On Saturday morning, hundreds of motorbikes will roar out of Wendouree, swinging past Learmonth before parading down the Avenue of Honour, finishing on Main Road.
Organised by the Military Brotherhood Military Motorcycle Club, with riders from other emergency services clubs, the ride is to raise awareness for Stand Tall For PTSD.
The ride is supported by the Ballarat Veterans Assistance Centre, which grew out of the Vic West MBMMC - the centre, on Barkly Street, has been open for about six months now.
Driven by volunteers and fiercely independent, with a strict no alcohol or gambling policy, the centre aims to connect ex-servicepeople and help however they can.
Sometimes, that's just a cup of tea and a chat - other times, it's doing the legwork to make sure someone's getting their entitlements, or even helping with funeral arrangements.
It's estimated there are about 5000 veterans in the Ballarat region, and possibly another 5000 further out, and each one has individual needs.
BVAC president Greg Green is passionate about making sure no veterans are left behind - there's a clear frustration with the bureaucracy involved for many people once they have left the military, and he's found it's easier to do it himself.
He's also keen to make sure the centre is inclusive for younger veterans, who have had a different experience to members who served in Vietnam or other conflicts and have different needs post-military.
"We've had an advocate from the RSL helping the bike club, who's been working out of here, and he's seen in excess of 100 or so people in the last 12 months," he said.
"We've had hiccups along the way, but we've had the best support from anywhere - we're the only ex-service organisation in Ballarat or surrounding districts where you don't have to be a member to get assistance.
"We're not the experts, but we do have direct contacts to Open Arms, Helping Heroes, Centacare, and they're working with us, they're people we can get in touch with straight away to get people connected."
Not every veteran has the same experience, with some adapting to civilian life quickly, but for others, it can be a years-long adjustment.
The recently announced Royal Commission into Veterans Suicides will shed more light on the issues, but for now, it's volunteer groups like the BVAC which end up doing a lot of heavy lifting.
Phil 'Des' McMillan, one of the younger veterans to sit down with The Courier, said the centre was a "distraction-free" place to "reassimilate" into society.
"Coming out of an operational zone on a deployment, they have a specifically designated period called a decompression period," he said.
"You almost need a decompression period from your actual service life, which I don't believe is currently facilitated."
Another younger veteran, Daniel Hooper, has found the centre immensely helpful - he said he spent almost five years not connecting "with anyone" after he left the Navy, but now he's keen to connect with others.
One of the biggest impediments is finding new employment, he said.
"Not everyone gets discharged the same, I think medically (discharged personnel) need to be particularly looked at, because you literally get out and you have no job," he said.
'Unless everything's sorted, you can't go straight into employment, and that needs to be looked at."
Bob Reid said he knew what he wanted to do two years before he left a long career in the military, but it was still "bloody scary" not having employment lined up for when he left.
"When some people get out, whether it's medically or by their own choice, if they don't have something to fall back on, they go into financial shock," he said.
"That's one of the many, many reasons why there's suicide - they see that as an option to support their family.
"They've been doing 10 years or 20 years, or even six years, with no job interviews out in Civvie Street, it's a shock transition just to make that decision, then to find out you're not going to get the money and other benefits - medical, dental - you have to pay for all that, so you lose even more."
The system for service personnel transitioning out of the military needs changing from the ground up to ensure service people don't fall through cracks, the BVAC volunteers agreed, because finding employment and support is just the foundation for settling back into civilian life.
"It's 'where have my mates gone?', the mates he was working with, going bush with, seeing every day, they're not there," Mr Green said.
"His support base, apart from his wife or his partner - if he's got that - that's all there is, he's got nobody."
"The families are so used to operating without us, because we're away all the time, so when you come back, it's like you're no longer required, you're trying to fit into their life when they're used to running everything," Mr Hooper added.
The culture within the military is slowly changing - it's less "suck it up princess" than it was in the '80s, Mr Green pointed out - but the post-service support system still seems baffling.
There are plenty of ideas for reforms - Mr McMillan said a simple solution would be embedding Department of Veterans Affairs workers in barracks, and keeping track of entitlements and injuries across each serviceperson's career, while Mr Green and Mr Reid suggested a more hands-on transition process, with reassignment out of current units, would help reduce the immediate shock.
In the mean time, places like the BVAC and other organisations are doing what they can to make sure the veterans are looked after.
As well as the motorbike ride, which could become an annual event in Ballarat, the centre's also working on a beekeeping program, which received state government funding last month.
"To experience the beekeeping, you're in the moment, that's the easiest way to put it," Mr Hooper said.
"My personal perspective, I've been there, I've been low, and it's got me to where I am now, and confident enough to help other people - it's changed my life from where I was at.
"Beekeeping isn't for everybody, don't get me wrong, but it's a stepping stone to other things - we'll be doing woodworking to build our own hives, doing trips to larger commercial setups, maybe someone that goes through the program will want to step up to be a commercial beekeeper which opens them up to employment."
The flexibility will help the centre adapt as new generations of veterans leave the military - the centre's Sue Yorston said it's not just about solving problems, but finding out what works as well.
"There are younger vets in the community that are doing really well, and we need to hear from them too - what worked for them?" she said.
"The people on the committee here have recognised they're of retirement age, or coming up to that, and they want to be able to hand it over so younger vets can run it.
"We've spoken about having a brainstorming session, we need to sit and listen to what their ideas are, and what will work for them, then the BVAC's job then will be to work with them to make it a reality."
The focus still needs to be on the veterans and their families seeking help, and Tom Nunn, an air force veteran, said he was proud to see the difference the centre was having already.
"We're not the professionals, we're here as a hub - come in and have a chat, and we can put them into the direction of the help," he said.
IN THE NEWS
"If that flag's flying, somebody's here."
The Stand Tall for PTSD ride leaves the former Masters car park on Learmonth Road at 11am sharp on Saturday.
The Ballarat Veterans Assistance Centre at 41 Barkly Street is open Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, from 10am to 2pm, with a free barbecue for veterans every second Friday afternoon.
For more information, or even to have a chat, phone 4349 6339, or visit bvac.net.au.
If you or someone you know is in need of crisis support, phone Lifeline 13 11 14.
Help is also available, but not limited, via the following organisations. The key message is you are not alone.
- Beyond Blue 1300 224 636 or beyondblue.org.au
- Suicide Callback Service: 1300 659 467
- Soldier On: 1300 620 380
- Open Arms: 1800 011 046
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