By Despi O’Connor*
THE Mornington Returned and Services League (RSL) has its first female president in Meryn Cooper.
Cooper joined the Women’s Royal Australian Navy in 1981 and was based at HMAS Cerberus, Crib Point for her new recruits’ course, proudly wearing her uniform.
She completed her category training on the base and as a cook was then posted to HMAS Albatross, Nowra Hill, NSW home of the Fleet Air Arm. Eighteen months later Cooper was posted to HMAS Coonawarra, in Darwin.
Prior to 1985, women were not able to go to sea, so for her four years of service Cooper was restricted to land duties.
If she had her time over again, she wouldn’t hesitate to sign up for the defence force and would also encourage anybody, not just women, to do the same. Cooper says it’s a rewarding experience, the training is great, and the friendships are forever.
After leaving the Navy, Cooper had a continued willingness to serve her community and became a cadet instructor in Launceston, training young people (14-19 year olds) at TS Tamar – Naval Reserve Cadets.
She later returned to Melbourne where she took up a civilian position as a chef back where it all started, at HMAS Cerberus for six years.
Now semi-retired, Cooper joined the RSL five years ago to continue to give back to her community. She joined the committee after she was asked to get involved and soon after was approached to nominate for vice president. Only serving or ex-serving members of the defence force can nominate for the roles of president or vice president.
Women make up a very small part of the RSL overall membership, but they bring a new range of skills to the table in what has traditionally been a male dominated organisation.
Cooper will now serve for two years in the role as president, leading about 200 members at the Mornington club. She hopes that the current committee can continue to work together to improve veterans’ health and welfare by improving connections in the community and at the RSL.
*Despi O’Connor is a Briars Ward councillor on Mornington Peninsula Shire Council.