RSL clubs lack young veterans for Anzac Day events as NSW president calls for change

 A member of the 324 Squadron during the Anzac Day dawn service at Coogee Beach in Sydney. 
The NSW RSL says young veteran volunteers are in short supply.(AAP: Steven Saphore)
The future of Anzac Day events is at risk due to a lack of young veterans signing up to volunteer with RSL clubs, long-serving members have warned.

A report by the NSW RSL found that 90 per cent of their volunteers were over the age of 55.

“If we don’t get our young veterans involved in that sort of area, things will start to look quite grim,” he said. 

“The age bracket of those that are in sub-branches today are in their 70s and 80s.”

Large group of people marching for Anzac day with Australian flags.
Geoff Robinson says less than 10 per cent of their volunteers are Middle East veterans.(Supplied: Mudgee RSL Sub-Branch)

‘We have to change’

NSW RSL president Ray James called on sub-branches to become more accommodating of young veterans.

“A lot of sub-branches do meet at times that conflict with family and work,” he said.

“Most of the branch members at the moment are retired so they could have a meeting at any time that would suit the younger veterans.”

Close up photo of an older white male with blue eyes
Ray James spent 10 years serving in the Australian Navy and fought in Vietnam.(Supplied: NSW RSL)

Mr James, who is a veteran of the Vietnam War, said while the needs of veterans in the 21st century had changed, the challenges they faced had not.

“We have to change the way we do business to accommodate the veterans of today while realising that the veteran of today is no different to the veteran of yesterday,” he said.

“We still suffer the same way, we still have to deal with issues that come into our lives as we serve.”

A Middle East focus

This year’s commemoration services are the first since the Taliban retook Afghanistan in 2021, sparking concerns for the mental health of former Australian Defence Force members.

Mr Robinson from the Mudgee RSL said its service on Monday would have a particular focus on veterans who served in the Middle East.

“Anzac Day encompasses all the conflicts since World War I and I think we need to put a bit more emphasis on the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans,” he said.

“At our dawn service, we are getting a poem read out that was written for those who served in the Middle East.”

Camaraderie ‘is missing’

The Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran suicide was launched last year after the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found more than 1,200 former defence members had died by suicide in the past two decades.

Australian soldier
Mr James says the Royal Commission proves the importance of RSLs to veterans.(Supplied: Australian Defence Force)

Mr James said many of the stories and issues highlighted in the royal commission so far illustrated the importance of RSLs in assisting veterans.

“You are meeting with like-minded people who speak the same language and engage with other people who have gone through what you have and that helps them resettle back into civilian life,” he said.

“A lot of the issues that are coming out is that the camaraderie is missing once you leave the military, but the RSL brings that back.”

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