Returned and Services League of Australia

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The Returned and Services League of Australia (mostly just known as the "RSL", or "rissole") is an Australian national organisation for people who have been to hell and back, and learned to drink while they were there if (unlike nearly all Australians) they didn't already know.

Hell is a place where Australians go to wars and near-wars, and learn to drink. Hence, the men and a few women who have served or serve in the Australian Defence Force (Royal Australian Navy, Australian Army and Royal Australian Air Force) have a place to call a mess after they no longer have an identity pass to get onto every military base and drink the booze there.

edit Local Clubs

Drink 01

While there is a national headquarters in Canberra, there are RSL drinking opportunities in most towns and cities across the nation, because ex-sailor/soldier/airmen's wives like to live on out-of-the-way places far from their husband's unit-mates. Their husbands get around this by making new drinking-buddies.

Some of the clubs also offer other distractions, such as:

edit The RSL's Roots

Royal Welsh Sheep Botherers 1914

WWI soldiers, having been to a bar, then relieved themselves at the Front and now return to the bar.

The RSL started during World War I when some mates from that war realised that they had learned to drink while in the United Kingdom, the Russian Empire, France, Belgium, Serbia, Italy, Japan, Greece, Romania, and Portugal ("our side"), and the various places in "the other side", the German Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire and the Kingdom of Bulgaria. Apart from the Ottoman Empire, an Islamic empire which was notionally "dry", the other places were great places to drink, and the Australian men (and a few women, mainly nurses, also known as "targets") had applied themselves with gusto to learning the drinking etiquette of these places, which they normally could not remember as they had mastered it so successfully and so quickly that it was all a blur.

Simpsondonkey

Australian soldiers at Gallipoli, WWI. The donkey is not drunk.

The RSL began life as the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia in 1916, became the Returned Sailors' Soldiers' and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia in 1940, and became the Returned & Services League of Australia in 1965. Despite the apparent 25 year cycle of changing names, it did not change its name in 1990. The next likely 25th year name change is 2015, although the rebuilding of the RSL's national headquarters from 2010-2013 may trigger this a little early.

Prohibition was not an issue in Australia, as it was in the USA and elsewhere. So, RSL members were given an almost unencumbered try at un-learning the "horrors of war". However, there was an impediment: "Six o'clock closing", more usually called the "Six o'Clock Swill". This was a result of Australian women managing to convince politicians to have the public bars and clubs close at 6pm so that their men-folk would come home before returning to work the next day. The result was that men, finishing work at 5pm, rushed to the bars and got "tanked", and just before 6pm lined up as many beers as they could carry and then took them to a quiet part of the street adjacent to the now-closed bar, and later turned up at home more "rotten" than if they'd been allowed to drink in peace. What began as a WWI austerity measure was finally gone in law by 1967, Australians having forfeited a full 50 years of drinking opportunities in public bars.

The RSL, like some other "private clubs", got around this drinking law, in time, and sanity reposed in the newly built RSL shacks and halls until the 6 o'clock swill was abandoned. Coincidentally, this was around the time Einstein was awarded the Nobel for Drinking, achieved by downing grog as close as possible to the speed of light - although the RSL had worked this out some years before but had forgotten not to forget it so had never bothered to go to Sweden either.

The RSL is now constructing a Large Flagon Imbiber, so that scientists in beer goggles can test Carlton's Hypotheses: that the universe is fundamentally composed of beer, made up of Bosun's Hicks, and that consequently (as the ancients believed) the secret of the universe lies in the bottom of a glass.

edit Drinking Calendar

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There are several big days for the RSL each year. Each has its spiritual rituals, drinking songs and tall tales.

edit ANZAC Day (25 April)

  • Drinking starts with the early arrivers getting a few drinks into them to make them not feel the cold before they attend the Dawn Service.
  • Drinking re-starts immediately after the service, with a Gunfire Breakfast - rum-laced coffee (the oldie's version of Red Bull).
  • At around 10am there is an ANZAC Day March and the veterans stagger to the starting line and try to avoid having to "go" before the end of the march. These days they are often supported by their kids, provided that the kids don't march with their hands in their pockets.
  • After the march, it's about lunch time so it's legitimate to start drinking seriously, while they watch or participate in Two-up, a national gambling game involving throwing two or three coins in the air and betting on the outcome, allowed only on this one day a year so that everyone forgets how much they lost last year to the very few people who understand the game and "manage" (rig) it each year for the drunken punters.
  • The afternoon is spent telling increasingly alcohol-fuelled recollections of the "glory days" until a member of the family can get the veteran into a means of transport to go home; easier said than done. The larger clubs provide courtesy buses, entered by a chute from the top of the club steps.
  • 26 April is for having a hangover and a "hair of the dog". (If you are not an Aussie then you know you need to look that up!)

edit Remembrance Day (11 November)

  • Is like ANZAC Day, except less so.
  • Is two months after 9/11.

edit Other major dates

On almost any day of the year there is a commemoration for some unit or battle, and this is commemorated by drinking.

edit RSL Daily Remembrance

RSL clubs hold a daily remembrance at 7pm, called the "witching hour". Lights are dimmed and all present are expected to rise to their feet while a remembrance text is read:

“"They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old; Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning,

We will remember them."”
~ For The Fallen, Laurence Binyon

The reader quietly adds, "Lest we forget", which all present should quietly repeat. Then, suitably misty-eyed, and as they are on their feet already, the next step is obviously another visit to the bar. (This section is nearly all true.)

edit The RSL's Nick-name

Drink 01

The RSL's nickname is "rissole". While this is a well-known food favourite in many countries, the Australian rissole is a flat, spiced, minced meat pattie, sometimes coated with breadcrumbs, typically fried. The rissole is eaten, but not usually appreciated. For many Australians, the "consuming" of the RSL amounts to the same. Therein, rather than the similarity of the two words when spoken, lies the irony of the plain nickname. Thus, to get "rissoled" is a condition devoutly sought with the approach of closing time.

edit Future of the RSL

The original members of the RSL knew that they had fought "The War to End All Wars", but didn't really think about the future beyond the next drink.

The veterans of World War II knew they had fought The Last War, and gradually edged into the drinking circles of the WWI veterans.

The veterans of the Malayan Campaign, Korean War, sundry "police actions", Vietnam War, Falklands War, Gulf War (1-3), more "actions" including Somalia, Afghanistan (The Afghan War), East Timor, Solomon Islands, and so on, have all also fought the "last war", and taken their place in the line of succession for forming the drinking circle in the favourite places at the RSL clubs.

edit Famous and Infamous Members

  • Bruce Ruxton: A former state president for Victoria. Thought by some to be misogynistic and opinionated, he was more simply bombastic and opinionated. Some, on occasion, found this unmistakable from "drunk". However, anybody qualified to become an RSL state president is already past that distinction. His rap recording "My name is Bruce Ruxton and I'll say just what I mean" is a gem.
  • Sir John Gorton GCMG, AC, CH (1911-2002) - 19th Prime Minister of Australia. A man whose "characterful" face, the result of an accident while landing a fighter aircraft during World War II, made him look like a plastered Drop Bear.

edit See also

edit Notes

  1. Which is just fine with the wives.

edit External links

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