It’s a statistic repeated in this play and one worth repeating here: 41 Australian military personnel died on active service in Afghanistan. As of this year, there have been more than 700 suicides among veterans of that conflict.
Borderless, a solo piece written and performed by Peter-William Jamieson, tells a fictional story to hoist that largely hidden tragedy into the light.
Jamieson narrates as Blake. We meet him as a kid at the moment he encounters another boy, Hassan, an Afghani refugee who will eventually become his stepbrother.
The boys form tight bond that lasts through their knockabout teenage years in Newcastle and later into the ADF. Both serve in the same regiment, which is later dispatched to the Australian base at Tarinkot in southern Afghanistan.
They are part of a goodwill and policing mission, mostly, devoted to the rebuilding of a school and the training of local recruits. But the surrounding areas are under the control of Taliban forces and mortal danger – from sniper fire, from roadside bombs – is never far away.
Tragically, for Hussan, who is in a relationship with the daughter of a local teacher, that danger arrives from unexpectedly close range.
Blake is left shattered and unable to settle back into his pre-service life. He blows his savings on drugs and booze. He experiences wild mood swings, violent episodes. Then, on a visit to a shop specialising in Afghani sweetmeats and treats, something triggers him into a murderous rage.
Affable at first, Blake stands before the audience as a very real-seeming guy, convincingly voiced, neither patronised nor idealised. The script, which takes us from suburban Newcastle to Afghanistan and back, is a wordy one and the staging (directed by Christie Koppe) physically demanding. But Jamieson is very much in control – even when Blake is not – and 85 minutes in the company of this likeable, troubled and haunted young man fly by, leaving in no doubt as to the work that must to be done to help veterans deal with the inevitable trauma of war.
If you are a veteran or know of any currently facing a crisis there are people and organisations available to listen and help 24/7:
Beyond Blue – 1300 224 636
Soldier On – 1300 620 380
Young Veterans – 0401 793 560
Mates For Mates – 1300 4 MATES (62 837)