Have You Heard...Service Voices

Juliette Sharp, 27th June 2017

What constitutes service today?

Service Voices brings stories, ideas, and memories from the wider service community, hearing perspectives that might otherwise be lost in the passing of time. 

Produced at Radio Adelaide and heard around Australia through the Community Radio Network, Service Voices is the initiative of three remarkable women: Fiona White, Helen Meyer, and Sharon Mascall-Dare (pictured, left to right). They were later joined by Nicky Page (pictured, below) and Zoe Butler (pictured, bottom).

Just shy of its first birthday, Service Voices has already interviewed a myriad of Australian Defence Force personnel (both currently serving and veterans), spoken to families of people affected by war and other hardships, given voice to many Volunteer and Service individuals and organisations as well as providing information on different aspects of Defence, such as the Geneva Convention.

CBAA's Juliette Sharp asked the team a few questions about the show.

How did Service Voices come about? 

Sharon:  When the very popular The Legacy Hour, produced by Helen Meyer and co-presented by Helen and Fiona White among others, discontinued broadcasting in July 2016, Helen, Fiona and Sharon teamed up to develop a new programme that would build on and broaden it. Nicky Page and Zoe Butler joined the team, and the rest is history! Within days of announcing the launch of Service Voices in August 2016, the team was approached by sponsors from the wider service community keen to support the broadcast as it sought to bring new voices, untold stories and oral histories to air.        

Fiona: The Legacy Hour was originally directed towards elderly isolated widows of Veterans. Over a 5 year period it became highly regarded by serving Defence, ex-service and Veterans' associations; there was no other program that catered for this.

When it ended, we approached Radio Adelaide to run Service Voices. The by-line Service to Country, Service to Community offered the opportunity to cover not only service by military personnel but also service from the myriad of community organisations (paid or volunteer).

Was it inspired by prior engagement with different service communities, or was it inspired by something else?

Sharon: Service Voices is inspired by service in all its forms. It gives a voice to those who have served in a range of capacities, as fire-fighters or SES members, as servicemen or women, or as community volunteers or paid workers. It recognises that service is diverse, and often encompasses a strong narrative that reveals much about human nature and human endeavour.

It seeks to bring stories to air that capture and reflect service from a personal perspective, building greater understanding of service communities and, in turn, connecting listeners with stories that matter to them.   

Helen: I served in the Army in the 1960s, married a soldier who went to Vietnam, and lived through those lonely days of the 1960s, to the '80s while our troops were ostracised for having served in Vietnam, or for just having been in the military. I realised then that these troops had been denied their voice, and their history, and that - magnified by chemical and PTSD exposure - impacted heavily on their families. I sought answers and support from the Women's Community Centre at Stepney, and The Partners of Veterans Association. Over the years I developed a strong commitment to contributing back to the organisations who support. I determined that wherever possible I would give organisations and individuals who 'serve' in any capacity an opportunity to speak to listeners. Fiona and I contacted that little firebrand Sharon Mascall-Dare...and we set about creating Service Voices. An indication of our reach to diverse services and communities was recognised by being presented with the "Best Community Connection" award at Radio Adelaide in 2016.

There are 5 of you on the Service Voices team, what is each of your roles within Service Voices? Have you all been involved in community radio before?

Sharon: I am the Treasurer of the Service Voices Association Inc, obtain sponsorship and act as a 'roving reporter' with my background in radio as a broadcaster for the BBC and the ABC. I’m also an Army Reservist, and during my deployment to Iraq with Task Group Taji IV from November 2016 to June 2017 I recorded a series of audio interviews for Service Voices. As an embedded Public Affairs Officer from a journalistic background, my intent was to take listeners behind the scenes to meet the current generation of Australian Defence Force members serving today.     

Fiona: I'm primarily a presenter, interviewer and maintain quality control. I am also the Association Secretary, and have been a Presenter on Radio For The Print Handicapped, 5RPH.

Nicky: I contribute content and take responsibility for the overall health of the show. I’ve been heavily involved in community radio since the early 1980s, as a spoken word producer, trainer and manager.

Zoe: I'm coordinate the social media, and I've only had a fleeting experience with community radio before, recording interviews with my supervisors on my internship with the South Australian Native Title Service. Otherwise I'm completely new. 

Helen: I reckon it would be 6 years now since I was invited to join the presenters on The Legacy Hour, and declared adamantly "Oh no, I couldn't do that!  I don't even listen to the radio". I've gone on to do formal media training through Radio Adelaide, and present and produce on The Wednesday News; RoundaboutThe Legacy HourUp Down Under; and of course Service Voices.

As the Producer, my role is to bring everything together into a cohesive, interesting broadcast. Sounds simple eh! 

nicky page of service voices preparing the program

It's not just military service communities we hear about on the program. Can you describe some of the other volunteer and service communities you've spoken with, or hope to in the future?

Sharon: Personally, I feel strongly about social justice and multicultural issues – this has been the focus of my BBC production work and I’ve been fortunate to win a number of media awards for my advocacy and broadcasting of social justice issues.

 I am keen to explore stories that challenge listeners and make them revisit their assumptions and preconceptions regarding society.  

I’m also passionate about oral history – a major component of my PhD research – and I am committed to the Service Voices ethos which tells people’s stories in their words, on their terms.  

Fiona: We've spoken with Art Lab South Australia – a department of the South Australian Government which offers specialist conservation services to galleries, museums and private individuals in Australia and worldwide; Flourishing Life Program run by St John Community Care programs designed to empower older people, particularly older frail people; Bill Swampy Marsh – poet and musician who tours around the outback of Australia entertaining communities and writing short books about the characters he meets; and  – talking to the Coordinator of Volunteers at Calvary Hospital Group about the management of volunteers within the four hospitals run by the group in Adelaide.

We've also spoken with the CEO of Anglicare SA about the new special housing projects which have just been completed as well as the many other services offered by this organisation; the Royal Society for the Blind to discuss their cooperative efforts with the RSL to provide companion dogs for veterans with PTSD; and a padre to talk about the role of religious practitioners within the Defence Forces.

Nicky: I’ve spoken with a community group cooking meals for women escaping domestic violence and living in motels. And with women at a community women’s centre that has survived for 40 years. I have many ideas for future interviews. I’d like to talk with Prof Valerie Hudson who’s written a book called Sex and World Peace about the link between the security of women and the incidence of conflict and war. I’d like to interview Senator Jackie Lambie about her pro-active support for Defence personnel. I’d like to interview Archie Roach about his work with young prisoners. And so on!

Zoe: We've done a little taste of everything - with plenty left to explore!  I'm hoping to see a little bit on Surf Life Saving. I'm a surf life saver and I'm sure there's quite a few gems out there to hear. 

Helen: We've interviewed the Red Cross - about International Humanitarian Law and the rules of war; Mac Benoy - a marvellous chat about retirement; the State Emergency Services; SA Sea Rescue Squadron; Koala Rescue; Modbury Vista Soccer Club's new program to instil respect for women - insisting on good and decent values from its members; Paul Dare about new technology to fight bushfires; Petula Columbus and research into PTSD female first responders in Hospital emergency departments. 

The program has had a variety of interesting stories; do in any particular stand out for any of you?

Sharon: I really enjoyed interviewing the young Indigenous people who attended the Indigenous Pre-Recruitment Course in Adelaide in 2016. Observing their journeys and personal growth was very inspiring –  a highlight for me.

Fiona: Interviewing, in his own home, a 93-year-old crew member of Lancaster bombers flying out of England in WW2. He let me hold the beautiful Légion d’Honneur medal that had been awarded to him by the French Government. Talking to the South Australian Commander of the Navy and discovering just how Australian Defence Force lawyers are deployed to serve within NATO forces. Having a guided tour of the conservation laboratories of Art Lab SA and hearing from its director the amazing range of specialist skills offered by its staff.

Nicky: I loved interviewing Kate Lawrence about what she had learnt about working with remote Indigenous communities for 16 years. That had completely shaped her understanding of Service to Country, “Country” can be seen as the relationship between land and people and it needs everyone to take responsibility to care for that.

Zoe: I think the most memorable story so far, was the one we did on the 'true meaning of hunger'. Fiona's father was a Prisoner Of War and it made me tear up. 

Helen:  Another for me was the interview with the the veterans who served in Australia's secret war in the 1950s to '60s, the Indonesian confrontation in Malaya and Borneo. It lasted for 7 years and cost many lives. To this day there is no memorial to them in Canberra. They're often forgotten in commemoration services. They are extremely grateful to Community Radio for giving them recognition and a voice.

Another immediately springs to mind as very special was an 8 year old with cystic fibrosis, Josh Weller, his Mum and Dad and The Cystic Fibrosis Association of Australia. Josh is just like any other young Australian, with interests and dreams, a love of footy and favourite music. At 8, he has lived approximately a quarter of his life expectancy. One in every 25 Australians are carriers of this incurable, life limiting condition! Julia Langrehr, the Executive Officer of Cystic Fibrosis South Australia said that during the Australia-wide Cystic Fibrosis month, the only media in SA  to take an active interest in this important community service is Radio Adelaide.

Profiling those who have served in the Australian Defence Force can be a sensitive task at times. What side of the story do you hope to get when interviewing veterans, as opposed to personnel still actively serving?

Sharon: I work closely with the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma that is based out of Columbia University in New York. Dart is committed to educating journalists about the ethical and sensitive treatment of interviewees who have experienced war, violence and trauma and war veterans are one group who require a careful, respectful approach. I’m the author of a guidebook for journalists called ‘The Anzac Day Media Style Guide’ which provides advice and guidance to journalists seeking to interview Australian veterans in the context of remembrance and commemoration. When interviewing veterans, it’s my experience and academic opinion that veterans provide a human voice to narratives of commemoration and remembrance.

Veterans have ‘been there’ and can speak from a credible, first-person perspective. They are often the first to challenge Anzac mythology and bring realism to the narratives that prevail in Australia at times of remembrance and commemoration. 

Notably, there are many different opinions within the veterans’ community, depending on the age, experience and background of the individual who has served. Service Voices recognises that diversity and seeks to reflect individual stories rather than a singular ‘grand narrative’. 

Nicky: I don’t generally interview Defence personnel. I did interview Fred Smith, a diplomat and musician, about his time in Bougainville and Afghanistan working alongside Australian troops. I really respect his work, especially the way he thinks about people who have decided to enlist.

Fiona: I hope to get stories of their personal experiences as military personnel, how their careers impacted on their families, any situations that couldn’t happen nowadays, what they did once they left the Forces, amusing anecdotes about their colleagues and/or superiors. Pre-recording interviews encourages subjects to relax more, knowing that anything indiscreet can be removed before it goes to air.

Helen: Whether serving or ex-service, we aim to get the individual stories that otherwise stand to be lost with the passing of time.

How does the program seek to balance the military nature of service with desire for peace and preventing conflict?

Sharon: As a serving member of the Australian Defence Force who joined at the age of 42,  I have become fascinated by the assumptions made regarding Defence Force personnel. I joined because I wanted to help people who are exposed to war, conflict and natural disaster – I saw my role as entirely compatible with a desire for peace, security and conflict prevention.  By giving a voice to the men and women who serve in today’s military, Service Voices challenges listeners to revisit their assumptions about those individuals. The vast majority are committed to the preservation of peace and security and are prepared to put their own safety on the line to do so.

Fiona: Within the broadest interpretation of “military” many of those interviewed are in roles supporting front-line troops, such as cooks, musicians, ambulance and medical personnel, etc. Other interviews highlight the real benefits to young people of the discipline and camaraderie of service life. The role of Australian Defence Force personnel in training the military and police forces of middle-eastern countries so that they might establish stable and legal governments underlines the efforts to instil peaceful solutions and avoid further conflict. 

Featuring community service personnel and their efforts provides a counter-balance that actively celebrates man’s humanity to man without diminishing the value of military activity.

Nicky: The tag of ‘Service to Country, Service to Community’ provides a very, very broad scope for content. My own background is closer to pacifism, and it’s only recently that I’ve had friendships with current or previous Defence personnel.  I really enjoy exploring the concept of service and what it means to people. Both military and non-military people use it to describe contributing to something bigger than their own personal security. Most people we’ve talked to show an understanding that peace comes from strong safe communities, local and international. They have different ways of working for these communities. Our program has great respect for all the people we speak to. I think that we genuinely show the commonality of people, which is a much stronger foundation for peace building than demonising those we believe to be different from ourselves.

As a listener to the show I always learn more about Defence personnel as people but I also learn about the endless great ways that people are trying to make a better world.

Zoe: I think that the nature of the Australian military has changed, and so too has the discourse surrounding it. Typically, we like to look at both the positive impact on communities, as well as the darker truth to balance. Service Voices likes to give unheard people a voice.

How does the program want us to think about militarism, conflict and attaining peace, especially when interviewing Defence personnel? 
Sharon: Personally, I want listeners to revisit their assumptions and recognise Service Voices interviewees as individual people.  Not as a label, not as a uniform, not as a collective and not as an agenda.  Our interviewees speak for themselves on their terms. By giving them a voice, I hope to give listeners an insight into the diversity that prevails in the service community today. My academic research has taught me that there is no singular ‘story’, definition or ‘lens’ that we should project onto our world. Military people are not necessarily ‘militaristic’; a commitment to peace does not mean that we can ignore the reality of conflict.  
Service Voices wants us to focus on individual views, memories and experiences – through different voices, we can come closer to understanding the diversity and reality that constitutes service today.

Fiona: The program is apolitical and pragmatic. It recognises that, in this modern world, Australia needs a strong Defence Force in order to maintain our democratic way of life and to intervene where necessary in the defence of beleaguered countries that are struggling to contain insurgencies and re-establish a peaceful existence. It portrays the human side of those men and women who dedicate their professional careers in the defence, rescue and training of their own citizens and those of other nations in need.

The program invites listeners to assess for themselves how disciplined and committed they are and how proud they are of their country and their colleagues. At no time does the program glorify armed conflict or promote belligerence. It does not encourage its listeners to believe in war but to see the need for the strength to resist it.

Nicky:  An overview of all the interviews on our show would show a deep exploration of militarism. We focus on issues like the ongoing mental health of serving people.  And by hearing from those people we learn about the changing nature of war, military training and peacekeeping. My best recent example is hearing from a young Lance Corporal from Swan Hill who is learning Arabic and seeing what a difference that makes in relating to Iraqi troops.

Helen: We want listeners to recognise that each person who serves (whether as a volunteer, or paid) is an individual, with families, hopes and aspirations just as varied as anyone else who lives in your street, and that applies equally to our Defence Force personnel.  Sharon, Fiona and Nicky have all explained this extremely well. Nicky summarises it beautifully with her previous statement:

I think that we genuinely show the commonality of people, which is a much stronger foundation for peace building than demonising those we believe to be different from ourselves.

For CRN subscribers:

  • Service Voices (27'50) is broadcast/distributed by CRN Tuesdays from 19:04 to 19:32 EST/EDT, and repeats Fridays 10:32 EST/EDT and is available for DDN capture
  • For more information contact CRN staff on 02 9310 2999 or email [email protected]

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Helen Meyer, Executive Producer of Service Voices - service to country, service to community, has won the HCSA's Oral History Excellence Award. For the first time, this award has been included in the History Council of South Australia (HCSA) Historian Awards. It recognises the best oral history presentation, in any format, that uses first person interviews with individuals encompassing unique life experiences and memories.


An eight-part series produced by the team at Service Voices.


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