How Kingscliff RSL sub-Branch is embracing younger veterans

As President and Secretary respectively of the Kingscliff RSL sub-Branch, Russell Maddalena and Hayden Draman aim to ensure all veterans, but particularly younger veterans, have access to the services, support and community they need.

At a glance:

  • When Hayden Draman walked through the doors of the Kingscliff RSL sub-Branch, he immediately felt welcome due to the inclusive efforts of President Russell Maddalena.
  • Draman now aims to show younger veterans that RSL NSW is a home for all and that anyone can take on a leadership role.
  • He says a big part of the reason he signed up was to “get [himself] out there again” following an injury.
  • The pair now work together to organise events, such as informal coffee catch-ups, for all veterans.

Russell Maddalena

When posted to Mount Isa in Queensland, Russell Maddalena had a good experience with the local RSL sub-Branch. So when he moved to Kingscliff, he started going to meetings and soon signed up. At the next AGM, he was elected President, and now one of his aims is to ensure the future of the sub-Branch by advancing the priorities of younger veterans.

“I joined the Australian Defence Force out of a desire to serve. When I returned from my final posting in Germany, I made a quick decision to transition out of Defence for a number of reasons, including stability for my family — my eldest wasn’t far away from starting high school.

“Because it was such a quick transition, I wasn’t really prepared for my Defence career to be over. But what I found in RSL NSW has been truly rewarding, and I’m proud to be President of the Kingscliff RSL sub-Branch. The League has provided me with a network of people, within my new home town, with shared life experiences.

“Being part of the RSL NSW Young Veterans Committee, I’m passionate about creating a place for veterans of all ages. And that’s what we’re trying to do at Kingscliff. We’re fortunate to have a number of young veterans as part of our sub-Branch and on our committee, and we ensure we make our commemorative services appealing to younger veterans while still being respectful of the past. When we’re out in the community, we’re always talking to younger veterans to make sure they’re getting the support they need.

“One initiative that we are working on, with RSL NSW and RSL LifeCare, to deliver in our area is the proposed Tweed / North Coast Veterans’ and Families’ Hub, which will be a central point to bring the entire veteran community together, whether that’s so they can receive support or volunteer for a meaningful cause.

“After Hayden came to one of our meetings, we spoke often, and I was proud when he agreed to take on the secretary role. What we find with many of our younger members is that they have the intent and the energy, but not necessarily the time. Hayden has the time, energy and capacity to take on the job and he does it really well. It’s been pretty special to see him coming out of his shell; this was especially in how he stepped up this year to organise and MC one of our sub-Branch’s ANZAC Day dawn services. That in itself shows the benefit of the League and how it can help support people’s health physically, emotionally and mentally.

“When you join RSL NSW, you’re part of a community. We all come from a background of service, and RSL NSW provides us all with a way to continue that service, just in a different guise.

“For me, the future is about ensuring the longevity of our sub-Branch, by looking after our current members and making sure younger veterans have the space they need to support each other. There’s a strong cohort of young men and women within the RSL network, and it’s up to that generation, including Hayden, to now carry the torch forward and continue to provide the organisation’s community-based support to peers.”

Hayden Draman

When Hayden walked through the doors of the Kingscliff RSL sub-Branch, he immediately felt welcome. Now, he aims to show younger veterans that the RSL is a home for all and that anyone can take on a leadership role.

“I was part of Surf Life Saving growing up, so I was always involved in my community. After going through school, university wasn’t my thing, so I wasn’t sure what to do. I was part of the Kokoda Youth Program, however, and as part of that I went over to Papua New Guinea — and that piqued my interest in Defence.

“After finishing school, I was searching through job ads and found the Defence recruitment page. I was drawn towards the submarine roles with the Navy, so thought I’d give that a crack.

“I was medically discharged in December 2019. At that point, I couldn’t walk without a crutch and was feeling a bit self-conscious. I grew up in Cabarita Beach but went to school in Kingscliff, so I had a connection to the community. I thought that, as part of my rehabilitation and healing process, I should check out the local RSL sub-Branch; it could be a good place to visit, a place where people have been through similar circumstances and may also have had issues arise from their service that impacted them physically. I was hoping to find common ground with others to push me out of my comfort zone.

“Pretty quickly, I found everyone to be approachable and supportive, particularly Russell. At first, I just attended meetings as a member, but when it came to the AGM, both Russell and the previous secretary encouraged me to put my hand up for the role. Part of the reason I agreed was to get myself out there again.

“RSL NSW is about being for every veteran, but you still hear stories of people saying to others: ‘You’re too young.’ I thought that, as a 28-year-old veteran, standing up and being on the committee shows younger veterans that RSL NSW is not just for the guys who served in Vietnam — it’s for veterans of all conflicts. Our sub-Branch shows that not only can young veterans join the RSL, they can have leadership roles as well. Our vice-president is in her 30s.

“One part of the secretary’s role which particularly took me out of my comfort zone was the recent ANZAC Day dawn service, where I stood up to speak in front of hundreds of people. With the support of Russell and the rest of the committee, I did it.

“As for the future of the sub-Branch, it would be great to find a home again. I heard wonderful stories about the events our sub-Branch used to hold when our home was the Cudgen Leagues Club, which unfortunately has since burnt down.

“We’re trying to move forward and grow the membership in a way that benefits the sub-Branch and its members. 

“Other than meetings, we hold coffee catch-ups, which are more informal and welcoming. That’s just step one. We will continue to organise activities for all veterans.”

A version of this article was published in the December 2023 issue of the Reveille magazine.

RSL NSW welcomes veterans of any age to join the organisation. Access support services and become part of a like-minded community of peers by becoming a member of RSL NSW.

Related Stories
Photo essay: Middle East Area of Operations Commemoration 2024
Latest News

Photo essay: Middle East Area of Operations Commemoration 2024

Highlights from an inaugural commemoration service for veterans of 21st-century conflicts, and why...
Two veterans on the life-affirming power of City2Surf
Latest News

Two veterans on the life-affirming power of City2Surf

Participating in City2Surf as part of the RSL NSW team has inspired Noel Bottrell and Alexandra...
New Veteran Entitlements’ Legislation Welcomed
Latest News

New Veteran Entitlements’ Legislation Welcomed

The Returned & Services League of Australia (RSL) has welcomed the Government’s legislation...
RSL Calls for Action Against Cowardly Vandals
Latest News

RSL Calls for Action Against Cowardly Vandals

The Returned & Services League of Australia (RSL) has called for concerted government action to...