Local VC hero kept award a secret
COFFS Coast locals have been celebrating the Victoria Cross awarded to Trooper Mark Donaldson last week - but friends didn't know of the award until after they arrived in Canberra for the ceremony.
When SAS Trooper Donaldson, who grew up in Dorrigo, rang close family friends Jo and Gary Beaumont last week and invited them join him in Canberra, he didn't tell them what for, just that it was 'something special'.
And they were still in the dark when they arrived at Government House on Friday morning and found themselves in the company of Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, and Governor-General, Quentin Bryce.
“I assumed it was for a bravery award but I never thought it would be a Victoria Cross,” Mrs Beaumont said.
“When we realised, it felt unreal, like a dream. We felt incredibly proud to be part of something so special and very proud of him.
“Mark was just himself - very humble…and when (Air Chief Marshall) Angus Houston saluted him, I'm sure there wasn't a dry eye in the house, certainly not from me.”
Mrs Beaumont first met Trooper Donaldson 23 years ago when he was a curly, red-headed kid of seven living in town with his parents, Greg and Bernadette, and older brother, Brent.
The double tragedy of Greg's death in 1995 and then Bernadette's disappearance in 1998 saw the Beaumonts become an important touchstone for the brothers as they finished school and moved out into the world.
Upon leaving school Mark had a brief stint at art school in Sydney, spent time in the mines in Western Australia and worked on the pipeline in Alaska. In 2002 he joined the armed forces.
“I was surprised…his father was a Vietnam veteran and had held strong views about the treatment of the veterans upon their return. But this was very different - Mark chose this career,” said Jo.
Dorrigo RSL branch president Bob Denner remembers Mark as an independent kid, who was a bit of a 'tearaway'.
Mr Denner met the family initially through the RSL and later through Legacy when, following Greg's death, Bernadette became his Legacy widow and the boys his 'junior Legatees'.
“When he was younger I'd say conforming to authority was one of his challenges,” Mr Denner said.
“I was thrilled when he told me he was joining the army.”
He said while the town would love to do something to honour Mark, it was too early to say what that might be.
Trooper Donaldson became the first Australian in 40 years to be awarded the VC last Friday.
He was honoured for rescuing a coalition interpreter during fierce fighting in Afghanistan in September last year.
According to Mrs Beaumont when she spoke to Mark on Friday he was still coming to terms with it all.
“He said he realised the award would change his life but he was not sure how . . . he really didn't want anyone making a fuss of him.”