Chief executive of Legacy New South Wales Associated Clubs John Hutcheson AM spoke with the Defence Connect Podcast about the enduring mission of the nearly century-old organisation and its commitment to fulfilling the promise of returning WWI Australian soldiers to look out for the families of their mates who didn’t return from the Great War.
As a former soldier himself, John Hutcheson knows the importance of Legacy and the role it plays in supporting Australia's returned heroes and the families they are survived by.
During the discussion, Hutcheson spoke about the changing nature of the Legacy mission, which has evolved with the changing nature of war and its impact on soldiers and their families. He also discussed the future of Legacy, the Invictus Games being hosted in Sydney and the continuing need to support this uniquely Australian tribute to the nation's veterans.
Phil Tarrant: So, Legacy, most people will be familiar with what you're doing. It's a brand which has been established within Australia for many, many years, but I imagine it's changed quite a lot most recently as well with the nature of conflict when you consider how that's evolved since WWI, WWII. Legacy today v Legacy 50 years ago; how would you explain the key differences?
John Hutcheson: Well, I think Phil, as you know, Legacy itself, the actual mission hasn't changed over the last 96-odd years since it's been in being. It's fundamentally about looking after the families of those veterans who have died on operations or subsequently, or those who have got severe physical incapacities or dealing with mental health issues as such. That's really what Legacy was set up about, even in the 1920s.
The underlying focus behind that was about the children. What you had was a series of veterans that came back from the First World War realising their mates hadn't come back, and they should assist in looking after the families of their mates who hadn't come back, or as they say, looking after the missus and kids, and getting those kids to make sure they have the same opportunities as everyone else in society to reach their true potential. If you take that at its fundamental core, that mission hasn't changed over the period of time.
The only thing that's really changed more recently, of course, is that with the evolution of warfare itself is you're finding obviously less casualties. You're finding less people actually dying on operations and more being severely injured as opposed to the previous situation. Therefore you start to look after a lot more families that have injured veterans at home with them at that point.
But never get us wrong. At the moment in Sydney we're still looking after around about 10,000 widows, predominantly from the Second World War. And a number from the Vietnam sort of era.
Where it's moved now is that the focus itself is becoming very much on the contemporary families of the current generation of veterans. It's a very small group. It's not the same as it was at the end of the First or Second World War or even at the end of the Vietnam War. It's a very small group, but that group itself still has a great deal of need and in particular a great deal of financial need to assist in the children as such.
An example would be is at the moment I'm looking after, from Legacy's perspective, around about 10,000 beneficiaries here in NSW, or the clubs who are supporting NSW, and of that there's about 246 children. But the cost of looking after a child is obviously a lot more than the cost of looking after a widow itself.
Holistically, nationally, Legacy is looking after about 65,000 widows. Once again, about two-thirds of those still from the Second World War and the remainder from conflicts that have occurred after that. Once again, that sort of period of time you now start to look after around about three to four hundred families on a national base itself.
Phil Tarrant: The future there for Legacy, the number of people as an absolute term is probably going to decrease in the people you support, but I imagine that support you're providing them is probably going to grow and evolve and change into the future. What is the future for Legacy in Australia? Where's it gonna head?
John Hutcheson: Well, I think unless warfare ceases to exist, there will always be a role for things like Legacy, but the numbers of people that we will look after will become less and less. What I mean by that is that fundamentally the number of the widows that we're looking after at the moment in the next 10 years will reduce by about two-thirds. Then we'll start to pick up a number of the widows from Vietnam and between Vietnam and East Timor.
The number of families that we look after, they're a lot less than what we've seen before. The reason, as I've indicated to a lot of people, is when you look at the First and Second World War, the whole of society was involved, so therefore virtually every family in society was impacted on by the war. You've now got a situation where a very small segment of society was impacted on by conflict overseas, so there's a lesser group of people to actually be able to look after.
The struggle for Legacy will always be, and I use a financial component, the cost per unit of looking after someone who's a child is obviously a lot more than someone who is a widow itself. An example would be, with our children we would spend up to about $6,000 a year on each child, and what we're providing for them is we're paying for their education to make sure they have a good standard of education, we're covering all of their after school activities to make sure they're the same as everyone and they can reach their potential there, and also assisting them when they go to university with a variety of scholarships, with a variety of accommodation arrangements here in Sydney for people coming down from the country and that. So that's focused on the education aspect.
Underpinned underneath that is the social aspect, which is connecting them with other kids in exactly the same situation. The example I love saying to people is when I go down to our holiday camps and I was talking to a couple of the mothers down there, one of these children came up to their mum and sort of pulled her on the elbow and said, "Mum, mum! It's really great about being here." The mother said, "Why is that?" He said, "Because I'm not the only child who's lost his dad." You can see in a situation like that it's that development of social coping mechanisms for the children to be able to grow and develop from there. So they're the programs we're putting into place with the children.
With the mums, and in some situations the dads, it's about getting them back into the workforce so they can generate their own wealth to be able to look after their own particular family unit. That's the struggle we'll have as we go into the future, but the numbers will actually get less and less over that time.
The best way I think we can go forward from there is obviously developing collaborative partnerships, and particularly with the Returned and Services League and particularly with the War Widows' Guild, the three of us being potentially the oldest charities that work in this particular space in Australia. There's a lot of experience and knowledge there for us to be able to work together to cover the whole of the community itself.
Phil Tarrant: Speaking of comradeship, I know you're a partner of the upcoming Invictus Games, as always. It's good to be sort of behind what is a great initiative and it's good to see you guys there as well.
John Hutcheson: It's a fantastic initiative, and is very much on the family and friends because from my perspective they're demonstrating to the public that what we do is we look after the family. That's what we do. The organisation looking after the veteran itself. And we've got nearly a thousand family and friends coming across from the 500 competitors and that, and we'd love to be able to show them here in Sydney a quintessential Australian experience.
At the same time, my goal is to leave a message with them, which is that if there is not a like organisation in your country, maybe you want to think about starting one up or filling that particular void itself, particularly if the government's not doing that. And if it does work that way then maybe we start to have an international legacy that covers all those countries to provide that particular level of service.