Purpose & Objective

With nearly 190,000 members and 1,306 Sub Branches throughout Australia the League, and its achievements, are the envy of political parties and other interest groups alike.

The Returned & Services League of Australia (RSL) is a National Organisation operating through National Headquarters, State Branches, District Boards and Sub-Branches.

The RSL ideals and objectives which had characterised the initiation of the first state associations in 1916 were correlated and finally adopted, in the following form, as the aims and objectives of the League.

Aims and objectives

  • To perpetuate the close ties of friendship created by mutual service in the Australian Defence Force or allied forces, to maintain a proper standard of dignity and honour among all past and present serving members of the Defence Force and to set an example of public spirit and noble hearted endeavour;

  • To preserve the memory and records of those who suffered and died for Australia;

  • To provide for the sick and wounded and needy among those who have served and their dependents including pensions, medical attention, homes and hospital visiting;

  • To inculcate loyalty to the Nation, to guard the good name and preserve the interests and standing of members of the Defence Force; and

  • To promote our policy on national questions, particularly:

    • the unity of the Commonwealth of Nations,

    • the Defence of Australia,

    • the maintenance of a sustainable and selective immigration policy,

    • the development of a national Defence infrastructure and Defence industry,

    • and the promotion and proper employment of the nation's natural resources.

The Western Australia State Branch

RSLWA has 7,057 Service Members and 1,751 Affiliates (as at May 2017) that belong to a network of 130 sub-branches ranging from several thousands in the metropolitan and regional centres, to but a few in small rural areas who are determined to retain the identity of the ex-service community in their location.

Background to the formation of The Returned & Services League of Australia WA Branch Incorporated

In early 1916 a meeting was convened in Perth and it was decided to form the 11th Battalion Association so that returning soldiers could speak with one voice after having received poor treatment at the hands of the authorities.

At the next meeting the Association’s scope was enlarged so as to include all members of the 3rd Infantry Brigade.

On 27 May 1916 it was resolved that the name should be altered to ‘Returned Soldiers’ Association’ and that membership should be open to men of all units.

The first President was elected in May 1916 and the Soldiers Welcome Institute was the first permanent home of the League in Western Australia, established by the Soldiers Welcome Committee in 1916.

Organisations similar to the RSA were being founded interstate. With their growth was awakening a federal spirit which had so successfully bound the A.I.F in the field.

They were experiencing common problems throughout the Commonwealth. As a result a meeting in Sydney was held with a delegate from NSW, VIC, SA and QLD on 10 May 1916 and the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia came into being.

Subsequently it was agreed to hold a more representative meeting in Melbourne to reach agreement regarding the formation of an Australia-wide Returned Soldier’s Association.

The meeting was held from 6 - 12 June 1916 and the name Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia (RSSILA) was agreed.

The WA Branch of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia was chartered on 25 April 1917. However, it wasn’t until August 1918 when Western Australia attended their first national executive meeting of the Returned Sailors and Soldiers Imperial League of Australia.

This was due to the tyranny of distance at the time. In November 1940 the word ‘Airmen’s’ was added and the name became Returned Sailors’, Soldiers and Airmen’s Imperial League of Australia (RSSAILA) and, in October 1965, a change to Returned Services League of Australia was made.

In September 1990 to cater for a wider membership, the name was changed to Returned & Services League of Australia, which remains today.

Statement of purpose

The RSL was founded in 1916 to provide comradeship and support to Australia’s veterans and their families. That core mission has never changed but has continued to evolve to meet the needs of each generation of servicemen and women.

We have a branch network that covers Australia and any veteran who needs help will get it - every serving ADF member and veteran will be warmly welcomed at their local RSL Sub-Branch or club.

We advocate for the best possible conditions for our serving men and women and for those who have served the nation in the past. We foster respect and thanks from the nation for all those who have made sacrifices in Australia’s name and we will provide a strong voice on issues of national unity and security.

RSL Motto

The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.

The spirit of the League motto was enunciated as far back as the fourth century BC in the Greek Demosthenes Philippic 2, section 24:

'There is one safeguard known generally to the wise, which is an advantage and security to all, but especially to democracies as against despots. What is it? Distrust.'

The words chosen by the League appear to have been first spoken by John Philpot Curran on his election as Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1790. Curran said:

'It is the common fate of the indolent to see their rights become a prey to the active. The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance; which condition, if he break, servitude is at once the consequence of his crime and the punishment of his guilt.'

In 1852, Wendell Phillips used the expression 'Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty' in an address to the Massachusetts Anit-slavery Society. Apparently, the phrase was subsequently attributed to Thomas Jefferson, but Phillips argued this was incorrect, that the phrase had never been found in Jefferson's works.

Whether any of these quotations motivated someone to adapt the words to those that became the League motto, or whether someone suggested the motto in the belief that it was original is unknown.

The League did not have a motto until 1923. In 1922 the Victorian Branch recommended to the National Executive that there should be a motto. Memos sent to each State on the matter drew no response.

At the eighth National Congress held in Hobart the following year, however, the New South Wales Branch moved that the motto be 'The Price of Liberty is Eternal Vigilance', which was accepted and has been the League motto ever since.

No evidence has emerged explaining who made the suggestion to the New South Wales Branch or how the form of words evolved.