The Royal Commonwealth Society – Mrs Joan Tonkin MBE JP
The Royal Commonwealth Society (RCS) is an international education organisation with a mission to support and promote the modern Commonwealth, its culture and core values, especially among young people. The RCS has a worldwide network of more than 10,000 members in more than 100 countries and territories of the world.
RCS Western Australia Branch President Mrs Joan Tonkin MBE JP has been involved with the Society for more than 50 years, and has seen the organisation evolve from humble beginnings.
“In 1954, the Central Council in London authorised the establishment of the Royal Empire Society Perth,” Mrs Tonkin said.
“The increase in membership was rapid. It started at 100, and grew during the 1960s and 1970s to 1000 people.”
The Royal Empire Society Perth was later renamed the Royal Commonwealth Society. The RCS was based in Subiaco 1965 to 1998, before moving to the Royal Australian Air Force Memorial Estate in Bullcreek where it stands today.
“In the early days of the Society, the RCS helped to bring members of the community and the Royal Australian Air Force together,” she said. “A prime example was the annual Commonwealth Ball held in the Government House Ballroom. I have seen people fall in love, new friendships blossom and isolated individuals find common ground.
“The Society has developed much more over the years. Today it still brings people together but also promotes knowledge and understanding of the peoples and countries of the Commonwealth.”
The RCS undertakes several annual activities including the Australia Day Flag Raising Ceremony, Commonwealth Day Youth Rally and Western Australia’s only multi-faith observance for Commonwealth Day.
Mrs Tonkin was born in Western Australia and has worked closely with various organisations including Girl Guides WA, Australian Red Cross, Australia Day Council Committee, Scouts Australia and the WA Royal Flying Doctor Service.
At 90 years of age, Mrs Tonkin said fundamental principles and messages of the modern Commonwealth such as human rights and democracy have never been more relevant to young people living in an increasingly interconnected world.
“Preparing youth for life experiences and providing young people with personal development opportunities is important,” she said.
“I was 40 when I first made my public speaking appearance, so I am delighted to see young people mature through programs and activities that promote skills in public speaking, communication and leadership.”
The Western Australia Branch of the RCS organises the Sir Francis Burt Speech and Leadership Contest each year, which invites year 11 and 12 students from schools within the state to speak on a chosen topic relevant to the Commonwealth.
“The contest was initially created as a public speaking contest in 1968, and has since been broadened to include a strong leadership component and has become highly regarded,” Mrs Tonkin said.
“This year’s topics were ‘Women’s role in third world Commonwealth nations’ and ‘Environmental change- what it means to me’. It was inspiring to hear the thoughts and visions of so many enthusiastic young people from across the state.”
Mrs Tonkin said the Society has been involved in numerous student CHOGM activities over the years.
“CHOGM 2011 is an extremely significant event for Perth and Western Australia as a whole,” she said.
“People will see there is a lot of activity here. Perth will be in the spotlight and visitors will see that isolation isn’t an issue anymore, that it is possible to find a way here and that it is a great city to experience.
“We are very lucky that Perth was chosen as the host city.”
For more information about the RCS in Western Australia, including about how to become a member you can send an email to RCS@raafawa.org.au.