Mateship and the art of the possible

EX-SASR and now corporate leaders Tim Curtis and Ben Pronk talk mateship … and how this frames their commitment to the Veteran cause as members of RSLWA’s fundraising committee. MAXINE BROWN reports.


ONE can only dream of being spoken about with the depth of honour, respect and trust that former Commanding Officer  and Veteran Ben Pronk has for his mate, old SAS boss and now-business partner Tim Curtis.

Veterans helping Veterans
Ben Pronk and Tim Curtis are supporters of ANZAC House Veteran Central. Photo: Ross Swanborough

While the pair are polished corporate performers and seasoned motivational speakers, Ben reveals a belief in his mate at the end of our interview that, when vocalised, carries the impact of an emotional punch to the heart.

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Make no mistake; these are not soft men. The foundations of their friendship were forged in service as leaders within our elite SASR … where they immersed themselves in high-stakes missions in Timor, Iraq, Afghanistan and here at home (the seizure of North Korean drug ship Pong Su as she made a dash for international waters, having dropping 150kg of heroin on our eastern shores in 2003).

So yes, these are men who have lived life on the edge and survived to tell the tale, in no small part thanks to each other.

Upon meeting for our interview at their Mettle Global offices in the CBD, Tim and Ben are warm, philosophical, articulate, witty, generous of spirit and quick to smile. But there’s no hiding that occasional flicker of energy through the eyes or voice that commands respect.

So when Ben is asked to describe his brother-in-arms Tim at the end of the interview, his display of conviction in the strength of their partnership is a beautiful thing.

“We’re talking about mateship and Tim is a mate,’’ he says. “If you look at all the ways we’ve chosen to define mateship, and in particular that unconditionality, that sort of ‘got your back, you know that you can rely on this person’, then that’s Tim. Expanding on that as well, particularly in this context, there’s a lot of things that Tim does naturally, as part of who he is, that I aspire to and want to learn. He used that phrase about having the difficult conversations early, Tim is able to do that, and it just sets such a beautiful clarity for not only our business relationship, but also our interactions with other people. What you see is what you get, no garbage, no facades or anything like that. It’s knowing that you’re talking with the genuine person and that what he says is what he means. It’s a really good foundation.”

That same enthusiasm is apparent in their devotion to our Veterans’ cause. Both sit on RSLWA’s fundraising committee, where they are helping shape future strategy and ensure the opening of ANZAC House Veteran Central is an absolute success.

We’re lucky to have them. The pair, now armed with MBAs and a dearth of international experience that includes Tim’s years working with the United Nations, where he was a lead elections planner for the 2005 Afghanistan Parliamentary Elections, and then heading a truly global group of 42 companies based from Dubai, they bring much to the table.

Again, at their core is an unwavering belief in the ‘art of the possible’, especially when built on a foundation of mateship.

While the pair recognise that the true definition of mateship can’t be summed up in a few sharp sentences, they do have some strong thoughts forged from their own military experience.

Tim says: “The basis of mateship, in my opinion, is a shared and common experience. And I think that experience has to be hardship. Anything that you do that is difficult with other people produces a platform for mateship. The next piece, of course, is some level of equality, a classnessness. And the last one is a strong commitment to providing assistance regardless of the circumstance. And if I put those three things in a triangle, that would be a very simple explanation of mateship.”

That triangle certainly drives their belief in RSLWA’s new ANZAC House Veteran Central hub in the Perth CBD, which will rewrite the rules nationally when it comes to the delivery of lifesaving Veteran and family care.

It will open next year as a one-stop shop for Veterans seeking medical treatment, advocacy, welfare assistance, wellness and an audience with the Department of Veterans Affairs, by providing a home to reputable ESOs that provide services in this crowded space.

On this subject, Ben’s passion is obvious: “Coming off my last role as a commanding officer, the landscape for Veterans who need help has been very clouded, very confused. There’s sooo many -and this is a fantastic thing because it wasn’t the case in the ‘70s – organisations that can help people, but interestingly that’s created a bit of confusion as to who: where do I go, what do I do?

“So this concept of a one-stop shop, where you’ve got an umbrella where a Veteran who needs assistance, their families who need assistance, can just go somewhere and have an organisation that just provides guidance into the best forms of assistance. That’s pretty exciting for me.

‘’And under the one roof, with people who get that shared and common experience. That’s really a fantastic initiative from RSL.”

Ben adds: “And not only under one roof, but under one roof in a central location, a fantastic new building, and things like the social aspect of that …. I think it’s important because we see a lot of people, anecdotally we see our mates who deal well with everything they’ve been through while still in that framework of mateship while in the military, but when they get out they can kind of fall off a cliff if they haven’t got that same framework to transition out to.

“I think just the idea of having a social hub where people can meet, have a meal, catch up, that can help keep that soldier for life/service person for life concept going. ‘’

And to Veterans who are facing, or have recently overcome, some of the challenges unique to ex-service life, Tim says this: “It’s OK to make a mistake and it’s OK to stumble and I think the beautiful thing about Veteran Central is that it’s going to be there to catch you before you fall.

“So you can stumble, but there is a safety net there with people who absolutely appreciate what you’ve done in uniform, and understand your particular and very unique circumstance.’’

In the meantime, they are focused on their own business growth, having backed themselves all the way by incorporating their company last year.

Their future looks bright, with clients seeking corporate crisis/emergency management leadership training in strong, capable hands.

  • Check out Ben and Tim’s podcast series, unforgiving60, where they seek out people leading lives less ordinary. Listen via Apple Podcasts
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