Photos: James McPherson
For those meandering through the grounds of the Shrine of Remembrance (the Shrine) on Sunday, March 13, it was hard to miss the beat of rock music, the smell wafting from food trucks, and the sound of laughter of families playing games.
Held at the Shrine, Rock for Reflection and Remembrance (Rock4RnR) was an Australian first veteran music event. The family-friendly event aimed to showcase and empower veterans, from their musical prowess to their entrepreneurial skills, and engage with the broader community.
The event drew crowds from all walks of life, to enjoy six hours of veteran-led bands and delicious offerings from veteran-owned food trucks.
Harry Moffitt, the Musical Producer of Rock4RnR, served for almost 30 years in the Australian Defence Force, most of which was spent with the elite Special Air Service Regiment (SAS).
"It was a triumph! The hundreds of veterans and their families, and many others from the broader Victorian community, that turned out had a fantastic time in the shadows of the great monument."
“Our artists felt very comfortable together as a collective. A great afternoon of uplifting the veteran spirit and narrative, above the prevailing PTSD, welfare, and mental health narrative that can tend to drag us down as a community.”
The music lineup included some who are currently serving, have recently served and those from the Vietnam era.
The day, which was as much about families as it was about the veterans themselves, kicked off with a performance by Cate Taylor, the daughter of a veteran.
She was followed by John Swan, more commonly known as ‘Swanee’, and who also happens to be Jimmy Barnes’ brother.
Swanee started playing the drums at an early age and left school by the age of 13 to pursue a career in music.
At the age of 17, he enlisted in the Australian Army and served for two years.
“It was one of the best things that ever happened to me. I had no discipline before that. That discipline was exactly what I needed. It gave me things that I never thought about, camaraderie, friendship.”
He says he is in awe of the talent on the day and the meaning behind Rock4RnR.
“I want people to see how music can help a person who has come from a bad place, maybe they’ve had awful experiences in their service.
"Music transcends all things, it’s like a magic place that you go to. I want the vets to experience that."
John 'Swanee' Swan
The crowd was also treated to a performance by Anthony Field, who is best known as the Blue Wiggle and probably lesser known for his three years of army service in the 1980s.
“It was the best time of my life. We’re still brothers….I take my hat off to those who’ve served.”
Despite several other commitments around the time of Rock4RnR, he felt passionate and committed to participating.
"All I’ve been thinking about is Rock4RNR. It means a lot to me."
As an advocate for mental health, he says he has often found solace in music.
“I’ve had my own mental battles over the years and if I’m playing music I’m just concentrating on my music. So I’ll play my folk music, hours of it in a day and I’m just happy. I’ve made my career out of that and if you get lucky, you can do that – something you enjoy!”
Anthony says it’s critical for the veteran community to have each other’s backs.
“It’s so important for people to realise they’re not alone, that there are other people going through what they’re going through, or not going through, but have a helping hand to lend, and also for the greater community to start thinking about these men and women.”
Veteran-owned food vans were also lined up and ready to tantalise the tastebuds, including Beraldo Coffee. Founder Paul Beraldo is a Vietnam veteran and upon transitioning out of service, was determined to start his own business.
So, Beraldo Coffee was born over 30 years ago.
“Don’t give up. There is life after the army, there are businesses to be had out there. There are employers like us who are looking for veterans who are looking for work. You guys, us guys, we’ve had lots of experience, we’ve got discipline.”
With a quiver in his voice, Paul reflects and remembers.
“I’ll get a bit emotional…I’ve lost a lot of mates. There were six of us and now there’s only me left.”
After more than 20 years in the army, Mark Nicholson started his food truck business Parachute Landing, known for its slow cooked meat. Inspired by his service, he says there’s nothing like a good barbeque to raise morale.
"I think a lot of people think their lives end when they take their uniforms off, so I think being here today is another example of what you learn in service to still help out your community, help out other veterans and give people a good time."
Soaking up the atmosphere and good tunes was Danae.
“I heard about the event from a wonderful friend of mine who is part of the veteran community, so I wanted to come down to support the veteran community because they do so much for us.”
Standing at the Eternal Flame for a moment of reflection and remembrance was Michelle, her daughter Susanna, and her granddaughter Eleanor, 10.
Susanna says she’s so proud of her father, a Vietnam veteran who generously volunteers at the Shrine.
“We’ve heard music, we got food, we visited the exhibition at the Shrine. It’s about recognising veterans, maybe the challenges they’ve had. To have live music and bring people together is a great initiative.”