Axons Unleashed Podcast:
Only Looking To The Past When It Serves You - with Ben Jefferson

This week on Axons Unleashed, Robbie is joined after-hours by client-turned-mate Ben Jefferson. Ben has an extremely candid and brave talk about his time in the ADF, his transition and the healing he has worked on since “getting out”.

In this episode, there are discussions about sexual assault, mental health and suicide, which can be distressing. So if you need resources or support go to beyondblue.org or for 24-hour free counselling in Australia, the number for Lifeline is 13 11 14.

Open Arms is for current and ex-serving Australian Defence personnel and their families when they need someone to talk to, please look after yourself.

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Episode Transcription:

Daniel:
Hey, it’s Daniel here from Axon Property Group. In this episode, there are discussions about sexual assault, mental health, and suicide, which I know can be distressing. So if you need resources or support, go to beyondblue.org or for 24-hour free counselling in Australia, the number for lifeline is 13-11-14. Also, Open Arms is for current and ex-serving Australian defence personnel and their families when they need someone to talk to. Please look after yourself. Please note that this episode contains depictions of sexual assault that some people may find distressing.

Speaker 2:
Axons Unleashed.

Robbie:
Hello, ladies and gents. My name’s Robbie. Welcome to another episode of Axons Unleashed. It’s just me and one guest today, which I don’t think we’ve ever done. Maybe only once or twice before, but certainly we haven’t done it after hours. And today I’m joined by a guy that I can now genuinely say is a mate of mine. You would’ve seen on our Facebook page recently, I placed a post up there. I was like, I feel like this is mates helping mates with a success story when I mentioned Ben and Laura. So I’m now joined with the man, the myth, the legend himself, Ben Jefferson. How are you, brother?

Ben Jefferson:
Yeah. Good, man. How are you?

Robbie:
Yeah, fantastic to see you. I’m so happy that I reached out to you a few weeks ago and said, look, we’re basically making the Axons Unleashed a bit more diverse. So we’ve given people a chronological understanding about how and why the business started, we’ve given people a bit of an insight into Debbie, the mortgage broker, Jace, the financial planner, Shay, the solicitor, all the people that you and Laura have used with your first property with us. And now we’re sort of branched out and we can talk about whatever we want really. And I know this little chat’s going to go into a [crosstalk 00:01:55]-

Ben Jefferson:
Yeah, no, that’s good. I’ve obviously been following along on the journey and it’s amazing. Even just from when I started to where you guys are at now, it’s cool to watch. Especially people like yourselves that are just a positive energy and want good things for everyone. It’s good to see that kind of people succeeding and doing it the right way. It’s been awesome just to be able [crosstalk 00:02:22] so far.

Robbie:
You don’t have to butter me up, buddy. I’m thankful that you are here with us. And I guess that’s the great thing. I told everyone when Axons Unleashed started that once we got all the property stuff out the way, respectfully, I want to talk about veteran entrepreneurship, I want to talk about transition, I want to talk about PTSD, I want to talk about coping strategies, I want to talk about life and leadership in the real world, because as you and I spoke off-camera just quickly and all the other like myself and the nine other veterans, Ben, that work here in the business, all of us agree and it’s reinforced almost on a daily basis, we would go back into the military and be a better soldier, sailor, airman, junior leader, middle leader, officer, whatever, based on what we now know in the real world. So it’s going to be a real insight ladies and gents that Ben and I are going to have a conversation and tell you what we wish we heard from someone like us when we were still in. True?

Ben Jefferson:
Yep, 100%.

Robbie:
Awesome brother. Hey, take us back to the start. When did you join the army? Why did you join the army? All that stuff. You tell us your military story.

Ben Jefferson:
Rightio. So I still can’t put my finger on exactly why I joined. A couple of reasons I’m guessing all played a part, but old man was in the army for 20 years, so pretty big key factor. But [crosstalk 00:03:46]-

Robbie:
What did he do?

Ben Jefferson:
He joined up. So he joined in ’79, that was pretty rough back then.

Robbie:
Yes.

Ben Jefferson:
Then I’ve got a good story for that, but so he wanted to join for transport, but because he was colour blind and back then they said, no, you’re going to be a steward. So he was in catering for the first four years. If you’d met my dad, that does not suit him. He’s six foot three, big bloke and [crosstalk 00:04:15]-

Robbie:
They want him going, oi, you want a bit of bacon, two eggs? Okay, cool. No worries.

Ben Jefferson:
He was known to get himself in a bit of strife. Anyway, I didn’t live up to his reputation. Well, not as bad. But he finally got out of that and went transport and got his wishes. But so that was probably the first sort of part that sort of led me in that direction, I guess, growing up with that.

Robbie:
Where did you grow up?

Ben Jefferson:
Well being in the army [crosstalk 00:04:43]-

Robbie:
Yeah, everywhere.

Ben Jefferson:
… all over the place.

Robbie:
Okay. So he did lots of different postings as well. Some people get posted Brisbane, they’re like, I’m never fucking leaving here and then they’d do one posting [crosstalk 00:04:54]-

Ben Jefferson:
Yeah, no, I was Adelaide, Sydney, Tassie, Canberra, Sydney, Tassie.

Robbie:
Right. Wow.

Ben Jefferson:
And that there, so that got me through to high school. I wasn’t the brightest kid, but I was all right. But I think through dad, I had a pretty good work ethic, just always doing stuff, always moving. And we lived out in the country, so it wasn’t like we could just go into town. So I managed to get myself an apprenticeship just after grade 10. School wasn’t for me so I went and started an apprenticeship. And while I was at this apprenticeship, I was obviously going to TAFE and the army came to TAFE and said, Hey, you can trade transfer. Pretty much. You can keep going with your TAFE, but do it in the army and these are all your opportunities. And there was a bloke that was in my workshop that I didn’t particularly like very much. He wasn’t very nice to me. Made my life incredibly hard. And that’s where I was like, I’m out of here, that’s what I want to do, I’m going to become a welder in the army.

Robbie:
Fucking good on you.

Ben Jefferson:
That’s what got me there at the end of the day. Fun fact, I didn’t actually go in as a welder. I didn’t pass the tests, the aptitude tests well enough to actually become a welder.

Robbie:
Right, even though you already started your TAFE?

Ben Jefferson:
I’d already started it, but they wouldn’t let me go because I didn’t answer the question, which at that young age I was quite confused.

Robbie:
And what year was this?

Ben Jefferson:
2005. Well, I applied when I was 16 and 9 months. By the time I actually got in, I was 18.

Robbie:
Got it.

Ben Jefferson:
So I waited a year and a half before I could actually go to Kapooka.

Robbie:
Yeah. Right. So what did you join as then?

Ben Jefferson:
Combat engineer.

Robbie:
Beautiful.

Ben Jefferson:
I asked dad when I got the list, what can I be? And told dad, he goes, don’t be a grunt and pretty much don’t be a C, so that left me with combat engineer.

Robbie:
Very interesting. We’ll come back to that in a second. I loved it how you just told the story then about you’re effectively an army brat as it’s colloquially and affectionately known, by the way. So you moved around lots and lots of different places. So that means every time you went to a different location, you had to go to a new school, find a new bunch of friends. There are so many people listening right now that did that also as a defence brat in the air force. And now, of course, they’re now doing it with their children. So I guess, and we’ve all heard the stories of going through our basic training, lots of people from broken families, lots of people from single families, lots of people that have…

Robbie:
Because I grew up in one area, and just spent that whole time, and then I joined the army and left home, per se. So that’s a very foreign concept to me. And I went to school with the same bunch of people from year 12 all the way through. Sorry. Year zero all the way through to year 12. Yes, so I am smarter than I look. Yes, I was able to finish grade 12, but that’s fine. But I guess there’s a level of resilience and a level of personality and a level of determination that you need to do. You needed to show up every two years and go to a… That whole first day at school thing would’ve been a revolving door for you.

Ben Jefferson:
That was hard. And I was actually a pretty shy kid. Laura, my partner, doesn’t believe it because of who I am now. But my son’s a lot like me when I was younger. He’s only young, but he’s got his little insecurities and stuff like that. And I believe moving around that much sort of slowly brought me out of it. I didn’t have a choice. I had to make friends. I didn’t want to be alone.

Robbie:
Good, good, good. It’s no doubt hard at the time, but if you look back on it now, no doubt, it would’ve just been those little emotional and psychological building blocks that have brought in with the man you are now.

Ben Jefferson:
Yeah, oh, 100%. Nothing ever was the same. Nothing ever easy is hard. Nothing hard is easy.

Robbie:
I love it.

Ben Jefferson:
Just one of those things it’s you’ve got to pursue and keep going.

Robbie:
Tell me about your Kapooka days. Did you find that reasonably easy, being an army brat? No doubt, you would’ve seen your dad do all of this stuff.

Ben Jefferson:
Yeah. In a sense, I guess. So my dad told me about Kapooka when he went through. So again, ’79, dead ground debriefs were an actual thing where you used to get flogged and punch on with your secos, so that’s what I was expecting when I got there. So obviously I got there and there was no such thing anymore. So it was easier than I got told, but obviously I was still out of my comfort zone. That was the first time I’ve been away from mom and dad for a long time, oh, forever. But at the same time, I think through my childhood, growing up and getting thrown in the deep end with not knowing what was happening and having to change schools and just always on the move, I think I adapted quite well. And I know I had big dreams, big outlooks on where I wanted to be and I wanted to be the best. So I went in there with a pretty good idea on where I want to be, where I was going.

Robbie:
Brilliant. So you finish that there, went to the school of military engineering, no doubt at Holsworthy, did your IETs there. Where was your first unit that [crosstalk 00:10:28]? Go for it.

Ben Jefferson:
Still barracks back then. But went there, did me three months at still barracks, doing me IETs, which was good. It was a lot more relaxing than Kapooka. But that’s sort of from the end of Kapooka and even through IETs, that’s where I started changing a little bit because I wasn’t give even the best advice and guidance coming through there. Which I’ve talked about before, the transitioning and things you wish you heard. I’ll come back to that later when the conversation heads that way. But it all started from there. I wish I was a little bit more mature and probably didn’t pay as much attention to some people back then than I did, but we’ll get to that.

Robbie:
It’s one of those things, you do want to… And I’ll speak about this a fair bit. Taking notice of good leadership experiences is great and some people are like, oh, someone treats you like a dickhead or you don’t have a good experience with them, just forget about that and just try and be positive. But there’s another, there’s lots of lessons learned and lots of things that because we are obviously in control of our own interaction to other people. Be that sideways interactions, up, down, family, whatever else. So if someone made you feel shit or placed you in a shit circumstance, it’s actually good to recognise that sometimes because you’re like, I’m never going to make someone else feel like that. And when I’m in a position when I’ve got influence over someone, I’m not going to take advantage of them like that, for instance.

Ben Jefferson:
No, I’m what? 34 now. I was 18 back then. I still remember that exact point where that changed my goals in the army where I pretty much was told don’t try so hard, you’re an idiot.

Robbie:
Right. Wow.

Ben Jefferson:
And that just changed my course of thinking. I was only 18 and this person was someone I idolised and I pretty much got told I’d never make it [inaudible 00:12:28]. And I still remember it, man, so if I look back it kills me in a sense, but [crosstalk 00:12:37]-

Robbie:
I’ve had shit things happen to me as well and I lived since then too much of my life achieving something and then placing that achievement and putting it behind me and building a path away from that or allowing people to see, Hey, you might have thought I was X, Y, Z, but look at the path that I’ve now created or the journey I’m on or whatever else. And I had someone say to me one day, which really changed my mindset, and they’re like, no, no, no, if you are achieving something in the here and now, and then immediately placing that achievement behind you to try and deal with something which is in the past, you’re living in the past for much longer than what you need to. This is one of my business coaches back then. She, great lady.

Robbie:
She’s like, look ahead and put a spotlight on your life and look ahead, what’s in front of you. And there’s a huge empty warehouse, she used to say, and that warehouse is ready for you to fill up with all the things you’re about to achieve in the future. So it just changed and I don’t think I’ve placed a block behind me ever since. And I’d love to hear your story. And I know you said to me off air, you’ve got some really awesome coping strategies that you’ve implemented to later start looking forward and be happy and looking forward to the things you’ve got to do and still learning from the things that happened from you before, but not letting them get you down.

Ben Jefferson:
No, that’s right. You can’t have a path without learning from it. That’s where your mistakes, your failures, your successes, everything, they’re all building blocks, but you just keep building up. You can’t ever pay off things that are behind you because that’s what got you here today. But you need to be able to keep on that same track without falling off or making the same mistakes as you’ve done in the past. But I suppose one of the good analogies I heard is like, why does a car have a big front windscreen and a small rear view mirror? Because you only need to look in the past every now and then.

Robbie:
Just to double check.

Ben Jefferson:
You should always be looking forward.

Robbie:
Yes, the windscreen. Where was your first posting after you did your training?

Ben Jefferson:
Darwin. So it was my one and only posting. So I did my four years and I got out. And like I said, I was a little bit jaded and got given the bum steer. I went the wrong way, but like I said, that’s all worked out. I wish things could have changed a little bit. I wish I could have done things differently, but that’s all right. Darwin was pretty cool for someone who finished all his high school Tassie. And then went to Sydney for a little bit, that was an eye opener. Then ended up in Darwin, I was like, oi, what’s this?

Robbie:
Side note. I saw some great photos of you and Laura 15 odd years ago up in discovery night or something in Darwin and you look like you’re having a bloody ball, mate.

Ben Jefferson:
Yeah, Jesus. We sponsored Mitchell Street a fair bit back then.

Robbie:
Well, Darwin was a pumping place. For the better part of 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 years ago it was heaving. I went up there and did plenty of trips up there in Scomo and had to go and look at cases and do exercises and planning and whatever else. So I loved going up there and I spent, too much of my dollars went into the sponsoring Mitchell Street. But you go there now, mate, and it’s a shadow of its former self. You’d be horrified. So tell us about your transition then. What things happen in your world and life and mind and heart to go this organisation, which I observed, that served my father so very well, is no longer for me and I want to be a civi? Because this is the stuff ladies and gents that remember I’ve got this saying, it’s not if you get out, it’s when you get out. As soon as you sign that dotted line, you are going to be a veteran one day. My definition of veteran is that someone that served one day in the military, who’s no longer serving. So you’re a veteran, right?

Ben Jefferson:
Yeah.

Robbie:
So go for it, Ben. This is the part I’m looking forward to.

Ben Jefferson:
No, that’s all right. So just be aware, it’s a little bit deep, some of it. But so a few things pushed me to the end of my army career. Like I said, I had high aspects of going to SAS or commandos. I was pretty fit. I wasn’t the strongest bloke, but I was fit and I was mentally determined. But obviously I always looked up to someone, before army, it was my rugby coach and a personal friend and then I joined the army and just sort of there was a lot more people ready to put you down than to lift you up and that sort of caused me to go the wrong way and I just didn’t have any drive anymore. So that was sort of one of the reasons.

Ben Jefferson:
Also, a pretty shit thing happened to me. I was sexually assaulted by a bloke while I was up there and that obviously affected my mental health a lot to the point where I didn’t really tell too many people. Obviously I was ashamed, pretty heartbroken that was able to happen to me and I didn’t have the help that I needed at the time. But like I said, I wasn’t really talking either. So I didn’t know where to reach and I sort of just wanted to escape that whole situation, that whole life really. So it was a pretty shit time to be honest because I’d just got back from East Timor, which it wasn’t all that bad, but I made a couple of mistakes there and got myself a little bit of strife. Obviously, like I said, wasn’t handling that situation very well. Alcohol was something I depended on to try and get me through. Obviously as we know, shit choice.

Ben Jefferson:
But got out of East Timor, just wasn’t in a good place. Then all the boys went to, I think it was Banda Aceh or Solomons for a tsunami. So all my mates had left as well, not long after East Timor and that’s when I was transitioning out and there was no one there to help me actually on transition out. So once I left, there was no one there and I fell into a pretty big hole and it was pretty rough. First three months, I was pretty much dependent on alcohol to get me through life. And it wasn’t until I had someone reach out and sort of notice that I was heading in the wrong direction and they put their hand up and would come over and started checking on me and pushed me in the right direction to finally start getting some help.

Ben Jefferson:
It took a while, but that’s where I sort of started getting a little bit of help and it’s been years in the making, but just trying to get that, just trying to see where that life’s… There’s a lot more to life than just trying to hide from mistakes that are not necessarily your fault, it could be whatever’s happened, but I don’t know. It’s a hard one. It was just trying to… I don’t have words for it. Just trying to get the… I just needed someone there to sort of help me a little bit just to start on the path and then get me going from there with mental health and that it’s okay.

Robbie:
Some of the things you’re speaking about, mate, is what I’ve just started doing as well. When I say just started, probably six or seven months ago, I finally realised that some of my cogs up here weren’t working as well and I’m okay, I can get through it sort of stuff. And I was never a believer in the cathartic nature of just telling someone your story and not asking them to judge you, not asking them to provide you guidance, or not asking them to fix it, just to listen. I’ve told my whole story now about things I’ve never even told my wife, my family or anything.

Robbie:
And I’ve told it to a psychiatrist and he understands me and knows me better than anyone else. And he’s provided me some measures and some things to be able to think about to try and build on, to try and not be overcome with panic attacks and et cetera, et cetera. But just talking to someone is good. And I’m so glad that someone reached out to you and you had the humility and the fortitude just to tell someone your story. And as you said, that helped you through that. Tell us, what happened then? What happened next from a coping strategies perspective?

Ben Jefferson:
So I’ll be straight up, it was a rocky road. I didn’t just go, bang, talk to someone, all fixed, finish, see later. On a short, it’s still hard for me to talk about now. It touches cords.

Robbie:
I can see it, mate.

Ben Jefferson:
So sorry if I choked up a little bit before. But it was a hard pill swallow, but it wasn’t until I opened up and actually I opened up on Facebook a few years ago now and actually told my whole story on there. That was just one of my coping mechanism. Another bloke actually private messaged me and said, holy shit, man, I was sexually assaulted too. I didn’t know anyone else that had happened to. I thought I was by myself, but fuck. So that helped me knowing I wasn’t the only one, it helped a mate of mine knowing he wasn’t the only one and it just started this I felt like I had the world off my shoulders. Like, holy fuck, I’ve got someone I can speak to. He knows what it feels like. He knows the disgrace or this humiliation. Not that we should be feeling that, but that’s just how it felt being a berley man. You’ve been taken advantage of, how does that happen? So that was good.

Ben Jefferson:
But so I’ll sort of skip back a little bit from when it first happened. I got put on the antidepressants and see the counselor and not all of that worked for me. I found medication didn’t work for me personally. I got put onto a few different ones and I just found myself either numb with had no emotion or it just didn’t work at all. I had one good psych and a couple of nice counselors, but I still, I didn’t find that we had that connection. Some people are lucky and they get that, but I never really found too much of that with anyone I got. I found all my help with a couple of friends, vets as well. One by the name of Sean Koba. You might know him. He was a sniper. Done a couple tour and stuff. He’s pretty high up. He’s been a big help of mine and a couple of others that have always sort of checked in and just fed me a little bit of information and things along the way. And it wasn’t until I started reading into self-help myself that’s when I started really noticing progress.

Ben Jefferson:
Well, one was just finding my purpose, what I really loved. And at that time was archery. So that was amazing, man. Because I was in a really bad place where I had my family, but I had to go to hospital twice for mental illness and that’s not where you want to be when you got kids. So I really started. I know I caught myself and so I know shit needs to change and nobody, my kids don’t deserve this, I don’t deserve, Laura doesn’t deserve this. I need to get help. And I just started reading into it and archery was the first thing that got me kicked off in the right direction. Just constantly had something to think about, work on, improved myself and I just turned my brain off for that hour or two hours. It was just enough time for me to reconnect and just slowly but surely pushed me in the right direction.

Robbie:
Did you have any interest in that before or was it literally it came to you out of the blue or you a discovered it?

Ben Jefferson:
A friend showed me an and that was it. Boom. I was away.

Robbie:
Love it.

Ben Jefferson:
And I think it was one, because I’ve always loved the bush. So I was out bush and then I’m not sure if you’ve ever done it yourself, but there’s a lot to it. There’s a lot to focus on.

Robbie:
I’ve done it a couple of times and it’s incredibly difficult to draw back. That’s the first thing I’m like, this is going to be easy. I’m like, [inaudible 00:26:09] fuck and I’m shaking.

Ben Jefferson:
It’s crazy man. There’s so much to it. You got to hold it and then you’ve got to have your arm in the right position otherwise it will whip down your arm. There’s a lot to it. I won’t go into too much, but that was the start.

Robbie:
We can do a master class another day.

Ben Jefferson:
Yeah. But yeah, no, it really sort of set me in the right direction. And then obviously there was a couple other little… I started reading books. I know you do your little book session, which I think is great. I think I might have even thrown a couple at you over the time.

Robbie:
It’s changed my life. Yeah, mate.

Ben Jefferson:
So I think the David Goggins and the Jocko Willink, two massive ones and the other one was. What’s it called? The simple art or the simple art of not giving a fuck.

Robbie:
Yeah, that’s the one.

Ben Jefferson:
Along those lines. Those three books, game changers. Massive game changers, especially leadership with the Jocko Willink, determination, David Goggins and just the mental clarification with not giving a fuck. I think they round out mental health, in a sense those three books sort of cover like a 360. Just if you wanted to get started, they were probably my three big hitters.

Robbie:
One of the things that you spoke about before, and certainly I felt this as well in my career, the military is it’s a performance orientated organisation. There’s a few people that slip through the cracks, but generally the best people get promoted and move up the ranks. If you are just a fucking passenger, you’ll be that 20 year digger. And some people are happy doing that and I’m not having a crack at anyone that wants to do that. Fucking go your hardest. But if you’re a go-getter, you can’t not give a fuck. You’ve got to give a fuck enough that you care about that you show the right leadership qualities, you care about the people underneath you, beside you and above you. Because you only get promoted from people above you. You don’t get pushed up from below. Your reputation as a leader will be pushed up from below. So to then transition, Ben, into the world of not giving a fuck, when you gave such a fuck for so much of our lives is a difficult one. You know what I mean? And I try and tell myself all the time that to stop worrying about what other people think. And I’m doing a lot better than what I used to be. But it’s hard, man. It’s fucking hard to not give no fucks whatsoever. You know what I mean?

Ben Jefferson:
I think it’s a big thing for people to understand, more the civi’s that you can come out and you are normally functioning on a day to day basis on exactly what you going to do, where you’re going and you’re structured, ready to rock and roll and you’ve got a plan in place. You come out and you’d just be a shit kicker, like a construction worker or something and be like, what are you doing, bro? Stop. Why are you shovelling so hard? What, are you trying to beat me or you’re making me look like a dickhead? You are now the shit cu*t because you are a hard worker. It’s hard to fathom when you first come out, man. It’s a whole different world.

Robbie:
Did you get a chance, side note, to listen to that podcast we did with Joe Lossino late last year?

Ben Jefferson:
No, I haven’t. No, I apologise.

Robbie:
Please do, mate. And we’re going to bring him on again soon. He’s a great man, Joe. We did a session in here and he speaks about military people, they’re a hard body being. Like you said, they’re organised, they’re switched on, they’re aware of their circumstances, they’re on time, they’re ready to rock and roll. Civilians are soft body beings. They’re cruising around, they’re on their phone, they sort of rock up on time, maybe, everything’s going to be okay. Daniel was 10 minutes late for this podcast so he’s going there, smiling in the background. But he said when hard bodies and soft bodies come together, of course there’s a bit of a clash. And similarly when hard bodies and hard bodies come together, you’re like, oh, what’s this guy? We’re sussing each other out sort of thing. So it’s a great, great podcast. Please, you go ahead and listen to it as soon as you possibly can so that you can catch up.

Ben Jefferson:
I will.

Robbie:
And anyone who hasn’t listened to it yet, get out there and listen to that. I’ve had mates sort of being… Even another guy, Luke, who’s going to come and join us soon. Current serving army major, going through some stuff, he’s just had his shoulder replaced. And he listened to the podcast finally, he took a little screenshot, he’s like, finally, I’m getting it done. And then afterwards he’s like, holy fuck, that was awesome. So I’m having you come on and tell your story, buddy, from an in the trenches, hands on, real life stuff. But then we’re also getting professional practitioners who have then monitored all these things you’re speaking about to come and give their view on things as well. So I want to provide the whole picture buddy and then I obviously chime in with some of my experiences also.

Ben Jefferson:
Yeah, no, well, I’m definitely get on. That’s one thing I’ve been planning on doing a bit more this year is a bit more reading, a few more podcasts. Sometimes I find it hard with work, but there’s another thing I’ve learned and need to put in motion a bit more is there’s always time. Always make time.

Robbie:
Well, you’ve never got enough time for something until you make it a priority. That’s the saying.

Ben Jefferson:
Exactly right.

Robbie:
I know you love your sayings and there’s another one.

Ben Jefferson:
Yeah, no, it’s 100%. Life’s too short.

Robbie:
So mate, what do you want to talk about next? You’ve sort of got to that point and how long have you been out now?

Ben Jefferson:
So I’ve been out now since 2009. So what’s that? 12 years. 13 years.

Robbie:
It’s a while.

Ben Jefferson:
I got out, I jumped in doing a bit of metal work again. Obviously I just fell back to my trade. Did that for a little bit and then just got sort of into the construction work. Obviously, when I got out, like I said earlier, a little bit rough. Got out, started finding my feet again and started getting the drive back like I had when I was younger, before I joined. And started having a little bit of a purpose about my life again, started driving. So started doing just sort of general construction work and then I got an opportunity to jump on gas. So I jumped on a gas pipeline when I was 24. That was a big step for me. That was almost like I was back in the army.

Robbie:
Where was that?

Ben Jefferson:
So that actually helped me a lot with my mental health. I was working away. So I was going bush. I’d work away for 28 days, then have 9 days off. So [inaudible 00:33:13]. And then I just kept shifting and I put some money in my back pocket. I paid off my car at the time. But like I said, I was 24, so I didn’t have a Mrs or anything at that stage. So I just partied and run a muck. But I was living a happy, good life at that stage and just sort of cruised along and finished that job up. Then went to Darwin. At that job, I was living in Brizzy for a little bit and in Cairns for a couple of months before I moved back up to Darwin. And sort of went back into the construction side of things there until another gas pipeline turned up. And just before I got that job was when I met Laura. And I obviously, on that gas pipeline it was just save money because it wasn’t long after that she fell pregnant with Joey.

Robbie:
Great. She’s up in Darwin posted as a young air force?

Ben Jefferson:
Yeah. She was a dental assistant at that stage. She just posted up there when I met her. Sorry. Before that gas pipeline, I was on the Tiwi Islands on a sand mine. So mining zirconium, which I use on bloody aircraft’s and space shuttles and shit. So I met her there and then worked on another gas pipeline. Did that. Again, that was my little thing. It was, I think just that little bit of army. It was up early, work your arse off. Was a good bunch of lads. Everyone had their place. There was people cleaning the pipes so that was sort of like the shitter jobs. Still needed to be done, but no one took the piss out of anyone for whatever job they were doing because everyone had their place. Everyone knew the system wouldn’t work without the person at the front or the person at the back. Everyone had their place. Everyone played their role and without the other [crosstalk 00:35:15]-

Robbie:
How good’s that? It’s a great leadership trait, a leader’s never too important to take out the trash.

Ben Jefferson:
No, exactly right. And so, and it’s sort of slowly obviously having kids and having a partner has really set my mind in motion. Obviously I’ve had my slipups, but now I’ve got a lot more things in place from, like I said, friends and family that have sort of helped me and see me starting to stumble or whatever they see the little common traits, because them, themselves are being there, they know. And just also they make you accountable. You know what the boys are like. You fuck up, they’ll tell you, Hey Ben, you fucked up. You own it. Don’t go playing the victim. And it’s one of those things and that’s probably one of the best things I’ve ever learned is don’t be a victim. Shit happens, but you’ve put yourself in a position where you’ve got to get yourself out of it. If you sit there dwelling in your shit, you’re going to stink. You need to get up. You need to move. You need to find your way out. You can lead a horse to water, you can’t make a drink. You need to drink. You need to get up. You need to go.

Robbie:
And when that watering hole is empty, go find another one.

Ben Jefferson:
Yeah. That’s right. You’ve got to fucking keep moving. Life’s vicious. People are arseholes. You’re always going to have someone out there to make you look like an arsehole or a dickhead or I don’t know, whatever they want to make out you to be that’s their life, don’t [crosstalk 00:36:59]-

Robbie:
That’s everywhere though, man. I met so many amazing people in the military. Geez, I met some fucking wankers too. And I’m probably on other people’s wanker list and I’m totally fucking fine with that. No issues.

Ben Jefferson:
Me and you both.

Robbie:
And now, being a civi, I’ve only been out for nine years. You’ve been out longer than me. I’ve met some fucking amazing people in the civilian world, which I’m so grateful that are in my life. And I’ve met some other people I wouldn’t piss on if they were on fire. It’s just one of those things and I’m sure many people wouldn’t want to do that to me either. It’s just life, mate. But you’re absolutely right. Pick your way through the good people in life and only have those good people in your life and manage the others that are not contributing to your highest and best purpose.

Ben Jefferson:
Yeah, man. As you’re younger, you have your massive group of friends and you’ve got this big group and everyone wants to go and have beers or catch up and do all these things. As you get older, you watch that circle slowly compress. And I think it’s just, as you get older, your body, your brain can’t handle all the shit that comes with trying to keep up with everyone and you slowly just dwindle out the ones that are rock solid, the ones that know that they’ll have your back.

Robbie:
It’s definitely one of the things that’s one of my downfalls is that I’m shit at keeping in touch with mates and getting back to mates. I’d be very, very rare and I admit that this is a downfall of mine. And many of my friends that listen to this that have never said this to me before, so I’m declaring it as opposed to finally admitting it, it’s different, that I’m not someone to just ring someone out of the blue and go, Hey man, how you going? I’ll be like, yeah man, what’s up? Oh, nothing. I just thought I’ll give you a call. That’s just not me. If someone needs me, I’ll be there for them. And if I need someone, I’ll reach out to someone for help. But apart from that, I’ll see you when I see you. So it’s just a way that I’ve run my life there. And one of the other little sayings as we’re into our sayings, fewer friends, better friendships, is one that I like. Because you’re right, man, we’ve only got so much bandwidth in our life that we can’t fucking have all these different people.

Ben Jefferson:
No, it’s too much, man. But you find that your rock solid mates and you might not talk to them for four years, five years. I met a bloke in Perth when I was stuck over there because of COVID. I hadn’t spoken to this bloke since 2009. When was it? So I was stuck over there 2021. I think it was end of 2020. I haven’t seen him for however many long years, 11 years I haven’t seen him. I just happened to be at the pub and I see this bloke [inaudible 00:39:45] the back of him. I like, geez, that looks sort of familiar. He had the lamb chow aside, pork chops on them. He turned around and was my fucking mate. I’m like, Tuggers. And he said, Jefro. Jesus Christ. I haven’t spoken to him in years and then balls, the next thing you know we having beers and catching up and now we talk every couple of weeks.

Robbie:
Great. I love that story.

Ben Jefferson:
It’s just that’s like you’re solid mates. You don’t have to talk all the time. If they need you they know where you are.

Robbie:
Yep, exactly. If we had a time machine and you could go back not to join the army again back then, if you could somehow join the army again now knowing what you now know about life and all the things that have been, I have no doubt everyone listening to this podcast would be nodding and smiling and grimacing and acknowledging so many things that we’ve spoken about, how do you think that you would run your life differently if you got your second chance in the military again?

Ben Jefferson:
I know I’d go in with a goal and I’d set certain tasks for myself to accomplish that goal. I wouldn’t take in so much advice from not the best leaders. I think most of it’s just self-belief. What I do now, research what I’m heading for, what I want do, research that. Put my time and effort and actually succeeding, being the best, shining away from the other people that say, don’t try so hard, you look like an idiot or you are never going to be something. Actually use that as motivation and go get it, just actually rip in and have a go. What’s the worst that can happen? You don’t actually make it. Oh well, at least you had a red hot shot.

Ben Jefferson:
I’ve got to go for the rest of my life now not knowing if I was ever going to make SAS or commandos. I’ve got to live with that. Yeah, no, 100%. I wouldn’t listen to all the naysayers, I wouldn’t just fit the mold that everyone else seems to. Oh, everyone’s going for beers on Friday, I better go and do that. I’d go and train and like I said, just set myself up with the plan with all my little knits and nats to get me through. And pretty much that’s I know it sounds very simple, but that’s what killed me was I was too busy worrying about what everyone else thought.

Robbie:
You were so young as well, mate. We were so young. I was only 17 when I joined and you were not much older than that. And Joe talks about it a lot on his podcast is that the military is actually designed to bring young boys, Ben, like you and I in when we’re at so impressionable still. And unfortunately sometimes people have a good experience and they go and have a long career or they have an experience similar to what you’ve shared. And I know that there are going to be thousands of people that listen to this that have their own experience that’ll be reflecting on what you are talking about. But as opposed to joining the military as a mature age recruit or cadet and going in your mid twenties or your late twenties and you’ve got 10 years of being an adult under your belt, it’ll be so, so different. And I guess [crosstalk 00:43:31]-

Ben Jefferson:
Oh yeah, 100%. Like I said, it’s the mindset of you going in. I don’t blame the person who said that to me. I don’t blame him. That was his impression as well. That’s probably what he got taught. It’s one of those things, like you said, the army or the defense force is cut throat. There’s no bullshit, it is what it is. The people will tell you what they think and you just have to deal with it. But it’s how you perceive it. I was young and didn’t have much in the way of positive influences. I had a couple, but no one really told me, just fucking go for it. I got told just have a go mate. See what happens. You probably won’t make it, but have a go. It wasn’t enough. I didn’t have the right mindset. And so a big thing made it be just believe in myself and have a crack.

Robbie:
What about when we first met you were you work over in Perth, weren’t you?

Ben Jefferson:
Yeah.

Robbie:
In the mining and resource sector?

Ben Jefferson:
Yeah.

Robbie:
You were back doing some more welding if I remember correctly?

Ben Jefferson:
No, I was doing more earthworks, working trucks, so on the BHP rail.

Robbie:
Yes. I knew that.

Ben Jefferson:
So just rail and a bit of welding here and there, but not too much. Bit of rig. I’m more of a rigger now, but [crosstalk 00:44:59]-

Robbie:
Is there a pretty strong ex-defense influence in the resource and mining sector? Did you run into some other veterans?

Ben Jefferson:
Yeah. Plenty of vets. Again, it’s that roster, it’s the comradery. I think that’s me personally, not everyone’s the same. Obviously, depending on where you are there’s some good money to be made and it’s just, I don’t know, I’ve always found myself comfortable in those kinds of situations where I’m away for a period of time. Obviously COVID really fucked it up. I didn’t mean to be away for over a year, but [crosstalk 00:45:40]-

Robbie:
I remember by speaking to you and Laura separately, that you were separated for way longer than what you thought it was going to be with no warning, by the way.

Ben Jefferson:
No, no, that’s what I mean. It was hard, but probably if it wasn’t for defense force, both me and Laura, it would’ve been harder. Obviously that resilience and just having to sort of go through that with Laura’s deployment before that and that was sort of we’re really kind of accustomed to being away.

Robbie:
Yep. It’s the training, isn’t it? I would’ve loved it as well. Certainly if I hadn’t fallen on my feet from an Axon perspective or in the property industry, something that I already had a bit of a notion towards, I probably would’ve done that as well. Go there, deploy, work for three weeks, come home for one. Rest and relax, go back again. And it’s that segmented part of our lifestyle that we’re just used to doing.

Ben Jefferson:
Again, it’s structure.

Robbie:
Structure. That’s what I was trying to say, yes. That’s perfect.

Ben Jefferson:
So you get your three work weeks, work your off, come home for a week and have family time or do whatever it is you need to do at home. I feel like you have more time at home doing it that way than working five or six days a week, having a day off and doing it all over again.

Robbie:
Yeah, 100%. One thing that struck me about you especially is that when I first met you were so switched on from a money perspective. You and Laura had already built your house up in Darwin or built a house up there. So you knew that buying assets to create were wealth in your life to capitalize on the time you were spending away and the corn you were working there. I just got a sense that you… Because you are the one that reached out to me, remember, and like, I need some help now to basically put the next steps in place to make sure that we don’t miss this opportunity. Where’d you get that from? Where’d you get that money mindset from?

Ben Jefferson:
Well, it’s probably in all honesty, it’s probably more Laura. We both knew that what we were doing wasn’t the best. I had no idea about shares and it still will pass me. It’s not my thing. We built the house in Darwin, obviously trying to get into the game. Owning a house, ever since I remember, was a massive thing. Not everyone can afford to do it. So I had the money. We had a crack. As you know, that wasn’t the best experience for us. We had a lot of dramas with that build, but we got it done. Again, a couple years later back into the money, just trying to save. We were saving, but scared to build another house, but didn’t really have enough money to buy a house preexisting. Obviously the deposit for that’s a lot more.

Robbie:
It is.

Ben Jefferson:
Laura heard about you guys. We spoke about it. I’m like, fuck it, let’s hit him up. What’s the worst that can happen? We don’t do it. And I know, like you said, we obviously just had that connection straight off the bat when we started talking and having a laugh and shit stir and it all just sort of went from there.

Robbie:
It went from there. And you guys have successfully built your first one with us and now you guys have already secured everything to do with the next one. So it’s so wonderful to be a part of your journey from a wealth creation, but also, all that stuff that you’ve just told us there, you and I have already spoken about offline and I was part of your world when you did disclose that stuff on Facebook as well and I just saw the comments all blow up. And I too, I was like, what the fuck? He’s a big burly fit fucking blocky bloke that I’ve ever come across. I was saddened and surprised and wondering how and why that sort of occurred as well until I got to know you even more.

Robbie:
So your willingness to share your story, man, is something really, really special. There’s more about my personal story that I still haven’t shared with the world yet and that’s all still to come and that’s just part of my own individual journey. And certainly, there’s other people that have had shit things happen to them as well on deployment or divorces and come home and the Mrs has taken everything or hubby for that instance or whatever. I guess I just want to be able to start to provide a platform for people to be able to come and tell their story and no judgment. I know you’ve told that story a few times before, and you’ll probably walk out that door over your left shoulder right now and go, I actually feel a little bit better, I feel a bit lighter. Do you sort of get that sense?

Ben Jefferson:
Every time I it, it’s a little bit more off the shoulder. I know I’m helping someone. If it’s just someone I know it’s helping. It helps me, but it’s also just letting people know that no one has exactly the same story, but someone might have something similar and it’s not a fucking competition. I find nowadays everyone’s trying to fucking measure dicks on what’s going on with their life. People are almost competing against negativity in their life, which is fucked.

Robbie:
So bad.

Ben Jefferson:
It is, man. No one should want to be a victim for starters. And I just, I want people to be able to open up and say, Hey, fuck, I kicked my toe and it really hurt. Fucking unlucky, man. That sucks balls. I’m here. I’ll pat you on the back. Let’s move forward or fucking whatever the worst case story. They’re all the same, at the end of the day it’s still perspective. But I just wish, and I find veterans are also bad for it, is that, like I said, I can’t think of anything else, but the measuring dicks thing. That people hold themselves to others and compare. And it’s one thing if I could change anything, it’s that. I just wish everyone support each other just that little bit more. A lot of people do, but there’s still a lot out there that don’t wish the best for other people, for whatever reasons it is. I don’t know.

Robbie:
Do you know what it is, mate? And I’ve thought about this a lot as well and I too share your view that being in a lot of the veteran groups and Facebook, social media groups, is fucking painful. And I don’t have the notifications on, unless one of my mates makes a comment in there then obviously I’ll get notified. And I look back and I’m like, why are they being so antagonistic towards each other and the comparison and all that sort of stuff? And I look back and it was bred into me, when one brigade was in the early… Helmets on, cam creams on, ladies and gentlemen I tell the war story. When one brigade was back in Holsworthy in the early 90s you fucking hated the other unit. You go and play brigade sport, it was huge back then. No deployments, right. So the only war that we had on was the war on the sporting field. And the spirit of core between the engineers and the gunners and the cabs and the grunts and the mix and the transporters was fucking at the highest level it could be.

Robbie:
And because we weren’t all fighting any wars together, we were always against each other. So that whole competitive nature there was as high. And then you’ve had the inter squadron, or inter troop, or inter company, or inter battery in my instance, you fucking hated the other person across the fence as well. That was the dog eat world that we sort of lived in. But as the wars have evolved and you’ve had to now everyone had to start working together overseas, for instance, and you had the UAV troupe and you had the sigs come and be attached to you and you had the bushmaster drivers, only then, and I know some of that stuff happened after your time, but only then did we all sort of start working together a little bit. But it’s too late by then. When you fucking hate everyone else that’s part of your tribe, it’s hard to shake that stuff off. You know what I mean? That’s my opinion, anyway.

Ben Jefferson:
No, that’s 100%, man. Because it was the same in Darwin. We had our little corner and discovery and every weekend would punch on with bloody grant, bloody calve, artillery, didn’t matter. I was always, I could almost put my house on it every weekend [inaudible 00:53:48] punching on every weekend, over a fucking corner, just because we didn’t want them to be there.

Robbie:
Yeah. Right. Wow.

Ben Jefferson:
That’s just stupid. But that’s what you’re bred for, it’s Kapooka, it’s your IET’s. We are better than this. We are better than that. Which you need to have that aggression, you need to have that, I suppose, cockiness, you’ve got to go to war that you need that. But there’s no off switch and that’s sort of people need to start realizing that you’re having a bad effect on other people just because you think you’re better than someone. There’s no need.

Robbie:
Especially when someone’s buddy struggling and they were, I don’t know, fucking the posty for one of the bloody MRTF trips. And then someone gets word of that, like, oh, you’re a fucking pug, you didn’t even leave the fucking base. How come you’ve got a fucking DVA claim in. I’m like, what the fuck? Let it go. And I know you’ve helped a lot of people out, including me, from a DVA legislation and accepted conditions, et cetera. So I know that’s something else very near and dear to your heart is making sure people are being looked after.

Ben Jefferson:
Oh, it’s just, it pisses me off, man. There’s so much haste in that, there’s no need for it. We’re all there. We’ve all served. It doesn’t matter. I only went to East Timor. I’ve had that before, oh, you only went to East Timor. I’m like, you know what? Yes, I did only go to East Timor, but that wasn’t necessarily my choice. It’s just the way the fucking cookie crumbles, man. I’m not claiming to be nothing I’m not, but you don’t need to be a dick.

Robbie:
Yeah. So [crosstalk 00:55:27]-

Ben Jefferson:
My father did 20 years, didn’t do one trip.

Robbie:
Yeah. Well, it’s all a timing thing, mate. It’s all a bloody timing thing. So mate, it’s funny, but we’ve all got to join together at some stage. And I worked in lots of joint headquarters as a guy sort of managed the JTAC capability for Socom. I was working with air force all time. And even though I’m like you, green in my blood for the rest of my life, there’s a bit of light blue that punches through there as well. I have a very close affiliation with the air force. Not so much with the navy because I just didn’t operate and that’s sphere, but fuck, they got their own bloody thing to do and I can go and fucking float around on the sea. I don’t ever want to do that. So I don’t have an affection for it. But we’ve all got to join together at stage and we are just a defense force veteran and just let go of all that other stuff and support someone. That kicking the toe analogy you spoke about, what I would’ve said is like, fuck man, I bet that hurt, but I bet you glad you didn’t break your ankle at the same time because that would’ve been really fucked. That’s just me and my outlook on stuff.

Ben Jefferson:
That’s what I mean, man. You can have a thousand different reactions to however you’re going to help someone, but as long as you’re trying to help someone, not bring them down even more. Like I said, I still remember that seco saying that I’m never going to get anywhere. That changed me for the rest of my life. Imagine you saying something shit to someone whose already on the ground, someone’s already down now and you fucking made the boot in. You might be the reason that person never sees tomorrow. You want to be careful, man. It’s not nice.

Robbie:
Yeah, very much so. Let’s finish on a bit of a high point though, mate. One thing I’ve loved seeing is the support that you’ve provided Laura and the kids, even from afar many to many times. And I know you guys are bought like a rural property down in the Southern Highland. So Southern parts of New South Wales. You are out there teaching your kids now about run around shooting shit and bloody being on the land sort of thing. And I know you’ve provided fantastic support for Laura. Who’s now been able to transition into being a navy officer. I know that you’re incredibly proud of her as now a still a serving member of your family and she’s still in the military, mate.

Ben Jefferson:
Yeah. Oh no, I’m super proud. She’s worked incredibly hard, obviously to do uni and to become an officer is something to be incredibly proud of. I know I am. The work ethic and just the determination just to get to where she’s, again, goal set and she went and got it. And couldn’t be prouder, man. It’s pretty cool. Like I said, I’ll always have that little bit of green in me, you can never get it out of you, so it’s good to see Laura’s just striving for what she wants and going to get it.

Robbie:
That’s brilliant. And just to sort of cover off ladies and gents, you’re not doing [inaudible 00:58:20] work anymore. You’re working much more local now, aren’t you?

Ben Jefferson:
Well right now, yes. I’m five minutes down the road. And then once that job’s finished, I’m about an hour down the road, so no more interstate.

Robbie:
No more. And I know that you’re really, really enjoying sort of being home a bit more and just spending that time with the family because your billy lids are only going to be small for… At some stage that nerf gun over there that people can see if you are in the YouTube clip, your son’s going to fucking toss that out one day and go, I don’t want to play that with you anymore, dad, because I’m bloody all grown up. And you’ll look back at these years and go, fuck, where did that go?

Ben Jefferson:
Oh, I know. It’s pretty scary, man. But it’s awesome at the same time. Like I said, taking them up our bush and muck around, going fishing, shooting and it’s all the stuff I loved as a kid and it put me in the right sort of mind space. So yeah, no, loving it, man. It’s a good change. It’s a needed change.

Robbie:
Well, I think you’re an absolute champion, buddy. Thank you so much for coming on and sharing your story. As I’ve said a couple of times, I know there’s going to be every single person that listens to this podcast or watches this YouTube clip will relate to this story in some way, shape or form. And this is one thing I know you’re going to love about this, you will change someone’s life or make someone think a different way and allow them to open up to someone in some way, shape or form down the track, which could may just bloody prevent them doing something silly. We don’t know when or who that’s going to be, but I know that’s going to be the case simply because you and I decided to jump on here and have a chat.

Ben Jefferson:
Yeah, no, again, that was me and you, not me, just two blokes have a chat and that’s what needs to happen, man. And it’s been a pleasure and thank you for having me.

Robbie:
Oh, no worries, brother. All right, mate. I can’t wait to see you again soon. Take it easy brother. All right.

Ben Jefferson:
Good to see you, man.

Robbie:
Thanks. See you.

 

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