Every year a few good men from Lake Cargelligo, an oasis in the dry centre of NSW, spend a few long days chopping wood for the cold winters.
They carry axes and chainsaws but the wood is not for themselves. About three times a year the men, members of the town’s tiny RSL sub-branch, raffle a trailer of wood to the local community of about 1000 people, making a couple of thousand dollars to pay for a big meal on Anzac Day.
For the past 18 months, however, a statewide freeze on fundraising prompted by scandals within RSL NSW has meant the 10 members of the Lake Cargelligo branch haven’t been able to carry out their annual tradition.
“We were told we couldn’t. That was it until they got it sorted,” Frank Hanily, president of the sub-branch, said.
On July 31, 2017, as an independent inquiry examined misuse of expenses and “widespread ignorance” of fundraising laws at RSL NSW, a newly elected state council passed a resolution that all sub-branches “immediately cease, without exception, any fundraising activities”.
In December last year, delegates from 68 per cent of more than 300 of the organisation’s sub-branches voted overwhelmingly against a new constitution, which RSL NSW president James Brown said would have meant the veterans’ charity would have been able to restart fundraising.
The Lake Cargelligo sub-branch has 10 members, which includes the town’s only World War II veteran, Forby Sutherland.
Mr Sutherland was part of one of the two anti-aircraft batteries that were the first to fire on the Japanese as they bombed Darwin on February 19, 1942.
“When the first raid was on, we watched them fly over. We had manned the guns but we couldn’t get permission to fire. We started firing after they started dropping bombs,” the 96-year-old said.
The money raised by the handful of members at Lake Cargelligo goes towards a dinner they hold every year on Anzac Day.
“About 60 to 70 people come. Any visiting ex-service personnel, children of others. Raising a few dollars from raffles keeps us going,” Mr Hanily said.
Ted Middleton, another member, said some locals donated a few dollars without buying raffle tickers: “Nearly everyone throws something in.”
Mr Brown said he would spend the next five months until the next state meeting working on a new constitution. The current version runs to 720 pages.
“Most of the legal structures were half a century old, and certainly a lot of the provisions are no longer compliant with the law, charities law,” he said.
“I’ve got to fix that up.”
The next step will be circulating a survey among the organisation’s 40,000 members.
“The three big challenges are first, to help more veterans,” Mr Brown said.
“Second, it’s to continue making sure the organisation is transparent and compliant. We’ve got a lot of work to do there.
“Third, we need to make sure we’re sustainable into the future.”
In the meantime, the Lake Cargelligo sub-branch will continue to apply for funds from RSL NSW’s head office to pay for its Anzac Day meal.
Frank Hanily, Forby Sutherland and Ted Middleton from the Lake Cargelligo RSL sub-branch.