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At the going down of the RSL

By Malcolm King - posted Friday, 17 April 2015

The appointment of Lieutenant Commander Sam Jackman, 48, as the Returned and Services League (RSL) national chief executive, is 25 years too late.

RSL clubs across the nation are closing amid severe financial stress and in some cases, mismanagement. In 2004, the RSL had 240,000 members nationally. Today there are less than 117,000, as the World War II and Korean War veterans pass on.

In South Australia, the future of the RSL is dire with less than 9,000 members. It is expected that only 20 of the 110 SA sub branches will survive the next ten years. In 2012, the median age of the South Australian RSL membership was 82.


There is also a push for clubs in debt to sell up and capitalize on rising real estate prices.

Founded in 1916 during the First World War, the RSL caters to the needs of returned servicemen. It's a proud and iconic institution - a pillar of Australian patriotism.

Young people are drawn to the authenticity of the Anzac Day parade - more so than their Boomer parents. They recognize that it was the courage of young men and women about their age, who through duty and sacrifice, helped defend Australia from invasion during the Kokoda campaign.

This is a powerful story but the RSL has gone missing in action. Most clubs don't want to modernize; they don't want to serve restaurant meals, provide live music or cater to young people. They want to be left alone.

The old vets are right to protect the regimental standards, the honour rolls, and the symbols of the fallen. But the RSL is living in the past. Those young people - their great grand children - are the future of the RSL and probably its greatest supporters.

Brigadier Tim Hanna, the RSL SA state president SA, called on members to befriend potential new chums, although admitted there were problems.


"I have stood at the front door of some RSL premises and (have) been greeted with looks which belong in a horror movie," Brigadier Hanna said.

Of course the real horror is no movie. Few of the 45,000 Australians who served in Iraq and Afghanistan have joined the RSL. Many believe it has failed to provide practical support to young veterans, some of whom bear the deep mental and physical scars of combat.

New groups such as Soldier On, Young Diggers and other non-affiliated RSLorganisations, provide direct aid to veterans from recent conflicts and also assist their families and partners.

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This article was first published in InDaily.

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About the Author

Malcolm King is a journalist and professional writer. He was an associate director at DEEWR Labour Market Strategy in Canberra and the senior communications strategist at Carnegie Mellon University in Adelaide. He runs a writing business called Republic.

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