors executive officer Quentin Masson, a former squadron commander and 19-year veteran who left the SAS in 2011, says wear and tear on families is inevitable.

“The unit has been on constant operations for many years now, and whilst that's what they're happy to do, it does take a toll,” Masson says.

Some of the funds raised by the walk will go towards a respite program dubbed Project Excalibur. SAS soldiers in need of down-time are sent with their families for a two-week break to the Gold Coast or Sunshine Coast.

The president of the SAS Association in Queensland, Alan Bowen, says it's respite – time for a family to reconnect away from the home environment – and not a junket.

It's an intervention that can “save a guy and his career, save a family and a marriage and perhaps save a life”, Bowen says.

Other monies will be earmarked for charities that help injured SAS soldiers rebuild their lives and assist the families of those who have been killed in action.

The Departments of Defence and Veterans Affairs offers support but the famously tight-knit SAS community likes to look after its own, Masson says.

Assistance provided by charities such as the Commando Welfare League and Soldier On includes paying children's' school fees and providing additional support in the home for disabled veterans.

“There's an extra dimension of care that we can provide and that's the gap, “ Masson says.

“We don't want to be constrained by budgets or entitlements.”

While the bulk of funds raised are expected to come from corporate sponsors, the troop is anticipating the occasional whip-round, as well as a warm welcome, as they tramp west.

“The support we've got from the communities along the way has been unbelievable,” Bowen says.

Several towns have offered to open their community centres and showgrounds to the walkers, who are in line for a hearty dose of bush hospitality, along with a place to pitch camp.

The pub at Morven, 665km west of Brisbane, population 276, is preparing to roll out the red carpet.

“The hotelier there has already said he's more than happy to put a jug on the bar to collect money for us,” Bowen says.

“He can put on a barbecue, he can organise a band to play, he can organise all the people round the district to be in the pub to come and say hello and he'll give us 10 per cent of the bar till.

“It will be a big social event. It's been like that all the way through.”

The walk's end will coincide with the start of the Birdsville Races; an annual event which sees the outback town's population swell from 100 to 6000.

To make a donation, go to the Wandering Warriors website.


  • What a tragedy for the Forces when they have to go about fund raising to achieve decent payments for their colleagues for the services their employer should legally supply as part of the whole work related experience.What a disgraceful Government that creates that necessity.Absolutely appaling.What next ,Doctors doing laps of the cities parks to get pay rises?Pollies busking in Canberra to raise their retirement payouts or for hospital bills ?Any Government that cant provide the finances to compensate their employees appropriately is a failed Government.

    Date and time
    June 25, 2013, 10:41AM
    • While I applaud the actions of the people participating, I agree with Kane. We ask everything of our people in Defence, yet when the time comes to look after them the Government is weak. DVA is focused on making sure veterans are given as little as possible.

      Date and time
      June 25, 2013, 11:36AM
    • Not at all Terry, DVA do a lot for Veteran's it's Defence itself that doesn't give a damn. After 10 years and mounting health problems my partner is finally getting out, Defence are trying not to pay out his accrued leave but DVA are helping us fight for it.

      Either way, both organisations are limited by funding and old fashioned attitudes. Come back from a tour and do they get granted leave? No, it's back to work the next day thank you very much and if you don't show up it's off to a disciplinary hearing for you. None of this sickie business, no unions to back you up. You're at the whim of your CO and if he decides to make the duty shift work on Anzac Day that's what you're doing.

      Glad to be getting rid of it

      Date and time
      June 25, 2013, 11:53AM
  • Well done, those men.
    Even if the respites were considered a 'junket'.. by grace, these blokes have earned it.

    Date and time
    June 25, 2013, 11:00AM
    • Good on em! Great cause.

      Date and time
      June 25, 2013, 11:20AM
      • uuumm.... around the block?

        Date and time
        June 25, 2013, 11:42AM
        • It would be great to have a link in the story to make it easier for people to donate money to the cause?

          Date and time
          June 25, 2013, 11:45AM
          • Was thinking the exactly same thing....

            Date and time
            June 25, 2013, 1:26PM
          • Now added to the story, and here:

            Date and time
            June 25, 2013, 2:04PM
        • With very close mates being ex-Regiment, and knowing others still serving, it is with a tear that I concur with Kane & Terry above. I couldn't say it any better than Kane has, so I will in turn give his words my complete support.
          The men & women who give their all (& sometimes give the ultimate) to serve our country, these guys & gals should be provided for better during & after service than any retiring politician!
          The deepest of respect to those who have or do serve. You have done more than your share in creating this wonderful country we all call home.
          I thank you for all Australians.

          Date and time
          June 25, 2013, 11:49AM

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