Catching up with the Aussie Hero Quilts Weekend in Canberra.

Written by AHQ

15 October 2017

G’day all 

I am driving back to Sydney to tomorrow morning with my son and then have to answer (hopefully) lots of emails responding to the request list that will go out in the morning.  It is going to take me a while to write all the blog posts that i need to write to share the weekend with those that could not make it but please bear with me. 

Tonight I though I would share my speech with you and just a taste of the photos of the quilts that we festooned the ADFA Officers Mess with. I wish you could have seen the room, it looked amazing.  As someone said to me today…. the way the Mess looked last night had a WOW Factor that will not be easily duplicated. 

All the quilts were hung from the brass railings of the stairs and walk ways above and they looked fabulous!!

HUGE HUGE thanks to Shelley, Drew and Arthur who manned the cameras last night.. I certainly did not have a chance.

And so to my speech…. 

Whilst this was delivered to the audience on Saturday night it is very much appropriate to those of you who sew for us and could not make it.  


Good evening.
I would like to thank all of you for joining us in celebrating the 6th year of Aussie Hero Quilts (and Laundry Bags).  It is a pleasure to welcome Commodore Mark Hill representing the Chief of Navy, Chief of Army, Lieutenant General Angus Campbell and Mrs Stephanie Copus-Campbell, Chief of Air Force, Air Marshall Leo Davies and Mrs Rhonda Davies,
and the Commander of Joint Operations, Vice Admiral David Johnson and Mrs Belinda Johnson.  

I am also delighted to welcome the former Chief of Army, LTGEN Peter Leahy and his wife Lee.  I am very proud to tell you that Lee has made a couple of quilts for us.

We are also fortunate to be joined by two of our recent Invictus Games Competitors, Gary Wilson and SQNLDR and Mrs Paul McGinty.
We have certainly come a long way since that first dinner in the Bistro of the Hornsby RSL in 2012.  I would like to acknowledge Gail, Michele  and Chris Shay and Rita and Lou Coenen who were at the inaugural dinner and are here again tonight.

I am a big believer in working cooperatively and supportively with other like-minded organisations so it is great to have some representatives from other groups with us.   We are joined by Carole and Bob from the Aberdeen Care Package Cadets.  There would be recipients here who have received a care package from this very productive little group. 

From Veterans 360 we have CEO, Jay Devereux and from the Australian Peacekeepers and Peacemakers Veterans Association, the APPVA, we have President, Bruce Relph, Vice President Lucy Wong, and her very brave fiancé, Rod Thompson, who proposed to Lucy in front of everyone at the APPVA’s recent 20th Anniversary dinner a month ago.

A huge welcome also to all the recipients who have joined us.  Thank you very much for coming to celebrate with us. 

With no disrespect to those I have already mentioned, the warmest welcome belongs to those of you who sew for us.  This is your night.  All year long, you give up your time and money to make quilts and laundry bags to send off to the troops and tonight is your night to celebrate what you have achieved.  Please give them a round of applause. 

If I can ask one thing of all of you. Recipients please try and speak to as many of the volunteers as you can and let them know what it was like to receive a parcel from us whilst you were deployed. To the volunteers… the folks in uniform here tonight, are here for you!  They love what you do and would love to talk to you. Please do not be shy.  
You are an Aussie Hero Volunteer and they already love you.

There are probably a few of you who do not really know what we are all about so allow me explain…. 
Imagine you are on deployment in some far-flung corner of the world.   Australia and home seems a long way away.   You know that your family and friends really miss you, but are they the only ones?  Does anyone else really care?  The answer is yes, they do, we do, and when you walk into your room, your tent, or to you rack at the end of a long and tiring day, and see a hand- made quilt on your bed, and a personalised laundry bag sitting propped in the corner, you are reminded that we do

Someone, who has little chance of ever meeting you, took the time to make something by hand just for you, to say thank you for your service and the sacrifice that service asks of you.  You can look around the Mess tonight and see many examples of what we do.  Most of these quilts and laundry bags here will be packed into boxes on Monday or Tuesday and will head off to sailors, soldiers, airmen, airwomen and defence civilians all around the world.

Aussie Heroes is nearly six years old.  These days, we are well known to thousands of defence members.  If they have not heard of us before they deploy, they would be hard pushed to complete their deployment without seeing many of our quilts and bags, and often they have requested one of their own.  
Quilts decorate the walls of the Coalition Chapel in Kabul. They hang on the walls and cover chairs in a small Aussie Welfare room in the middle of a large American base in Iraq.   There are quilts on the walls of the Headquarters building in AMAB and on the beds in both wards in the ANZAC Hospital in Iraq.   One even hangs in the Australian Embassy in Kabul.
Our laundry bags are everywhere, the envy of our coalition partners, and at the end of long days spent in dusty camouflage coloured places, members shed their uniforms and crawl under a colourful quilt created to their individual tastes, a last reminder before their head hits the pillow that what they are doing is valued and appreciated by more than just their family and friends. 

Injured and wounded Aussie Heroes receive Aussie themed quilts, made by Aussies especially for this purpose.  And when, tragically, a serving member loses their life, a quilt in a red poppy theme is presented to the family to let them know that their loved one’s service and the sacrifice that service asked of them, is appreciated and importantly, will not be forgotten.

Aussie Hero Quilts (and Laundry Bags) is one very simple way the Australian public can say “thank you” to the members of the Australian Defence Force every single day.

From humble beginnings in late 2011 we have now sent almost 8000 quilts and nearly 16000 laundry bags to defence members all over the world.

This year alone we have sent off over 1300 quilts and over 2600 laundry bags.

We completed the goal of sending laundry bags to all submariners.   We presented the over 250 laundry bags to those who took part in Operation Queensland Assist and that included all the entire crew HMAS Choules plus their embarked army contingent.

Each Rifle Company in Butterworth has received at least 120 laundry bags whilst in Malaysia.

Eight of the quilts on display here tonight will next week head off to the ANZAC hospital in Iraq to replace the 2 year old quilts on the beds in the wards, adding warmth and comfort and a constant reminder that WE CARE.  

I have just received a request that we provide some quilts to be used by Intensive Care patients in the Role 2 hospital in Kabul.

The quilt on display over the stairs will become the backdrop in a room where deployed troops can skype home and read stories to their little ones.

Around the room on chairs you will see some of the quilts we give to Veterans 360. These are the ones that are used to demonstrate the Simply 16 Quilting machine, the same model we have, at quilts shows around the country. When they come back to us we finish them off then pass them to Jay for their clients.

None of this would be possible without the dedication and hard work of those that sew for us. Each Monday I send out a list of requests and each Monday our wonderful volunteers respond.  Five to six weeks later the promised quilts and laundry bags are in the mail and on their way to the recipients.
When I started Aussie Heroes I was warned that working with volunteers was one of the hardest things to do.  Well not our volunteers.  Our volunteers regularly amaze me in their willingness to rise to a challenge.

In January this year, we were asked to make LBs for the 2017 Invictus Games team. All the work and coordination had to be done in secret as the bags were to be a surprise.

No sooner was that underway than I had the bright idea that we should try to make more than 120 special decommissioning LBs for HMAS Darwin, with whom we share a special relationship, to take on their last deployment. These were to include an embroidered version of the ship’s crest, which at that stage had not been digitised, or the ship’s name, side number and on all of them, the Years of operation.

Then I heard about the death of the very popular CO of ADV Cape Inscription.  How could we not let that crew know that we were thinking of them.  I called for 30 commemorative laundry bags in a nautical theme with a row of poppy fabric in the cord channel.

All these projects were done on the quiet so as not to spoil the surprise.

In the two and a half months leading up to the end of August over 300 very special laundry bags arrived in my PO Box.  We often collected an IKEA bag of mail every day. 

The LBs for ADV Cape Inscription were terrific and were gratefully received as reported by the new CO. 

The bags for HMAS Darwin kept arriving until we had 160 of them.  The crew was thrilled and touched.

And finally, I handed over 43 of the most personalised laundry bags we had ever made to our Invictus Team before they headed off to Toronto.  Those who made them should be so proud as you exceeded all expectations.  I heard this week that one of the team members who had previously been part of the coaching staff said that receiving his AHQ laundry bag brought it home to him that this year he was actually part of the team.

I am pleased to tell you that next year’s 2018 Team will receive, not only laundry bags, but also quilts and I intend for this to be an ongoing show of support.

I threw out the challenges and you and others rose to meet them and made me incredibly proud to represent you.

It is worth noting that Aussie Hero Quilts is the ONLY organisation anywhere in the world that does what we do. Noone else makes quilts for their deployed troops and we are the only organisation that sends homemade personalised laundry bags to our nation’s troops. There are other organisations that make quilts for the wounded and the families of the fallen, but we are the only organisation in the world, that also sends quilts, let alone, personalised quilts, to our serving men and women overseas.

And we make a difference.  Our quilts and bags have become deployment milestones, a rite of passage I am told.  It goes even deeper than that as I continue to hear of stories where quilts have made huge impact on veterans who have made it to rock bottom.

And you who sew for us should be so proud of what you do, you are serving your country and you will probably never know how much of an impact you are having.

People do not remember what you say or what you do but they will remember how you make them feel. The secret of Aussie Heroes lies in how we make our serving men and women feel.  

All year we say thank you to our troops. Every quilt and laundry bag is a gift that acknowledges the recipient’s service and, perhaps, most importantly, the sacrifice that service asks of them and their loved ones.   Tonight is about saying thank you back to you.

More to come as soon as I can get posts written and photos uploaded, vetted and edited. 

Till then….. keep spreading the word and happy stitching!

A tired but very happy, Jan-Maree xxxx

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  1. Sue Niven

    A wonderful speech indeed. Thank you JM.

  2. Nanna Ray

    Congratulations JM. It was a wonderful and inspiring speech. Thank you for all your hard work and for the recognition you have given to all those volunteers stitching for AHQ.

  3. Jacqui D

    Awesome, the speech made me so proud and a little teary I must admit….Thankyou for letting me be a small part of AHQ…after motherhood the best and most rewarding thing I've ever done…xx


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