The Friday Night Gathering at HMAS Harman by Sue-Ellen

Written by AHQ

3 November 2022

Enjoying a much warmer temperature than the day’s amazing but windy tour of, we gathered HMAS Harman, Royal Australian Navy base. Ride sharing to Jerrabomberra was the perfect way to kick start new friendships too.


Of course, everyone was keen to arrive as early as possible to check out the gorgeous fabrics from Cloth Cuts which Lesley had brought down, because as we all know, none of us have much fabric and desperately needed to restock!! 


Naturally another drawcard for an early arrival was to enjoy Jan-Maree’s famous ANZAC cookies over a cuppa and a chinwag.

At least some of us did not know what to expect, but what a fascinating, emotional, sobering but fun and entertaining evening it turned out to be.


Brigadier Rob Lording welcomed everyone and commenced the proceedings by outlining the support that assistance Task Force 629 has provided during and following many recent natural disasters in recent times, including the 2019 fires, COVID assist (and hotel quarantine) and flood assistance in and around Moree, Lismore and elsewhere after the rains in recent times. In terms of Lismore specifically, he described the dreadful situations the supporting personnel (4,500 strong) were faced with, including witnessing the massive loss of property, infrastructure and stock. The rubbish cleaned up after the Lismore floods, for example, amounted to 28,000 tons. His personnel also existed during these times under very difficult situations at the end of day, such as sleeping in leaky tents in sodden fields, and with scant opportunity for laundry, ablutions etc. The laundry bags sent with caring to the personnel were welcomed and so very much appreciated.


The next speaker, Matt, brought along a beautiful quilt which had been presented to his wife prior to her passing. The quilt featured her favourite colours – bright greens and purples with an overall tropical theme – and her love of shoes. A gorgeous pair of blingy stilettos were a feature. Matt told of his and his family’s journey throughout his wife’s illness and passing and how the quilt is a beautiful and constant reminder of her. He and his boys take enormous comfort in having the presence of the quilt as a source of comfort. There were more than a few tears shed as Matt talked of his journey and reminded us of a wonderful quote: 

People don’t care what you know, until they know that you care.

During breaks, Jan-Maree kept us on our toes and with intermittent quiz questions. Competition was fierce with the correct answers being rewarded from a table of attractively gift-wrapped prizes. Hardly anyone knew what a white poppy represented… you?

A new initiative Jan-Maree told us about was to sew “stay mats” for Defence Community Dogs, who are trained by prisoners at Bathurst Jail. These indispensable canine friends provide support to many folks experiencing PTSD, mental health issues etc and frequently visit along with their human friends to medical and other such appointments. The stay mats give the doggos their own little space, keeping the stray hair confined. AHQ have offered to put together the stay mats and the ladies present took with them kits and/or instructions.  

Warrant Officer Bruce SQNLDR Mitchell, both from the Federation Guard were presented with magnificent quilts and each spoke about their personal experiences and gratitude for the commitment and love shown by AHQ volunteers. 

Another break, more tea and Anzacs, more quizzing, and more scrambling to bolster fabric supplies from Lesley’s offerings. 


After the break, we had two special guests – Michael Armstrong, and the immensely popular Squish, a handsome hunk of a British Bulldog who quite frankly almost stole the show, and certainly proved to be quite the ladies’ man. 


Mike is ex-ADF and is an artist extraordinaire, and he talked at fascinating length about his life experiences and co-existence in the military and art worlds. His journey has been a long one and still evolving. Since the realisation and acceptance of his PSTD, the journey took a turn to move forward. A big part of his recovery has been his amazing propensity to help others. He has done too much in a short blog to tick off, but the ‘molasses’ feeling of wading through life has been the catalyst for his ongoing recovery and that of others. 

Mike has instigated Voices of Veterans, a veteran-led art-based project that is raising awareness of the mental health crisis and creating action to support veteran health. It seeks to generate meaningful, ongoing positive change in the lives of Australian veterans. 

Mike’s Relics of Decay exhibition was displayed at the Australian War Memorial in 2017 and continues to be exhibited. This has been in response to Mike’s heartbreak over the suicide and ongoing struggles of ADF personnel and ex-servicemen and women.

Mike hit to the hearts of all of us who were at HMAS Harman, especially his message:

Power comes from the sharing of stories

We were all privileged, honoured and struck with awe at the stories of our wonderful speakers on the night. Personally, I left the Harman with a feeling of ‘cant wait until Monday for the request list’ so I could get on with quilting for our amazing ADF personnel. How honoured we are to make quilts with love and respect for these and similar wonderful people.

Thank you Jan-Maree, for a wonderful evening and for the goodie bags!

Thanks Sue-Ellen, great write up.  


Sue-Ellen mentioned the goodie bags. We were lucky to be able to distribute a goodie bag to every volunteer who was there with all sorts of goodies inside. Right now I want to thank my good friend, Melissa and her husband, Sam. 

Sam received a quilt in 2012/13 and Melissa and I have stayed friends since then. Recently they moved to Canberra, FINALLY being close enough for me to catch up with her face to face. Melissa was kind enough to take on the responsibility of sorting all the goodies into the bags, a huge job. 

This photo is from the Dinner but it is such a lovely photo of Sam and Melissa so I figured it was a good one to share to introduce you to them. 

More blog posts about the weekend coming. 


Till next time… keep spreading the word! 

Happy stitching!

Jan-Maree xx


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