Corowa RSL Sub-Branch turns 100

By Robert Muir

The significance of The Returned and Services League (RSL) was emphasized last Saturday night in the Federation Room of the Corowa RSL Club.

The occasion? The Centennial Year of the Corowa RSL Sub-Branch 1919-2019 with 135 people commemorating the special occasion with pre dinner, dinner, fellowship and shared memories.

Federation Room was magnificently portrayed with a wide range of memorabilia from Australia’s war years. Army, Air Force, Navy and Nursing attire, together with other memorabilia including documented stories and photographs on stage, were admired. 

The hospitality was impeccable with a delicious two-course meal which had followed tasty canapes and pre dinner get-together in the Lone Pine Room. The beautiful sounds of the bagpipe by Federation Youth Council Mayor Dylan Forge led diners to their brilliantly presented tables.

Special guest speaker was Major General Shane Caughey AM CSC, who had such an outstanding 38-year Australian Army career within Australia and overseas upon retiring at age 56-years in 2018.

“It’s great to return home to Corowa,” the former St Mary’s Primary School Corowa and Corowa High School student who used to relate to ‘Skinny kid’, ‘Felton Hopefield Buraja’, and ‘Poidevin Bus Lines’, said.

“In my earlier life, the RSL Sub-Branch had a significant influence on my life,” he said. “The sub-branch had an immense influence on areas we live.”

Earlier, Major General Caughey, who feels at home as ’Shane’, told of the devastating toll of war casualties, both in action and years later with wounds and mental issues; gave examples of the intense and most serious nature of war conflicts. “Nothing in society can prepare you for those experiences,” he said. 

“The RSL is such an iconic institution. The RSL is an essential part of Australian society, involving itself with veterans’ pensions, welfare support, legacy and providing educational opportunities.

“The RSL is still at the forefront with the continuing number of war conflicts. It provides a place where vets can get together and have a talk, share experiences. It’s probably the only time they get together.”

The significance of the RSL was also emphasized by the State Vice President of the RSL NSW, Ray James (see separate story).

Bagpipe player Dylan Forge, who is also Federation Council’s Youth Council President, led diners into the Federation Room from the Lone Pine Room. 

Master of Ceremonies was Corowa RSL Sub-Branch Vice-President and Centenary Dinner Committee member Daryl Martin who welcomed attendees.

A toast to the Returned and Services League was proposed by Deputy Mayor of Federation Council  Shaun Whitechurch. A toast was also proposed, to the RSL Auxiliary, by Gary Poidevin OAM. 

Record long-serving shire mayor, for 13 years of the former Corowa Shire, Gary recalled the outstanding work of the formerly known ‘Women’s Auxiliary’. 

Gary’s dad, Gordon Poidevin, was a digger in the Army whose war service was remarkable, escaping five times from POW camps in Italy and Austria. Gordon and Gary are the only father/son recipients of the Order of Australia Medal in Corowa for their outstanding services to the local community.

As MC, Daryl Martin gave a most informative, in-depth talk of the history of the sub-branch, which included RSL locations, excellent fundraising activities resulting in provision of services to war veterans and some light hearted moments.

The sole female president of the Corowa RSL Sub-Branch, Lesley Rinehart in 2003, also delivered a most informative address, covering many aspects so well, especially the enormous work of the Women’s Auxiliary - which had a name change to ‘RSL Auxiliary’ – catering for and fundraising at events such as street stalls, dances, balls, dinners, wedding and lodge installations.

Lesley’s husband Laurie Rinehart praised the speeches of Daryl and Lesley, referring to the latter’s rise in the local RSL movement as “extraordinary”.
Neighbouring Rutherglen RSL Sub-Branch Secretary and diner David Martin said it was great celebrating the centenary of another sub-branch in the north-east. “It’s important the name of the RSL is continued,” he added.

Corowa RSL Sub-Branch President Martin Magill and Mr James exchanged gifts to mark the special occasion. In doing so, Mr James congratulated Mr Magill on his near 10 years as president, in two stints.

Mr Magill described the evening as “fantastic”. “Both distinguished guests Shane and Ray gave inspiring talks which were very moving and struck a chord with many people here tonight,” the president said.

“I congratulate Lorraine Hammet and her merry band or people for putting on this very fine evening tonight, and the hospitality was first class.”