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Soldiers find inspiration at UC

18 December 2015: The University of Canberra has successfully co-delivered a creative arts program to assist Australian Defence Force (ADF) injured personnel in their recovery journey.

The four-week Arts for Recovery, Resilience, Teamwork and Skills (ARRTS) program was delivered in partnership with the ADF, and culminated in a series of exhibitions and performances at the end of the project.

After a trial program earlier the year that saw 18 ADF personnel participate, this time 27 members of the Army, Navy and Air Force took part in the program, which featured a series of workshops in drama, music, creative writing and visual arts.

ARRTS program participants have various injuries ranging from post-traumatic stress disorder to physical wounds, something which coordinator Brigadier Wayne Goodman AM can relate to.

A 33-year veteran of the Australian Army, Brigadier Goodman returned home from a stint serving in Afghanistan only to sustain an injury after taking up cycling.

After being diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury, it was by chance that the arts aided in his recovery.

"Doctors started me with blocks to get my brain reactivated and then when the British play called the Two Worlds of Charlie F came out, I was asked to have a look at it and told that Australia was considering a similar process," he recalled.

Brigadier Goodman soon took part in the Sydney Theatre Company's co-production with the ADF last year, The Long Way Home, which toured the country.

"The Long Way Home really focused on those people who were injured and allowed them to tell their story. It was very therapeutic for me because I was asked to participate, and I guess they needed an old bloke," he laughed.

"It really helped with my recovery and, following the play, a few people put their mind to it – including staff here at the University - and said 'why don't we do something for these injured servicemen and women'."

The ARRTS program was born, allowing for injured defence personnel to travel to Canberra, stay at Defence barracks, participate in arts activities at the University by day and undertake group activities around the capital after hours.

"It's about introducing them to new experiences and the arts are a new experience for most of them," Brigadier Goodman said.

"So you get the creative experts, who are running this show on our behalf, they've got the right mindset to be able to introduce these new skills to these people and it becomes fun. As soon as it becomes fun, I believe that's when people take it up."

Staff cadet and ARRTS participant Kelly Barnes set about a career in defence after completing an undergraduate degree at the University.

With her sights set on becoming an army officer, her aspirations were compromised shortly after enrolling at the Royal Military College at Duntroon in July last year.

"I had a negative interaction with another cadet, which led to anxiety, and in March I unfortunately injured my spine while I was on field from carrying too much heavy gear, so I got moved into the rehabilitation area," she said.

"I was basically put on pause, which is quite difficult as it had a bit of a snowball effect, and I fell into depression and two of the main things that I was struggling with was my confidence and resilience."

Cadet Barnes saw the ARRTS program was accepting applications, so she decided to give it a go.

"I haven't looked back; I thought I would just come here and do some art for a month, but I have gained a lot of new friends, and formed a massive support network," she enthused.

Focusing on the drama aspect of the ARRTS program, Cadet Barnes said she has been able to come back out of her shell and get her career back on track.

"The University and military staff have all been really positive and supportive," she said. "The INSPIRE Centre building is great; I'm loving how I can write on the walls, it's a great facility, and I think it's suited well."

By the end of the program, the soldiers were ready to exhibit their work, with completed visual arts pieces on display in the gallery, and rehearsals in full swing of renditions of Stevie Wonder's Master Blaster, Blondie's Heart of Glass, and a particularly poignant version of Bob Seger and the Silver Bullet Band's homesick heartbreaker Turn the Page.