I had just bought my house and moved out of Mum & Dad's and was trying to find ways to make myself a part of my new community.
One of the best pieces of advice I received during my messy transition was not to make any major decisions in a hurry. That said, after careful deliberation and discussion with my parents, I bought a small house and a couple of acres on the edge of town in the small country community that I still live in. I made my home in this town because when I was looking for houses, I saw someone's horse tied up to a hitching rail at the Pub. This was around 2002.
I made a conscious decision to hold my cards close to my chest about my veteran status. Small country communities are very welcoming places. Friendly and well meaning but definitely nosy. I neither needed, nor wanted, sympathy. I was not ready to politely answer perfectly understandable curiosity about my history.
My main street felt like hostile foreign territory. I didn't know who I could trust, and I wanted to observe the community for a bit before I dived in. I wanted people to accept me for who I was, not be a novelty piece of Unicorn Poo. You know - all glittery and rare - but still no-one really knows what to do with it.
Like many country towns mine has a small but very active and community minded RSL Committee. Mostly Vietnam veteran men at the time, the committee dutifully manned every Veteran funeral in the town. The Club remains a social centre and the ANZAC Day Parade is small but strongly supported by the community. Veterans are well respected in the community and a strong voice in Community based issues.
Time for a confession: A dear friend I call the Fat Bastard gave me a very apt nickname once - Prickly Bitch. I've never been a big drinker, nor do I gamble. I'm no angel mind (I love a good single malt whiskey), but I've never liked being drunk. I also had a huge chip on my shoulder about being the equal of the men and not being devalued because I am a woman. Stiff necked, proud and maybe a bit unbending. An angry, aggressive, suspicious, "buttoned up and closed down" woman.
I reached out to the members of my local RSL to try and make some friends. The men tried - they really did. I still remember the confused looks I got at the first ANZAC Day parade I attended when I introduced myself. I was invited to the next meeting, but none of the men knew how to talk to me. They wanted to include me but didn't have a mould to fit me in. Rounds of beer were bought, but I had my usual one stout. I had no job and no money and couldn't afford to buy rounds. The meeting was held next to the poker machines, and the pings and beeps were driving me crazy. And the RSL required me (an actual bona fide returned servicewoman) to pay a membership.
The final straw broke when one of these well meaning men turned to me and said "glad to meet you - we need a new Secretary on the Comittee ."
The Prickly Bitch thought: "I'm not anyone's f*****g secretary mate."
Out loud: " I'll pass thanks - I've got to focus on finding work".
I've never been a member of the RSL, and I didn't march in an ANZAC Day Parade until the Gallipoli 100th Anniversary. I felt like I didn't belong.
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