Mount Evelyn’s Iain Townsley might not be easily recognised when walking down the street, but most locals would know the familiar sounds from his bagpipes.
“When I walk around Mount Evelyn, Mooroolbark, or Lilydale few people realise who I am,” Iain said.
“Yet as the Mt Evelyn RSL piper I have been playing for the local community on the Anzac Day Dawn Service, Remembrance Day, and other local and national commemorations for many years.”
Iain admitted he typically liked to remain in the shadows, but delving deeper into the piper’s history reveals a fascinating story.
Iain recently published an autobiography detailing his life experiences – from spending over a decade in war zones to the challenges associated with leaving the military.
From Pilgrim to Piper provides insight into Iain’s adventures such as being a commando and paratrooper through the Borneo Confrontation, the War in Dhofar and the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
He also discusses the personal struggles faced upon leaving the military and finally reinventing himself as a piper, claiming his Scottish heritage.
“After 25 years of regular service in war zones and then you come to civilian life, you might just be one of the astronauts coming to the moon. Life is very difficult for a long serving veteran,” Iain explained.
“A lot of long term servicemen are institutionalised and find coming out into civilian life very different. Just the work ethics, the motivation, the desire to want to do a good job.”
Iain spent 25 years in the British Regular Army and 14 of those were accumulated in war zones.
He was with an Infantry Regiment for seven years and with the United Kingdom Special Forces for 18 years.
Iain also spent five years with Australia’s 1 Commando Regiment ADF which saw him pass on knowledge to young Army Reserve Soldiers, who at the time did not realise they would soon be deployed to a war zone.
He arrived in Mount Evelyn with his family in 1988 and is currently the piper to the Australian SAS Association Victoria and the Commando Association Victoria.
Iain said it was challenging to squeeze the many stories of his life into only 35,000 words but writing was an experience that he thoroughly enjoyed and hoped to continue.
“The most enjoyable part is when the boxes are delivered and you open your box and see the cover,” Iain said.
“It’s just mind blowing to think you’re the first one in generations of your family that has written a book.
“It doesn’t matter that it’s not going to be a best seller or a movie or a Steven Spielberg, it’s just that you’re leaving behind something for your children and grandchildren.”
Iain said he hoped his autobiography would help “champion the cause of veterans that are struggling” but also help anyone facing challenges in life.
“It will give people an understanding of life in an elite military unit and the struggles veterans have when they come to civilian life, particularly if they arrive in a country where they have never lived before,” he said.
“It’s not just veterans, I’m a veteran so I’m that way focused, there are other people that might be struggling out there that might find the book an inspiration.
“It’s full of quotes, one of the ones I like as motivation is ‘you just keep putting one foot in front of another and one day you look back and see that you’ve climbed a mountain’.”