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The Reservists: History of the Defence Reserves Association 1970-2020

The end of the 1960s and the beginning of the 1970s saw the concept of Citizen/Reserve service increasingly challenged. Circumstances were such that many felt not only within the command structure but also in the Parliaments and community that the concept of Citizen/Reserve service needed defending. The Citizen Military Forces Association (CMFA) was created by Major General Paul Cullen CBE DSO ED, who had been the CMF Member of the Military Board between 1963-1966.  The primary reason was to help the CMF arrest the fall in political influence and connections felt through declining numbers of parliamentarians who had CMF (or even regular) service.

In his introduction to the first edition of Citizen Soldier in 1971, Cullen wrote: ‘Today the CMF is again at the crossroads…..Today, with the withdrawal from Vietnam and the reduction of National Service from two years to eighteen months, and the ALP platform to eliminate National Service …..the whole situation is in the melting pot. It is within the circumstances created by this confusing background that our Association looks at the situation of the [CMF]’. At the beginning the Association was not taken very seriously and was viewed with a good deal of suspicion by ARA and serving CMF members alike.

One wonders what Major General Cullen would make of the Association now.  He would instantly recognise the new regional security issues as relevant to the reserves and the reserves themselves as an important part of Australia’s defence preparedness and capability.  There might be fewer serving reservists than in his day, but they are unquestionably far more capable in their contribution, while being no less patriotic.

He might deplore the loss of traditional reserve units and traditions which has occurred over the years, but equally applaud the apparent end of the old divisions between regular (permanent) and reserve as well as the growth in reserve capability and deployments within the Total Force Concept. As far back as 1973, Cullen had clearly stated: ‘It must really, really be One Army – really and truly – with the same role and task at different stages’ and he later supported the same principle for what became known as the Total Force.

Cullen would, no doubt, be very pleased to see the number of reservists with operational experience, and deployment of reserve units.  He would see an Association still able to advocate for reserves in a way which wasn’t possible in 1970, an Association still closely engaged with employers and liaising and coordinating closely with the now formidable range of ESOs to represent reserve interests to Government and Defence alike. Major General Cullen started something in 1970 which has gone from strength to strength, despite the setbacks, disappointments, and the opposition to it which the Association has endured. The status of the Association today, in all its forms over the past 50 years – from CMF Association to Army Reserves Association to Defence Reserves Association – is a testament to its leadership, its members and the reserves themselves.

The Reservists: History of the Defence Reserves Association 1970-2020 (Echo Books to publish 2023)
This publication will be launched at the National Conference of the DRA at the Imperial Services Club in Brisbane on 19 August 2023.
Dr Kilsby has been invited to address the conference dinner.