Artist Ben Quilty has delivered an emotional address to St John of God Hospital’s 2018 Veterans’ Day service.
The former Archibald Prize winner spoke on the importance of veterans – and men in general – opening up and speaking about their lives with others at the service on Thursday, August 2.
Quilty toured with Australian troops in Afghanistan in 2011, and realised when he arrived home the uncertain future some of them faced.
His own uncle Jack, a father of eight, had never spoken of his own experiences in Vietnam until Quilty approached him one day following a conversation with another veteran.
“I went and asked Uncle Jack about his service in Vietnam, and he was in tears within 20 minutes,” Quilty told the service. “He has eight children and he’d never talked to his children about his service in Vietnam.
“I realised that all the young men I’d met in Afghanistan faced that same future, which was just extraordinary.”
He also related the story of meeting Captain S, the subject of his 2012 Archibald Prize entry that went on to be named a finalist, in Tarin Kot, Afghanistan.
He spoke about the process of transforming the special forces soldier – dressed as they are in ultra-masculine uniform – to tell a different side of his story, that of frail skin and the darker side of the emotional weight of war.
“I said, ‘Shane do you mind if I get you naked in my studio’. I thought it could be the end of my life at that point,” he said.
“But something I learnt very quickly is [for] those young men … when you get back, there is nothing wrong with the world; you’ve survived an extraordinarily dangerous situation, you are filled with adrenaline and there’s a three- to six-month high.
“I got Shane in the three- to six-month high, so he was naked within about 13 seconds.”
An annual exhibition of veterans’ artwork was also opened on the day, with a luncheon enjoyed by all after the service.