Sub-Branch Committee

Bob Durbin

President elected 9th March 2017 | Chaplain appointed 22nd September 2010

(Executive Member)

Born in 1953. Spent childhood in the Port Adelaide district of South Australia. Joined the RAN as a Naval Artificer Apprentice (NAA) when 16 and served for 20 years. Core training was as in the electrical trades with a side issue of major weapons systems.


From HMAS Nirimba went to sea in Sydney, Melbourne and Duchess before going ashore to HMAS Waterhen. Selected to learn about and write the electrical training courses for the new class of patrol boats (Fremantles) and went to England and Germany for training, before returning to Waterhen.


Back to sea in HMAS Yarra and after sea time became part of The Fleet Vibration Analysis Team, attached to the Office of the Fleet Marine Engineering Officer. This was a five-year posting before returning to sea in HMAS Stuart.


Final posting was on promotion to Warrant Officer at HMAS Cerberus taking up the position as the Quality Control Officer for the Weapons Electrical Engineering School for the RAN.


Was in the Naval Reserve until 25th June 2018 when discharged as an ‘old bloke’!


Worked at RSL State Branch NSW as the Administration Manager and also at the City of Parramatta RSL sub-Branch as the full time Secretary, Pensions, Welfare and Funeral Officer, with a collateral duty as Treasurer.


Joined the City of Blacktown RSL sub-Branch in 1990. Positions held were, Committee, Pensions, Delegate to DC, Delegate to ASC and President. Also privileged to be a State Councillor for 14 years, serving on many committees.


My part time ministry as a lay preacher began in the mid 90’s. Commissioned as a Pastor of the Uniting Church in 2010 at which time accepted the call to serve as a full time Chaplain at the War Vets.


In 2017 Bob transferred membership to The War Vets and has been the President since that time.

Doug Smyth

Vice President elected 12th March 2020 | Publicity Officer elected 14th February 2019

(Executive Member)

Born in NZ in May 1944 and emigrated to Australia 1982, becoming an Australian Citizen in 1989.


Completed HSC and started work in the Financial Services Industry – AMP, National Mutual, NRMA Financial Services, State Bank NSW and GIO, being involved mainly in Sales.


Joined the NZ Army, National Service in 1961 and completed basic Officer Cadet training. Posted to 2 General Hospital Medical Corp, Trentham, Wellington NZ as a Lieutenant. Appointed Major before being transferred to the Reserve of Officers after 11 years in the Territorial Force.


Interests include Cruising, Yachting, Reading. and serving as Secretary of a Strata Committee.


Joined RSL NSW 6th July 2004 at Forestville RSL sub-Branch. Elected to Committee 2nd March 2005 as Newsletter Editor and then on 26th March 2008 as Membership Officer. Presented with Certificate of Appreciation by RSL NSW Branch 19th July 2010.


Transferred to War Veterans Village (Narrabeen) RSL sub-Branch in Jan 2011 and elected to positions of Secretary/ Treasurer until February 2017. Service member prior to being elected in May 2019 as Committee member and then in July as Publicity Officer.

John Sowden

Secretary elected 12th March 2020

(Executive Member)

Born in Sydney 23 April 1941 and lived at Northwood on Sydney’s lower North Shore.


Dad was in the RAAF.


At age 10, moved to Brisbane and enjoyed the rest of my primary schooling at ‘Churchie’. Back to Sydney in 1956. Completed secondary schooling at Barker College, Hornsby. Following the Leaving Certificate, deferred University and accepted the offer to enter RMC Duntroon with 75 other aspiring young men in January 1960.


Had the ambition to graduate as an Army Officer with a university degree (UNSW). The link between the University of NSW and RMC collapsed in 1961. Requesting discharge in February 1962, when taking up the deferred university opportunity, working and studying part time, graduating in 1967 with Bachelor of Economics from Sydney University. Married to Elizabeth in 1966.


Work commenced as a market research officer with Colgate-Palmolive before joining the transport company that did all of Colgate’s product distribution across Australia. Attempting to gain further experience in the transport industry, leave of absence was granted before emigrating to Canada in June 1968, living in Vancouver before returning to Australia via Europe in December 1969. Two children – daughter 1970, son 1972.


In 1972 bought a newsagency at Abbotsford Point. Built up the business before selling in 1976 and moving to the Blue Mountains.


Worked with a bulk haulage company at Lidsdale (west of Lithgow) from 1977. Established own company, 5 years later, a bulk haulage and storage company called “Mountain Bulk Haulage” with its office in Leura.


Elected to the board of Blue Mountains Grammar School in 1989, was Chairman 1991-2006.


In 2006 we visited Uganda and have since been involved as volunteers with a primary school and health centre in a poor peasant village called Ibulanku. It has 240 students with 50 children sponsored and we also sponsor achievers into secondary school as boarders.


Left Leura residence in August 2014 and downsized to the Dardanelles, at War Vets RSL LifeCare Village.


Joined RSL NSW – War Veterans Village (Narrabeen) RSL sub-Branch on 12th May 2016. Served as Vice President, Trustee, Congress Delegate and now Secretary.

Arthur Skene


Arthur is a Manly Boy, educated at Manly Primary School and Balgowlah Technical High School, the latter he loathed as he is not at all technical. Left school at 15 to join the Commonwealth Bank, at Balgowlah and then Inspectors’ Department in Sydney Head Office. While in bank joined the Royal Australian Naval Reserve, Sydney Port Division, based at HMAS Rushcutter, as a 16 year old Cadet Writer, and undertook two training cruises HMAS Wagga (Bathurst Class Ocean Minesweeper) to Noumea, and HMAS Vendetta (Daring Class Destroyer) to New Zealand and Melbourne. In January 1963 joined the Royal Australian Navy for full-time duty as a Recruit Writer, rapidly rising through all ranks to Chief Petty Officer Writer in 1972. Memorable postings as sailor were as Admiral’s Secretary’s Writer onboard the Flagship, HMAS Melbourne (Majestic Class Light Aircraft Carrier) in 1965-66, and in all ranks as a Writer category sailor at HMAS Tarangau (Manus Island, PNG) in 1966-67 and 1971-73.


Arthur was promoted to officer as a Special Duties List Writer in 1974, transferring to the General List as a Supply and Secretariat Officer as a Lieutenant in 1978, promoted to Lieutenant Commander in 1982 and Commander in 1984. Memorable postings as an officer were Base Supply Officer, HMAS Cairns at Cairns, Admiral’s Secretary to Rear Admiral David Martin, Naval Support Commander (who was to later become Governor of New South Wales), Supply Officer at HMAS Cerberus, Westernport Vic, and Financial Resources Coordinator to the Personnel Division of Australian Defence Headquarters in Canberra.


Arthur parted from full-time service in 1991, joining the Commonwealth Public Service, with three key postings, firstly as Business Manager to 2nd Field Logistic Support Battalion in Townsville, Business Manager to Army Command and Staff College in Queenscliff, and Executive Officer in Strategic Resources and Analysis Section of Defence Headquarters in Canberra.


Arthur then transferred back to Navy Service as Director Naval Reserves as a part-time Reserve Officer in 2000 and 2001, at which point he retired from Navy and Defence Service.


During his Navy career Arthur became a specialist in Administration, Personnel, Financial Management and Budget Forward Planning, and as a senior Staff Officer.


He now enjoys travelling, particularly to Greece and Europe, dabbles in pen and water-colour sketching, photography and genealogy.

Bev Ash

Visitation Officer elected 8th September 2020
(Committee Member)

Was born in Sydney to George and Amy Renton on 1st March, 1948.

George had come to Sydney via Melbourne ‘on loan’ for 2 years from the Royal Navy bringing his expertise with torpedo design with him eventually residing on Spectacle Island.

Needless to say the two years extended to a lifetime in Australia.

My schooling was at Balgowlah Heights primary school and then to Manly Girls High.

I was then introduced to Occupational Therapy graduating in 1970.  I chose to specialise in Geriatrics and spent formative years at Royal South Sydney Hospital in both the Rehabilitation and Mobile Therapy teams with an occasional lecture to students at NSW University.

After my 2 girls were born I found myself looking for work closer to home and was asked to join the team here at the War Vets.  My position as senior OT led to becoming Manager of the TLC, and eventually, to Manager of all Allied Health throughout the Care Homes. I held this position for over 30 years and have loved every minute of it.

I had ‘many hats’ from time to time which offered me great variety and many challenges allowing me to be very creative in extending services from the TLC, such as the development of our dementia programs and the residents holidays. The recreational therapy programs all initiated from TLC, which are now an essential lifeline for many of our residents in the Care Homes.


I have had the distinct privilege of becoming part of the lives of many of our veterans and I feel honoured to have been entrusted with many of their stories and experiences – all of which have brought enrichment         to my life.

I am excited to now look at my involvement with the Sub Branch and look forward to re-initiating contact with our veteran community.


Jan Slater

Membership Officer elected 12th March 2020

(Committee Member)

Born in Sydney in 1937. Employed as a High School Teacher of Science, English as a Second Language (ESL) and Special Education. Taught at many Northern Beaches High Schools, including Pittwater House for 9 years. Also taught English at a University in Tokyo, Japan for 5 years.


Father was a Bomb-Aimer in the RAAF. He trained in Canada ending up in RAF Squadron 199. Was killed in a Stirling Bomber which crash landed in England.


Interests include, playing the piano, dancing, travel, reading biographies and watching historic and geographical documentaries.


Joined the War Veterans Village (Narrabeen) RSL sub-Branch as an Affiliate member in 2014 and have occasionally helped Pattie Page with member contact and visitation.

Allan Burrows

Website Coordinator elected 9th June 2020

(Committee Member)

Born Rockhampton, Qld on 7th September 1940. Grew up and went to Primary and Secondary School in Gladstone. Completed four years of Army Cadets at High School, rising to rank of Under Officer- rejected invitation from Duntroon to accept Officer Entry.


Following on from Year 12, went to Brisbane to continue tertiary education at Teachers College and University of Queensland. Taught as Primary Teacher throughout central Qld for four years (including one year at a one-teacher school on a cattle property south-west of Emerald) and then transferred to secondary teaching for two years.


Married Sandra in Gladstone in 1964. Accepted a Commission in the RAN in 1966 and moved to HMAS Cerberus for specialized training, then taught senior sailors in the Electrical School. This was followed by postings to HMAS Leeuwin, HMAS Sydney (including trips to Viet Nam), HMAS Nirimba (twice), CPSO (Command Personal Service Organisation). Then posted to a Defence job in Canberra where I was DISLO-N (the Navy’s Liaison Officer at Defence Information Services Branch) and finally to Naval Support Command on the Admiral’s staff for Training Command and Resettlement Co-Ordinator.


Retired from RAN after 22+ years as Lieutenant Commander. Then went into Retail business for 15 years followed by further six years as Agency in Gift and Card Industry before retiring then moving to the Village in April 2010.


Main interests since retirement are History, Genealogy, Reading and occasional Travel.


Joined RSL at Castle Hill in late 70’s, transferred to Dee Why when arriving in War Vets Village and then transferred to War Veterans Village (Narrabeen) RSL sub-Branch later on. Hold membership with Defence Force Welfare Association.

Norm Ziegler

Committee Member elected 9th February 2011

Born in Adelaide 28th October 1926


Have had many roles in employment – Chemist delivery boy, Film projectionist for Hoyts & Greater Union theatres, Film inspector Universal Pictures, all in South Australia before retiring to join the Navy.


Moving to NSW after Navy service became a Sales Rep for Wrigley’s Chewing Gum then into Film Production owning Osmic Pictures.


Was Advertising / Marketing Manager – Edgell Canneries, Sales Representative Universal Picture NSW.


Back to Wrigley’s as Sales Manager before opening my own business “Warringah International Travel Service”, in Brookvale. This was purchased by Thomas Cook, enabling me to retire to the War Vets RSL LifeCare Village here at Narrabeen.


Military service was in the RAN as a Leading Torpedoman as cinema projectionist.


My interests include golf, baseball, swimming, lawn bowls and photography.


Joined RSL NSW on discharge from RAN in 1946 at the Sydney Showground. Member of sub-Branches at Mosman, Manly, Harbord, Avalon, Palm Beach, Pittwater and now War Veterans Village (Narrabeen) RSL sub-Branch, where I have served on the Committee since 2011.

John Sowden

Trustee – Perpetual appointment continued 12th March 2020

Denise Kuessner

Trustee – Perpetual appointment continued 12th March 2020

John Hillard

Trustee – Perpetual appointment continued 12th March 2020