The RSL is a peer-to-peer organisation founded by veterans to support veterans and their families
In 1916 a ‘Welcome Home Committee’ was formed in Cairns to support the Veterans returning from the First World War. Later that year the Cairns RSL Sub Branch was established, showing that Cairns was right at the forefront of the formation of the RSL across Australia. Although the culture of the Cairns RSL Sub Branch has changed over the past 100 years, the ethos of “mates helping mates” is still very strong.
Today the Cairns RSL Sub Branch prides itself on the role it plays in looking after its core constituency – current and former serving men and women and their families. Our motto – Caring For Our Defence Family. In order to make the organisation more relevant to the younger members, a younger veterans advisory board has been formed which formulates ideas and suggestions to assist in attracting the younger demographic to the Cairns RSL Sub Branch.
The Welfare and Advocacy work is varied and includes such things as hospital visits, home visits, arranging home help, medical treatment and assisting with preparation of claims for pensions, compensation, rehabilitation. The Cairns RSL Sub Branch also provides activities for our members including a Day Club and is responsible for the planning and delivery of commemoration days as ANZAC Day, Remembrance Day and Vietnam Veterans’ Day as well as various other events throughout the year.
The Cairns RSL Sub-Branch has been supporting our Defence family since 1916 when the Welcome Home Committee was formed. Later that year the Cairns Sub-Branch of the Returned Soldiers Association was officially formed. The Welcome Home Committee purchased a block of land on The Esplanade and on 16 December 1918 the adjoining block with a house called “Tower Villa” to be renamed “The Rest Home for Returned Soldiers” was purchased.
The house had been relocated from Kuranda in 1908 by the owner George Mayers, and the purchase was made on behalf of the RSL by Arthur Francis Moody and James Steven Gomm as Trustees for the Cairns Sub-Branch of the League.
The Rest Home was to be used and enjoyed by all returned soldiers and sailors in the Cairns District as a rest and recreation home. Extensions were made by 1922, with substantial accommodation to the South-East and a connection to the original tower by an enclosed veranda. In 1932 the mayor of Cairns (W.A. Collins) donated land for Warhaven, another property to be used and administered by the Sub-Branch as a rehabilitation home for returned servicemen. In 1937 the original house was relocated to the rear of the block and a new substantial masonry building erected in front. The front portion of this building forms the current façade with its distinctive three arches.
On 9 September 1948, two more blocks of land were purchased. Some confusion followed this purchase, as in 1952 it was discovered that the RSL had built on land that did not belong to them. This led to discussions between Sir Thomas Covacavich and the Premier of Queensland and Vince Gair, resulting in Sir Thomas drafting an act called the “Cairns Welcome Home Club Transfer Act”, which apparently put right the problem. In 1953 the original house was demolished, and a hall built at the back. The bar that was in the house up to this point was moved into the hall built at the back. The bar that was in the house up to this point was moved into the hall. The Club operated successfully even though a liquor licence had not been obtained, but was allowed to operate with the tolerance of the authorities.
On 4 July 1963, the buildings were destroyed by fire. The Rest Home section was completely destroyed along with the first-floor section of the front building. The bar and lounge section of the ground floor were only smoke damaged. The greatest losses were however, the many irreplaceable historical articles and photos, particularly the Roll of Honour, and all the Legacy, historical and office records.
The front portion of the building was repaired, and in time the front hall and back section. The old Rest Home was replaced with new accommodation. The new building was officially opened in 1965. In 1968 the Cenotaph was moved from the centre of Abbott Street to its present location on the Esplanade, centred on the main entrance.
1971 saw extensions to the north-west utilising the block towards Florence street. This housed the “Coral Sea Bar”. Few changes were made until the 1990s, which saw a number of alterations and additions. Architectural drawings of 1991 show the Coral Sea Bar still existing and a fence to the Esplanade and Florence Street corner block. In July 1992, drawings show the Functions room at the rear of the main building, and in a further drawing of August 1992, this area is shown dedicated to poker machines. This appears in sketch plans for the present Bistro and outdoor light-weight covered garden area on the corner of the Esplanade and Florence Street, although this work did not proceed until September 1993.
Since 1999 further work has been carried out over the years, but this consists mostly of interior upgrading and refurbishing and has not substantially alter the basic form of the complex.