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The Returned and Services League of Australia
Abbreviation RSL
Formation 1916
Legal status Non-profit organisation
Purpose/focus Support for ex-servicemen and their families
Region served Australia and the Commonwealth
Membership Australian ADF & allied nation service members[1]
President Rear-Admiral Ken Doolan
Main organ Board of Directors
Website www.rsl.org.au

The Returned Services League of Australia (often abbreviated to RSL) is a support organisation for men and women who have served or are serving in the Australian Defence Force (ADF).

It was formed as the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia in 1916, became the Returned Sailors', Soldiers' and Airmens Imperial League of Australia in 1940, and became the Returned Services League of Australia in 1965. The change to its current name was made in 1990 to reflect the organisation's concern for current as well as former servicemen and servicewomen. The patron of the RSL is Queen Elizabeth II.

The current National President of the League is Rear Admiral Ken Doolan, AO RAN (rtd).[2]

As of 31 December 2009, the League comprised 186,652 members from 1,306 sub-branches and 5,533 members of the League's women's auxiliary from 381 sub-branches. Membership levels have been declining for at least ten years.[2]

Mission[edit | edit source]

The RSL's mission statement is:[3]

To ensure that programs are in place for the well-being, care, compensation and commemoration of serving and ex-service Defence Force members and their dependents; and promote Government and community awareness of the need for a secure, stable and progressive Australia.

History[edit | edit source]

RSL National HQ, at 1 Constitution Avenue, Canberra, near the Australian Defence Force Russell Offices HQ

The League evolved out of concern for the welfare of returned servicemen from the (1914–1918) first World War.[4] During 1916, a conference recommended the formation of The Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia (RSSILA) which included representation from Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria. New South Wales was admitted to the League the following year, and Western Australia in 1918. In 1927, the Australian Capital Territory formed a branch and was admitted.[4]

In 1940, the name of the League changed to the Returned Sailors' Soldiers' and Airmens Imperial League of Australia (RSSAILA), and a subsequent change of name took effect in 1965, as the Returned Services League of Australia (RSL). Two more name changes occurred, in 1983 to Returned Services League of Australia Limited (RSL) and in 1990 to Returned & Services League of Australia Limited (RSL).[4] The objects of the League remain relatively unchanged from its first incorporation.

RSL badge symbolism[edit | edit source]

At the top of the badge is the Crown signifying allegiance to Queen and country. Below the crown are the national flowers of Australia, Wales, England, Scotland and Ireland – the wattle, the leek, the rose, the thistle, and the shamrock. In the centre of the badge are a sailor, soldier, an airman and service woman who are marching with their arms linked, symbolising friendship and that all services, and all ranks, are united in comradeship. The red of the badge is symbolic of the blood tie of war. The white background stands for the purity of motive – and to render service without personal gain. The blue is a symbol of willingness to render service to a comrade anywhere under the blue sky.[4] The badge may only be worn by members of the League.

Influence[edit | edit source]

The influence of the League comes from its founding days organising rituals for Anzac Day dawn services and march, and Remembrance Day commemorations. However, even as early as the 1920s, the role of the League became controversial as it banned women from attending the dawn service because of their wailing.[5]

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As well as arguing for veterans' benefits, it has entered other areas of political debate. It was politically conservative, Anglophilic, and monarchist.

Many veterans from the Vietnam War found the RSL, dominated by the ranks of World War II veterans, an unwelcoming, alien environment, and chose not to participate, but have over the past 20 years become actively involved. This may have been reflective of the changing status of Vietnam veterans in the 1970s and 80s. (See also Social attitudes and treatment of Vietnam veterans)

Nevertheless the focus of the RSL is above all on the welfare of Australian men and women serving in the armed forces. It has advocated for veterans entitlements, the protection of former battlefields and the rights of serving soldiers, sailors and airmen. The RSL also ensures that those who have served the country are commemorated for their service by providing funeral information to those who have served with the deceased and handing out individual red poppy flowers at the funeral to ensure that the deceased service to their country is acknowledged (see In Flanders Fields). In 2003 Peter Phillips, the National President, endorsed a statement criticising the decision of the Howard government to send forces to Iraq without a mandate from a United Nations Security Council resolution.

Organisation[edit | edit source]

RSL, Wagga Wagga Sub-Branch

The League is overseen by a National Executive that consists of the National President; the Deputy National President; state Branch Presidents for New South Wales, Victoria, the Australian Capital Territory, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, and Western Australia; and the National Secretary, the National Treasurer, the National Legal Advisor, the National Defence Advisor, and Veterans' Affairs Advisor.[2]

Kilcoy RSL's Leopard 1 tank is a prominent landmark.

The National Secretary has functional control of the National Headquarters on Constitution Avenue, Campbell, in Canberra.

Each state is a Branch of the National League and has a similar hierarchical structure that brings together the interests of the state members. Within each state, there are a series of Districts and Sub-Branches that bring together the interests of members in a particular geographic area.[6][7]

The naming of these branches and sub-branches should not be confused with the commercial entities, generally called RSL Clubs.[6]

National Presidents[edit | edit source]

Order Name Period in office Term of office
70001000000000000001 Lt Col William Kinsey Bolton 1916 – 1919 3 years
70002000000000000002 Sir Gilbert Dyett CMG 1919 – 1946 27 years
70003000000000000003 Sir Eric Millhouse 1946 – 1950 4 years
70004000000000000004 Sir George Holland 1950 – 1960 10 years
70005000000000000005 Sir Arthur Lee 1960 – 1974 6 years
70006000000000000006 Sir William Hall 1974 – 1978 4 years
70007000000000000007 Sir William Keys 1978 – 1988 10 years
70008000000000000008 Brigadier Alf Garland AM 1988 – 1993 5 years
70009000000000000009 Major General Digger James 1993 – 1997 4 years
700110000000000000010 Major General Peter Phillips 1997 – 2003 6 years
700111000000000000011 Major General Bill Crews 2003 – 2009 3 years
700112000000000000012 Rear-Admiral Ken Doolan AO 2009 – present incumbent

RSL Queensland[edit | edit source]

The Returned and Services League of Australia (Queensland Branch) is a branch of the RSL in Queensland. RSL Queensland assists all current and former members of the ADF, veterans, and their dependents,[7] and also established the Eternal Flame Foundation for financial relief and to provide care for ex-service men and women, and their dependants, in necessitous circumstances.[8]

Licensed clubs[edit | edit source]

The Granville RSL Sub-Branch Club in suburban Sydney, NSW

Licensed clubs were formed as commercial activities to initially provide services by sub-branches to its members, including providing an environment for the protection and promotion of the ideals of the ANZAC spirit and heritage. The venues were established to provide hospitality for war veterans and a place for war veterans to build on their comradeship. The venues were often located on land granted by the State government.[9] Over time these commercial entities, known generally as RSL Clubs (but also called Ex-Services, Memorial, Legion and other similar names)[9] generated profits and also often made regular donations to local community services.[6][9]

The membership base of the licensed clubs differs significantly from membership of the League. Membership of the League does not automatically confer rights of entry or membership to a licensed club. In recent years, in some jurisdictions, serving members of the ADF are granted honorary membership to a licensed RSL (or similar) club.[9][10]

RSL club in Goodna, Queensland.

Licensed clubs operating under the RSL 'banner' usually have bar and dining facilities for their members and guests, and sometimes have extensive gambling areas. In licensed (RSL) clubs, each evening a one-minute silence is called for in respect and an ode is read to honour those war veterans who have served their country.[11]

Other commercial activities[edit | edit source]

RSL Care[edit | edit source]

RSL Care is one of Australia's largest providers of retirement living and aged care services with more than 28 retirement communities throughout Queensland and New South Wales and several others in development. Its history originated from an aged care hostel provided to accommodate 64 ex-servicemen that opened in Taringa, Queensland in 1938. A second facility for 80 residents was opened in Caboolture in 1947, and two more facilities in 1968 and 1975, respectively, including a 30-bed nursing home. Over the subsequent 35 years, the number and type of facilities expanded, as well as their geographic spread, throughout Queensland and into the Lake Macquarie area of NSW.[12]

RSL Cabs[edit | edit source]

Operating under a co-operative structure, in 1946 a group of returned servicemen established RSL Ex-Servicemen's Cabs & Co-Operative Members Limited providing taxi services to Sydney. By the 1950s, the co-operative had expanded to over 60 drivers,[13] and now operates on a commercial basis, with drivers not required to be members of the League.

RSL Art Union[edit | edit source]

Commenced in Queensland in 1956, the RSL Art Union is a lottery that raises funds to provide welfare services to ex-service men and women, their dependants and to other members of the community. A major prize of a luxury waterfront home on Queensland's is usually offered, together with a range of bonus prizes. Since its inception, the RSL Art Union has given away A$80 million in prizes and has also raised over A$70 million for the development and maintenance of RSL nursing homes, hospitals and centres, as well as retirement complexes for the elderly.[14]

Notable RSL Members[edit | edit source]

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "Membership". About the RSL. Returned and Services League of Australia. 2010. http://www.clubsonline.com.au/customdata/index.cfm?fuseaction=display_main&ItemID=2845&OrgID=1689&dts=129201056622. Retrieved 30 May 2011. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 "2009 RSL Annual Report" (PDF). About the RSL – Annual Reports. Returned and Services League of Australia. 2009. pp. 70–71. https://assets.clubsonline.com.au/assets/console/document/documents/RSLAnnualReport2009.pdf. Retrieved 30 May 2011. 
  3. "RSL Mission Statement". About the RSL. Returned and Services League of Australia. 2010. http://www.clubsonline.com.au/customdata/index.cfm?fuseaction=display_main&ItemID=3828&OrgID=1689&dts=3052011261046. Retrieved 30 May 2011. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 "How the League Evolved". About the RSL. Returned and Services League of Australia. 2010. http://www.clubsonline.com.au/customdata/index.cfm?fuseaction=display_main&ItemID=3829&OrgID=1689&dts=3052011401040. Retrieved 30 May 2011.  Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "RSL-evolve" defined multiple times with different content
  5. "Section 2: The relevance of Anzac". Library Publications – Anzac Day 2011. Commonwealth of Australia. 8 April 2011. http://www.aph.gov.au/library/pubs/anzac/relevance.htm. Retrieved 31 May 2011. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 "Returned & Services League of Australia (Victorian Branch) Inc". Productivity Commission Issues Paper. Productivity Commission. March 2009. p. 4. http://www.pc.gov.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0010/87589/sub146.pdf. Retrieved 30 May 2011. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 "What is the RSL?". About us. Returned and Services League of Australia (Queensland Branch). 2010. http://www.rslqld.org/AboutUs/WhatistheRSL.aspx. Retrieved 30 May 2011. 
  8. "A message from the State President regarding the Queensland Flood Disaster". RSL Appeals. Returned and Services League of Australia (Victorian Branch). http://www.clubsonline.com.au/customdata/index.cfm?fuseaction=display_image_listing&CategoryID=11858&itemLayout=1&headerselector=3&OrgID=195&dts=12201121035. Retrieved 30 May 2011. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 "Letter from the RSL & Services Clubs Association Limited responding to the Discussion Paper re a New Framework for Consultation with the Ex-Service and Defence Communities" (PDF). Prime Ministerial Avisory Council on Ex-Service Matters. Department of Veterans' Affairs. 24 April 2008. p. 2. Archived from the original on 15 Jun 2009. http://web.archive.org/web/20090615235624/http://minister.dva.gov.au/PMAC/responses/RSL_Services_Club_Assoc.pdf. Retrieved 31 May 2011. 
  10. Christiansen, Melanie (1 February 2008). "RSL clubs fight for future". The Courier-Mail. News Limited. http://www.couriermail.com.au/news/queensland/rsl-clubs-fight-for-future/story-e6freoof-1111115455257. Retrieved 31 May 2011. 
  11. "Words of Remembrance". ANZAC Day. ANZAC Day Commemoration Committee (Qld) Incorporated. 1998. http://www.anzacday.org.au/education/tff/rememwords.html. Retrieved 31 May 2011. 
  12. "History". RSL Care. RSL (Qld) War Veterans' Homes Limited. 2010. http://www.rslcare.com.au/History.cfm. Retrieved 30 May 2011. 
  13. "Home". RSL Cabs. RSL Ex-Servicemen's Cabs & Co-Operative Members Limited. http://www.rslcabs.com.au/index.html. Retrieved 30 May 2011. 
  14. "Who is the RSL". RSL Art Union. RSL Art Union. 2010. http://www.rslartunion.com.au/AboutUs/History.aspx. Retrieved 30 May 2011. 
  15. Marks, Kathy (26 February 2002). "Sir Roden Cutler VC". The Independent. United Kingdom. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/obituaries/sir-roden-cutler-vc-729779.html. Retrieved 30 May 2011. 
  16. "NSW RSL website" (PDF). http://www.rslnsw.com.au/uploads/Media%20Release%20MR0109.pdf. Retrieved 12 October 2009. [dead link][dead link]
  17. Brown, Malcolm (16 November 2006). "Always up for a fight". The Sydney Morning Herald. http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/always-up-for-a-fight/2006/09/15/1157827160864.html. Retrieved 30 May 2011. 
  18. Garton, Stephen (2006). "Yeo, Sir William (1896 – 1972)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Australian National University. http://adbonline.anu.edu.au/biogs/A160712b.htm. Retrieved 30 May 2011. 

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