David enlisted in The Australian Army in 2004 and entered into the Special Forces Direct Recruiting Scheme and was selected to serve as a Commando. David engaged in both reserve and continuous full-time service for 13 years during the period of 2004 and 2017 where he juggled his defence service with studying Architecture at the University of Melbourne. In 2009, David qualified as a Special Forces Sniper and was deployed to Afghanistan three times. In 2014, David graduated from RMIT with a Masters of Architecture with Distinction. In 2017, David embarked on a spiritual journey with Hatha Yoga and meditation and founded Kailash, a retreat property in the Grampians.

Encouraging us all to find peace within ourselves, David's inspiring and moving ANZAC Assembly speech was featured in the latest issue of Spectemur. What follows below is the transcript from his speech: 

‘Why am I here? Why should you listen to me? Well, I don’t entirely know, and judging by my looks, you probably shouldn’t. I’m about to share some deep, personal experiences and opinions. If anything I say resonates with you, I invite you to take it as a remembrance of your own truth that you knew all along and, if it doesn’t, to let it pass through. I promise I won’t take offence!

I stand here nearly 20 years after leaving this very school; a CUO in the cadet unit, a prefect, a house co-captain (go Derham). My proudest achievement perhaps, a House Athletics record for discus which still stands. At this school I ran, threw, swam, paddled, played, sung, debated. I did it all, including plagiarism, sorry Dr K. On the whole I was a vibrant student, and I gave it a good go. However, most tragically, I also learned to fight. Not an outward battle, though sometimes there was the odd playground rough and tumble, but an inner one – in my mind, a place separated from my heart. I chased success and involvement, praise and worthiness in the eyes of others. But inside, I struggled.

As fathers tend to do, when my dad found out I was speaking today, he offered advice. He suggested I regale you with tales of my experience in Afghanistan: the mornings so cold my pants froze after wading through waist-deep irrigation canals before dawn, hunting down Taliban leaders who were, invariably, never there. Or the panic when the first burst of enemy machinegun fire lands upon you; the shock that in all the dust and noise that you weren’t hit, though it was close, real close. And contrary to your self-perception as a warrior, you, like your shoes, were frozen with fear. How about the thawing out of both boots and minds as our own gunfire was aimlessly directed into the desert, at an enemy that we were yet to see.

These stories of war may give you a sense of the adventure that I was drawn to as an impressionable high school student, but they omit the scariest enemy that I have encountered thus far. This beast is the mind that was drawn to conflict in the first place. This foe is significantly more terrifying than the hardened insurgent, happy to blow himself up with you and a bunch of innocent civilians at the same time. Upon reflection, this other enemy was first encountered here, in this very school, in this very auditorium.

This enemy lurks around the corner like a predatory cat, ready to strike when the prey’s attention is fixed elsewhere. This enemy is still here. This enemy is inside. This enemy is none other than the arrogance of my own mind, that it would have the audacity to place itself ahead of my Soul.

You too may hear this enemy speak as the voice of doubt, the voice of distrust, the voice of fear itself. I had begun at an early age to believe that the thoughts that I had about myself were, in fact, ‘me’. The stress, the worry, the pain, the anxiety and depression, this is who I thought ‘I’ was. Welcome to the battleground of the mind. We are all soldiers and veterans in this war. You need not don the uniform to know the pain of a warrior, torn apart from the inside by the violence required of him, of the violence he levels at himself. Listen closely, and you too know this pain as yours. You need not join the army and fight your fellow man to know the injustice of having your power robbed from you and being coerced into killing your brother, manipulated by pride, status and cheap medals. Watch closely what you pursue, what motivates you, and you too can know this pain.

Take me for an example. In Year 8 I became so paralysed in an English exam telling myself I did not know how to write or think, purely from the fear of judgement, the fear of asking a teacher for help. Instead of an essay, I offered my teacher a scribbled apology. Literally, instead of an essay, a sorry note. The enemy had won the battle and I had begun to hate myself. But luckily, thanks to the grace of my Soul, it had not won the war. Though it would take me decades to realise this. Since then, I have learned that all men and women are created equal in this capacity to be afraid, to be terrified of asking for help. The real work of my life only began when I left the army and broke down, a mess (inside and out), depressed, drinking, and out of control. I cried to a God I didn’t believe in. I wept for Help. My first prayer.

‘The magic of this universe is that when you are open to help, it shows up in all the places you can imagine; a loving partner, a compassionate stranger, chance encounters, pets, friends, teachers and parents. For me, it was a wise yogi with a simple message. Surrender.’

In this inner conflict between mind and heart; teacher, student and soldier are one. We cling to our minds like a shipwrecked sailor does to a buoyant piece of wood, afraid that the ocean will swallow him.

My invitation to you today is to loosen the grip of the mind, even just for a moment. To surrender to the ocean, for it is your soul and you will swim. This is known as meditation. It is not tied to culture, race or religion, though it will take you closer to God if you believe.

In this moment I invite you to close your eyes, bring your attention to the top of your head, and surrender to your soul. If you wish, you may affirm internally, three times to yourself, I am a holy soul, I am a pure soul. Feel what it is like, to be held by the ocean. By this space. Held by this school. By your peers. By your family that loves you. By me. Feel, what it is like to be held by your own being, by your own soul. Here, there is no war. There is no hate, no pain, no fear. There is only peace.

What is it like for you to be held in a space of love, of compassion, of forgiveness, of grace? Where a complete stranger, who fought and killed for in the name of your nation, now tells you openly, that you are loved, no matter what? Is this a space that inspires competition or collaboration? Contest or co-operation? War or peace? As the acorn holds the entire oak tree, so too, each and every soul holds this great life, this great love, also known to some as God. Only a soul, can know this truth. If you wish to, slowly open your eyes. Who started this war in our minds is not important, for we can all finish it. Now. In this moment. By surrendering. That’s all.

To my Dad, who is perhaps still a little impressed by the adventurous war stories, I say soldiers fight, not for civilian freedom or honour or mates, but so that we can all learn the horror of the inner war, raging inside. Soldiers fight so that all may know the value of our own peace. My Mum’s advice in all of this, mostly pertaining to my dress sense, is even more astute. She said, “David, you do you.” I feel I’ve done that today. So I offer you the same, connect to the soul, and you do you. Though it is that by our deeds we are known, especially to others, I pray that by your own being, by your own soul, that you know yourself.’