“MANY people think Scouts is tying knots on a Friday night,” says Leon Tannahill, the first chief commissioner of the ACT branch.
“But it’s much more than that, and it’s evolved in ideas, diversity and resilience.”
A life member of 70 years, Leon was a pioneer of Scouts ACT, which is celebrating 40 years of service but his scouting story goes back much further, having joined the Cubs as a peppy seven-year-old living in suburban Melbourne.
“I was allowed to start scouting because I was bigger than a kid across the road who was eight and also doing it,” he said, laughing.
“From there it would turn into a real journey.”
Leon’s passion for Scouts grew throughout his teenage years, and was reflected in his election as a Rover leader (the 18-25-year-old age group of scouting).
After travelling to Switzerland with Scouts, an experience he called “life changing”, Leon moved to Canberra thinking he’d take a break from the movement.
“I got a knock on the door from a fellow named Jack Deeble and he wanted help forming a Scout branch for Canberra,” said Leon.
Jack, Leon and fellow Scout leader Wayne Geale, would become the trail blazers of the ACT branch.
“There always was the vision for us to be separate from NSW, especially as Canberra was moving at a great pace in those days,” said Leon.
“Scouting in Canberra actually goes as far back as 1917, nine years after the establishment of the Scouts nationally, but the Scouts here always operated as part of the NSW branch.
“With a lot of negotiation we were able to forge Canberra’s own branch. I was appointed as the first chief commissioner.”
Now in 2021, Scouts ACT is proudly pinning members with their own 40th-anniversary commemorative badge, something Leon, who continues an active involvement with the organisation, is incredibly proud to see.
“Even having been a Scout for this long, I still get excited to see how flexible we are and how relevant to youth it is today,” he said.
It’s something the current chief commissioner of Scouts ACT, Rick Goode, said is part of the movement’s desire to welcome the entire community.
“Of course, in scouting we focus on the outdoors and always will, but there’s so much more of a range than just that now,” said Rick.
“We have programs focusing on science, technology, engineering and maths. We have a program that teaches theatre, from front-of-stage to lighting, production, direction and more, and we have programs to help support LGBTI members.
“We are also proud to say we now have more women and girls in Scouts than ever before.”
Today, 35 per cent of Scouts ACT’s youth members are girls, and 40 per cent of Scout leaders are women.
Leon and Rick believe this evolution of the organisation comes down to its resilience, a trait they want to inspire coming generations.
If there was any example of this resilience, it would be the situation ACT Scouts faced during last year’s bushfire crisis.
A moot would see 450 Scouts from around the world arrive in the capital, but, as the troops started to roll in, bushfires struck the Canberra region.
“With three hours’ notice the Scouts had to change accommodation and venues, redirect activities and develop a risk-management plan,” said Rick.
“So efficient were they that the SES lauded the risk-management plan as a perfect example of what one should look like. The event changed venue and focus, but it went ahead successfully, which was an astounding thing.”
“It’s the job they were given, and the job they got done,” said Leon.
Covid would also see the ACT Scouts face adversity, but Rick and Leon said the movement once again rose to the challenge.
“We had hundreds of scouts from Australia, NZ, Wales and more all having campfires in their backyards, but engaging and sharing together through an online video call,” said Rick.
“Covid presented a challenge, but Scouts try to find opportunity in challenge, and that’s what they did.”
When reflecting on it all Leon, visibly emotional, found it hard to describe the profound belief he has in the organisation he’s dedicated his life to.
“It’s not hard to get me all wound up when talking about this” he said, with a knowing chuckle.
“I think being a Scout is about a duty to others, a duty to self, a duty to something higher.”