How the Old Bar Beach RSL sub-Branch has broken new ground with its Auxiliary

As told to Tess Durack

When Richard and Vickie Jackson retired to Old Bar, volunteering for the local RSL sub-Branch wasn’t part of their plans. A chance encounter on a summer’s day changed that, and now they’re helping set a new standard for how a sub-Branch and its Auxiliary can work together.

At a glance:

  • Richard Jackson had no intention of joining the Old Bar Beach RSL sub-Branch at first, but changed his mind after realising the sub-Branch’s people-centric approach.
  • “If you’re a veteran, we’re there for you and we’re there for your family. All ranks are left at the door. Everyone is treated the same,” he says.
  • Vickie Jackson was inspired to join the Old Bar Beach RSL Auxiliary after noticing a colleague’s dedication to the cause.
  • “Wellbeing is about a holistic approach, and sport and recreation is an important part of that,” she explains.

Richard Jackson

Richard Jackson served as a Fitter Armourer for the Royal Australian Electrical and Mechanical Engineers from 1988 to 1995. He served at 101st Field Workshops and 8/12 Medium Regiment Technical Support Troop, and is now Secretary of the Old Bar Beach RSL sub-Branch.

“I didn’t expect to be involved in the Old Bar Beach RSL sub-Branch when we moved up from Sydney after retiring. I wasn’t a member of my local sub-Branch in Sydney, probably for the same reason a lot of veterans aren’t: I had an image of a sub-Branch as a big club with pokies and some stranger demanding I show my ID, and I didn’t know then that a sub-Branch offers something different to a Club. So to begin with, I had no intention of joining the sub-Branch in Old Bar.

“Then, one morning, not long after we moved up, I was out the front doing some gardening and along comes this bloke putting pamphlets in letterboxes. It was hot and he’d obviously been slogging along the streets for a while, so I offered him a bottle of water and we got talking.

“There was something about seeing this nice man put in the hard effort on his Sunday morning that affected me. I realised I had nothing to lose, so I went to a meeting. The man handing out the pamphlets was Jeff Earley, President of the Old Bar Beach sub-Branch, and over the course of the meeting I learned about his and his wife Teresa’s vision to make veterans’ families the beating heart of the sub-Branch — and to bring the Auxiliary to the forefront. That really struck a chord with me, and by the second meeting I found myself nominated for Secretary. Not long after, Vickie put her hand up to be Coordinator of the Auxiliary.

“I reckon we’d be dead and buried without the Auxiliary. They are critical to our success as a sub-Branch, and Auxiliary members should feel as important and respected as any veteran. The Auxiliary at Old Bar Beach isn’t relegated to making sandwiches in the back room. They play a crucial role in fundraising, events and welfare. I’m so proud of the work Vickie is doing.

“The more visible you are, the easier it is for people to connect. Often it’s the wife or partner of a veteran who reaches out for support, and they can do that via the Auxiliary too. Our message to veterans who are unsure about joining is that our support isn’t conditional on their membership. If you’re a veteran, we’re there for you and we’re there for your family. All ranks are left at the door. Everyone is treated the same.

‘Sometimes a family event or sporting event is a good way to break the ice. We have trivia nights, meat tray raffles, interbranch fishing comps, BBQs and pickleball competitions. We help veterans who are moving, we visit the local primary school and we mow lawns for the surf club. And then there are the commemorative events and RSL military tributes that are so important to our community.

“If I could say one thing to sub-Branches wanting to boost their membership, it would be to include veterans’ families and involve the Auxiliary. Jeff and Teresa’s dedication to that vision shows that it works. Three and a half years ago, the sub-Branch had about 12 members. At last year’s Christmas party, we filled the surf club, and our Facebook page has more than 800 followers.”

Vickie Jackson

Vickie Jackson was inspired to join the Old Bar Beach RSL Auxiliary after noticing a colleague’s dedication to the cause. As the Auxiliary’s Coordinator, she is the driving force behind its administration, community engagement and fundraising.

“I went along to the sub-Branch meetings to support Rick but never imagined myself being involved. When I saw Teresa Earley working such long hours to support the sub-Branch and try to get the Auxiliary off the ground while looking after her young family, I knew I had to step up. I was invited to register the Auxiliary and get the ball rolling as coordinator, and it just snowballed from there.

“Jeff and Teresa Earley wanted the Auxiliary to be not just an arm of the sub-Branch, but an integral part of it, and we’ve been dedicated to fulfilling that vision. Now, in any meeting, our opinion is always heard and respected. We can’t always vote on sub-Branch issues, but we can always be part of the discussion. The activities of the Auxiliary are always acknowledged at every meeting so sub-Branch members are aware of how active we are.

“The first thing we did as the Auxiliary was to knit poppies for ANZAC Day to sell in local shops. So many people wanted to be involved. The local craft group helped us, and we ended up with so many poppies in that first year that we’ve still got some today!

“Being visible in the community is important. We want to make it easy for people to connect with us. We hold Sunday morning raffles outside the local butcher, we have a fundraising stall outside Coles, and you can find us at the monthly markets too, as well as at commemorative and special events. We all wear our t-shirts so everyone knows we’re there. A lot of Auxiliary members are wives and daughters of serving members, and there are sons and grandsons too. Anyone who wants to chat can find someone who understands them.

“For ANZAC Day we started offering a white cross to anyone in the community who wanted a loved one’s name recognised. They go behind the cenotaph, and we’ve now got 300. It’s meant a lot to the community.

“It’s a lot of work organising the rosters, and setting up and taking down all the equipment, but our volunteers are amazing.

“A few of us attended a Wellbeing Support Officer course so we could check on the wellbeing of veterans in the community who might be having a tough time and to figure out who might need extra resources. It’s about helping people feel connected and supported, whether they are members or not.

“Wellbeing is about a holistic approach, and sport and recreation is an important part of that. The Back to Balance initiative, organised as part of the RSL NSW Sport & Recreation Program, helps veterans with core strength and balance, and with funding via that program we get two full classes a week at the Soldiers Memorial Hall. Auxiliary members are also welcome to join. We want all our activities to be inclusive and welcoming.

“We’ve met wonderful people, and it’s brought Rick and I closer. I was a primary school teacher for 41 years before retiring to Old Bar and never pictured myself doing this. Now I can’t imagine my life without it.”

Reach out to and work alongside your attached or a nearby Auxiliary to organise activities, and you can bring more people into the fold of the sub-Branch.

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