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Derek Patey – an insight into the man behind the Anzac Day statues


By Alistair Gray




Derek Patey putting the final touches on his sculptures.

If you need a problem solved, something fixed or a creative approach, the man to see on Bribie is Derek Patey. With plenty of wisdom to share, he loves to yarn. As the Men's Shed president, Derek has become well-known to Bribie locals for the incredible wire sculptures of the soldiers seen by many on Anzac Day. His wife Sonia is a sculptor, potter and a hard-working volunteer at the Bribie Arts Centre. Along with Derek, who does much of the maintenance at the centre, they make an awesome team quietly providing service to our community.

Upon completing his apprencticeship in London as an electrician, Derek was given a van and became the emergency breakdown person.

“If a factory had a motor blown up, 40 people would be standing there doing nothing, right! So I'd arrive with my little orange light going,” Derek said. “Everybody's stood staring at you and you're Johnny on the spot. After the first year of doing that I learned more about solving problems than anything I'd ever known.”

He continued to utilise and apply the valuable skills he learnt in those early days throughout his career and when helping others. When the Anzac Day march was cancelled when Covid came along, Derek decided to put together a footpath display of cutouts of soldiers. RSL sub-branch president George Franklin spotted these and then approached Derek showing him a picture of some ghost-like sculptures of soldiers from World War One (WW1) created by Jackie Lantelli at the Slimbridge churchyard in Gloucestershire. Eleven chicken wire soldiers sculptures are placed around the graves to mark 100 years since the end of WW1 (worth the google search). George asked Derek if he could make something similar.

As Anzac Day was fast approaching and being an active Men's Shed member, Derek took the project to the men who were ecstatic to be involved making eight sculptures. Six were funded and specifically made for the RSL, with another two made for display purposes and held by the shed. With a huge learning curve for everyone, their involvement built great camaraderie and pride within the men's group of 60-plus members, including some veterans. How do you shape chicken wire to create the sculpture? How do you make a button, a hat?

The project tested Derek's problem-solving skills and the group's collective wisdom. There was lots of excitement when the eight soldiers were completed and first displayed on Anzac Day, with the RSL and public completely in awe of what they saw.







Simpson, Duffy the Donkey, the patient and two honour guards at an ANZAC Day service.

While working on the original soldiers, Derek became intensely interested in WW1 history, particularly trench warfare. Derek decided to make Simpson, with his donkey Duffy and a patient. To ensure that the display was not too understated, he added two honour guards completing this project at home, independently from the Men's Shed. His wife Sonia became involved helping to design the donkey's nostrils, which was no mean feat when working with chicken wire. A lot of research went into getting the right size and shape of the donkey to ensure the sculpture was as authentic as possible. The study included researching the donkey’s breed and skeleton on the internet. Using this information to build a steel frame before wrapping and wrapping with chicken wire to form the donkey's shape. The process is much more complex than the summarised version shown here. Derek also entered the completed sculpture into the Brisbane Show (also known as The Ekka) and was declared the Ekka Division Champion and Grand Champion – a deserving award. The sculpture has since been proudly donated to the Bribie RSL, pleasing many on Anzac Day. He has since made another two soldiers, donating them to the Sunnybank RSL.

Derek is very proud to be the Men's Shed president, a place where guys can meet and connect. Some come to do woodworking, metalwork or just to make things and be with others. He feels he can contribute with his skills and experiences.

At the age of 11, Derek witnessed a nasty accident experiencing shock. His mother told him not to think about it and that it would go away. This childhood trauma led to nerve problems, skin rashes and anxiety issues eventually leading to the diagnosis of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). Many people have since shared their own experiences and situations with him. Should he have experienced this type of trauma today, he would have had people crawling all over him offering support. Derek also suffered verbal abuse, developing a fear of failure and as a result he is now very driven. Derek didn't understand the cause of these things and never connected them to the earlier events in his life.

He had been an electrician with his own contracting business and electrical retailing company, which he sold following an anxiety attack. Then he and Sonia moved to Toogoom, near Hervey Bay and built a general store with hardware and newspapers, working seven days a week and working themselves into the ground before selling it. He was then unemployed (self-funded) for about six months before gaining employment with a hospitality training company. Here Derek went through the mill having a nervous breakdown and almost committed suicide, but thanks to a good doctor and psychologist, he was recognised as having PTSD and over time was given the appropriate help.

"I grabbed Sonia and danced around the kitchen because I suddenly understood all my behaviours back in the past and knew what it was all about,” Derek said on finding out he had PTSD.

It is easy to see how much value Derek brings to the Men's Shed and the Bribie community.

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