RSL and Sub-Branch rift escalates

February 14, 2024
Clyde Mooney

An ongoing dispute between the Tewantin Noosa RSL Club and the Tewantin Noosa RSL Sub-Branch has produced a stand-off, membership politics and the imminent closure of the popular Diggers Bar.

The Tewantin Noosa RSL Club and the Sub-Branch are separate organisations sharing common objectives. The ‘RSL and Citizens Memorial Club’ was formed by the Sub-Branch in 1981, and they share premises at 1 Memorial Avenue, Tewantin.

Inside the club is the well-patronised Diggers Bar, offering many locals and veterans food and drinks, and regular entertainment such as line dancing, pool competitions and live music.

The Sub-Branch, a not-for-profit operated by a group of volunteers, is trustee of the area of the building containing the Diggers Bar, and it leases the space back to the Club, generating an income stream toward its work supporting veterans’ affairs.

A lease was originally created in 2015. Prior to this the space was a meeting hall, before the RSL added all the bar fixtures.

Following its COVID closure, the Club reopened in 2021 and the Sub-Branch agreed to a substantial rent reduction for three years. This agreement expires 27 April.

The Sub-Branch has reportedly been working to have a new lease drawn up, and according to secretary Kelly Ware commercial real estate agents have advised that the space is worth a lot more than has been charged in recent years.

However, RSL general manager Michael Sue See says they have not been provided critical information needed to continue an agreement, claiming the Club has contacted the Sub-Branch on multiple occasions and its “best efforts” did not secure the information in time. Now, It has been forced to make the decision that it can no longer operate the bar.

The Club informed the Sub-Branch it will close the Diggers Bar on 3 March, in preparation for the end of its lease in April.

The Sub-Branch has responded that many veterans are “devastated” by the decision, arguing it has informed the Club the lease was being prepared, admitting delays while lawyers were closed over the Christmas period.

It claims the Club requested the new lease by 27 January, in communication only received on 24 January. In lieu of the new lease, indication was provided that the new annual rent would be around $104K (+GST), which is below what had been advised by agents, and based on the original agreement.

Despite this, the Sub-Branch says the Club responded later the same day with advisement it will be ending the agreement. The space will be returned to the Sub-Branch as a hall, with the fit-out removed.

Diggers Bar

But the Club suggests the Sub-Branch has taken a “hostile stance” toward it and has been actively “running a smear campaign on social media” as it encourages its own members to join the fight against the RSL.

And it says the new rent rate represents a 46 per cent increase.

In recent years the Club has provided free membership to members of the Sub-Branch, but a communique sent out 2 February has thrown some confusion into the mix. The Club has changed the status of Sub-Branch members to ‘Honorary’ for the coming year, which still offers club benefits and no membership fee. At the same time, it has also offered Sub-Branch members 50 per cent off full membership to the Club.

The re-definition affects an estimated 400 veterans, widows, women’s auxiliary and Legacy members, who it’s said have been left “totally confused”.

Meanwhile, the future of the Diggers Bar space is unknown, and the Sub-Branch suggests it would take significant investment to open it again. It does now have the option to lease the space to another party.

The Royal Mail Hotel at Tewantin, operated by national pub chain Australian Venue Co, has offered the Sub-Branch space to host its regular meetings and events.

The RSL declares the circumstances have resulted from a dispute it does not understand, and that it has now made this public and “taken action” until such time as “an amical resolution between both parties can be found“ – for the benefit of both members and the community.

“The Club has expressed on a number of occasions its willingness to meet with the Sub-Branch in an effort to finding a resolution to the current situation, expressing its wish to foster a positive and productive relationship between both parties.”


Tags

Tewantin Noosa RSL Club, Tewantin Noosa RSL Sub-Branch


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