Three veteran servicemen − Robert Kilsby, Brad Grant and Matt Hanrahan − have spent the past month and a half paddling the Murray River in their kayaks to raise awareness about veteran homelessness.
And the trio estimate they will arrive in Mildura on Saturday.
Robert, a Vietnam veteran from WA, said he decided to take on the challenge with mates Brad, an ex-military policeman, and Matt, a former Navy clearance driver, about 18 months ago after learning about the seriousness of veteran homelessness in Australia.
The trio took to the water on May 1.
“I was already thinking about undertaking the challenge to paddle the length of the Murray but I wanted to make it more meaningful,” Robert explained.
“I’m a director at Warrior Racing Limited that has set up a charity for veteran homelessness called ‘Australian Homeless Veterans’ and I guess I never really understood how big the issue is until recently.
“So many people who have served are homeless, a lot more than I ever thought. I think the number is 5800 now with almost a 50-50 ratio of men and women, which shocked me because coming from the special operations side of the military I never thought about that sort of stuff.”
The team has enjoyed their voyage so far, despite some of the challenges it has produced, including the cold Victorian weather.
They have been accompanied by their crew on the ‘sidelines’, spearheaded by Robert’s son Sean. He is acting as a safety officer ashore instead of paddling, and has been “a great support.”
Robert said the trio have met many great characters who are willing to help out and have been humbled by the generosity of each community they visit.
“Being from a warm part of the country it’s been a challenge adjusting to the cold Victorian temperatures, especially on the river, but overall the journey has been a great test for us and we’ve enjoyed stopping at main towns along the way to meet people and stock up on food and resources as we setup camp,” he said.
“We’ve met some fantastic people, the country people in Australia are true patriots and they’re really lovely.
“We’ve also had great support from a lot of companies like small businesses and places like the RSL.”
Robert, Brad and Matt have been receiving donations for the Australian Homeless Veterans charity throughout their journey, and while this is appreciated, their main goal is still to simply spread awareness to the public and ultimately locating homeless veterans to provide them with support.
“We just want the general public to understand that this is a real problem and then I guess in turn more people will be willing to help out with donations,” Robert said.
“We’re not badgering anyone, any sum helps and is appreciated.
“If we can use our powers at Australian Homeless Veterans to locate these people and then hand them over to bigger groups like RSL groups or Bravehearts Australia it would be amazing.
“These people have served Australia and it’s time for Australia to serve them.”
The crew hopes to arrive in Mildura on Saturday and plans on visiting the local area and the RSL over the weekend.
If you would like more information on this cause or if you want to donate, you can visit www.thelongpaddle.com.au or The Long Paddle − Veterans on the Murray on Facebook.