Veterans young and old mark RSL milestone

Members of Bendigo’s veterans community young and old came together to mark the official beginning of works to restore the city’s Soldiers Memorial Institute Military Museum to its former glory on Tuesday.

For Jack Fay, who served his country in World War II and has been a member of the Bendigo District RSL ever since, the occasion represented an emotional milestone.

“I joined this branch in 1943 when I came home on leave from New Guinea so I'm probably one of the oldest members still surviving here, it means a lot to me,” he said.

“Nineteen years as a museum guide and over 70 years as a member here so I’m quite proud and I hope to see this place open, hope to be still around.”

At the other end of the spectrum, the youngest member of the 8th/7th Battalion, Royal Victoria Regiment stationed at the unit’s Passchendaele Barracks in Junortoun, 21-year-old Benjamin Whitty, said it was a privilege to share the day with his military forebears.

“[The Soldiers Memorial] was built in the 1920s and to see this restored so many years later in the heart of our town is just incredible and I’m very excited to see how this turns out,” he said.

“Especially as a young person to see my town honouring the soldiers who have served before me, it’s very impressive and I’m humbled to be part of it.”

The project is funded via a $1.7 million investment from the federal government and a $1.5 million investment from their state counterparts, along with $800,000 from the City of Greater Bendigo and $500,000 from the Bendigo District RSL, and state member for Bendigo West Maree Edwards said the collaboration would allow the museum to increase its activities and bring more visitors to the city.

“This will attract around 40,000 visitors a year once it’s complete so this is also a big investment in our tourism economy,” she said.

“It’s also a really important thing to remember that when all levels of government come together to support these programs that we get really, really good outcomes.”

Representing federal Regional Development Minister Fiona Nash, Victorian Senator Bridget McKenzie also hailed the collaborative effort which she said would help preserve the institute for years to come.

“It’s about celebrating the fallen from this region but also engaging the future, young students and the like, and seeking those opportunities for military tourism, which are growing,” she said.

“This will give us a tangible facility where young people can engage with the real stories of the front line and some of that military history so that it becomes real for them in the 21st century.”

Bendigo District RSL president Cliff Richards said the “overwhelming” milestone would mean “another century of service”.

“Heritage will move in and reclaim the building back to its original design and there’ll be a brand new exhibition space that will allow us to exhibit very special memorabilia items and the exhibition space will also be available for community members to use as well,” he said.

“It’s just something fabulous and it’s very overwhelming.”