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July 23, 2024 6:12 PM

A centenary for the Branxton RSL

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BY MEREDITH BLAIR

Allen. H, Allen. J, Anderson. E.J.

These are just some of the names of the gallant soldiers from Branxton that fought in WW1, named on the Branxton Memorial Rotunda opened in June 1923.

The Rotunda became a gathering place for the Branxton Community, where the community saw the town band play and where they gathered to celebrate.

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A view of the rotunda which has played host to a century of dawn services and remembrance services for the residents of Branxton and surrounds.

A short walk from the Rotunda and along Branxton’s Main Road sits the Branxton RSL Sub-Branch Hall along Branxton’s Main Street, built on land donated to the RSL by the Branxton community as a thank you and remembrance to the soldiers.

The exterior of the hall is mostly unassuming, if you don’t happen to notice the 750 Pound Practice Bombs, formerly of the Singleton Army Camp, placed as a fitting piece of decor on the Hall’s front yard.

Whilst last year marks the sub-branch’s centenary year within the Branxton community, the foundation stone of their existing hall was laid by Mrs W.P. Vile on December 13, 1958, built to replace their old meeting place on the edge of Branxton that had burnt down.

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Construction of the hall took place in 1957.

The RSL Hall has served its community and was at times a customary venue, celebrating residents’ birthdays and weddings, as well as hosting dances, raffles and the odd leg guessing competition.

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The hall was completed in 1958 and has served the community ever since.

Nowadays, the Hall is used to host Branxton RSL’s committee meetings, with its most frequent guest being the Branxton Girl Guides hosting their meetings on Mondays and Tuesdays.

Brian Furner has been President of the Branxton RSL sub-Branch since 2013, following his time in the Defence Force spending 20 years from 1964 in the Australian Clearance Diving Team for six of which he held the title of Chief Petty Officer Clearance Diver.  

Brian’s history with the Defence Force extends past himself with his grandfather, Tom Lusty, serving in WW1.

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The hall’s side doors still display a vibrant bubble gum paint after six decades.

Tom Lusty was an Englishman holidaying in Australia, however his holiday was cut short when at Singleton he decided to enlist.

Lusty fought at Gallipoli but was shot in the neck, having to returning home to England.

He returned to Australia later as a “Ten Pound Pom”, being given land at Glennies Creek and raising his three daughters.

“When I was a kid, he never spoke much about the war. They didn’t really like to engage in that stuff.” Brian recalled about his grandfather.

Apart from his grandfather however, Brian talks proudly of his RSL predecessor, Athol Partridge – arguably one of the most influential presidents of the Branxton RSL sub branch.

Athol was a member of the Branxton RSL branch for 75 years, acting as president from 1973 to 1997.

Athol himself barely survived WWII, described in a story told by Brian.

When fighting in New Guinea, Athol had to go home following his father having a heart attack.

He went to hop on the next plane out but was bumped off the aircraft by a Senior Official.

The plane Athol had almost caught ended up crashing, killing those on board – Athol however caught the next plane, returning home safely.

His dedication for the RSL was evident, keeping the hall running through hard times running chook raffles and Friday night dances and in the last 10 years of his presidency driving from Dungog to Branxton to attend meetings and functions.

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The hall recently hosted Deputy Premier Paul Toole and Member for the Upper Hunter Dave Layzell visited the hall on January 17 to announce $40,000 had been allocated from the NSW Government’s Resources for Regions Fund to help stabilise the building’s concrete piers.

In its lifetime, the RSL Hall has had a moderate amount of repairs and renovations, including the addition of the indoor toilet by the local TAFE in 1960, the Hall’s Kitchen extension in 1977 and renovation by Bunnings in 2012 and in 2013 the addition of the wheelchair ramp, hand rails and replacement of the roof.

However, the Hall retains some familiar elements that it was given 65 years ago, including the side doors original paint colour – a vibrant bubble gum pink.

Over the years, the building has been subject to white ant attacks, piers cracking due to vibration from heavy machinery driving along Branxton’s Main Street and general wear and tear.

The future of Branxton’s RSL Hall is looking bright though, having received $10,000 from Veterans Affairs and a further $40,000 from the NSW Government’s Resources for Regions Fund with the assistance of local member Dave Layzell to stabilise the Hall’s concrete piers.

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The foundation stone of their existing hall was laid by Mrs W.P. Vile on December 13, 1958.

Brian hopes that the Branxton RSL Hall will be able to access further funding to paint the hall and fix up the rest of the structure, restoring the life of the hall.

While the RSL is an active part of the Branxton Community, hosting and attending ANZAC Day ceremonies, selling badges to the Branxton Community on ANZAC Day and Armistice Day, as well as going into schools in Branxton, Greta, Lochinvar, Maitland and Cessnock to teach the history of Branxton’s service personnel, Brian emphasised the need to keep the community involved with the RSL.

“We need to keep our presence felt within the community – they’re the ones that put us here. If we don’t tell the people all of the heritage, all this will fall apart and we won’t be around in another 100 years,” he explained.

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These sacred words greet all of the hall’s visitors.

When elected in the role of President, Brian Furner’s predecessor told him, “I just want you to do one thing, make this place better than when I left.”

With their hard work and dedication to the continuation of the legacy of the Branxton RSL subbranch Hall, it’s evident that Branxton RSL members have strived to do so.

Ensuring the preservation of the history of Branxton RSL subbranch and its presence in the community is vital. If you’re interested in becoming a member of the subbranch, call President Brian Furner on 0429 438 460 or join online at rslnsw.org.au/

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