by Ann Rickard
KEN Bridges inspires everyone he meets. The 92-year-old who served in the Australian Navy has been an RSL member for more than 60 years. Over those decades he has mentored and worked with countless RSL members, and still, at his grand age, continues to dedicate himself to others.
"For the last 20 years I've been involved with welfare operations (at the Tewantin Noosa RSL), in which we attend to just about any problem that pops up," he said. "With any of our RSL members or their wives or widows or children, there are sometimes problems. We come up with different ideas to help.
"We act in most situations where the Department of Veteran Affairs becomes involved with ex-service community, whether it is a service person or next of kin. We analyse the situation, find out what they can do, what they are entitled to do."
This is very comforting to people who find themselves overwhelmed with red tape and Ken says he finds whatever he can do to help is very rewarding to himself.
"We have a Pension and Welfare Committee," he said. "On the welfare side we have five members. It's a busy operation. There is plenty going on. It's a very satisfying role."
Ken joined the RSL in 1944, during the Second World War when his ship, a Navy Gunner, pulled into Cairns for a break after a period at sea.
"I was on merchant ships which carried navy gunners," he said. "They were armed for defence. The section I belonged to was the Defensively Equipped Merchant Ships (the DEMS).
Among Ken's many accolades over the decades was being awarded the Meritorious Service Medal from the RSL - a rare award given for outstanding service to the RSL.
"It was not specifically in the welfare side but for being involved in the RSL for many years in different situations," Ken said. "It's the RSL Australia's Life Membership."
A member of the Tewantin Noosa RSL since 1983, Ken is a much-loved and admired figure, not only at the club, but in the community. As well as his RSL involvement, with his wife Chris he still volunteers for Meals on Wheels.
"We've been doing that for 30 years," he said. "Originally Chris worked in the kitchen as well as doing some deliveries. Then there was need for more people on deliveries. We work as a team. Normally I drive. We enjoy it. It is lovely that we have dear old friends we have known for years. You get to see them now on both good and bad days."
Ken also visits the aged-care facility, Noosacare's Carramar, spreading his good cheer and being practically helpful to residents who look forward to his visits.
"We try to help people if they have problems with health or finance or questions about their properties, things we can help with. Our aim is to put residents in the direction of the correct people to deal with if they have a situation," he said. "There are many things (elderly) people worry about that they shouldn't have to. We come in handy to iron things out."
Ken and Chris live on Noosa's North Shore, still enjoy good health, play golf regularly and use their boat to transport them over the river.
"We keep a car on the other side (of the North Shore). Come hell or high water, rain or shine, we use our boat," Ken added.
Ken and Chris will be part of the Tewantin Noosa RSL ANZAC celebrations this month.