Community And Companies Rally To Provide A Safe Family Backyard For Defence Force Widow And Her Boys

Thanks to the generosity and efforts of the local community and a number of private companies, Defence Force widow Crystal Prendergast has had her new home – which had a barren patch of red-dirt out the back – turned into a perfect backyard play area and family haven for Crystal and her two young sons.

Crystal was widowed in December 2019, when her husband Glenn, who was in the Royal Australian Air Force, tragically died of cancer – leaving her to bring up their two sons, Xavier (4) and Oliver (2).

With Glenn’s passing as an active member of the RAAF, Crystal was left with a considerable lump sum, including life insurance, which allowed her to purchase a house in Sydney’s south-western suburbs.

However, the property’s back yard was considerably run down, full of weeds, and large patches of red dirt, so Crystal was constantly attempting to clean stains out of the boys’ clothes and shoes.

As a Defence Force widow, Crystal was eligible for support from Legacy, which has a commitment to help support dependents and children of service personnel who pass away while in service.

Because of this, Legacy has been able to assist Crystal with starting a TAFE course to become an enrolled nurse, paying the boys’ daycare fees, helping with swimming lessons, transport costs, and so on.

Legacy has also been able to help Crystal have a makeover of her back yard, through the efforts of Russell Hodson, who was in the Australian Army for 27 years, achieving the rank of Colonel. He left the Army in 2010 to join Rio Tinto, before joining Komatsu in late 2018.

Around the same time as he joined Komatsu, Russell also became involved in Legacy, and when he and his mentor, Legatee Eric Easterbrook, became aware of Crystal’s home situation, they realised there was an opportunity to help her and her sons.

“Looking at the property as it was, we could see she needed a new fence, a retaining wall, a complete new lawn, and the services of an arborist to remove some trees,” Russell says.

With considerable excavation work required to prepare and install the retaining wall and fence, Russell was able to arrange for the loan of a Komatsu PC18MR-3 mini excavator through Komatsu Rental’s Seven Hills branch.

He was also able to involve a number of other organisations, including ADF Welfare Association, RAAF Welfare Association and transport specialists Freight Movement to provide free transport of the machine between Seven Hills and Crystal’s place.

Crystal also had a lot of help from her next-door neighbour, Paul Hembrow and his dad, whose company St George Pest Control provided the labour and expertise to build the retaining wall and fence between their two properties.

Work on the project began in late February and was originally expected to take three or four weeks, working on weekends, when plenty of additional volunteer labour was available. However, periods of intense rainfall, often occurring over weekends, then a one-in-100- year-flood event just before Easter, meant that the project wasn’t completed until the first week in May.

• Brendan Jeffries, sales representative with Komatsu Rental, who provided a PC18 excavator free of charge on site for the duration of the project, including co-ordinating the transportation and on-site service support
• Paul Hembrow, whose company St George Pest Control provided the labour and expertise to build the retaining wall and fence between his property and Crystal’s
• Bill Farha of Landscaping and Tree Wizards, who provided discounted labour and machinery to remove numerous trees and stumps on the property
• Jack Budge of Freight Movement, who donated transportation of Komatsu equipment to and from the site at no charge
• Graeme Collins, of Dad and Dave’s Turf who donated turf for the lawn
• Chris Toogood, who provided expertise and manpower to lay the turf at no charge
• Dominic Teakle, CEO of Police Citizens Youth Club NSW, who provided the labour and expertise to build the retaining wall at the rear of the garden, along with the drainage system for the lawn area
• Tara Goldsworthy, who provided much-needed assistance with rubbish removal along with laying of the topsoil
• Eric Easterbrook, who secured additional financial support for the project, as well as coordinated rubbish removal and on site labour

Crystal and her boys are delighted with the end result.

“We all love it, the kids love it,” she says. “As soon as it was finished, they went out there running around in it. Now we have got a brand new fence, a proper retaining wall, and green grass, not dirt.

“Without that, we’d still have the red dirt, and I would still be pulling it out of my kids’ clothes and shoes. And it doesn’t really come out of clothes. That was something we had to deal with for all of last winter.

“We are incredibly grateful for what everyone has done. The boys now have a safe playing area, and they wouldn’t have that without Russell and the excavator, along with everyone else coming in to do all that work,” says Crystal.

“And of course we are especially grateful for the financial support provided by the ADF Welfare Association and the RAAF Welfare Association,” says Russell.

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