Uniting volunteer, photographer and veteran Gordon Traill shares his journey in the hopes it will bring hope for others.
With a career spanning more than a quarter of a century in the Australian army, nothing would prepare Gordon for the five months he spent in war-torn Baghdad back in 2004. After being diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Gordon was medically discharged from the defense force in 2006.
“I was a lost soul,” Gordon remembers. “I lost my job and I lost my identity. That experience in Baghdad, it really did change who I was.”
Years after his service in Iraq, the traumatic memories of trembling buildings, explosions and the loss of life before his eyes would continue to haunt him. It was a wise push towards a creative pursuit thanks to his wife Shona which led Gordon to pick up a camera and see life through a new lens.
“She knew I needed a hobby, and I thank her every day because of it. Photography renewed me, it relieved me even, and does to this day – seven years later. And that’s the journey of hope I want to inspire for other veterans.”
For the last three years, Gordon has volunteered with Uniting program GriefWorks, a Victorian-wide program which provides a wide range of support services for individuals and families following work-related casualties and fatalities.
“I am very passionate about healing through arts,” adds Gordon. “Encouraging veterans to be part of the community and getting them out is one of the many ways to avoid isolation. That’s one of the biggest hurdles I have found, as in the services the only way we functioned was through teamwork.”
“It is so important to look after the families of the military who have since passed,” suggests Uniting GriefWorks Program Coordinator Bette Phillips. “And
essentially we continue to provide support for those involved in war who have been mentally and emotionally affected by all they have experienced. The art groups that Gordon runs go a long way for these veterans, and it’s also inspired us to look at ways of exploring the use of art in some of our other groups too.”
Gordon works with the art therapy team at ANVAM to provide workshops in Armadale once or twice a month. With guidance and support, the group sessions are a safe space for veterans to express themselves artistically through painting, sculpting, drawing and block cutting.
“One of the many ways that I have been able to connect with veterans is through the arts,” reflects Gordon. “Thanks to funding through the Kirk Robson Arts Grant (Uniting) and the support of ANVAM, last year we also had the pleasure of holding an art exhibition by veterans and veteran family members at the Uniting Church in Armadale.”
“Now I know, there really are blessings every day, and I couldn’t be happier to call myself an artist, and share this found hope with others.”