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National Conference of Legacy Clubs of Australia, Melbourne, Friday, 2 October 1998: address on the occasion of the opening.

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Let me commence by saying how much Helen and I welcome the opportunity of being with you today for the Official Opening of the 1998 National Conference of Legacy Clubs of Australia. For one thing, it enables us both to personally offer our warmest congratulations as you celebrate Legacy’s 75th Anniversary. Perhaps more important, it enables me, as Governor-General and on behalf of all Australians, to pay public tribute to the sheer goodness of this uniquely Australian voluntary ex-service organisation in this very special Anniversary year.

For three-quarters of a century Legatees have been caring for the widows and the dependant children of Australian servicemen and women who have been killed on active service, of veterans who have subsequently died, and of defence force personnel who have been killed during training exercises or on hazardous service. Thus, to cite one of the more recent examples, you are assisting the surviving families of some of the servicemen who were tragically killed in the Black Hawk helicopter training accident near Townsville in June of 1996. I have, in the period since the crash, endeavoured to maintain personal contact with those families. I can personally assure you of the importance not only of any assistance actively given but of the knowledge that assistance will be available if and when it is needed.

I mention that because it demonstrates not only that the needs of service families in crisis remain as they always have, but also that the readiness of Legatees to respond to those needs continues undimmed across the years. The legacy of care and friendship for surviving family members, bequeathed by those who served in the First World War, has been nobly taken up by the generations of service people who have followed them ... men and women who served overseas with the armed forces during the Second World War, those who fought in Korea and Vietnam, those who have served with our country’s peaceĀ­ keeping forces in many of the world’s trouble spots. And let me not forget the many Junior Legatees, who were themselves assisted as children, who now are returning by way

of service and membership, something of their own inheritance of care and commitment.

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As I think you all know, there is a certain amount of friendly rivalry between Melbourne and Hobart as to which Club can claim paternity of the Legacy movement. I do not intend to enter the dispute. What is beyond dispute, however, is that 1923 was the year of birth. It was in that year that Major General Gellibrand began the Remembrance Club in Hobart, mainly to provide mutual support between soldiers who had returned from the First World War. General Gellibrand suggested to Captain, later to become Lieutenant General Stanley Savige, that he start a similar club in Melbourne - which he did, in that same year of 1923. General Savige called his club Legacy and, with the formation of other Clubs, Legacy spread. The Hobart Club adopted the name when it joined Legacy in


I mentioned that the original purpose of the Hobart and Melbourne Clubs was to provide mutual support among returning servicemen. It is difficult in this, the 80th Anniversary year of the 1918 Armistice, to appreciate how difficult it was for those who had survived the horrors of the Great War to return to a normal life and normal living.

Some missed the bonds of shared training, shared service, shared danger and shared loyalty under arms. Some felt that their sacrifices, their suffering, their losses and their disabilities were not always understood or adequately acknowledged. Wounded minds and bodies had to be healed. For many the return to peacetime work or study was extraordinarily difficult. The Returned and Services League of Australia, as it is now known, had emerged as a powerful advocate and champion of the particular needs of returned servicemen, and as a national voice dedicated to upholding their values and preserving and honouring the memory of the sacrifices and achievements of our servicemen and women in our nation’s cause.

But something in addition was wanted. Something whereby those who had returned could honour and make manifest their enduring loyalty to those comrades-in-arms who had not returned. And so in 1925 Legatee Frank Doolan suggested to members of Melbourne Legacy that a worthwhile monument to their dead mates would be to look after the families - “the missus and kids” ... to in some way make up for the role of the family member and counsellor who would not be coming back. As you well know, the continuing care of service widows and their children was adopted as a worthy goal and became the basic purpose of all Legacy Clubs.

As you look at Legacy in this your 75th Anniversary year, it is appropriate that you look back with pride at the magnitude of past achievements. While precise comprehensive statistics are unavailable, the numbers of people helped by Legacy must be counted in the hundreds of thousands. The months, years and even decades of time devoted by individual Legatees to the work of support, guidance and affectionate companionship is beyond estimation. The worth of that work surpasses human measure.

The three critical haunting lines of Dr John McCrae’s poem, In Flanders Fields, which we have heard read come to mind:

“If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields”

More than any other organisation or movement, Legacy has enabled our nation not to break faith with those who have given everything, including life, in its service. More than

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any other organisation or movement, Legacy has allowed our deceased veterans to sleep secure in the knowledge that there is and will always be someone to help and care for the loved ones they left behind. In that, Legacy has served not only those whom it has aided. It has served our country and us all. And that is not surprising since Legacy represents - indeed is - all that is good and compassionate and caring about Australia and Australians.

In this Anniversary Year, Legacy must also look to the future. For the work must continue. For instance, at the present moment Legacy looks after approximately 1,000 dependant children: assisting with education expenses through to tertiary level - and it is Legacy’s proud claim that no child has ever been denied continuing education for financial reasons - helping with sports and recreational activities, the annual live-in camps and training schemes such as the “Outward Bound” movement, and so on. There are in addition some 800 disabled dependants, some of whom are themselves now quite elderly, who in addition to the usual Legacy benefits are offered regular group activities and visits and a place at the special annual live-in camps.

While most of the children may now be adults, the widows of the ex-servicemen whom Legacy helps continue to have needs that must be met. Legacy still helps 130,000 widows with counselling, financial assistance where necessary, with accommodation, with health advice and with the friendship and support that is provided through more than 400

Legacy Widows’ Clubs around our country.

So that, even as you look back on all that has been achieved over the past three- quarters of a century, you will be considering a range of suggestions to meet the new century that is almost upon us. There are various proposals about possible ways of broadening the effective membership - perhaps by expanding the Legacy Foundations. I know there have been suggestions that the work of Legacy may be extended to other areas of un-met need, among which, I may mention, are the needs of disadvantaged young people in our society.

These are all matters for you to consider at this Conference which is both a celebration of the past and an examination of the way forward for Legacy. To all of your deliberations I am sure you will bring the same compassion, the same sense of obligation, the same commitment, and the same spirit of goodness and humanity that you have brought to the past “Seventy Five Years”. For all that you have achieved, and for all that you are yet to achieve, let me, as Governor-General of our country, express my congratulations, my admiration and my thanks. I offer every good wish for the success of this Conference and for all the years of work, of generous sacrifice and of achievement that lie ahead. May God bless and guide you in all that work through all those years.

And now with great pleasure, I officially declare open the 1998 National Conference of Legacy Clubs of Australia.