It shocks me that I have been writing posts on this blog for over 11 years now, and I’ve never written one specifically about RSL’s. Never too late, as they say.
I wrote this article some time ago, late in 2017, and it appeared in Australia and New Zealand magazine for their winter addition of that year. I’m reprinting it here today for a reason, which I’ll explain after the article.
It would have been some time in 2011 when I wrote an article for this very magazine comparing pubs in the UK with pubs in Australia. At that time, the UK had about 60,000 such drinking holes compared with Australia’s paltry 4000. Since then many UK pubs have shouted last orders for the final time and numbers have dwindled down to around 52,750 boozers these days.
Edit: as I write this article today, in April 2019, that number could now be below 50,000 according to an article I just read on the BBC.
This is what a typical English pub looks like…
Here in Australia our bar count continues to climb, we now have just over 6000 drinking venues which are more commonly called hotels and taverns, rather than pubs. Australia still has a way to go though before it can match the UK for pubs, even after adjusting for our country’s differing populations.
Last month I wrote an article introducing you to the joys of bowls clubs here in Australia. Bowls is a popular sport, but its popularity is surely helped by the licensed bars of these clubs and the cheap ‘pub’ grub available in them.
Australia has more bowls clubs man for man, with 2000 clubs here compared to 2700 in the UK. Today I’m going to talk about a third drinking establishment in Australia.
The Returned & Services League of Australia (RSL) is a national organisation here; I could easily call it a national treasure. I once heard someone suggest that ‘every town in Australia has an RSL.’
They don’t, but they’re hugely popular.
They are, I suspect, the equivalent of the Royal British Legion (RBL) of which there are around 2350 in the UK.
Australia though has nearly 2300 RSL clubs and sub-branches, so population adjusted they clearly outnumber RBL clubs.
So whilst we may get thrashed on pubs, we do claw a little bit back on bowls and RSL clubs. Some RSL’s are a little bit spit and sawdust, but others can be quite classy, like the one I went to recently in Cairns.
If you’re in an RSL at 6 PM, then you will be expected to observe a period of silence in honour of the veterans who sacrificed so much in many wars. For the rest of the evening, you can enjoy cheaper than average booze at the bar and more cheap ‘pub’ grub without the bowls.
Instead, you will undoubtedly be introduced to the ‘meat tray raffle’. The rules of this one are simple; buy raffle tickets and hope to win a great big tray of raw meat to chuck on the barbie.
Australia (about 9300 drinking venues) is 31 times bigger than the UK (63,000), so it’s easy to see why pub crawls are just not going to happen here easily. Luckily though, we have the back garden barbecue to turn to, with the weather to go with it.
So you probably won’t need to walk too far for a drink.
Then of course, there are over 300 Surf Life Savers Clubs scattered around our coastline, so you won’t be getting too thirsty in Australia.
That said, the UK has their own similar clubs, Surf Life Saving GB. Its founding father was an Australian called Allan Kennedy. He first started saving surfers and swimmers lives in Byron Bay, New South Wales. With just 70 such clubs in the UK though, surf life saving didn’t quite take off as well as in Australia.
I can’t think why.
Of course, the reason I saved this article for today is that Tomorrow is Anzac Day. Please do click that link to find out more about what Anzac Day is if you don’t already know.
Lest we forget.