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Think Piece – Mateship remains central to the RSL

Thursday 3 December, 2015

Julie Langrehr CEO RSL_SA_edited_2On 8 December 1915 a small group of soldiers gathered together in Adelaide and created what has since become the Returned & Services League of Australia (SA Branch) Inc. It was called the Returned Soldiers Association, established to provide a united voice for soldiers and a means of support for each other. It is significant that only a little over a year after war was declared and eight months since the landings at Gallipoli, returned soldiers were already coming together for their common cause.

The issues they faced were related to their service: returning to civilian life, finding work, medical problems, and housing. This year, on 8 December, RSL-SA will celebrate its centenary causing us to pause and reflect on the work begun by those who established the RSL and on the achievements of our organisation over the past 100 years.

We also look to the future, knowing that with young men and women serving in the Middle East today, the services of the RSL will be needed for at least another 70 years.

We are a community of like-minded men and women who share a common experience. We have served, or have some connection with someone who has. We share the same goal; to support one another and to be here for those who continue to serve in the armed forces today. For this reason one of our core values is mateship, and there is perhaps no better word that sums up our past 100 years.

Mateship is as relevant today for men and women who serve as it has always been. This is evident when you attend one of the many RSL coordinated commemoration events held each year. As you might expect the makeup of these gatherings reflects the changing makeup of Australia’s Defence Forces, including a greater representation of women…but all sharing the bond of mateship, which lies at the core of our veteran culture.

Many of the issues facing a veteran leaving the ADF today are not dissimilar to those faced by veterans returning from service in 1915. RSL-SA has a proud history of providing services to veterans, and we are still evolving and refining our services to ensure we are relevant to the contemporary veteran including our ex-servicewomen.

We have well-trained, experienced advocates who guide veterans through their DVA entitlements claim. Our veteran support staff take care of people who find themselves in a difficult place for a while. Operation K9 provides assistance dogs to veterans living with PTSD, giving them back independence and confidence.

Our newest initiative is called Homes for Heroes SA; it provides services to veterans experiencing homelessness or who may be at risk of homelessness. We are working in collaboration with other ex-service organisations and groups who support Defence families. Perhaps, most significantly, we remain a voice for veterans, an advocate on a wide range of issues at local, state and federal levels.

One of the highlights for RSL-SA this year was the 70th commemoration of the Victory in the Pacific, held at Torrens Training Depot on August 15. Almost 800 people attended this event, paying tribute to the 300 World War II veterans who assembled from around our region.

Then there is our Virtual War Memorial – a superb development which embraces new technology and enables all Australians, wherever they might be, to remember their mates or family members online.

On December 8 – exactly 100 years after that first meeting of the Returned Soldiers Association – we will celebrate our past and toast to our future. We will remember our fallen comrades, and all of the men and women who have gone before us; making it possible for us to take our RSL into the next century.

We know that we are but custodians of the League for a while – conscious of the duty to ensure it is in good shape when it is our turn to pass it on to the care of future generations.

Read more about Homes for Heroes. 


Julia Langrehr was raised and educated in South Australia, graduating from Flinders University with a Bachelor of Economics in 1992. She served in the Australian Army Reserve for 8 years and following marriage to Doug, spent the next 20 years as an Army spouse. Julia was recently appointed CEO of RSL South Australia responsible for a team of 20 staff and many volunteers, delivering programs in support of veterans, former and serving Australian Defence Force members and their families. Julia’s previous experience includes as a Team Manager with Telstra, and National Delegate for Defence Families Australia. Julia and her husband Doug have three teenage children. After six postings around Australia, and two in the United States, Julia and family returned to South Australia, settling in the Adelaide Hills.

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