One of the country’s first respite facilities for war veterans will open at Sussex Inlet on December 1.
Veteran campaigner and Australia’s last living Imperial Victoria Cross recipient, Keith Payne VC AM, will tour the new facility in the Russ Murray Lodge building at Inasmuch on Tuesday.
The three-story building, formerly used as a hostel, has had a modern makeover and will provide four self-contained units with 24 hour medical care available, as well as a communal kitchen and living area and a host of recreational activities for vets, including a gymnasium and yoga.
Inasmuch Board member Patricia White said it has been Mr Payne’s dream to see a facility like this established in Australia and she is pleased he will be able to tour the new building before it opens.
“This is a fantastic facility for the Shoalhaven and is a great opportunity to provide respite for our veterans,” Mrs White said.
“This kind of accommodation is hard to get. Veterans normally go to nursing homes or private facilities.
“The lodge will offer 24/7 medical care if required and lots of activities for guests.”
Mrs White said Sussex Inlet was the ideal location, with shops, bowling and golf clubs and the river close by.
“We’re so thrilled to have Keith here to look through the facility himself.
“It will work in with the new wellness centre in Nowra which will provide referrals.
“We’re really pushing ahead in the Shoalhaven to have services for our local vets that aren’t available in other parts of the country.”
The service will be free to qualifying vets through the Veterans Affairs scheme.
ABOUT KIETH PAYNE VC, AM
Born on August 30, 1933, Mr Payne is an Australian recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest decoration for gallantry "in the presence of the enemy" awarded to members of the British and Commonwealth armed forces.
Mr Payne's VC was awarded for his actions during the Vietnam War.
Mr Payne served in the Korean War and in Malaya with his unit and in 1965.
He was a fieldcraft instructor on the staff of the Officer Training Unit, Scheyville, established to commission national servicemen.
He served in Papua New Guinea before posted to the Australian Army Training Team Vietnam in 1969.
In May 1969 he was commanding the 212th Company of the 1st Mobile Strike Force Battalion when it was attacked by a strong People's Army of Vietnam force near Ben Het Camp. His company was isolated and, surrounded on three sides, Payne's Vietnamese troops began to fall back.
Payne, by now wounded in the hands and arms and under heavy fire, covered the withdrawal before organising his troops into a defensive perimeter. He then spent three hours scouring the scene of the day's fight for isolated and wounded soldiers, all the while evading the enemy who kept up regular fire.
He found some 40 wounded men, brought some in himself and organised the rescue of the others, leading the party back to base through enemy dominated terrain.
Payne's actions that night earned him the Victoria Cross, which was gazetted on 19 September 1969.
He was evacuated to Brisbane in September suffering from an illness, receiving a warm reception at the airport before entering hospital. In January 1970 Payne was posted to the Royal Military College, Duntroon as an instructor.
Payne received his VC from Queen Elizabeth II aboard the Royal Yacht, Britannia, in Brisbane on 13 April 1970.
He was made a freeman of the city and of the shire in which his hometown was located. A park in Stafford, Brisbane, (where Payne lived) was also named after him.
He also received the Distinguished Service Cross and the Silver Star from the United States of America and the Republic of Vietnam awarded Payne the Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Bronze Star.
Payne retired from the Australian Army in 1975, but saw further action as a captain with the Army of the Sultan of Oman against communist forces in the Dhofar War in 1975 and 1976.
After returning to Australia, he became active in the veteran community, particularly in counselling sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Payne and his wife raised five sons and live in Mackay, Queensland. He was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for his service to the veteran community in 2006, while Flo Payne was recognised with an OAM for her service to the community, particularly through surf lifesaving and veteran's families, in 2011.
In September 2012 he became a Patron of the Victoria Cross Trust.
The mental health ward at Greenslopes Private Hospital in Brisbane is named the Keith Payne Unit (KPU), in his honour.
Payne was advanced to a Member of the Order of Australia in June 2015.
The award recognised his "significant service to veterans and their families as an ambassador, patron and as an advocate for veterans' health and welfare."