Milestones for our RSLs

Casey MP Tony Smith with Mount Evelyn RSL sub-branch president Roger Boness and secretary and Anthony McAleer. Picture: GREG CARRICK

 The Mount Evelyn and Lilydale RSL sub-branches are celebrating notable milestones.

The Lilydale sub-branch formed 100 years ago at a meeting in the Reading Room – now the Dame Nellie Melba Room – at the Lilydale Athenaeum Theatre.

Mount Evelyn RSL secretary Anthony McAleer said most of those present on 15 January 1919 were ex-servicemen who had just returned from World War I.

“Here they elected their first committee including their first president, James McNeill, who was a veteran of the Anglo-Boer War,” he said.

Lilydale Athenaeum Theatre Company chair Alan Burrows received a plaque from sub-branch secretary Chris Newell and president Don Parsons to mark the milestone on Tuesday 15 January.

“We feel very proud because of the association with the RSL and the building,” he said.

The club is the longest running non-sporting club in Lilydale, and hosts about 10,000 people at its Anzac Day dawn service.

The Mount Evelyn RSL sub-branch’s charter was signed 50 years ago, on 23 January 1969.

The club held a celebratory luncheon for club and community members on Sunday 20 January.

Guests included Cr Tim Heenan, Mayor Tony Stevenson, Evelyn MP Bridgett Vallence and Casey MP Tony Smith.

Ex-diggers from the Mount Evelyn area were members at Lilydale for more than 50 years.

In August 1968, 10 ex-servicemen met in the Presbyterian hall and elected a provisional committee to organise the steps necessary to form their own sub-branch.

The Victorian RSL headquarters approved the move in late 1968 and the branch received its charter on 23 January.

The club’s first president was Harold Tarbath, an Englishman who had served in WWI with the AIF and was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal and French Medal of Honor.

The first secretary was Arthur Morton-Walker, another distinguished WWI veteran who won the Military Cross while serving with the British Army.

He served the club as secretary until he retired in 1975, when he was then made the branch’s first Life Member.

The ladies auxiliary was set up during the 1980s and remains an active group.

The sub-branch built memorials to commemorate locals who served in war and the town’s former avenue of honour during the same period.

The group had been using the public hall, and secretary and treasurer John Urand said this became unsuitable.

“No storage area and such, so we started looking at building our own room somewhere,” he said.

“In the meantime through general hard work we raised money from bingo, street stalls and dances.”

In 1994 their quest for a permanent home led to meetings with the shire, who agreed to approve two thirds of the funding for an extension to the Senior Citizens building.

In February 1996, the new Mount Evelyn RSL clubrooms officially opened.

One of the first projects the club undertook once in its new home was a memorial garden that would carry the names of Mount Evelyn RSL members who had passed away.

It was dedicated in December 1996 with 25 names.

The original war memorial was moved to a new memorial garden at the top of Wray Crescent in 2003.

The club has won a number of awards over the years for its, not least president Roger Boness being awarded Senior Veteran of the Year and Anthony McAleer being awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia.