1904 Bankstown RSL
Former Bankstown RSL
As Bankstown RSL stands at the threshold of the most momentous change in its 87-year history, it is apt to reflect on the journey that the Club has taken to reach this point.
Bankstown RSL came into being on 17 September 1928, originally founded as a sub-branch by twenty-six returned servicemen from the 1914-1918 war. The Club has been a steadily growing part of the Bankstown community now for over 85 years.
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As with many RSL clubs, Bankstown RSL started from humble beginnings and was run primarily by the members themselves. As the years went by and its popularity grew, the Club took on professional management and staff and expanded from being a simple club room, to become Bankstown’s foremost hospitality venue.
The evolution of its facilities saw the addition of an indoor swimming pool, squash court, snooker room, bowling green, sauna, gymnasium and an auditorium that hosted shows by some of the biggest international names of their respective eras.
Those years marked the Club’s heyday, at a time when Bankstown offered little else in the way of entertainment, and was still on the periphery of Sydney. It was almost a given, that local residents would join the Club and enjoy dining, dancing and entertainment on a regular basis.
However, the good times didn’t last forever, and due to changes in social habits through the 1980’s, the increase of competition from other clubs and venues within the Bankstown area, and some detrimental management decisions, Bankstown RSL started to decline. In fact, the decline became quite serious, as falling revenues and rising costs meant less money for maintaining a large Club, and changing safety legislation forced a requirement for expensive updates, which simply could not be fulfilled.
By the early 2000’s Bankstown RSL’s predicament was serious enough to warrant intervention by the bank. It was at this stage that management changed. They had broad industry experience, particularly with clubs in financial difficulties, and were able to focus on the changes that had to be made, in order for the Club to survive. In addition, to its financial predicament, the Club had a Fire Order imposed upon it and as such, the very future of the building was in doubt.
Gone was the auditorium, the swimming pool and the squash court. Out went expensive entertainment and promotions. Instead, the Club became focussed once more on its core offerings, using only one-third of its previous floor space.
The medicine was hard to swallow, but within two years the Club was starting to trade positively again. Simple, cheap, but effective changes were made to the interior of the RSL, whilst outside, little had changed since the 1980’s. As a marketing proposition, it was a hard sell, but the introduction of the Star Buffet Restaurant in 2006 provided an irresistible reason for large numbers of local diners to come into the venue. Those diners brought their friends in, and the Club started to turn the corner through the increase in regular foot traffic.
As membership numbers grew, the Club was able to update the interior, with significant works being carried out in 2010, although once again, external change was minimal. Outdoor areas were opened up and updated, and negotiations which had commenced slowly, for the acquisition of the premises from the sub-club, started to gather momentum. If the Club was to continue its return to prosperity, it needed to own its own premises and control its own destiny. At that stage, ownership of the land and physical entity was, like almost every other RSL club in NSW, vested in the RSL movement.
The history of Bankstown RSL is not unique to the club industry, but it is to Bankstown City. So, at the same time as we move forward towards an exciting new future, in a venue which will be the new social hub of Bankstown, it is appropriate to look back and consider how Bankstown RSL held the limelight once before, when Saturday night was all about dancing and big shows at the local club.