Tireless service

Frank Donovan has been awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for his tireless work in veterans' affairs.

Frank Donovan has been awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for his tireless work in veterans' affairs.

A Vietnam veteran who has spent decades in service to veterans' affairs has been awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia for his tireless work.

Woodend's Frank Donovan is known locally for the pivotal role he has played in the development of the Anzac Day Dawn Service at Mount Macedon, now one of the state's most recognised services, but it is his work in establishing veterans counselling services that he is most proud of.

Together with colleagues in Sydney, Melbourne and South Australia, Mr Donovan, then handling the Perth end, entered into "some pretty intense negotiations" with the then Minister for Veterans Affairs, Tony Messner, to establish the national Vietnam Veterans Counselling Service in 1979.

"It was able to deliver mental health services and counselling to veterans and their families independently of the Department of Veterans Affairs and still does operate independently," Mr Donovan said.

"They provide a range of services and support to veterans now and are now available in every capital city and in most regional centres around Australia."

Mr Donovan has also held many executive roles in veterans associations.

But while honoured to receive an OAM he is not entirely comfortable being given it, he says, while Australia treats as criminals the very refugees wars create.

"Controversial though it may be for me to say this, there is an irony in the awards for service to veterans and families, when it is appreciated that, since the Vietnam War, the same wars that have created veterans like myself have also created asylum seekers and refugees," he told the Express.

Mr Donovan and his wife Anne are involved with a small group of Australians who visit and support refugees in an Indonesian asylum seeker detention centre in Bali, where the couple is currently living.

"Most of those we have visited have been in detention for several years, and they include young men, women and children who all have suffered trauma or torture before making their escape from war-torn countries or other oppressive regimes," he said.

"They are just like the people who paid big money for passage on leaky boats in a desperate bid for asylum in Australia.

"It could have been any of those we visit, except they could not get the money to pay their fares.

"We could accommodate them in Australia easily: we choose not to - in spite of our Anzac traditions."

Mr Donovan said that when the detention centres close on Nauru and Manus Island later this year, asylum seekers would have to choose between returning to the country they fled from, taking their chances in Cambodia or being released into the Papua New Guinean community.

"They're pretty horrendous choices when in fact what we ought to be doing is bringing them to Australia for processing," he said.

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