The humble RSL club is an Australian institution. Culture Trip explores the country’s best ex-servicemen’s for a pot and a parma.
The Returned and Services League of Australia (RSL) was established to support servicemen returning home from World War One, setting up a network of licensed clubs to help diggers in local communities around the country. These days there are hundreds of RSL clubs dotted across Australia — particularly in the states of New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland — including these 10 terrific venues.
Introducing the largest licensed club in New South Wales — so large, in fact, that it demanded its own postcode in 2010. Dubbed the ‘Vegas of Sydney’s West’, Rooty Hill RSL features five-star accommodation, conference facilities, Western Sydney’s largest gym, a Box Office crammed with a full calendar of shows and events, countless food and drink options, and more than 50,000 members.
Only blocks from the ocean on Queensland’s golden Sunshine Coast, Caloundra RSL bills itself as the region’s favourite place to eat, play and drink. This modern RSL offers live and free entertainment seven days a week — live music, trivia, kids shows and some of the Sunny Coast’s best bands — as well as tasty meals made of locally sourced produce and ice-cold drinks to beat the Queensland heat.
Overlooking the water and Wendy’s Secret Garden on the northern side of Sydney Harbour, the Kirribilli Club is one of the glitziest RSLs in the Harbour City, moving into a stylish new property in 2007. The flashy harbourside location doesn’t compromise the warm welcome you’d expect from an ex-services club, though — the Kirribilli Club offers two bars, a restaurant and gaming lounge for its large 18,000-strong membership.
The seaside Melbourne suburb of St Kilda is peppered with great watering holes, but few are as beloved by the community as this ex-servicemen’s club. Sitting on Acland St in the heart of the neighbourhood, St Kilda RSL pours cheap drinks with water views and also operates the MEMO Music Hall, a historic century-old dance hall that now hosts everything from live music and rock shows to theatre performances and classical recitals.
No RSL Club in the country boasts a better view than this Northern Beaches institution, occupying the heritage-listed Arlington Hall perched above the sand of Collaroy Beach. Founded by the Collaroy sub-branch of the RSL in 1963, the Beach Club as it’s now known contains a modern Australian restaurant as well as 24 beers on tap, plus billion-dollar vistas over the Pacific Ocean.
Phillip Island is famous for its wildlife encounters, particularly the adorable Little Penguins, and visitors should pop into this RSL at the gateway to the island for some warm hospitality on arrival. Don’t miss the chance to have a meal at the award-winning Lone Pine Bistro, open seven days — the sophisticated menu focuses on local Gippsland ingredients, making the club one of Phillip Island’s most popular places to eat.
Enjoying prime position on Cairns’ sunny esplanade, Cairns RSL looks pretty much the same as it did half a century ago. This breezy sky-blue building dishes up a delicious breakfast and finger-licking pub grub in one of the most enviable locations in Tropical North Queensland, and the light and airy sports bar is one of Cairns’ favourite watering holes.
RSL clubs often represent the heartbeat of regional Australian communities, and this super-modern ex-servicemen’s is a good example of that. Returned servicemen held their first meeting in the Riverina more than 100 years ago, and that spirit of social responsibility is still well and truly alive a century on at Wagga RSL. The venue’s dining facilities, promos, functions and entertainment raise almost half a million dollars for the community each year.
This Logan location might well be Brisbane’s best RSL. Since the early 1990s, Greenbank RSL has been transformed from a compact brick clubhouse into one of Queensland’s highest quality clubs, picking up award after award for its bar, cafe, seafood buffet, gaming room, and jam-packed calendar of events and community gatherings.
If you looked up the word ‘serenity’ in the dictionary, you’d probably find a photo of Dover RSL. The club is the social hub of this small fishing village near the southern tip of Tasmania, serving drinks, all-day bar snacks and restaurant fare seven days a week. Check out the bar and outdoor bowling green for panoramic views over the tranquil Port Esperance Bay and Adamson’s Peak in the distance.