About Us


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.

Board Members

President – Kristen Rice

Kristen Rice enlisted in the Royal Australian Navy as a Commissioned Officer as a Midshipman in 1997 serving for just under 20 years as a Marine Engineering Officer. Kristen saw several operational deployments to the Middle East Area of Operations, peacekeeping in the Solomon Islands as well as deploying on several missions to the Northern Australian Area of Operations for suspect illegal entry vessels, including the Southern Ocean. Kristen is also one of the Compensation Advocates at the Cairns RSL Sub Branch and so is being kept up to date with what are the latest issues facing veterans when transitioning out of the Australian Defence Force.

Kristen is thrilled to be part of the team at the Cairns RSL Sub Branch in order to continue the 100-year legacy of enacting the predominant object of the RSL: looking after both serving and ex serving members of the Australian Defence Force and their dependents, with what is arguably the most established and well recognised ex-service organisation within Australia – the Returned Services League of Australia (Queensland Branch).

Vice President – Peter Hayton

Peter Hayton enlisted in the Royal Australian Air Force in May 1977 and was discharged in January 2002.  During his service he worked at a variety of operational Squadrons – 5 Squadron AS-350B Squirrel and UH-1H Iroquois helicopters from 1986-1990 and 37 Squadron C130E Hercules aircraft, CH47B Dakota aircraft.

He was selected to train with Lockheed Martin for the acquisition of the C130J Hercules Aircraft. Peter worked with Lockheed Martin and brought the first Australian crewed C130J back to Australia in October 1999. Peter was then posted to develop 285 Squadron Training for all C130 aircraft utilised by the RAAF – C130E Hercules, C130H Hercules C130J Hercules.

Peter served at various RAAF bases throughout his service, including Wagga Wagga, Laverton, Amberley, Fairbairn, Pearce, Richmond and Townsville.  Following his discharge from the RAAF in 2002, he worked with Queensland Health as a Payroll Officer and later as Assistant Manager Clinical Administration.  In 2007 Peter joined Department of Housing and Public Works as a Program Officer until his retirement in 2013.

In 2012 Peter joined the Cairns RSL Sub-Branch Board as a director for five and a half years and was voted in as Vice President in 2018. For two years Peter worked with the Yarrabah Chapter of the Cairns RSL Sub-Branch and in 2016 thanks to Peters assistance Yarrabah became their own Sub-Branch.  Peter is currently assisting Torres Straits to also become their own Sub-Branch.

Treasurer – Ben Hemphill

Ben Hemphill commenced his career as a graduated from the Australian Defence Force Academy in 1994 and rose to the rank of Lieutenant.  Ben obtained his Seaman Officer qualification in HMAS Cessnock, which he would later return to as the Executive Officer. In between these postings, Ben served as the last Navigating Officer of a Western Australian Patrol Boat in HMAS Geraldton before he was part of the crew that relocated the Patrol Boat to Darwin. Ben’s naval career was heavily involved in Operation Cranberry and Operation Relex.  After completing his time in Patrol Boats, Ben was posted as a Divisional Officer for the New Entry Officer’s Course in HMAS Creswell. From here Ben undertook a two-year posting as the Maritime Surveillance Advisor to the Republic of Marshall Islands. Upon his return to Australia Ben was appointed to the Commanding Officer’s Course, where he then decided to leave the Royal Australian Navy.

Ben is an experienced business professional with qualifications in Bachelor of Arts Systems Technology, Diploma of Business, Diploma of Government, Diploma of Business Technology, Advanced Diploma of Management Systems and a Certificate IV in Training and Assessing.  Working in the corporate world, Ben has been exposed to new leadership and management styles and believes that these are beneficial to the Sub-Branch.

Joining the Cairns RSL Sub-Branch in 2008 as a member, Ben was then elected to the board of Directors as the Treasurer in 2015.  As the Treasurer Ben is responsible for the financial management of the Sub-Branch.  His main objective is to keep the Sub-Branch fulfilling its key business of Pensions, Advocacy and Welfare and ensure the longevity of the Sub-Branch financially.

Director – John Paterson

John was born and educated in Melbourne and joined the Regular Army in 1976. He served in the Infantry and Special Forces and saw operational service in Malaysia, Zimbabwe-Rhodesia, Lebanon, Israel, Syria, East Timor and Afghanistan. He commanded an infantry battalion and has filled senior management positions at the Royal Military College, the Combat Arms Training Centre and in Special Operations Headquarters. In 2004 John took a year of long service leave and worked as the Manager of the Tourism and Hospitality Faculty at the Cairns TAFE.

John left the Army in 2014 and took up a position as the Dean/CEO of the Aviation Australia Riyadh College of Excellence, a start-up technical college in Saudi Arabia delivering English and aviation maintenance training to young Saudi men. Since returning to Australia John has worked in his consultancy business and part-time with the Australian Electoral Commission and the Army Reserve.

John has been a director of private companies for over thirty years, is a member of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, and has completed the Company Directors Course (2004) and the CDC Update (2017). John holds a Masters Degree in Defence Studies, a Graduate Diploma in Management Studies and a Diploma of Resource Management. He hopes to contribute to the Sub-Branch’s corporate governance practices, and initiatives in support of younger veterans.

Director – Rob (Brucey) Lee

Rob ‘Brucey’ Lee joined the Australian Army in 2001 serving for ten years as an Infantry soldier before transferring to logistics spending the remainder of his 16 years of service as a Company Quartermaster Sergeant. Rob saw operational service in East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan as well as deploying on training missions to Malaysia and Germany.  After a brief hiatus in New Zealand working as a contracts administrator for a civil engineering firm Rob returned to Australia and established the Cairns Mates4Mates branch.

After working for 18 months establishing the Mates4Mates brand working as a Liaison Officer Rob moved into the sales department at Pacific Toyota.  Rob wishes to transfer skills learnt through his military career and experience in dealing with veterans with physical and psychological injuries with Mates4Mates to the Cairns RSL sub-branch. Rob is excited to join a team with a wealth of knowledge and skills within the ex-service persons community and continue the RSL’s work as the premier ex-service organisation.

Secretary – Mal McCullough

Mal has an extensive thirty-year community service management background, in community development, youth work, homelessness and drug & alcohol rehabilitation. He brings the experiences of his own Infantry service, as well as a long and rich family military history from WW1 to present day conflicts.

He believes that bringing these community and military worlds together will assist him in moving the Sub-Branch forward.  Bringing about long lasting positive social and economic outcomes, not only for our Defence Family but also for the Sub-Branch as an organisation.

Our History

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.


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