The nation’s oldest RSL club in Melbourne’s CBD turns 100 this year, created only months after the AIF landings at Gallipoli.
The Melbourne sub-branch in Spencer St is probably one of the smallest clubs now with only 82 members. But, during the 1930s, the club was forced to cap its membership at 2500 returned soldiers and the club’s magazine once had a subscription list of 6000.
The club covered the whole of the state in the beginning. Other clubs formed in the major regional centres during World War I and, in 1919, a state branch was established to sit above the various sub-branches.
These days the club house is more like a cubby house, having a small entrance on Spencer St and a modest office upstairs.
Club president Mike Moroney explained that the club made use of the bar facilities next door at the Mail Exchange Hotel where members were treated to discounted drinks.
Melbourne RSL has had many homes within the CBD since being formed on August 8, 1915 at the Orient Hotel, on the corner of Bourke and Swanston streets.
Mr Moroney said soldiers who had returned from Egypt were instrumental in forming the club. The club also had the support of veterans from the earlier Boer War in South Africa.
Over the journey, the club has been housed in the Block Arcade, the Alexander Building and the Overseas Club. But its spiritual home was Duckboard House at 91 Flinders Lane, which it occupied from 1939 until 2005 when the building was sold.
The club had a couple of other temporary homes before being offered the Spencer St site by hotelier Alex Robertson about two years ago.
“I think it was a storeroom or something like that,” Mr Moroney said. “Alex heard we were in need of a home and we are indebted to him for finding room for us here and decking the place out.”
While the club has realistic ambitions about any future expansion, it is content to continue operating to primarily look after the welfare of its remaining members.
“It’s a great place for us because it is so close to the station and the association with the hotel next door works well,” Mr Moroney said.
“A lot of our members are getting on in age and, without a bar or kitchen, we can’t really expect to attract new people.”