The thought that every night 2,500 veterans sleep on the street throughout Australia is what keeps Pauline James going as the state coordinator of the RSL Auxiliaries.
“Encouraging our people to sell a token or have a stall to make money means that we can look after these veterans,’’ she tells me when we sit down for a chat about her being named in the 2020 Australia Day honours.
As of today, January 26, Pauline James can put OAM after her name – Order of Australia Medal.
The citation from the Governor-General’s office says the Campbelltown resident received the OAM for service to veterans and their families and to the community.
She was one of three local women who were named in this year’s honours.
The other two included Camden’s Tanya Whitehouse, the coordinator of Macarthur Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service since 1993.
Ms Whitehouse received her OAM for service to the community through social welfare initiatives.
Joy Charlton, of Theresa Park, received her OAM for services to equestrian sports.
These three magnificent women were among 837 recipients of Order of Australia announced by the Governor-General, David Hurley, who said of them all:
“Behind every medal and citation is a story. Whether through their service, sacrifice or significant achievement, these people help others and make our towns, communities and nation better.’’
Those words perfectly describe Pauline James, who began her volunteering career while growing up in Coonamble, and has never really stopped since.
“I’ve been doing volunteer work since I was a very young girl in Coonamble, where on a Friday lunch time I would help my grandmother who was selling cakes to raise funds for the RSL women’s auxiliary,’’ she says.
“I’ve always done volunteer work since then.’’
I asked her what her reaction was on finding out about the great honour bestowed on her.
“Humble – I’m not normally a humble person, I’m a very confident person – but it made me feel humble,’’ Pauline said.
“I thought of how proud my mother and father would be, how proud my grandparents would be.
“I was just humble and proud.
“And being on Australia Day is very, very important to me, because I’m a ridgy didgy Aussie.’’
Ray, her husband of 48 years, who has joined us during the interview at Ingleburn RSL, is a Vietnam veteran who served in the Royal Australian Navy – which explains why most of Pauline’s volunteering work goes towards looking after veterans.
But what sets her apart is that she’s not content to just go through the motions of fund raising.
“I joined this auxiliary here at Ingleburn RSL in 2009 and recruited and recruited; we had the biggest auxiliary in NSW,’’ she tells me.
“Then in 2011 I joined the state council for the auxiliaries and went on to become deputy president, and then president.
“When I took over not many people had heard of the auxiliaries, so we did something about that.
“When I decide to do something I throw myself into it completely.’’
Pauline came up with the idea of an Anzac centenary quilt which would involve all of the RSL auxiliaries across the state, create heaps of publicity for the cause – and raise lots and lots of funds for veterans.
It was a huge undertaking, with 300 blocks and eight quilts in total.
One of the quilts was taken to Gallipoli for the 100 year anniversary commemoration of Anzac Day by two other South West Sydney RSL auxiliary luminaries, June and Ken Young.
That quilt is now on display in the Australian War Memorial in Hyde Park, Sydney.
“With those quilts we got so much publicity,’’ Pauline says.
“There’s not much use being there unless you get publicity and it’s my job that auxiliaries and sub-branches raise money for RSL defence care.’’
Long before the RSL auxiliaries, Pauline started the very first Navy playground at Waterloo.
“The other day I found the letters that I had written to the council, demanding a place for our navy children to have a playgroup,’’ she says.
When the family lived at Lurnea, Pauline took on the task of coordinating the running of a large number of playgroups for veterans’ children operating between Campbelltown and Liverpool.
Not content with that mighty task, she also did volunteer work in the electorate offices of local politicians, including Mark Latham, Geoff Corrigan, Dianne Beamer and Michael Knight.
“But never in my wildest dreams did I set out to get an OAM,’’ says Pauline James as we wrap up the interview.