I met Graeme Smith at The Last Post Ceremony being held in honour of his son, Sapper Darren Smith and his bomb detection dog, Herbie. At the end of the tribute, he said to me, ‘I hope Darren didn’t die in vain.’
I knew ‘dying in vain’ refers to somebody who sacrifices themselves for a cause, and their sacrifice ends up not helping. But I didn’t know what to say to a father who had lost a child and ‘best mate’ at such an early age. I didn’t know what it felt like when Darren’s son asked his mother when ‘Daddy was coming home.’ I had no idea the guiltless could feel so guilty or that soldiers could be so loyal, they’d still be wondering years later if they could have done anything more to save their ‘brother.’
I realised during Darren’s ceremony he cared more about Australia and his friends than he did for his own happiness or safety. His story touched my heart and soul in such a meaningful way I decided I had to do a painting in memory of him and the family he dearly loved but left behind. Every day when I look at his painting, I am inspired to try harder, to do better and to cherish the people around me. Why? Because I firmly believe the best way to value and appreciate all those who have died defending our freedoms in the past, is to make the most of our own lives today.
The answers to many of the questions I had at the Australian War Memorial continue to elude me, but there is one thing I now know for sure. Darren Smith didn’t die in vain, he died a hero. And his family and all the soldiers who serve this great country of ours are heroes too.