Lust, Love, Loss: Conversations is a three-part series produced by renowned broadcaster Megan Spencer that delves deep into stories of Australian wartime relationships. Justin and Kendal Brown’s story began when they were teens in the remote defence town of Woomera, but it wasn’t until years later that they became a couple. In this episode, Megan Spencer explores Justin’s vow not to get married until he was discharged, what it was like for them both having two children while Kendal was still serving and how being in the military has shaped their relationship.
Speakers: Kendal Brown, Justin Brown
Letters: read by Justin Brown
“Namibia UNTAG: Mark Burrows in Namibia, National Nine News circa April 1989”. Nine Network Australia.
“Cambodia UNTAC: Adrian Brown in Penom Penh, Cambodia, National Nine News circa March 1993”. Nine Network Australia.
“Video Diary UNTAG & UNTAC deployments”: Justin Brown.
Original ‘Lovestruck’ music by Philip Brophy.
Performed by Bill McDonald (bass), Dan Luscombe (guitars), Garrett Costigan (pedal steel), Sianna Lee (vocals) and Philip Brophy (drums).
Justin and Kendal Brown for their generous interviews, and to Justin for sharing his video diary sounds for use in this podcast.
Melissa Garner at The Footage Company for her assistance.
The Shrine team: Sue Burgess Leigh Gilbert, Tessa Occhino, Laura Thomas and Neil Sharkey, curator of Lust, Love, Loss.
See the exhibition at the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne until November 2022.
The opinions expressed in this podcast are those of individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Shrine of Remembrance.
If this interview raises any issues for you, please contact:
Lifeline Australia on 13 11 14
JUSTIN BROWN: I’ve been writing to everyone, I got a whole heap of letters last week. I've got letters from Mum, letters from Kendal, and I've got another card from Kendal. I’ve been doing really well – I’ve got heaps of bloody cards and letters, which is good so, and I’m pretty happy with that.
MEGAN SPENCER Welcome to this podcast exploring all facets of our wartime history.
The Shrine of Remembrance acknowledges Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the traditional custodians of the land on which we honour Australian service people. And we pay our respects to Elder's past, present and emerging.
JUSTIN BROWN: I love Victoria actually. The scenery, the river land, big red gums, and open paddocks and cows and sheep and things like that. But even weekends we'd go down to Melbourne and go to rock festivals down there – the Rocktober concert at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl.
MEGAN SPENCER: What year was that? We might have been there at the same time…
JUSTIN BROWN: ’83 and ‘84
MEGAN SPENCER: Who was on?
JUSTIN BROWN: You name it, Machinations, Australian Crawl. Just amazing. And we had those blanket tossing things in the middle of the crowd where we're throwing some poor kid that we'd grabbed and they were going a long way up. They were going up a couple of storeys, but we never dropped them.
MEGAN SPENCER: Hello, my name is Megan Spencer. And in this episode of The Lust, Love and Loss podcast. And today you'll meet ex-service couple Kendal and Justin Brown who started their respective defence careers in Victoria as young recruits and now live in South Australia.
KENDAL BROWN: My name is Kendal Brown. I am 49 plus one because we don't say 50 in this house when it comes to me. I was a medic in the Royal Australian Air Force for 12 years.
MEGAN SPENCER: Big hearted and with big senses of humour, they have deep and active ties in the defence community.
JUSTIN BROWN: I'm Justin Brown. I am 54. I served in the army for 15 years in total. I joined in 1983 as an Army apprentice.
MEGAN SPENCER: Justin also did four years active reserve service.
JUSTIN BROWN: The reserve service was interrupted by a period of about a year where I discharged and then went back when Timor started, I thought I might get a gig over there but unfortunately didn't.
News audio: The latest contingent of Australian troops arrived in Namibia confident of propping up the shaky ceasefire between SWAPO guerrillas and the South African army. While our troops will at last get to dust off their engineering skills, there's apprehension among many of the soldiers of being caught in the crossfire.
MEGAN SPENCER: Moving around Australia on different postings over his 15 year career as an Army combat engineer, Justin deployed to two UN peacekeeping missions.
JUSTIN BROWN: (I) converted to field engineering, got posted up to seven field Squadron, second third field engineer regiment in Brisbane, and spent most of my time up there with a combat engineer troop. I got two deployments while I was there, to Namibia in 1989 and then to Cambodia in 1992-93.
MEGAN SPENCER: Enlisting in 1990, Kendal served in the Air Force as a medic undertaking pre deployment training in the early 90s for peacekeeping in Rwanda, but never ended up going. It was something that she was disappointed about at the time, but thankful for in hindsight.
KENDAL BROWN: Amongst all that I did a few exercises up in Tindal and Rockhampton, and then almost went to Rwanda, did pre deployment training, and was pulled off at the last minute just because they needed more army people than RAAF people and there was limited numbers. So, put my wedding off to do that, and then didn't get to do that.
MEGAN SPENCER: As a new recruit at 18, and having been born and raised in the small remote defence town of Woomera, Kendal did her medical assistant training in 1990 at RAAF Williams Laverton, close to Melbourne, living on base and spending weekends in town with the girls on her very first big city experience.
KENDAL BROWN: That was my first sort of time after that moving to Melbourne, actually being an adult and being out on my own. So, Melbourne was a big eye opener for me because it was a massive town. I come from a town of probably, maybe 4000. But we used to get the train from Laverton into town and go to the Queen Victoria markets and I remember one particular holiday we all piled into someone's car, I don't know who's, and went to Torquay for the weekend. So that was really nice going to a beach because no beaches were always from. Yeah, it just was a very developmental time in my life growing up.
MEGAN SPENCER: While back in 1983, 15-year-old Justin began his defence pathway attending the Australian Army apprentices school at Latchford barracks Bonegilla, near Wodonga. As one of the youngest in the battalion, Justin spent his weekends with a local host family, fishing and shooting with their four sons.
JUSTIN BROWN: I couldn't wait to join, I have to admit that I was homesick for quite a bit of the first year, it took me a while to adjust and the shock of joining the military, anyone who's joined the military will tell you what that adjustment period is like recruit training, initial employment training, all of that sort of stuff is just an absolute shock to the system. But look, I had amazing times there. And I think my sponsor family really helped me to fall in love with Victoria.
MEGAN SPENCER: Kendall and Justin both discharged in 2003, afterwards, mostly working as defence contractors in various roles. Doing her registered nurse training while in the Air Force, Kendal now works in the busy National Medical phone triage centre for defence personnel.
KENDAL BROWN: I work at the circuit officer in Adelaide as a registered nurse on the medical device triage referral service. So, when 1800 IM SICK. So, when people are not feeling well, or they have accidents, or you know, pretty much anything they'll call us. Yeah, it's pretty interesting.
MEGAN SPENCER: So in a way you kind of haven't left defence entirely, have you?
KENDAL BROWN: No, I'm a bit sad. I feel like I've, it would be very difficult, I think to totally cut it off and just be as total civilian, even though I am a civilian. But yeah…
JUSTIN BROWN: I've had a fairly broad range of jobs, much to Kendal’s disgust. I've been changing frequently over the last few years. But I spent a lot of time in defence contracting, so work for the likes of British Aerospace and Tenix and BAE Systems, and I'm now working for THALES.
MEGAN SPENCER: Justin also worked for a good number of years in veterans support.
JUSTIN BROWN: I spent about the last six years in veteran support roles working for the likes of Soldier On and RSL South Australia and Veterans SA. And that's been a really rewarding experience, being able to go back and support veterans, particularly those who've been impacted by the service.
MEGAN SPENCER: Both coming from military families, Kendal’s and Justin’s is a fabulous love story. They met as teams in Woomera where both of their families were living on Kokatha country,
KENDAL BROWN: No traffic lights in my town, and one intersection
MEGAN SPENCER: Marrying in 1995, their defence service overlapped for five or so years, with Kendall serving in medical recruit training when she had their two children who are now in their early 20s.
So having just become empty nesters, Kendall and Justin have a fascinating and moving story about meeting up and marrying and how being in the military has shaped their relationship over the years.
MEGAN SPENCER: I know we were at that concert together, I just do. Just before we get on, we move on to how you guys met and came together as a couple. Yeah, I need to, I feel the need to ask you, because you both joined young ages, especially you, Justin, what did your families think of you going off, you know, to Victoria and enlisting and training and starting your defence careers?
KENDAL BROWN: Well my dad was RAF. So, he kind of knew what it was going to be like. I'm second youngest out of five. So, my brother joined the Navy. And then my sister joined the Navy. So it was just like Mum would go “So which one are you joining?”. So I would go “Uh”, so it was just not a shock for them. I think they were just like “Yep, that's good,” you know “You've got a career and off you go.” They were very, very supportive.
MEGAN SPENCER: How about you, Justin?
JUSTIN BROWN: Oh, my dad was in the Army. And he was he was a signaller around the Vietnam War time, he didn't actually get sent to Vietnam because he was married and they were only taking single people at that time. But he knew what the Army was going to be like. So, he gave me a bit of an education on what it would be like so I was prepared to some extent, but nothing can prepare you totally. My Mum was very apprehensive because as she wanted me to get a better education, I lived at the end of year 10. So, I had my school leaver certificate, but she wanted me to finish year 12 and stay longer, but the pair of them was stifling my social life. So, I thought it was time to get out of Woomera. So, yeah, Mum wasn't keen and I can understand now because looking at my son when he was 15 and thinking, well, you know, at his age, I just joined the military. Yeah, I can I look back on it now and understand why my Mother and to some extent my Dad were a bit concerned about me joining at that point, but I think once I settled in over there and got into the routine of military, I think they, all of those fears just disappeared until I deployed and then they all came back again.
NEWS AUDIO: And the latest contingent of Australian troops arrived in Namibia, the South African military has just admitted to killing 13 guerillas, despite the UN agreement guaranteeing SWAPO fighters safe passage across the border to Angola. As a result, the Australians are taking extra precautions. Everyone's to wear their flack jacket.
JUSTIN BROWN: Letter written by me to my family on the 15th of April 1989. Dear Mum, Dad, Kieran and Donna and Stuart, at present, I'm at a place called Okankolo which is about 40 kilometres due east of Ondangwa. We've been here for five days waiting for the SWAPO guerrillas to turn up so that they can be taken safely across the border into Angola. The South Africans have a platoon of infantry less than 100 metres down the road and even though there is a ceasefire, they're still patrolling the surrounding area. South Africans have killed five SWAPO in the last 48 hours less than 10 kilometres from here and will kill any others they find. Unless we can get to them first. They enjoy killing and intimidating the locals. They think that because we were the UN beret and represent peace, that we are not real soldiers. The situation is gradually deteriorating, and our presence here seems to have no effect at all. I'm sorry, this letter couldn't be more cheerful, but I only write what I feel. I’ll write again when I'm in a better mood. Love to everyone, take care, Justin.
MEGAN SPENCER: Did you always want to join the Army? It sounds with Kendal, it was more or less a fait accompli.
JUSTIN BROWN: I think I was like most kids my age I had, you know, delusions of grandeur. I thought, you know, I'll join the army and go off to war and come back some kind of war hero or I'll be a police officer or a firefighter or something like that. It was, it was going to be something of that nature. And a couple of friends of mine had joined the Navy as junior recruits and go on over to HMAS Leeuwin over in Perth before me. So, I think that drove me to want to do something for myself and get out a Woomera and start my own life. So, the army just happened to be the thing that that presented itself at the time. And, you know, I like the idea of being you know, being in the Army and being a soldier and I really enjoyed my career. So, I did what I wanted to do and I don't have any regrets.
MEGAN SPENCER: Justin was originally born in Ceduna, but came to live with his family in Woomera in the far north desert region of South Australia. The town was originally established around a secret remote long range weapons testing facility during the Cold War in 1947. And the town's still there supporting the RAAF Woomera Range Complex.
So, Kendal, you also grew up in Woomera, so your paths, did they cross in Woomera? I'm guessing the answer is yes. And how old were you when you first met?
JUSTIN BROWN: We met, probably when I was about 18. I think 19
KENDAL BROWN: Yeah, I think I might have been just 16
JUSTIN BROWN: Yeah, Kendal was working at the coffee lounge. Anyone who's lived Woomera would know the old coffee lounge. And I walked into buy a can of Coke and Kendal served me and that's kind of where it started. But I knew about her before that because my brother and her brother were friends at school. And yeah…
KENDAL BROWN: Justin’s Mum and Dad used to do ballroom dancing. And they used to do the Deb balls for all the girls. And so, Justin's Mom and Dad would teach us the dancing. And I think he saw a photograph of me sat in someone's house with my partner.
JUSTIN BROWN: That was the photo that kind of kicked it off on. I looked at her and I thought oh, well, she's, she's just great. So, I had to meet her. So I did and luckily, you know, she didn't think it was too much of a tool at the time. I probably was but you know, we were both a bit naive.
MEGAN SPENCER: Kendall, I think you recall a couple of Christmases where Justin had, he'd left town and gone to Army apprentice school and started his career and he came back a couple of times to town.
KENDAL BROWN: So he would come back and we just get together at Christmas time and you know, go and have dinner or whatever. And then he'd go back again, and I'd go and do my thing. And yeah, so I don't know. Probably last two I reckon Christmas’ before I joined.
MEGAN SPENCER: So was romance budding then, or because you didn't get together for quite some time after that. I mean, I think, Justin you characterise your relationship, like the getting together part of it as a slow burn.
JUSTIN BROWN: Yeah, it was. We went out a few times, particularly when I was home at Christmas for leave. And I took Kendal to the, what was the seafood restaurant?
KENDAL BROWN: The Fish Café
JUSTIN BROWN: It was actually a really nice seafood restaurant, but we went there for dinner. So yeah, we caught up a few times. But yeah, it was a slow burn because Kendal was in Woomera and I was in Brisbane at the time.
KENDAL BROWN: And I think also my Mum had a bit of something to do with it. I was 16. And she was very strict, because she had five, you know, four girls and one boy. So we were very protected. And I think she was a bit worried because he was an Army boy and I was just, you know, teenage girl. But his Mum and my Mum knew each other, so, you know, it's not like it was someone from another town that no one knew. So yeah, I think that was…
JUSTIN BROWN: I still don’t think your mom was too keen on me though. Because when I went to take Kendal out, Kendal’s Mum said “I don't think that's a very good idea.” And I thought “Okay, now is that because of me?”
KENDAL BROWN: You were so brave, you knocked on the door and asked her at night.
JUSTIN BROWN: It was actually because Kendal was in trouble at the time. So, she wasn't allowed to go out. So, I think it was more that but I don't know that my reputation really helped me much either. So anyway, for coming back to town and then disappearing again.
MEGAN SPENCER: So what happened next?
KENDAL BROWN: Well, I joined the Air Force, and we just used to keep in touch. I'd go home at Christmas time. He'd go home at Christmas time, we'd see each other, then I'd go back and he'd go back and do his life. And I’d do my life. And I think I was at Richmond, and we were at the pay night disco. I have to call it because I can't say what the real name is.
KENDAL BROWN: I did tell you that.
MEGAN SPENCER: Yes, I know what the letters are.
JUSTIN BROWN: It's called a NUK. But you put the two words together, you’ll work it out
KENDAL BROWN: It’s a little rhyme, but we won't say that anyway. And Justin was there with his brother who had joined the Air Force.
MEGAN SPENCER: And what year was this?
JUSTIN BROWN: Probably would have been ‘89
KENDAL BROWN: No, I joined in ‘91. Yeah. 91. Yeah. And we just met there. And he wa,s you were on your way to Africa?
JUSTIN BROWN: No, no, no, we were doing a motorcycle tour around halfway around Australia. So it was around Christmas time. And we started in my brother was in Tyndall at the time, and he rode down to Brisbane, and we joined up there and then rode down to all the way down east coast, but we stayed in Richmond. And we were both still serving. So he said, Well, why don't we go to the RAAF base Richmond for the pay night disco? And I said “Yeah, let's go and do that”. And Kendal will just happened to be there, which was pretty cool.
MEGAN SPENCER: So you didn't know she was gonna be there?
JUSTIN BROWN: No.
MEGAN SPENCER: Do you remember this? Seeing him when he rocked up? What was that like?
KENDAL BROWN: I had a boyfriend.
MEGAN SPENCER: Did you freak out?
KENDAL BROWN: No. I just was like “Oh, look at you! There you are” \ because we never met outside of Woomera so it was like, wow, you know.
JUSTIN BROWN: So we kind of exchanged contact information and yeah, and then I think we caught up in Brisbane shortly after that. Yeah.
KENDAL BROWN: I obviously didn't have a boyfriend then.
MEGAN SPENCER: So you went to stay with Justin at his sister's place in Brisbane. Is that right? Not too long after that…
KENDAL BROWN: Two months.
JUSTIN BROWN: She didn't start by staying at my sister's place. She got to a hotel and booked a hotel close by. Because you know…
KENDAL BROWN: I’m a lady
JUSTIN BROWN: But anyway, my sister invited her to come and stay with us. So, she came and stayed.
HISTORICAL NEWS AUDIO: The Australian Army Blackhawk helicopters had to cross territory controlled by the Khmer Rouge before reaching their new base at Battambang in Northern Cambodia. More than 100 soldiers arrived with them, boosting Australia's UN contingent to more than 600.
MEGAN SPENCER: And you were slated to go to your second overseas deployment then in Cambodia, weren't you?
JUSTIN BROWN: That's right. Yeah.
MEGAN SPENCER: So did you kind of talk about getting together as a unit, as a couple, when you went to visit Justin at his sister's place?
KENDAL BROWN: No. I think we were just making the most of the time we had and then it was more like, well, if it's meant to be it's meant to be, we'll just write and we'll see what goes.
JUSTIN BROWN: It was probably a little more a little more difficult than that. Because I was living in Brisbane and Kendal was posted to Sydney to Richmond. So, the distance factor became a bit of an issue. And I was a bit of a social butterfly as well. So I wrote a letter to Kendal saying that probably that distance thing was probably not going to work. And Dr. Tanya decided that I was the worst person under the sun.
KENDAL BROWN: That was my best friend.
JUSTIN BROWN: Yeah, who was another medic that Kendal trained with and said, “Yeah, this guy's this guy's an army tool”. Anyway, so it kind of it kind of finished at that point. And then I went to Cambodia. And while I was over there, you know, managed to have a moment of clarity and thought, well, I better write to her again, and, and see how she is and whether she'll speak to me. So I did. And we kind of started writing again. And Kendall was seeing another guy at the time. So we just wrote, I kept in touch.
MEGAN SPENCER: Sometimes I really do wish I was making video podcasts because the look on your face at this moment, Kendal, is just priceless.
KENDAL BROWN: I always seemed to have a boyfriend, like it was just so bad timing.
JUSTIN BROWN READING LETTER: Dear Kendal, I was going to go out tonight with Mel and a mate of ours from the Cambodian crew. But I changed my mind.
MEGAN SPENCER: Tell me about the letter that you wrote to Kendal while you were over there Justin.
JUSTIN BROWN: It was very sheepish. I mean, it was one of those “I might have made him a bit of a mistake”. And you know, “How are things going?” And she wrote back saying, “Well, I'm seeing someone else,” and made me work pretty hard for the letters. But yeah, it was good. I think it was more around the fact that Kendal sent me a photo of her with her parents. And I put that photo up on the wall in my various rooms wherever I was in Cambodia. And I think it was that photo that really cemented it for me that she was just the kind of person that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. She is such a family orientated person; she has such a love for her parents and her family. And I thought, well, any woman who can be like that would have to be a great wife, partner, mother. So yeah, I think that was, I realised at that that point that that was, you know what I needed to do, and I needed to pursue her. So it was good.
MEGAN SPENCER: You don't get off the hook Kendal, so when you when you received this letter from Justin while he was over there, and you were with someone else, What was going on for you then how did you feel?
KENDAL BROWN: Obviously flattered. But I just think that it was probably always meant to be. But the timing was always not right. Nothing really happened until he came home from deployment. So it was just friendly letter writing and the odd, you know, sort of undertone in there that was like, “What are you saying? Just say it. What are you saying? Like, what does that mean?” But yeah, so I still had a boyfriend when he came back, the same boyfriend. And yeah, I think it was we went out to dinner or something. You were staying with your friends. And we went out to dinner and that was just, yeah, that's it, then I have to dump old mate.
MEGAN SPENCER: So I guess it can be the forefront of your mind, you had to make a choice. Is that what you're saying?
KENDAL BROWN: That's right. Yeah. But you know, it wasn't going to be on a on a letter and a bit of a maybe, it was going to be you know, we are or we aren’t. So yeah.
HISTORICAL NEWS AUDIO: The risk to the Australian troops here has been described as high. The risk is high too, but the teams of international volunteer electoral workers, including more than 60 Australians here to supervise Cambodia's freest ever elections. After its horrific recent past, Cambodia's people are voting for peace, and the government that can deliver it.
MEGAN SPENCER: Can I just ask you, I know you're a defence person, you're not a civilian. But I'm wondering, I know you weren't together together then. But you knew that Justin was over in Cambodia. It was a peacekeeping mission. But there were big risks attached to that particular mission as well, you were part of the UNTAC operation, which was about shepherding through the first free elections in quite some time. It wasn't an easy gig by any measure. Were you worried about him? Was he in your mind? Did it cross your mind to be a bit worried about what might happen to him over there as his parents or family would have anyway? Did you find yourself checking the news, that kind of stuff?
KENDAL BROWN: I did a little bit, but I guess he wrote to me quite regularly, so and he would tell me things and I think I didn't know that. There's a lot of things that happen that don't get reported in the media. So, you know, I was like, oh, you know, I thought it was peacekeeping. And it was always you know, the word peacekeeping means peacekeeping, you know, not dangerous, but, you know, it was.
MEGAN SPENCER: Justin, you once said to me that you made a bit of a vow to yourself that you wouldn't enter into a marriage or a serious relationship while you were on deployment because you'd seen so many relationships go belly up. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?
JUSTIN BROWN: I think I'd been in the army for about four or five years. And I made a bit of a commitment to myself that I would never be married while I was serving in the army. And that was because I'd seen so many relationships struggle and fail. And the difficulties associated with just serving in the military to be the wife or partner or, or husband of someone who is serving is a very, very tough gig, a lot of the time they're away. If they're on deployment, there's always that that risk of them being wounded or killed. There's always that anxiety and fear attached with having someone serving and being absent. Families have to, you know, look after each other and pick up the slack when that person is not there and live without them. And I think in in Cambodia, the failure rate of relationships was about 80% for the people who had been deployed. And I just thought, well, I don't want to put anyone through that. And I don't want to have anyone, you know, sacrifice a lot and wait for me to get home, only to work out that, you know, the relationship isn't going to work. And I was actually going out with a girl in Brisbane when I first went to Cambodia. And I realised probably about a month and a half, two months into the deployment that a) the relationship wasn't going to survive, and that I didn't feel strongly enough about her to ask her to wait for me. And I did the most cowardly thing that I've ever done in my life and sent her a tape, you know, the old cassette tape, ending the relationship. And I always regret that because I know it was such a terrible thing to do to her. And she snapped it in half and sent it back in a package with all the photos of us together. And I guess that gave her the opportunity to, you know, wipe the slate. But yeah, it was a terrible thing to do.
But I think defence, the sacrifices that people make, just in serving in the Defence Force, are significant and a lot of a lot of people don't understand that about being in the military. To be married to someone else who's in the military, would be incredibly tough. You know, someone who I think you were talking about some friends of yours who had been married for so many years and had only ever been in the same city for, you know, two years out of an extensive relationship. And that's so bloody hard on not only the immediate relationship, but kids extended family, friends, parents, all that sort of stuff. Yeah, it's really tough. So yeah, I didn't want to put anyone through that. And while I had a number of short-term relationships, I really didn't settle into anything significant until after I left.
JUSTIN BROWN READING LETTER: Letter written to my lovely now wife, 15th of March 1994. Dear Kendal, I spoke to you on the phone earlier tonight and I haven't been able to stop thinking about you since. I was in a mild state of depression last night when I arrived back here, and I put it down to the fact that I just didn't want to leave you. I think you're right, Kendal, I'm getting old. Actually, I don't think it's the age, which is the biggest factor here. I guess I really need to be with someone who makes me feel relaxed and happy. Know anyone like that? On a slightly more serious note, I was really disappointed to hear your news about (NAME REDACTED) tonight. I thought they were so happy together and they would have to really lovely kids. Love can be cruel sometimes. Did all of this make you think harder about us and where we are heading with our relationship? It would be nice to be able to sit down with you right now and talk about these things, although I think you must realise how serious I am about us. We have our own lives and we do things our own way. And I intend for us to be together for a long time, regardless of what is happening to those around us. Well, Miss Wickens, it's time I got some sleep. So bye for now. I'm lonely without you, Justin.
MEGAN SPENCER: And Kendall, so you're a defence member yourself listening to that, you know, defence families, defence couples do sacrifice a lot. There's so much uncertainty that comes with it. But here you are dating a fellow defence member, so how was this going to work? Had you thought about that side of things that Justin's just explained as well?
KENDAL BROWN: Probably not. Because I think for us, it was just well, we're here now. we're going to make it work. But also, for a short time I was travelling and Justin was travelling, he was in Brisbane, I was in Adelaide. So, every time we could get time off, I would either be up there or he'd be down here. But when we decided that that was what we were going to do, and we were going to get married, it was either he's staying in and me getting out or me staying in and him getting out. And I think you'd done, you were ready to leave. So, it was decided that he would leave and I would stay and he would come home
MEGAN SPENCER: So, around ’94 you got together, you went out for a year, then you got married in 1995. Is that around the time you left? Or was it a bit earlier, Justin?
JUSTIN BROWN: No, that was after. I left in ’93, the regular Army, came down here and I would have been serving in the reserves about that time. It was interesting because Kendal was still living on base for a while while I was serving in Brisbane. So, when I'd come back down here, we’d catch up and Kendal would sneak me onto the base in the boot of her car so I could stay overnight.
KENDAL BROWN: Well, yeah, you weren't supposed to.
JUSTIN BROWN: Oh, yeah. You weren't supposed to, if you weren't serving on the bass, you were supposed to stay overnight on the bass. So you know. And yeah.
KENDAL BROWN: He used to say, “Can you just go a bit slower?” and it wasn't very far from the base to the to the room. But obviously I was a bit of a, not a very good driver with him in the boot
MEGAN SPENCER: Sounds like being smuggled into drive in or something.
JUSTIN BROWN: Yeah, I don't know. It was just something that that we did so that we could spend time together. And it's a fun memory that I have because it was, it was a bit naughty to do that. But you know, at the end of the day,
MEGAN SPENCER: It’s dedication, right. It's true love. So, so in ‘95, you got married, did things change much after that?
KENDAL BROWN: Look, to tell you the truth it was a bit of a blur for me because I was so busy. I obviously got married and I started studying. We had Maddie in ‘98. So, I was working full time and studying and then we had a baby. And yeah, it was just a real busy, busy time.
MEGAN SPENCER: A couple of years after they married, Kendal and Justin had their children in pretty quick succession. With Justin out of the regular Army at that time and working in his new furniture business, Kendal was often working away from home with the Air Force in the number one Recruit Training Unit. So, it fell to him to look after the kids.
KENDAL BROWN: Yeah, so with 1RTU, we used to go away with the recruits to the Murray Bridge firing range. And so Justin would be left with the two little kids and they would have been two kids under 14 months. So little and they're in childcare so he would have to do that for five days. Get u, take the kids to childcare, make a lunch, you know, bath them, feed them, put them to bed and then do his thing, and then get up again and do it. So, it was pretty tough when you're, you know, a new dad, but he managed and it's pretty hard. I think he did a really good job.
MEGAN SPENCER: How was that for you? Justin? Do you remember?
JUSTIN BROWN: Look, it was a bit of a blur. We were so busy. And Kendal was working full, Kendal went back to work very quickly after having each of the kids like shared maternity leave of about three months. And then she was back at work full time. And then studying as well. So she was studying her nursing degree. So it was just a really busy time for us. And I think we both had to just pitch in and do whatever needed to be done. So yeah, I learned very quickly how to change nappies and feed the kids and get them to sleep and put up with a little tanties and all that sort of stuff they used to have
KENDAL BROWN: He learnt how to do Maddie’s hair, which was lovely to have funny little ponytails poking out of her head at all different angles.
MEGAN SPENCER: I think another thing you said to me Kendal was that it happens more often than you think like people, just gender stereotypes, people always think that the Mum will stay at home. But in defence couples, or in this kind of scenario, does it happen more than people realise?
KENDAL BROWN: I think you have to, you can't, if you both have the same expectations put on you as a military person, full stop, whether you're male or female. So the other person has to be the Mum and Dad. So that's just it. That's all there is to it, you have to cope. And I think a lot of them, you get military dads, and they're amazing. Like they will be able to cope, no worries, and you get military wives that are amazing, also in the military, and you just have a routine, and you have to follow the routine, it doesn't matter whether you're a boy or girl, you just do. You’re Mum and Dad.
JUSTIN BROWN: I can't imagine how today's serving members leave their families to go to places like Afghanistan. I mean, that must be such a traumatic experience for the family. You know, leaving little kids or unborn babies and going over and coming back to a new child in the family and just the unknowns of those sorts of things, that that's just such a traumatic thing for a family to go through, I think and some of them are doing it multiple times, you know, not just once. So, it's, it's a difficult thing. And imagine being a young Mum who's just got little kids and suddenly leaving the family to go over to Afghanistan or Iraq or wherever they went to do their job, knowing that they just left little kids at home, that must have been a very, very tough thing for them to do.
MEGAN SPENCER: These are the challenges that face military couples, defence couples, defence families. How has being in the military, do you think, shaped or impacted your relationship together? As service people? And now ex-service people? Do you think about it?
KENDAL BROWN: I think it's actually made us stronger, because obviously been in defence you, you get taught resilience. So you I think you work harder to be together and to have that time together when one of you is working or the other one's doing whatever, you always have to make that time. And I think with our kids, we've probably tried to instil a lot of that in them as well, you know, if things don't go your way, well, you know, figure out another way. It's not always going to be roses, and you know, peaches you've got to be, you've got to just keep going, you know, you keep going you keep trying, and I think we raised some pretty resilient children. And the only thing I guess, is that you don't have that time where you get to go to every sports day and every little thing at school that you wish you could have. I know I, and you did as well, missed out on a lot with the kids because of military requirements and where you have to be and what you have to do. And it is a lot more flexible these days, but it probably wasn't much flexibility in it when our kids were little. And I know they sometimes bring it up you know, “You didn't come to this and you didn't come to that,” and you're like “Yep, okay, yep. Yep, I know, I know”. But, you know, you do the best you can and the ones that you do go to you, you know, it's a big thing. And they love it. And it's just, there's a lot of sacrifice that's made just because that's the job.
JUSTIN BROWN: I think one of the things that you have to be very conscious of is that the things that you've been through and the training that you've had in the person that that's made you, you can't enforce that on your kids, and you can't expect them to do the same thing or want to be the same and that they are very different human beings to you and it's taken me a lot of time to get rid of that military mindset when I'm dealing with my kids. And it took me a while to get to the point where I wasn't feeling frustrated because they weren't doing what I thought they should be doing. Because I see it from my perspective as a military person. And it takes a lot to get rid of that perspective when you're dealing with other people. And not only kids, but friends and family and things like that. So, it's a real conscious effort to demilitarise yourself when you were amongst company that haven't experienced that, you can become a real robot sometimes in the way that you approach tasks or situations or relationships and things like that. So yeah, it's a, that can be a tough thing for people to, to learn to change.
MEGAN SPENCER: You did describe your kids to me once is incredibly grounded, and that you're both really proud of that.
JUSTIN BROWN: Yeah, I think both of our kids have grown up to be very good human beings. And that really impresses me a lot. Because they did that despite me. I think a lot of that was Kendal, but they're very compassionate, and empathetic and considerate kids. And I think in today's society, they have probably a more mature approach to other people and relationships than perhaps some of their peers. And I think that's because we've always sought to teach them that the world doesn't revolve around them, that they have to work hard for their place in society, and that they need to respect other people, and one of the great things about defence is that it teaches you that ethic, it’s those values of respecting other people, respecting yourself. So yeah, our kids are really good. I mean, I'm just incredibly proud of both of them.
MEGAN SPENCER: Any more thoughts to add to that, Kendal?
KENDAL BROWN: No, I totally agree. They are good kids, really good kids. And I mean, they may have ended up being good kids regardless of whether we were in the military, but I think it's when they listen to what stories we tell them about what we've done there, they're always like “Wow” and like, maybe amazed that we've done it, and maybe think that they couldn't do it. And we're like, “Of course you could, you can do anything if you put your mind to it”. So I think that's one of the things that the military does give you, it gives you that, you know, keep trying, and put the effort in, and you'll get far. And I think though they're both really quite successful, and we're very proud of them.
JUSTIN BROWN ON VIDEO DIARY: It's gonna be a bit of a bit of a bummer not being home for Christmas, and whatever. But I guess you’ve got to put up with that. I mean, it's part of the job. And I knew that before I came here, so I’ll just have to make up for it next Christmas I suppose. I'll be looking forward to getting home. I got less than six months to go, not long. I’ll be home fairly shortly I imagine the way the days are going, and I guess I'll just have to take working and before I know it I’ll be on a plane.
MEGAN SPENCER: Do think both of you being defence members, and now ex defence members, that it's kind of easier in a way because you understand implicitly what's involved rather than marrying, say a civilian who has had very little exposure to what it actually means to be in a union that revolves around this particular unique line of work?
KENDAL BROWN: Absolutely. I think that's why people get together in defence, because it is a unique environment and there's things that you can't explain to civilian people. And that sounds terrible, but you can talk and discuss things and know what that means, you know, without having to explain every single little thing. So, I can see why people do get together in defence. And I think, if you can get through and you can muddle through, and get, you know, to the end where you're still together, then, you know, it's an amazing thing. It's a big, big accomplishment because it is very difficult.
JUSTIN BROWN: Yeah, I agree completely is that familiarity, in terminology and it's a different language in defence that that we speak, it's a lot of acronyms and places and ranks and all that sort of stuff. Yeah, not having to explain yourself a lot means that you can have a conversation and understand each other really, really well. And you also understand the implications of certain events, if they come about, you know, a posting or a deployment or something like that, you know what that's going to mean for each other for the family, that sort of thing.
KENDAL BROWN: But even in your work life, you know, you are such a team and you rely on each other, obviously for life and death things, so you need to be reliable. Going into a civilian workplace that there's just not there. That team and camaraderie it's not there. They say “Yep, teammate, teamwork,” but you don't know team work until you you're hungry or thirsty or whatever, and someone gives you the last muesli bar or the last bit of water in their water bottle or lets you sleep first, you know, like, yeah, it's just not the same. It's very different
MEGAN SPENCER: What do you think that the broader community needs to understand about defence couples, defence families that we don't know?
JUSTIN BROWN: That's, that's a really great question. I think today's military couples, the needs and demands on them would be very different to us, I think we got together at a time when the operational tempo of the ADF was quite low. And even though you know, the deployments started to come thicker and faster over the years, the operational tempo of the ADF over the last, you know, 15 years has just been incredible. Defence families move around a lot, they have incredible demands on them for being available and ready to deploy at any time. That puts a lot of pressure on children moving every four years or so, kids have to pack up and move and leave their friends and go to a new school and just finding a new school in some of the locations can be really difficult. So, I think the community are a lot more aware, because of the all of the media surrounding things like deployments, like Afghanistan and Iraq, and East Timor. I don't think anyone in the military expects the community to make allowances for them. I think we just want them to understand that if we, if defence families have a need for something like a childcare placement, or a school position or some support in the community for a family, because their partner goes over on deployment, that that's just something that the family needs as a whole for the community to support them a bit. You know, I don't think anyone in the Defence Force expects any kind of preferential treatment. In fact, I think when they were talking about that, they're talking about giving veterans the right to board an aircraft ahead of everybody else. That was the worst idea on the planet. And I don't think any military person in their right mind would ever expect someone else to stand aside for them to let them get onto the aircraft first. That's how we think, so yeah, look, I don't know that the community needs to do anything more than understand that if we send someone over on deployment, they get damaged, and we bring them back, we need to fix them. And we need to support them. And I think that's about all that we would expect of the community really.
MEGAN SPENCER: Kendal?
KENDAL BROWN: Maybe employers probably need to be a little more flexible. If you're obviously damaged, and you're trying to get back into the workplace and find a role for yourself, which let's face it, some of the things do not correlate what you do in the Defence Force, what you can do in civilian life, that may take a bit of flexibility, especially if they are a little bit, you know, damaged, they might need extra time off or, you know, time for appointments and things like that. And I think that is the least you can do when you're coming out of the Defence Force and you've served your country to be able to go “Yep, you can do that, we’ll accommodate that,” you know.
JUSTIN BROWN: From an employment perspective, as well as for employers in this country to understand the value that an ex-serving person can bring to their business. That's probably the greatest, the greatest thing they can do is to understand that a person coming out of the military isn't a robot. isn't a, you know, a killing machine. They're a person who has incredible amounts of skill and experience and life skill that they can bring to a workplace and adapt very, very quickly. And they are used to being in a training environment constantly. So, they can do training in their sleep and adapt very, very quickly to changing environments. So, employers would do well to consider former ADF people and their families because their families are very resourceful and adaptable and have a very similar mindset because they've been in that defence family.
MEGAN SPENCER: What have you learned as a defence couple? And I'm guessing humour has been a big part of your relationship. Looking back? Yeah. What have you learned as a defence couple?
JUSTIN BROWN: Well, I think the army is generally the tougher group, you know. And RAAFies tend to judge their deployments by how many stars there are on the hotel they stay at, and whether they get, you know, clean sheets every day and three cooked meals, but, you know, there's subtle differences.
KENDAL BROWN: I just think that's jealousy, absolute jealousy, because they realise they've joined the wrong force. That's it. That's all there is to it.
JUSTIN BROWN: Actually, it's true. My brother joined the Air force and I told him to join the Air Force rather than the Army but, and if I'd studied longer, and I was smarter, I probably would have been a pilot because they just get the best bloody toys to play with.
KENDAL BROWN: I think it's just having that banter. And knowing that it's not serious, and it keeps us going.
JUSTIN BROWN: Yeah, we can take the piss out of each other and regularly do and, you know, we just know that we understand that, that sense of humour and where it's coming from.
MEGAN SPENCER: So how have you stayed together? What do you think the key is other than humour and be both, you know, ragging on each other about joining the wrong force and thinking the other one's got a better or got it worse or whatever? How do you think you have stayed together this long? How have you kept your relationship alive and the romance alive? I guess?
JUSTIN BROWN: Forgiveness, I think from Kendal to me, and the fact that she puts up with my snoring and stuff like that. I think it's, we were I think we were always meant to be married. We were always meant to be a couple and I think that that became clearly evident very early on in the piece. And, and I think the fact that, you know, I still adore her and always will. I think that's just the thing that, you know, it's, I don't know, it's hard to describe really, it's just one of those things.
KENDAL BROWN: It's just mutual respect. I think he knows, you know, where his bread's buttered.
MEGAN SPENCER: You just said that stroking his face
KENDAL BROWN: I know
JUSTIN BROWN: Well, it's the fact that I've got a half a beard growing.
KENDAL BROWN: You know, that could be a deal breaker. I said to him the other day, “How long is that gonna live with us? How much longer?” He said “It might come off”. No, no, I just think he's, I don't know, I know it’s really cheesy saying we're soulmates, because I actually don't really know what that means. But I think yeah, we were always meant to be together, and we were just waiting for the right time. Yeah, that's it. That's all there is.
MEGAN SPENCER: Has it been a good life together? Looking back?
JUSTIN BROWN: Absolutely. Yeah, I wouldn't miss a day of it. I think we've had a few patches where, you know, things were challenging to the point where, you know, we, it tested our relationship. But we've had so many more good days than bad. And I think the fact that we've been through quite a bit in our own personal lives, family wise, that sort of stuff that, you know, we support each other. And, you know, we know, life's short, and, you know, we just have to make the best of what we got. We're not rich, and we're not, you know, well to do but we've got more than a lot of people have got and we're grateful for that. And I think we just, you know, do as much as we can to enjoy our life and battle through the tough ones.
KENDAL BROWN: Yeah, I agree. I don't know that, I can't imagine life without him. And even if I thought about it, I wouldn't even be able to think where would I live? What would I do? Because they just because he's always there, and hopefully always will be.
JUSTIN BROWN: I’d take us six months to clean up the shed
MEGAN SPENCER: Soulmates it sounds like to me
JUSTIN BROWN: Yeah
MEGAN SPENCER: This podcast was produced by me, Megan Spencer for The Shrine of Remembrance. Speaking on Lust, Love, Loss today were defence couple Kendal and Justin Brown. Many thanks to them both for their generous time and interviews, and also to Justin for reading his letters home and for sharing his video diary tapes for use in this podcast.
Both Justin and Kendall are active supporters of the Road to Recovery respite programme for returned ADF veterans and their families. You can find out more at road to recovery.org.au
Thanks also to Phillip Brophy for the original music, Kris Keogh for mastering, to Melissa Garner and the footage company at Nine Network Australia for the archival news audio and to the Shrine team.
For a full list of credits, please visit the episode show notes at shrine.org.au/resources.
The opinions expressed in this podcast are those of individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Shrine of Remembrance.
If this interview has raised any issues for you, please contact Lifeline on one 13 11 14 or Open Arms, 1800 011 046.
The Lust, Love, Loss exhibition is on at the Shrine of Remembrance until November 2022.
Thank you very much for listening. My name is Megan Spencer, speak to you again next time.
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Reviewed 14 February 2022