Together we stand: Colin Flatters and Malcolm Trowell
Colin Flatters joined RSL NSW 55 years ago; Malcolm Trowell has been there for 18 months. Together, they’re building a popular sport and recreation program for the local veteran community.
As told to Lachlan Haycock
Colin ‘Col’ Flatters joined RSL NSW more than half a century ago after serving in Vietnam, and has been the President of the Maroubra RSL sub-Branch since 2014. He was awarded an OAM in 2019 for service to veterans.
I joined the RSL after returning from my first tour of Vietnam in 1967. My unit, 103 Field Battery, had been involved in providing fire support during the Battle of Long Tan, which was a rewarding but sobering experience. I had joined the Army hoping to become a sergeant one day, and was posted to Malaya for two years in the early 1960s. After returning to Australia, I spent several years at Holsworthy and a year in Townsville before being posted back to Vietnam with A Field Battery in 1971, their centenary year.
After returning to Australia following my second tour of Vietnam, I was commissioned as a Lieutenant. I was posted all over the place in the following years, including Puckapunyal, Townsville, North Head, Melbourne, Queenscliff and Victoria Barracks. After leaving the Army in 1993, I joined the Maroubra RSL sub-Branch. I joined the committee in 1995, became secretary in 1998 and was elected president in 2014. This is my ninth, and probably final, year as president.
The majority of our members, like me, are getting a bit long in the tooth. We’re starting to get a few younger members, but a few years ago we also decided we would have Affiliate members. Malcolm, who has been an Affiliate member of the sub-Branch for over a year now, is always looking for something to keep himself occupied. When RSL NSW launched the Sport and Recreation Pilot, we were prepared to give it a go if people were interested, so Malcolm and a couple of other Affiliate members looked into it. They worked with the program manager at RSL NSW, Jen Reynolds, to make it work.
People like Malcolm and a few of his cohort are still relatively young and they have energy — they’ve demonstrated that by getting involved in the program. Malcolm also has some financial experience and an interest in the IT side of our operations. I appreciate the fact that we have someone who’s showing leadership in that area. That’s starting to rub off on other members, who volunteer to support him in what he’s trying to achieve. From my point of view, that’s exactly what we need.
Our first event, a morning walk from Maroubra Junction to the beach, was quite successful. It did command some interest, and a marquee provided by RSL NSW drew people’s attention. We even had interest from members at a couple of other sub- Branches to get involved.
The program has encouraged members and the wider veteran community to participate, and been a positive thing for our sub-Branch. If we hadn’t pursued it, we’d never know.
During the pilot, we conducted activities and joined other sub-Branches in theirs. Our latest was a nine-hole golf experience, which was very successful. Now the pilot has been completed, we look forward to continuing with the program in the new year using our own resources.
Malcolm Trowell is an Affiliate member attached to the Maroubra RSL sub-Branch. He and three other members have worked with Col to organise the Sport and Recreation Program pilot for the sub-Branch.
I’ve only been with the Maroubra sub-Branch for a bit over 18 months. In my early days, I was always pitching ideas for projects I could work on. Most of the sub-Branch members are getting to the latter part of their life, and you have to convince them their life isn’t over.
When the Sport and Recreation Pilot came up, I thought it could add value to the sub-Branch, its members and, to a broader extent, our community. There was a group of us; three other people worked with me. We wanted to organise activities that weren’t strenuous or about competition, so we could get people out and socialise together.
We put together a draft program that was submitted to the sub-Branch. We were a bit ambitious at the start and wanted to do a lot of things, and we’ve slowly chipped away at that. We had approval for snooker at the Matraville sub-Branch, plus Pilates, cards and darts here in Maroubra. We also looked at doing indoor bowls in Malabar.
We planned monthly walks and weekly Pilates, and fortnightly snooker. The biggest hiccup we had is that some members explained to me that if they got on the floor to do Pilates, they’d never get up. So we’ve looked for alternatives — it could be a physio class, it could be tai chi. I’m always thinking outside the box.
The program has generated fairly wide interest — at our first walk, people from both Matraville and Paddington RSL sub-Branches turned up. We also got a bit of buy-in from our members, who now contribute their own views and ideas — that’s really the fantastic part of it. It’s important to get more people involved to support veterans and their families.
When I first came on board, I was unsure if it would work out. But where I am today, I can see that Col is an advocate for what we’ve been trying to do. He’s very positive about the sub-Branch. Even if Col retires from being President next year, he will never lose his active involvement in this sub-Branch.
He will want to see the program grow to support the service, veterans, and sub-Branch members and their families, and to aid the broader community. I think Col is a great contributor to the RSL in total. To me, he’s a great person to work with.
A version of this article was first published in the September issue of Reveille magazine. The article has since been updated to correct a timeline error relating to Colin Flatters’ service in Vietnam.
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