Support for ADF widows and families earns Duncraig resident Medal of the Order of Australia

Shirly Mooney at home in Duncraig. Picture: Marie Nirme
Shirly Mooney at home in Duncraig. Picture: Marie Nirme

SHIRLY Mooney’s support for fellow widows and families of Australian Defence Force veterans over three decades has earned her one of the nation’s highest honours.

The Duncraig resident was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia, announced by Governor-General Peter Cosgrove today.

Mrs Mooney has been involved with many military-related support services, including as a welfare office for the Australian Special Air Services Association since 1993, the Defence Force Welfare Association’s Defence Widows Group convenor since 1999, a treasurer, welfare and pensions officer at Indigenous and Torres Straits Veterans WA for five years and as former president of the Royal Australian Army Nursing Corps Association.

She started nursing school at age 16 and joined the army a couple of years later to finish her training.

“I always wanted to join the army…my father was in the military, my life was the military,” she said.

“I enjoyed the discipline and friendship in military life and nursing.”

Mrs Mooney was automatically discharged from service when she married her husband in 1958.

After raising her children, she returned to nursing in 1970 at Hollywood Private Hospital, then the Repatriation General Hospital, Hollywood for returned service members, where she worked in diagnostics radiology.

Here she noticed a large number of men returning from the Vietnam War with illness, which she attributed to Agent Orange, but said was ignored by officials for many years.

“There were so many men so very ill with this Agent Orange,” she said.

“I kept my eye on who was coming in and out of hospital, how many came that were healthy young men, and quietly came to my own conclusion and supported them all the way through until it was accepted.”

Mrs Mooney also experienced a lack of support for her husband, who struggled after leaving the Special Air Service Regiment.

“My husband was very ill when he retired from the services and he got absolutely no assistance whatsoever,” she said.

“When he died (in 1991) I got even less,” she said.

“I thought if I can prevent this in a small way, I would not see another family go through this”.

Mrs Mooney had a profession she could return to but knew many women did not.

“We came through this OK,” she said.

“I also thought that not everybody is me so there’s a lot of work to be done.

“In general service families were not treated with very much dignity.”

She completed courses about welfare and pension plans to assist veterans and their families, which she has been doing for the past nearly 30 years.

While there was little support when Mrs Mooney started, she believed it was “pretty good now”.

As well as helping practically, she has become friends with many families and counted her favourite role as a “stand in grandma” as families sometimes asked her to attend their child’s school event when their own grandparent could not.

“I like to participate and be there for the children who are where they are because of their father’s occupation,” she said.

“You just treat them as if they’re your own children…depending on the family situation and how much support is needed.”

Mrs Mooney was initially reluctant to accept the honour but did not want to disappoint those who nominated her.

She is humble about what she has achieved and was keen for others not to make a fuss.

“I believe you volunteer because you want to and not for self gratification.”

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