The founding fathers of our Sub-Branch did not leave many records of their achievements and what records they did leave have been lost. But from the scant information available we believe that a group of World War I Veterans who were meeting at irregular times, decided to form an RSL Sub-Branch in Merewether.
To this end, they applied to the State Branch of the RSS & AILA (Returned Sailors’, Soldiers’ and Airmens’ Imperial League of Australia) as it was then known, for a Charter. This was granted by the NSW State Branch on 25 August 1938. The inaugural President of the Merewether RSL Sub-Branch was Mr Bill Newburn (Honorary Secretary and Treasurer are unknown).
During the early years of the Sub-Branch many World War I Anzacs joined with an influx of World War II Diggers in the 50’s and 60’s – membership then rose from the 200’s into the 500’s.
In the 1950’s the Merewether R.S.S & A.I.L.A. Ladies Auxiliary was formed. They undertook fundraising activities and were able to purchase from the Newcastle Council the old former Merewether Municipal Chambers which the Sub-Branch used for their meetings for many years. Until then, the Sub-Branch was meeting in the old Merewether Fire Station at the rear of the Council Chambers. The Fire Station was an old reel and hose station which became vacant when the new Fire Station was built on land next to the Council Chambers in 1933.
The Sub-Branch operated so successfully, that it was decided to build an extension behind the Council Chambers for a dance hall.
At this period of time, the old tin sheds at the rear provided a venue for annual Christmas parties for children of ex-servicemen and it was also later used by Merewether icon, Alice Ferguson, for weekly tap-dancing classes for young people of the area. Alice was loved and recognised for volunteering her time to the youth of Merewether in so many ways. The old hall still exists today and is now relocated on the St Augustine’s Church Merewether car park adjacent in Winsor Street.
The land was cleared and the foundations dug to plans drawn by Joe Cook and many willing and able members were pressed into service, wielding pick and shovel, until the foundations were prepared. Joe Cook and his son Don, were then sub-contracted for the brick foundations and Merv Elsley, Bill Turner and Andy Gillespie were the carpenters on the new building, while Bill Larkin, Alex Henderson and Harold Clarke did the plumbing.
The building extensions were opened on 31 October 1956 by the then Deputy Lord Mayor of Newcastle, Alderman T Edmunds.
In 1956 Liquor Laws prevented Sub-Branches from holding a Liquor Licence. Consequently, Social Clubs came into being and the licensed Merewether RSL Club in Llewellyn Street was formed. The building was enlarged and renovated several times over the years. The RSL Sub-Branch had its own room at the back of the Licensed Club at 1st floor level. It could seat 80 with a kitchenette and other facilities.
After 5.00pm on Friday’s, the Club was packed and was well patronised on other days. The 50th anniversary of the Sub-Branch was held in 1988 and was a great success with members travelling from Sydney and afar to celebrate. The Sub-Branch celebrated many more milestones with current members, Ray Bennett, Phil Winney and Geoff Rich organising a celebration in 2004.
In the years which followed many changes took place, with the introduction of the ‘Booze Bus’ and upgrades to local Clubs and Hotels which resulted in reduced patronage and income. The RSL Club building was also deteriorating and in need of extensive maintenance. The Board then decided that rather than becoming financially unsound in keeping the Club operating, it would cease trading. At the Annual General Meeting held at Merewether Bowling Club on Sunday, 22 November 2009, members voted on a Special Resolution to voluntarily wind-up the affairs of the RSL Club in accordance with the Corporations Act. It had already ceased trading on 30 June 2009.
The building was sold in 2011, with the remaining significant cash assets, in excess of $900,000.00, equally divided between Merewether RSL Sub-Branch and the Merewether Bowling Club in accordance with the company’s Articles of Association.
On 4 July 2013 the President Phil Winney, Secretary Geoff Rich and Treasurer Terry West negotiated a substantial and beneficial leasing agreement with South Newcastle Rugby League Club to establish and operate the Sub-Branch offices and ANZAC Meeting Rooms in the Club, well into the future.