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Together we stand: Barry Grant OAM and Bree Till

When Bree Till’s husband was killed in Afghanistan, Barry Grant, President of the Woronora River RSL sub-Branch, reached out. Years later, they continue to catch up and serve the Woronora veteran community.

By Tess Durack

 

Barry Grant OAM

Barry Grant has been President of the Woronora River RSL sub-Branch since 2011 and was State President of the Australian Commando Association for 18 years. He was awarded an OAM in 2020 for services to veterans and their families. 

When Brett Till, an explosive ordnance disposal technician with the Incident Response Regiment, was killed in Afghanistan in March 2009, I knew Bree lived in Woronora but didn’t know her personally. So I got in touch with her to see if there was anything we could do. I didn’t want to be too imposing, but I wanted her to know our members were there for her. 

She eventually became  an affiliate member of the sub-Branch and we became friends. Bree works with Open Arms and runs art therapy sessions from the sub-Branch. Everyone who knows her in the sub-Branch and the community really admires her. 

With two stepchildren at home already, Bree was also pregnant when her husband was killed. It was a hell of a situation. But she’s done a remarkable job of bringing them up just the way we’d all like to bring up our kids. Her stepson has turned into a real gentleman, her stepdaughter is beautifully presented, and her son is the kind of young man her husband would be extremely proud of. Bree has another young child now too. 

Bree and the kids have appeared and spoken on a few occasions at Anzac Day and Remembrance Day, and it’s not an easy topic for her to tackle. But all credit to her – she has done so well. 

Around 1,500 people attend our local Anzac Day service – rain, hail or shine – but when Bree spoke at the service last year, you could have heard a bloody pin drop. Her words came right from the heart. 

I gave her a hug when she’d finished. 

“That must have been bloody hard, darlin’,” I said. “I was waiting for the tears.” 

“I nearly broke down,” she said. And the applause – well, it had to be heard to be believed that morning. 

Bree has a lot on her plate, but she copes with all of it. She can’t always make it to the sub-Branch meetings, but she gives me a call and lets me know, and sometimes she’ll pop by with some beers and we’ll have a yarn at the monument.

I don’t want to smother her, and she doesn’t want to pour all her problems out to me. But she knows I’m here whenever she needs help, just a phone call away. Sometimes it might just be with something like finding help to fix a leaky roof. And the community likes to know that the sub-Branch is connecting with the loved one of a member who served. She has served too – she lost her husband to the cause. 

I like to keep things low key, not make a song and dance. But I’ve got a lot of time for Bree. She’s a wonderful lady. And a very strong lady.

“When Bree spoke at the service last year, you could have heard a bloody pin drop. Her words came right from the heart.” – Barry Grant

Bree Till

Bree Till is a Community and Peer Advisor for Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling Service. Previously a school teacher, Bree retrained in art therapy, counselling and psychotherapy, and is currently researching the benefits that art therapy can bring to the broader veteran community.  

Barry invited me to the second Remembrance Day service after my husband’s death. Barry made it clear that Brett – I call him JT – mattered, that his death wasn’t old news after that initial wave of recognition. He was respectful, reassuring and welcoming. I remember his blazer, the green beret, the shine on his shoes and his cheeky giggles – calming and grounding. 

If I call, Barry will answer. I’m a fan of reciprocal relationships, so if I need something, I know I can call, and vice versa, bearing in mind we both have some life things that are happening and don’t set expectations beyond what would be appropriate or sustainable. 

I don’t get to knock off from parenting very often, so I miss a lot of the sub-Branch meetings. I’m always on the lookout for Barry’s car so I can give him a hello as we drive past. A lot of our chats have been in the carpark with the kids strapped in the car seat. 

Barry is across all the welfare needs of the sub-Branch members and knows us all beyond face value. He represents that ‘family’ ethos that gets spoken about a lot but is often watered down with formalities or structures. And families are reciprocal, so I’ll bring my experiences and support where I can, without going beyond my capacity. If everyone does that, then the ‘family’ can sustain.

I like to grow opportunities within the sub-Branch rather than depend on it. As much as I’ve been encouraged to sing out if I need anything, that’s not something I’m well versed in. But I do gain a sense of fulfilment through contribution and service, so that works well with the art-making courses I run at the club. In those sessions, we can connect through our shared experiences and identify as more than widows or veterans, as respectful as I am of those components of our sense of self. 

I stumble awkwardly through public speaking! So it matters a lot that Barry has my back when I’m speaking at an event. He isn’t judgemental, and his agenda is very compatible with mine, so I feel at ease knowing I can speak freely and it will be received as it is intended. 

Our Woronora commemoration services are beautiful. Our community spills onto the streets and the park, and I catch eyes with childhood friends, students I’ve taught, JT’s peers and my children’s friends — it really is an intersection of all aspects of my life woven together. Service can’t be separated from community, nor can it be extracted from my life, it’s part of it. 

Barry is beautiful. His humility, his dedication and his leadership have shaped our veteran community within our broader community by focusing on what really matters to us all: respect, dignity, humour, compassion, genuine regard, and space to grow and flourish. 

“He represents that ‘family’ ethos that gets spoken about a lot but is often watered down by formalities or structures.” – Bree Till

Be part of your community – join RSL NSW. Membership of the state’s leading not-for-profit ex-service organisation is free for all veterans and it’s easy to join online.

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