“It is with great pride that I stand here tonight, exactly 100 years to the day that a group of returned servicemen got together eight months before the end of World War 1 to form the Yarrawonga-Mulwala Sub-Branch of what was the Returned Soldiers and Sailors Association.”
Before he spoke those words, Yarrawonga-Mulwala RSL Sub-Branch Ian Summers welcomed 215 people to the sub-branch’s huge milestone anniversary dinner in ClubMulwala’s Auditorium on Wednesday, March 28.
He said the RSL has gone from strength to strength due to a succession of good presidents and secretaries, beginning with Mr Thomas Walker as president and continuing through until today.
“We have had a range of people as presidents from doctors to solicitors to graziers to farmers to butchers,” Mr Summers said.
“It is interesting to note that the first president was a butcher and his claim to fame was that he had refrigeration in his shop - something no other shop in Yarrawonga had.”
Mr Summers also singled out Mr Horrie Prescott for his 32 years (1960 to 1992) in the presidency role. “It was Horrie’s insight that led towards younger, Vietnam Veterans being introduced into positions on the committee including president, with Trevor Hargreaves (1993 to 1996) being the first Vietnam president.”
Today’s’ president specifically mentioned the RSL Ladies Auxiliary whose wonderful work “can not be measured”.
“I also thank the many unsung supporters of our sub-branch over 100 years – the welfare officers, the pensions officers, the hospital visitors, the appeals officers and all those members who gave their time over the years to sell badges for the appeals and all the other members who did ordinary jobs that make a sub-branch great.”
People who have been acknowledged as great sub-branch members were also singled out by Mr Summers: Lorna Martin OAM, Stan Clarke OAM, Anton Nieuwenhout OAM and Brian Cossar OAM.
Special guest speaker was Dr Robert Webster OAM Victorian RSL President who referred to an article in The Argus dated September 27, 1915 relating to a meeting of returned sick and wounded soldiers with a view to forming a Returned Soldiers Association in Melbourne, and with specific objectives.
Dr Webster mentioned those aims: loyalty to country, keeping alive the memory of the fallen soldier, lending a helping hand to deserving comrades, establishing benevolent and funeral funds, assisting members in obtaining employment, and emphasized “helping one another in fighting the battle of life”.
“About five years ago President (2013 to 2016) Kerry Pendergast and other members got involved with the local Rotary District (9790),” he said.
“Their pioneering relationship has grown into state-wide support for the Rotary Mental Health program which has culminated with a researcher at Swinburne Adelaide and NSW working on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder related studies.”
All of the original RSL objectives remain today, with the brutal exception by outside authorities in some cases of employment.
“Trying to meet the needs of six different generations of people can be extraordinarily challenging, with different ranges of communication strategies, from a 94-year-old widow from World War 1 to a six-year-old son of a fellow killed in Afghanistan,” Dr Webster said.
RSL’s State President said he continues to enjoy his working relationships with Yarrawonga/Mulwala over the past fortnight, initially with the three-day Rotary District 9790 Conference where he was one of 15 special guest speakers, followed by the 100 year anniversary of Yarrawonga-Mulwala RSL Sub-Branch.
The big March 28 anniversary night was so well planned by the RSL Sub Committee. The evening commenced with pre dinner drinks at 6.00pm, followed by dinner at 7.00pm. Wangaratta Pipe Band welcomed diners to their seats.
The band has performed at Yarrawonga Anzac Days for decades. “It’s an honour to be here,” Pipe Major Mavis Watson, who has been Pipe Major for the last four years in her 33 years with the Wangaratta Pipe Band, told the Yarrawonga Chronicle.
Mulwala cadets with the Wangaratta Cadet Unit marched in with the flags, David King was Master of Ceremonies, Korean Veteran John Duncan led the way with the singing of the Royal Hymn and National Anthem, and Anton Nieuwenhout OAM proposed a toast to The Returned and Services League of Australia.
Mr Summers recited the Ode and Fr Steve Bohan delivered an excellent prayer. “We give thanks for the founders and for all the members through the years who have served and lived by the ideals, values and spirit of the RSL,” Fr Steve said, before saying Grace. A delicious two-course meal was served.
Diners also admired the menu. A picture of the old Commercial Bank diagonally opposite the Yarrawonga Shire Hall which became the early RSL Clubrooms appeared on the menu’s front page; the menu’s last page contained the names of all the sub-branch’s 37 presidents.
Yarrawonga resident of five years, Norm Price, who was admitted to the South Australia Hall of Fame in 2016, entertained diners with his music, which included songs ‘I’m Going Back Again To Yarrawonga’ and ‘I Still Call Australia Home’. Norm was ‘signed up’ whilst playing golf with author extraordinaire Stan Clarke.
It was a wonderful atmosphere. Horrie’s widow Olive Prescott, accompanied by son Craig, described the evening as “very impressive and very emotional”. “For me, it’s been a rewarding evening.”
Attendees were thanked by Mr Summers who described the evening to the Yarrawonga Chronicle as “magnificent”, which it was. “It was very well attended by all sorts of groups. The meal was great and it was a great bunch of people.”
RSL’s early history
The Mulwala and District Services Club was created in 1960 by the Yarrawonga-Mulwala Returned Services League as a memorial to fallen comrades and as a tribute to those who returned.
An inaugural meeting was held in the old Yarrawonga Shire Hall on March 28, 1918, to establish a local sub-branch. Thomas Walker was appointed president and J Walker secretary.
The first duty of the sub-branch was to arrange welcomes to returning soldiers, and to give them advice and assistance to enable them to re-establish themselves in civilian life.
They were also given assistance in obtaining pensions and other benefits provided by the Commonwealth Government.
There was unemployment at that time. Everything was done to ensure the Government’s policy of preference to returned soldiers was carried out.
Funds had gradually accumulated for the purpose of building a Soldiers Memorial Hall and Clubrooms. But with the building of a new shire hall, it was decided to hand these funds to the Yarrawonga Shire Council in return for free use of the shire hall for meetings and social functions.
The RSL sub-branch continued to function efficiently and on the outbreak of war in 1939, those who didn’t enlist for further war were kept busy with send-offs to local boys.
Those remaining also conducted the local branch of the RSL Comforts Fund which raise considerable sums of money and sent quantities of knitted goods made by the RSL Ladies Auxiliary and the CWA for the soldiers.
After the war, numbers of members increased substantially. The old Commercial Bank on the south-west corner of Belmore Street and Orr Street were purchased as clubrooms.
As membership increased, the clubrooms were sold and land was purchased in Mulwala for the establishment of Mulwala and District Services Club.