11 November 2022

Lunch with a Logie winner to help fund Australia-first mental health centre

| Zoe Cartwright
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Wagga Wagga.TV CEO and Region Riverina commercial manager Adam Drummond filming a documentary for the Pro Patria Centre with Australian actor John Wood. John is talking to Darren Sweeney from Riverina Bluebell. Photo: Shri Gayathirie Rajen.

With a bit of community support, the Riverina could build an Australia-first model for quality mental health care.

In 2019 the Carmelite Monastery, Ashmont, closed due to dwindling numbers but the remaining nuns wanted to see it put to good use.

Instead of selling the monastery at market value, they had a vision that the extensive buildings and acreage could give some solace to those most in need.

To that end, in November 2020 the monastery was formally handed over to the Pro Patria organisation.

Pro Patria (for one’s country) is a not-for-profit wellbeing centre catering for veterans and first responders (police, fire, ambulance, medical personnel, etc) suffering from PTSD, depression, anxiety and other service-related conditions.

Now the group hopes to officially purchase the site and build a unique mental health centre – but they need some extra cash.

Darren Sweeney, of the Riverina Bluebell Committee, said the project provided an opportunity for the Riverina community to take ownership of mental health services in the region.

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“Every soldier, every member of the Defence Force comes through Wagga at one stage or another,” he said.

“Out of a crowd of 40 at Pro Patria, 15 will have missing limbs.

“It doesn’t take a genius to go, ‘Look as a community, we need to put as much effort into helping these guys when they come back as we do into recruiting them to defend the country’.

“Pro Patria would allow us to look after veterans and first responders in our own community.

“It’s about providing more than a 15-minute Medicare appointment for a pill prescription, there are lots of other approved treatments that we’re hoping to bring to Wagga, so people can get what they need for that healing process and stay connected to their community while they do it.

“It could be a blueprint for other centres around Australia.”

It’s a big dream but, with programs already running out of the former monastery, anything is possible.

In order to complete the purchase of the site, Pro Patria will host a luncheon at Wagga Wagga Country Club on Friday, 18 November.

Logie Award-winning actor and scriptwriter John Wood will be one of the afternoon’s hosts.

Mr Wood became involved with Pro Patria when they asked him to narrate a documentary for them, but his advocacy for veterans began when he played police officer Tom Croydon in Blue Heelers.

“We did a few episodes with Vietnam veterans, and I made a few speeches on their behalf to try to get them proper recognition from the Department of Veterans Affairs,” he said.

“Pro Patria was the motto of the nuns who own the building, and I was very eager to come on board and host the documentary.

READ MORE Australian acting legend John Wood lends his time to a great Wagga cause

“I’m looking forward to hosting the luncheon and talking a bit about my career – I’ll bring a couple of Logies too.”

Mr Sweeney said about half the tickets to the luncheon had already been sold.

“I go to a lot of sports luncheons and they’re all the same, but this will be a really good afternoon with an educated man who’s got some poetry, got some funny stories and helps us raise awareness about Pro Patria,” he said.

Tickets to the luncheon can be purchased here.

For those who want to support the initiative but are unable to make it to the luncheon, head to www.propatriatrust.org – on the website you can view the documentary and make a donation.

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