THREE trips to Antarctica working as a weather man for the Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) were Dave Morgan's way of dealing with the crippling effects of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) resulting from his time as a young soldier in Vietnam.
Dave is coming to Lismore next Thursday, November 8 to talk about his experiences and to sign copies of his book, Ice Journey, which tells the story of his inner journey with PTSD and the other extraordinary journeys he made to try and come to terms with it.
Dave still has nightmares about the time in Vietnam when he was lying asleep in a grave-shaped pit, surrounded by heavy sandbags, and a mortar exploded nearby, causing his pit to cave in and smother him.
"But I only have nightmares about twice a week now," he told The Echo. "It used to be twice a night."
His nightmares and flashbacks were not helped by the reception he and other Australian soldiers endured when they returned from Vietnam. He was flown back to Australia under cover of darkness to avoid the scorn that awaited many returnees. The next day, he had to run the gamut of a demonstration at Mascot airport, with people waving placards with 'Baby killers' painted on them. A young woman spat in his face.
"For years after that I found it difficult to hold down relationships with women," he said. "I went away and travelled around the United States and Canada for a year."
Back in Australia, he trained with the BoM as a weather monitor and was posted to Rockhampton where military exercises were being held with US armed forces.
"Some helicopters came in and I had a melt-down," he said.
"I couldn't work there any more, so I took a posting to the most remote weather station in Australia, in the Gibson Desert.
But back in Rockhampton, he kept having anxiety attacks.
"I'd always had a dream of going to Antarctica. As a boy I had gazed out over the Southern Ocean and thought: 'One day I'll go beyond that horizon.'"
His first expedition, in 2000, was to Macquarie Island, putting up weather balloons and doing ozone tests.
"I found peace down there; then I had to go back to the world again," he said. "I was starting to realise that I couldn't live an ordinary lifestyle.
"Some of the blokes got depressed in midwinter when it was dark for 24 hours, but I found it very peaceful."
After 18 months away, Dave spent a year with his family before he was off again to Antarctica's Casey Station - but this posting didn't turn out so well. During the changeover of crew, he slipped and fell on the ice, hitting his head and knocking himself out.
"My head hit the ice and my brain started to bleed," he recalled.
"The ice saved my life by stopping the brain swelling. I was lucky the ship was still out there and had a helicopter on board. They got me out on a medivac."
On his return, his family insisted he stay with them and get counselling for his PTSD.
Dave now is writing a new book based on diaries and letters he wrote while in Vietnam, and he gives talks to other PTSD sufferers.
His talk at the Lismore City Library, on Thursday, November 8 starts at 5.30pm.