Husband and wife, Michael and Vicki Mihaljcek do it for the veterans, knowing that every poppy they pack for the annual Poppy Appeal is sold for a good cause.
Ex-serviceman Mike appreciates how lucky he is, but the RSL has always had his back in times of need.
Mike immigrated with his family in 1957 when he was eight years old, arriving on a ship from Croatia.
Inspired by his journey to Australia, he was lured to a career on the sea.
“I just loved the 34 days at sea!”
As a teenager, he remembers picking up a magazine at one of his mother’s cleaning jobs.
On the back was an advertisement for the navy.
“I thought ‘oh my God, this is it!’, and that’s how it all happened.”
With his mind made up, Mike enlisted as soon as he could. In the end, his parents were supportive, but not without some initial fears.
Putting on a thick European accent, Mike mimicked his mother. “Oh, don’t do that. Oh no, that’s too dangerous,” he said laughing.
His father was a little more understanding, although Mike said not a lot more.
To allay their nerves, he vowed to write home often.
Incredibly, Mike’s sister Rosemary kept his letters, which have become something of an unofficial diary, functioning as a reminder and a record of much of his service.
In another story, straight out of a romance novel, Mike met his love during his service.
“Because I used to write home a lot, my best mate would say ‘well, can you write to my sister while you’re at it?’”
Many years and letters later, Mike finally laid eyes on his mate’s sister, Vicki.
“When we sailed into Sydney, I was up on the bridge and, as we were pulling in, there was this gorgeous blonde waving to me.”
Mike soon realised she was waving to her brother.
Once they were off the ship, Mike was introduced to Vicki – the girl he had written to so many times.
"I just thought she was wonderful. I did think about her a lot."
He planned to visit his best mate in Newcastle and the rest is history.
The pair wed and Mike discharged from the navy in 1974 and began a life with his wife by moving to Melbourne.
Mike is open and reflective about his naval experience and found it to be everything that he anticipated it would be.
He started off as a Sonar Operator – not a line of work he enjoyed – but then pursued his passion for sport and became a Physical Training Instructor. Mike had to undergo a grueling course to qualify, one in which he said participants dropped out like flies. In that PTI role, Mike took recruits for bootcamp, while also still enjoying deployments at sea. Lastly, he became a Ship’s Diver.
“I took every opportunity I could get. I wanted to be at sea, and I did so many different things in the navy, which for me was great.”
Service provided Mike with the challenges he needed, as well as the confidence to believe in himself and his abilities.
“My service was certainly life changing. It was challenging, it was probably what I needed, and I stuck to it. It would have been easy to drop out at any stage, it made you really tough.”
One of the ships Mike spent time on was the HMAS Sydney, unofficially known as the Vung Tau Ferry. The old aircraft carrier no longer carried aircraft, but other equipment and supplies.
Each voyage required a great deal of hard work, particularly during the loading and unloading phase.
“We’d spend days and days unloading trucks, cranes, and all the goods. It was eight storeys tall of goods, things like Coca-Cola, beer, foods, you name it. It went on and on. Then we’d return and do it all over again.”
After discharging from the navy, Mike’s career progression was, as he puts it, accidental.
Thanks once again to a newspaper advertisement, Mike joined a teacher’s agency, which some months later led to a job interview.
“I had my interview, got the job and finished up as a teacher 41 years later.”
With his service history a proud part of his identity, Mike became an RSL member.
After being a member for many years, he was buoyed by the idea of volunteering and giving back to the organisation.
He roped in his wife and they are now in their ninth year of generously giving their time.
“She was very happy to volunteer,” Mike says of Vicki. “Her grandfather was in the First World War, her stepfather and brother served and now, in a sense she’s serving as well.”
The pair has dedicated most of their volunteering efforts to RSL Victoria’s warehouse, where all of Victoria's stock for the ANZAC and Poppy Appeals is delivered to and distributed from.
When two years of COVID lockdowns prevented them from being in the warehouse, the pair took home over 9,000 Appeal badges, which they packed, sorted, and distributed from their garage.
Mike also recently underwent a quadruple bypass but was back in the warehouse as soon as he was able.
The couple works hard, appreciating their important role in raising money for veterans and their families, some of whom face an array of challenges whether it be physical, mental or financial.
"Some men or women leave the service and they find they are just lost because they’ve become accustomed to a certain life. When they come out of their service, some find it hard to fit back into civilian society."
Money raised from the Appeal helps RSL Victoria to deliver its life-changing support to veterans when they need it the most.
This Poppy Appeal, let us remember them together.