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Creative arts a forceful defence

Antony Perry

14 March 2018: It’s the artistic form of therapy that’s helping defence personnel combat mental health disorders and now servicemen and servicewomen have further reason to add creative arts to their arsenal.

Up to 30 per cent of military veterans develop post-traumatic stress disorder or other mental illnesses after they return from service.

To mitigate the trauma caused by their experiences, an increasing number of men and women are turning to artistic pursuits such as painting and drawing. Both have been proven to reduce symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder such as intrusive thoughts and the feeling of being emotionally numb.

Recognising this, the University of Canberra and the Australian War Memorial have partnered to create the first ever art prize offered exclusively to members of the defence force.

Launched today, the Napier Waller Art Prize is open to all current and former defence personnel and aims to promote the healing potential of art for servicemen and servicewomen.

The $10,000 prize is also designed to raise a broader awareness of the military experience and the impact of service on military veterans.

Speaking at the launch, Australian War Memorial Director Dr Brendan Nelson said the program would give a voice to defence personnel.

“Art has been shown to play a critical role in the healing and recovering of returning service personnel,” Dr Nelson said. “It is extremely important that veterans have an outlet for how they can process what they have seen and what they have experienced.”

The program is an extension of the work already undertaken by Ian Drayton, Manager of the University’s Faculty of Arts and Design.

Mr Drayton has been running a program for four years called Arts for Recovery, Resilience, Teamwork and Skills. Using the resources of the faculty, the program runs creative arts workshops for current serving wounded, injured and ill defence force members.

A former corporal in the Army, Mr Drayton was awarded a Churchill Fellowship in 2017 to look at how the creative arts can aid soldiers’ recovery from combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder.

“This is a natural progression from our work with the Australian Defence Force over the past four years on the Arts for Recovery, Resilience, Teamwork and Skills project,” Mr Drayton said.

“It also builds on some of the concepts I developed during my 2017 Churchill Fellowship, where I travelled to the UK and US researching the use of creative arts in improving outcomes for those who have been wounded or injured as part of their service.”

The prize is named after artist Napier Waller, who was severely wounded while fighting at Bullecourt in World War I, and later had his right arm amputated. Waller went on to design the artwork in the Australian War Memorial’s Hall of Memory and make a significant contribution to its art collection.

Along with the cash prize, the winning entry will be displayed at the memorial and accessioned into the national collection. The winner will also have the opportunity to be personally mentored by the memorial’s official war artist, Ben Quilty.

Entries are open between June and July this year, and the winner will be announced in late September. For more details head to