Together we stand: Charlotte Webb and David Gardiner
Since meeting at the Wagga Wagga RSL sub-Branch, Charlotte Webb and David Gardiner have had an incredible impact on veterans and their families through the Riverina Veteran Wellbeing Centre.
As told to Tess Durack
Charlotte Webb is the manager of the Riverina Veteran Wellbeing Centre. She has a background in finance and joined the Army Reserve in 2021, marching out of Kapooka. She is still attached to her NORFORCE transport unit, based in Darwin.
I met David in the first hour of my first day on the job. The Riverina Veteran Wellbeing Centre (RVWC) was being launched by RSL NSW and RSL LifeCare veteran Services, but it wasn’t officially open yet so we were working out of the Wagga Wagga RSL sub-Branch – David was the first person I met when I walked in. He was so lovely and welcoming. My granddad was a rat of Tobruk, and I felt immediately that David shared many of the same qualities.
The sub-Branch had its monthly lunch that day, so I got to meet everyone on the committee, along with a bunch of visiting veterans – quite a start to my first day! They are the most amazing sub-Branch group I’ve ever encountered.
The connection between the sub-Branch and the RVWC is so important. I pop into the sub-Branch a couple of times a week to catch up with David and the team to let them know what’s happening, and David checks in with me at the RVWC to see how he can help.
David is so open to change and new ideas, and he’s been instrumental in nurturing that culture at the sub-Branch. They are also committed to getting more young people involved. Connecting with younger veterans is critical, and that’s something I can help support through our work at the RVWC and in the wider veteran community.
The sub-Branch presence at the launch of the RVWC was fantastic. David and the team managed the sausage sizzle – we had about 150 people attend! Many were from the RAAF base and Kapooka, and it was the best to see these younger serving members having a good old chat with the older fellows from the sub-Branch.
David and I depend on each other for generational insights and advice. If I go off on an issue I don’t really understand, he gently herds me back in, and vice versa. I’m a Reservist and my husband is a current serving member, but I can’t pretend to understand everything a veteran has been through, so I lean on David for that.
I’m looking forward to working more with him to show veterans how the RVWC can help them and what role the sub-Branch can play in their lives. It’s so much more than many people expect.
David Gardiner is President of the Wagga Wagga RSL sub-Branch. He served as a National Serviceman in South Vietnam 1968-69 with 1 RAR, 5 RAR and Malaya 1969 1 RAR.
When Charlotte came into the sub-Branch on that first day, she was like a breath of fresh air. It was the way she conducted herself. You could tell she was the right person for the job, and she took to us just as much as we took to her.
Wagga Wagga is the only regional town in Australia that hosts the three services – Army, Navy and Air Force, as well as the Army Recruit Training Centre at Kapooka. Everyone who joins the Army comes through the town, and a lot of people finish up their careers here and stay. So there’s a huge veteran community here, along with all the new recruits and active service members. Our biggest challenge at the sub-Branch is connecting with them.
There is an image of sub-Branches as being outdated and not relevant to younger veterans and their families. Together with the committee, I’ve worked hard to encourage respect for the sub-Branch and help people understand that it’s there to support them. If we don’t get younger veterans involved, who will perform commemorative services in the future?
Working together with Charlotte and the RVWC, I feel confident we can get younger veterans involved in the sub-Branch over the next 12 months. Charlotte has a wonderful ability to reach out and connect with younger veterans. When she speaks, people sit up and take notice.
The RVWC is an important initiative of the RSL NSW Strategic Plan. It enhances the work of the sub-Branch welfare officer and vice versa. Sometimes, a veteran will feel more comfortable speaking with the sub-Branch welfare officer and, if the welfare officer can’t meet their needs, they can refer them to the RVWC. If Charlotte needs input on a case, she can turn to us.
When you have an open attitude and you’re working towards the common goal of veteran wellbeing, it can work seamlessly. There’s no competition. It’s all about working together and using each other’s skills and experience to achieve the best result.
Charlotte has a comprehensive understanding of what veterans go through, and she manages her family life with a husband who’s currently serving. She’s involved in everything – we only have to ask her to do something and she does it.
I’ve been involved with the RSL for 50 years, and to have a younger woman come through the door with new ideas and expertise is tremendous for our organisations. Charlotte is very capable, there’s no doubt about that.
See the RSL LifeCare website to find out more about RSL’s Veteran Wellbeing Centres.
Be part of your community – join RSL NSW. Membership of the state’s leading not-for-profit ex-service organisation is free for all veterans and it’s easy to join online.