“There” was the Rockingham RSL Club south of Perth, where about 700 people gathered to relax after the solemnity of the Anzac Day dawn parade and the mid-morning march.
RSL clubs in Western Australia do not have poker machines, which means they are friendlier and run by volunteers along the pre-pokies era lines of eastern RSL branches.
Rockingham’s RSL club is modest, opens two days a week and has a thriving membership of more than 600, bolstered by the Royal Australian Navy presence at HMAS Stirling.
The Navy provided most of the military trappings for the march and morning services at the cenotaph, which looks strangely like a well preserved Roman ruin.
A fine Navy band tumbled from a bus from Perth to lead the morning parade, a catafalque guard slow-marched to the central monument, the lone bugler was raised on a construction elevator to the height of one of the pillars and the moving service featured RSL president Mick answering questions about war from his young grandson.
After the raised lone bugler played the Last Post and a minute’s silence was observed, the first notes of Reveille sounded from up high. They were answered with beautiful precision from another bugler across the parade ground. Duelling bugles. Brilliant.
Back at the club a live band was playing, 18 kegs of mid-strength beer had started flowing and wine was pouring. A buffet lunch for 700 ran for a couple of hours and companionship rocked, as seen in the above photo (not sure about the guy on the right),
Andrew, an ex-submarine chef, explained to me what it was like for two people to cook four meals a day for a crew of 70 in a tiny cramped kitchen beneath the sea. We spent happy hours with friends we had met, two of whom had an uncanny resemblance to friends on the east coast.
Curly’s resemblance to Brian Hughes wearing a curly topee was made even more remarkable when he turned up wearing a pink pinstriped shirt of the style favoured by the man from Malarga. Barry (part of a large group of former prison officers who are regulars at the club) looked, talked and laughed like a slightly elongated Mal Churchill.
As the band packed up, the two-up shut down and darkness fell, we chummed up with a couple of young sailors. Callum confessed he loved Anzac Day and had tears pricking his eyelids at the service.
Two Kiwi girls who come from Perth every Anzac Day to run the bar as volunteers, Panache from Huntly and Taku from Wellington, reported the kegs were starting to run out.
We headed across the road to Isabel’s bed. That was our Rockingham RSL club finale for this trip. We hope to make it back one day.