Kerry Hespe

I have a brain injury, but what is the use of being alive unless I continue to do my best, be my best and show my two girls that I’m not perfect, but I’ll continue to improve.

By Kerry Hespe

Kerry Hespe & her mother Pamela

I am a lucky lady, although I don’t remember feeling fortunate when I was growing up. I was the epitome of an Army Brat with a career soldier Dad.

Dad served in the Australian Army from 1958 for over 20 years, and was a Vietnam Vet. I was born in Malaysia in the tropical heat. My mum tells me everyone had trouble keeping shoes and a jumper on me when we first flew into Sydney in the middle of winter. I had never worn them before in Malaysia.

We settled in Anzac Village for the first seven years of my life, but that all changed when I was in Year Two in primary school. We began the ever-familiar army nomad lifestyle. 

I spent Year Three, and half of Year Four at Ballina Public School, half of years Four and Five in Townsville, and then Year Six at Hammondville Public school.  We finally settled in Ruse for my high school years. My sisters were not as fortunate. They had their high school years interrupted year after year as we moved around. You know what though – I loved it!

I would see Mum and Dad deep in conversation and think – ‘how exciting, where are we off to next?’ I’d get my Shell Service Station stamp wallet out and look up the UBD street directory to plan the trip with Dad. 

Dad was a hard man, a man of very few words, a man that just had to look at us to reduce us to tears, a man of integrity, a man who reached for excellence and expected the same from us. He was a man who adored his grandkids, followed Eastern Suburbs Roosters NRL team passionately. He was a husband, a father, and a soldier.

Kerry's father - Frank Phillips
Kerry’s father – Frank Phillips

We got to stay in motels along the way and turn up at a new house every 18 months, or two years, for a new adventure. Starting a new school was never fun, but there would always be someone that could give you the lowdown.

I was, unfortunately, badly mugged in broad daylight on Glebe Point Rd Sydney in 1999, and that resulted in an operation on my brain. There was major swelling and the surgeon had to remove a colloid cyst that I had been born with – unbeknownst to me, until I hit my head on the ground and it popped out of its benign spot and was about to kill me.

I rang Dad from hospital to tell him of my impending operation.  Mum answered the phone, I said – ‘put Dad on’.  He listened, he didn’t react, he asked all the appropriate questions that I’d had answered by the brain surgeon then said, ‘We’re in for a rough ride Bugs – but we’ll do this together!’

So… here’s the lucky bit.  As a result of being an army kid, and being dragged from pillar to post, I learned to be independent, have a ’can-do’ attitude and a strong character. This is everything I needed to help me learn to walk again, write again, use cutlery, and to learn how to live with an external short-term memory.

Kerry with her daughters Laura and Emily

In 2021 I was awarded the Long Tan Bursary. I’m now 54 years old and studying. I’m embarking on the first formal study for many years. But do you know what? I’ve decided to confront it head on. I have a brain injury, but what is the use of being alive unless I continue to do my best, be my best and show my two girls that I’m not perfect, but I’ll continue to improve.

In 2019 my eldest daughter received an AVCAT Scholarship sponsored by the Vietnam Veterans Peacekeepers and Peacemakers Association of Australia, and has gone on to study a Bachelor of Performance – I say study, but as a proud mum, I mean slay!

In 2020 my youngest daughter was fortunate enough to start her primary teaching studies with an AVCAT Scholarship sponsored by RSL Newtown Sub-Branch, and is thriving. AVCAT has made all this possible. Thank you is not enough.

Dad was a hard man, a man of very few words, a man that just had to look at us to reduce us to tears, a man of integrity, a man who reached for excellence and expected the same from us. He was a man who adored his grandkids and followed Eastern Suburbs Roosters NRL team passionately. He was a husband, a father, and a soldier.

Dad died a few years ago. His health was very poor for a long time, like many of his army mates, so I don’t get to share my scholarship news with him. But my amazing husband, kids and mother are so proud of this next step I’m embarking on – all due to AVCAT and the Long Tan Bursary.

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