Lest We Forget
As ANZAC Day approaches it is timely to consider the history of the RSL in Yamba. The RSL came into existence all around Australia to assist the survivors of World War I and their families. Initially members in the Yamba area met in private homes or local business premises, until 1926 when they acquired a cottage, which was also used for holiday respite by former servicemen and their dependants, until it was sold in 1953.
Interest lapsed during the Great Depression of the 1930s and World War II, with membership dropping to eleven in 1937. However, the RSL re-formed in 1946. The Sub Branch changed its name from Clarence Heads to Yamba and a new Charter issued in 1951.
There were no official RSL premises until the erection of a hall in Church Street, built as a community project, in 1953. Len McDermid, elected as President in 1949, had a, “tenacious ‘hands on’ approach that secured the land and materials, the financial backing and support of public bodies, ex-servicemen and civilian helpers”. Len and his helpers not only recycled materials from local building demolitions and did the actual construction work, they even sold prawns in Grafton as a means of raising money towards the construction.
A Women’s Auxiliary was formed in 1954, soon after the hall was completed. Until recently, the hall was maintained by the Sub Branch and the Women’s Auxiliary working together. Fund raising activities such as ‘Housie’ and catering for community events have helped the RSL grow and made the hall an important community facility.
By 1956 the hall was already too small and extensions to the building provided a supper room, kitchen and meeting room space. In the 1960s it became famous for its Debutante Balls. Catering for wedding receptions and anniversaries, birthday celebrations, wakes, and dinners for local organisations became a regular source of income.
A Youth Club was held there from 1977 to 1995. Young people enjoyed regular discos in the 1980s and gymnastics and boxing and other activities were held twice weekly for just 40c per session, with an average attendance of 30-40. Nowadays the Osprey Day Care Club, which started in 2000, caters for older members of the community.
Over the years the hall has undergone various extensions and renovations such as an interior mural depicting both World Wars and the Vietnam War (1997) and a special Memorial Wall (2004). In 1995 the building was renamed the Len McDermid Memorial Hall in honour of one of the founding members who served as President, Vice President and Patron from 1949 to 1992.
Members of the RSL and Women’s Auxiliary have been recognised for their community work. Order of Australia medals were awarded to Audrey Robinson and Daphne McPherson while Jim Watts was awarded life membership to National RSL in 2006 for his contribution to the Returned Services League.
Declining numbers and reduced capabilities of the aging members led to the closure of the Women’s Auxiliary in 2013. However the RSL – the hall and the organisation – remains an important community asset for Yamba.