In the past few days there has been a lot of coverage in the news and on social media about the RSL NSW office dictating what will and won’t be allowed during the Sydney ANZAC Day march. To say this has caused a wave of emotion to boil-over various Defence affiliated social media groups is an understatement. The sentiment most being expressed is one of Veterans being fed up with the attitude of the RSL and their efforts to control the very thing that is central to our identity; the ANZAC legend.
I have been critical of the RSL previously and have even participated in some of the online debates about what my opinion is of the current issue surrounding Veterans and marching with their unit banners. As with most discussions regarding the RSL and Veterans opinions and experiences; sadly the negative seems to far out-way the positive. In the midst of a robust discussion about the relevancy of the RSL in these modern times; I posted a rough opinion piece that I have fine tuned and censored for this blog post.
Many of the negative experiences Veterans are facing today aren’t from the club side of the RSL. We are literally being told to “go away” by sub-branches. I don’t give a rats arse about the bar, bistro and pokies side of the RSL; my concern is with the Veterans support side turning away my generation because of perceived differences.
In the past 18 months we have seen more than twenty suicides of Veterans under 40 years of age! While every suicide is both concerning and a tragedy; I’ve now buried more friends to suicide than have been lost in war. We are on the edge of an epidemic spilling over and the sad fact is that Veteran suicide is the new Elephant In The Room for Australia and Australia’s Veteran community. The simple reason for this is because the support isn’t there when it is needed and that support certainly isn’t coming from the RSL anytime soon!
We all wore a uniform and we all served Australia, but to a very small minority in positions of authority in the RSL National, RSL State and RSL sub-branches, this means nothing. In the months after I left the Army I tried to reach out to the RSL, the same sub-branch my Grandfather was President of for 40+ years and was told by the new President “fuck off, we don’t want young blokes with tatts”.
The RSL needs to realise there are other Veterans support groups, social groups and avenues of support available to the Veteran community aside from them. The Vietnam War era soldiers didn’t have the support of the RSL when they needed it but eventually the tide turned and now a lot of Vietnam Veterans are running the sub-branches. The Vietnam Veterans went through decades of lobbying and some still won’t walk inside an RSL. Unfortunately they didn’t have the groups and support networks we have available to us today.
Put simply we have other support and social mechanisms in play that won’t ostracise us and turn us away. Until the RSL at the State and National level fully understands that they are no longer relevant in their current form and start listening to what ALL Veterans want (WWII, Korea, Vietnam, Cambodia, Rwanda, Somalia, East Timor, Solomon Islands, Foreign Aid/Relief, Border Security and Middle East) they are going to see a continuation in the already rapid decline in numbers and attendance.
There are many sub-branches that are doing exceptional things in the Veteran community but their good deeds are being overshadowed by a leadership that won’t look towards the future.