By Elizabeth Minter

    With such a strong military pedigree, it is unsurprising that Lesley Twidle has devoted nearly two decades to supporting returned soldiers in her role as secretary of Sunshine RSL.  

    Lesley’s father served in World War 2; she grew up on a soldier settlement on Yarroweyah, just outside of Cobram; and her husband served in the Navy and was involved in the Malayan Emergency. 

    (Discharged soldiers were given land under soldier settlement schemes to help develop regional areas. In 1947, 4450 hectares around Yarroweyah were acquired and turned into 108 irrigated farms, and the district’s population grew from 60 to 360.) 

    Earlier this month, Lesley’s hard work was recognised in the 2023 Victorian Senior of the Year Awards. At a reception at Government House, Lesley was awarded a COTA Senior Achiever Award. 

    ‘I had an idea I had been nominated,’ Lesley said, ‘but I didn’t have any idea what for. It was an honour when my name was read out.’

    She said she was thrilled with the recognition of her work, but said it was all made possible because of her RSL colleagues. 

    As secretary of Sunshine RSL for more than 16 years, Lesley and her team organise the ANZAC Day Community Commemoration March, and the ANZAC Day Dawn Service and breakfast.

    Lesley also coordinates the sub-branch’s welfare program, including fundraising for ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day through the sale of poppies. Up to $40,000 is raised, which is spent on the welfare of  returned veterans.

    Particularly close to her heart is the weekly Sunshine Harvester Day Club, which she has coordinated for 16 years. The club puts on social activities, meals, entertainment, and trivia events. It is a lifeline, particularly for surviving partners of returned soldiers. 

    During the pandemic, the RSL initiated a meal program for RSL veterans and seniors in the community. Once a week, the RSL’s chef cooked 100 meals and Lesley and her team delivered them to homes.

    For 15 years, Lesley also spent one night a week with St Vincent de Paul’s soup kitchen. 

    A teacher for 35 years, Lesley began volunteering with Sunshine RSL as soon as she retired from the classroom. She taught at Footscray North Primary School for 17 years and before that she taught English to newly arrived migrants at the language centre at the then Wiltona and Midway Migrant Hostels.

    As to why she devotes so much time to the community, Lesley said it was instilled in her as a young child. ‘Growing up in our close-knit farming community, we were constantly helping out other families and they did the same for us. It was just something you did,’ she says.

    ‘My mum and dad were great role models and that taught me to always pitch in where I could.’

    Her first community involvement came in the early 1970s after having a daughter born with a cleft palate. The support group CleftPals had been formed in Sydney, which then formed a group in Melbourne to provide support to families. 

    ‘Back then, there was a lot of stigma and families didn’t know what to expect. So I would trot around with my daughter visiting families and to reassure them that life was normal.’

    As to what Lesley plans to do when she does finally retire from community service? ‘I am really interested in genealogy, which I have been doing for more than 45 years in my spare time. 

    My children are descended from people on the Mayflower and the First Fleet and I have also found lots of other family connections, which has been fascinating.’ 

    Honouring our Vietnam War veterans 

    To mark the 50th anniversary of the end of Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs is producing a Commemorative Medallion and Certificate of Commemoration that will be made available to every living Vietnam War veteran, widows of veterans, and other family members of veterans.

    While Australia can never repay the debt owed to the 60,000 people who served in Vietnam, the medallion and certificate is a small way to honour their service and to recognise the sacrifice of those who never returned home. 

    Applications can be made via this link:
Order Commemorative Medallion and Certificate of Commemoration 
Account/Login) or by calling 
1800 VETERAN (1800 838 372).

    Elizabeth Minter is Daniel Mulino’s media adviser.

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    Champions of the West is brought to you by Dr Daniel Mulino, federal Labor MP for Fraser.
    If you would like to nominate a Champion of the West, email

    Daniel Mulino
    Federal MP for Fraser

    (03) 9070 1974
    Shop 1, 25–27 Clarke St, Sunshine VIC 3020

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