Copied from the RSL NSW Newsletter
The Nabiac RSL Sub-Branch holds its meetings in the park on a Saturday afternoon and puts on sport and rec activities four times a week. And it’s making a big difference in the local veteran community.
It’s Saturday afternoon in Nabiac, a small town near Forster on NSW’s mid-north coast. At the local park, a couple of dozen men and women, the majority over 50, some just below that milestone and a few in their 30s, stand about having a chat. A few keep an eye on kids in the playground. Others prepare for a barbecue. Keen observers would note that only six weeks ago, this group was much smaller.
Arthur Chapman, President of the Nabiac RSL sub-Branch, has gathered his members here for their regular sub-Branch meeting. It doesn’t sound like much out of the ordinary, but it’s a far cry from the stereotype of an RSL sub-Branch meeting.
“A lot of our members have work or family commitments, so we have our meetings in the park on Saturday afternoons,” he says. “There’s a playground so people can bring their kids, and sometimes we put on a barbecue afterwards.”
Removing those small barriers to participation, along with regular activities the sub-Branch puts on as part of the RSL NSW Sport and Recreation Program, has almost doubled the membership of the small group from 16 to 28. It’s also having a great impact on local veterans and their families
“We’ve got Pilates, Zumba, gym classes, beach walks and coffee occasions,” Arthur says – adding that as a ‘young 60’ himself he participates in everything. “And that’s just the start. I was talking to the wife of a veteran just this morning in the dog park and she suggested a regular dog walking event which I think is a terrific idea. Nothing brings people together like dogs.”
We caught up with Arthur for a Q&A about the activities and initiatives bringing new members in and helping the sub-Branch reach out.
Q: How do you reach out to local veterans?
I post on the community Facebook pages of the different towns like Forster-Tuncurry and Taree – the word ‘free’ really helps, especially these days when times are a bit tough. And people have responded so positively.
Lots of people still think that the sub-Branch is just for pensioners sitting around drinking beer, so they’re amazed when they see we offer activities like this.
We met one young Afghanistan veteran who’s in his 30s and he was just shocked to hear there was so much more to the sub-Branch – he’s gone on to help spread the word.
We are a small sub-Branch but have taken our membership from 16 to 28 in less than six weeks. So, we’re pretty excited about that.
“When you’re in the services or you’re the partner of someone in the services, you get used to there being a lot of activities and things for you to do but when you’re finished, that all goes away. This program helps to fill that gap.”
Q: Why do you think the response has been so dramatic?
I think people are really looking for opportunities to connect with like minded people, people who understand what it’s like to be a veteran or the partner or family of a veteran.
When you’re in the services or you’re the partner of someone in the services, you get used to there being a lot of activities and things for you to do but when you’re finished, that all goes away.
The Sport and Recreation Program helps to fill that gap.
Q: Who is attending the events and joining the Sub-Branch?
I’m pleased to say our new members are a mix of men and women, under 50 and some under 35.
For the activities we get veterans, people in active service, children, grandchildren, and partners. We’ve got one woman who is the grown-up granddaughter of a veteran and she brings her grandchildren to Zumba each week.
I know of one couple who were going through a rough time and feeling very unsupported. Through our activities they’ve connected with a pension officer at the sub-Branch and some counselling, and that’s helping a lot.
There are some great mentors in the group too, men and women. There’ve been a few kids who were going off the tracks a bit and it helps them to have these people in their lives.
Because it’s not just about the physical stuff, is it? It’s about mental wellbeing and building up camaraderie. The RSL has provided a coffee machine at the gym and that gives people the chance to stick around and have a chat.
Q: So reaching the families of veterans plays a big role in the program?
It’s so important. We sometimes forget about the partners, the children, the families a bit, don’t we? And they need support too. They need to come together with others and realise they’re not alone.
Sometimes there are a few nerves when people show up for something for the first time, but it doesn’t last long because they have something important in common. They have that conversation-starter.
Q: What’s next for the program?
We’re excited for the ‘challenge’ part of the program to take off, which will involve competing with other Sub-Branches. We’ve got darts, badminton and snooker, people are keen on lawn bowls and there might even be competitive ANZAC biscuit baking! I’d love to see a kind of mini-Olympics where we all get together and play each year – that would be fantastic. The program is still in its infancy, but I know it’s just going to snowball.
I was at a meeting with one of the bigger Sub-Branches the other day and the fellows there said their wives are sick of them just sitting in the club drinking – they asked if we would consider adding fishing to our list of activities. I said, “Absolutely!” and this bloke was surprised – he marvelled that the question of what we would try is really “How long is a piece of string?”. But that’s exactly right – we’ll try anything.
We want to keep reaching people to let them know that being a member of their local sub-Branch means a lot more than just meetings at the club and beer afterwards. It can give you an opportunity to get out and connect with people.