A local RSL club will be well known for a few things. Mainly as a nice place to have a casual meal, a drink with friends, hire a function room, watch some sport on the screens, or have a spin at the pokies. But even though that is what you see from the outside, Australian RSL clubs are so much more.
RSL stands for The Returned and Services League of Australia. As well as a glorious cheap Sunday roast and an exciting place to bet on the Melbourne Cup, this organization primarily offers support to the numerous Australian men and women who have served or are currently serving in the Defence Force.
First realized in 1916, they began small, putting programs in place for the care and compensation of all Armed Force members, and of course commemoration of those who lost their lives. Today the basis is the same, but it’s clear to see the RSL club has moved into the 21st century and have a much more commercial heartland than just war vets alone. The clubs based in Australia’s major cities like Melbourne and Sydney are visited by many different people. Families, men, and women, people old and young go to RSL clubs these days to see live entertainment, have a meal and drinks, or attend social events. The country clubs won't see so much action from the younger crowd, but they still are a fixture of the local community and respected in the area.
In each state, there are branches and sub-branches, and even though they all operate under the same name and model, each will be operated a bit differently depending on the area, size and a number of members. When you go to a licenses RSL club in Australia, you are supporting a community. Most of these clubs work on a membership basis, but you are usually guaranteed entry as a person from the general public, just by just showing your ID and writing your name on the door, no strings attached.
The gambling section in Australia is usually sectioned off in a private area to the main dining or entertainment area. In most RSL clubs you’ll find KENO touch and TAB betting facilities in their extensive farming areas. Some of the larger clubs hold between 150 - 300 machines! You can also find Bingo, raffles, and jackpots galore!
Poker machines were legalized in Australia in 1956 and the RSL club took off with higher attendance at accumulating more income than ever before. Pokies and slots have had a very up and down history with RSL clubs of Australia. Some believe they are a trap for the older generation of solider, and that the clubs play on the cheap beer and gambling aspect and are enabling the addicts. Others believe the entertainment aspect is healthy and the revenue it brings into the club and the cause benefits the work that the organization primarily concentrates on, that of the well-being and care of the serving and ex-serving members and ANZACS.
The most humbling and patriotic fact about the RSL club is that it began through a union of mateship and camaraderie. Where Word War One vets were looking out for the well-being of their fellow soldiers and their families, who were struggling to adjust back into ‘normal’ life after experiencing war. And in a time where post-traumatic stress and depression were not realized or treated, these clubs set out to care for their own. The RSL clubs of Australia have come a very long way since then, and they now cover a lot more ground than just the above facts alone.