Saturday, 2 July 2022

Rod and I, as your patron, are honoured to be with you this morning to open the 104th Annual Sub-Branch Conference.

It’s great to see familiar faces; Rod and I have appreciated the warmth and friendship extended to us during our visits to several RSL Sub-Branches and at commemorative events in Adelaide.

We hope to make many more such connections during my term as Governor and build on the almost 20 RSL and defence events we have attended so far. I note your hardworking President, Cheryl Cates, has been by my side at almost all of them.

My late father Ian Adamson was a former President of the Largs Bay RSL – which I am looking forward to visiting in a week’s time.

His national service influenced much of his life, borne out of his respect and pride in the RSL and Australian Defence Force.

It is a sentiment that I share, based both on my long professional association with the ADF during my career as a diplomat, and having experienced the sense of mateship and community spirit at the heart of all veterans.

As I have travelled around the state over the past nine months, I have been honoured to meet South Australian veterans and hear about their service and sometimes I have spoken about the past service of members of my extended family.

As I did in Loxton where a street is named after Sister Patricia Cashmore, my grandfather’s cousin.  Patricia died in 1944 when the troopship on which she was travelling as a military nurse was sunk in the Indian Ocean by a Japanese submarine.

At last year’s Don’t Forget Me Cobber luncheon, I spoke about my maternal grandfather, Arthur Herbert Cashmore, who served as a gunner on the Western Front for the last three months of the First World War.

Rod was honoured to read Hugh Brodie’s moving letter at the recent Bomber Command commemoration service, particularly given his father’s service in Bomber Command and Transport Command.

Yet we know that there is nothing particularly special about our families’ stories. Many families have similar stories and many families are touched in one way or another by the service of those they love.

There are those who have served our nation and never speak of it again; it is too raw. For some the story ended tragically. Some bravely share their experiences.

Some, like my stepfather Stewart Cockburn, wanted to serve, but were unable. In his case, tuberculosis scars on his lungs put a stop to his efforts to enlist in the Navy during World War II. I know he felt he had let his mates down, though he served his nation in other ways, including through his insightful, crusading journalism.

Some, like World War II veterans Howard Hendrick, 98, who I met at the Loxton RSL sub-branch, Leonard Bence, also 98, who I met in Burra and Keith (Chook) Fowler, 101, who raised the Australian flag at our recent flag raising ceremony at Government House, have miraculously survived to tell many tales.

As your patron, I have been moved by what veterans, young and old, have said to me in those private moments after marches and commemorations, just as I have by my conversations with bereaved partners and children.

I have been moved, too, by the deep sense of family and community in country South Australia where service is remembered down the generations with thanks, and loss acknowledged with gratitude.  In Moonta, in Robe, in Burra, in Loxton.  And no doubt in the Northern Territory.

At the Adelaide Anzac Eve Youth Vigil this year, I was touched by the reverence displayed by those young people who took part.   The RSL’s leadership here is hugely meaningful.

I also commend the RSL in South Australia for its leadership in acknowledging the military service and contributions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander servicemen and women to Australia.  It is a story that needs telling.  And it is part of our nation and our state’s broader reconciliation journey.

The RSL’s work to embrace contemporary veterans, female veterans and families is important too.  Where I see this happening, I see vibrant sub-branches engaging with the community around them, supporting and being supported.

At a time of war in Europe, shifting power relativities in the Indo-Pacific region and pressure on the international rules-based order, when ADF capability is again to be reviewed, our community needs a strong RSL actively supporting current and past serving men, women and their families and advocating on their behalf.

As your patron, I encourage you to continue to focus on your core pillars of Advocacy, Welfare, Mateship, Commemoration and Sustainability, to implement your strategic road map, to strengthen your governance and to attract contemporary veterans.

As your patron, I encourage you, even as the WWII generation passes, to keep the faith and to draw on the courage I know you have in abundance.

As your patron, I am here and so is Rod to support you as you navigate these challenges.

I wish you well in your deliberations at this Annual General meeting.

Thank you for upholding the traditions of the RSL and working to keep them relevant for future generations.

Because the Sub-Branches are the vital engine room of the RSL.