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Redfern RSL marches on

On Sunday April 19, the members of the Returned & Services League in Redfern proudly marched from their club to Redfern Park for a service and wreath-laying ceremony. Led by mounted police and a Scots marching band belting out ‘Amazing Grace’ on the bagpipes, there was a definite air of pride from the gentlemen and women that had served their country reports Nicholas McCallum in the South Sydney Herald of May 2009.

There was also gratitude expressed by the people along Redfern Street who stopped to pay their respects to the returned servicemen and women. However, continued veneration for the members of Redfern RSL faces an uncertain future. An ageing membership and uncertain financial times has provided a not entirely unwelcome chance for new vitality at the club.

In an attempt to stave off a merger or closure, the Redfern RSL club is following the trend of numerous other clubs across the city and cashing in on the underlying value of its real estate.

In June 2008, Redfern RSL, in conjunction with developer CB Richard Ellis, announced that it was allowing expressions of interest for the revamping of the Redfern-Gibbons Streets site. In a press release from that time, then General Manager Peter Butcher heralded the site’s potential to expand its membership base to a younger demographic.

“By providing a modern club environment we believe we can better appeal to the demographic of the surrounding area and attract more members in their mid-20s to mid-30s,” Mr Butcher said.

The release also stated that the redevelopment coincided with continued gentrification of the Redfern area, something that the RSL is very eager to be a part of. So eager in fact, that at a recent AGM in March this year, members had to agree that the club’s current location was not essential to any future redevelopment.

However, Deputy Chair Ron Shurmer confirmed that whilst the DA has been given the okay from board members, the developer has guaranteed the first floor of the future structure for the use of the RSL club. “The club can only stay viable if it stays where it is,” he said.

He also stated that whilst the development is essential to the club’s future, a merger with any of the struggling clubs nearby is not something that has been ruled out by the board members.

“[A merger] would have to be a commercial decision, though it is not something we’d like to do.”

Mr Shurmer added that the club’s future depends on new people joining, something that a sparkling new building will hopefully attract. “We need new, bonza young members to keep the club going,” hoping that future employees at the ATP will choose to wet their whistles there, just opposite the railway station.

The current DA will turn the existing clubhouse into an 18-storey skyscraper. Apart from the first floor RSL club, the remaining storeys will be comprised of 13 levels of residential space, a supermarket, a further two levels for commercial use and six levels of basement parking.

Ron estimates that, when construction begins, the club will have to close its doors for two years as the existing building is demolished and rebuilt into the new tower. He also acknowledged that such a large-scale reconstruction in the current financial climate carries the same risks of stagnation presently playing out at the former CUB site in Chippendale, but there is little choice in the matter.

So, as with their march, there is hope from the RSL that the sun will shine on the future of the club and its members as they look for a new beginning in a new clubhouse.

Photo: Ali Blogg- Caption: Marching together
Source: South Sydney Herald May 2009