I have fond memories of the town of Wagin located in the Great Southern region of WA.
My Father used to work for the R&I Bank as an Agribusiness Valuer. His role meant that for many years I would be at the Wagin Woolorama for an enjoyable weekend in March.
This was a different time, a time when financial institutions were well regarded within the community and the banks had respect for the customer.
Chief Executive Officers didn’t make anything north of $80,000 a year and farming families would converge at the ‘tent’ to update Dad on their grain forecasts for the season.
They’d get complimentary drinks and free money boxes for the children.
From the moment the tractor pulling hay trailer scooped you up from the carpark to whisk you around to the showgrounds entrance the Woolorama was a day of fun.
These memories flooded my mind as we started to leave the City behind us.
I have a travelling companion on this trip in RSLWA State Membership Officer Andrea Hunt.
We began tackling the world’s problems when we reached the Armadale turn off and by the time we saw the first golden crop of canola we were ready to receive our Honorary Chair at the United Nations. Wagin smelt so fresh. The surrounding fields acted as one giant air purifier and the chilly winds carried with it the most glorious air.
For three days prior to our visit rain had moved through the area and Arthur River was starting to flow again.
I must have taken the wrong road into Wagin as I saw no giant ram or Sub-Branch but instead ended up at the Wagin War Memorial.
The Memorial was moved to its present position when the Wagin Swimming Pool was constructed in 1967. The monument is crowned by a broken granite pillar which symbolises the lives broken and destroyed by World War One. After examining the Memorial I checked the address again only to realise it was one of the first buildings you see if you approach the town from Albany Highway.
The ANZAC Day March from Sub-Branch to War Memorial must be a short one. The distance between the two places would be no more than 200 metres with a couple of houses and the town’s one screen theatre in-between.
The Sub-Branch location was originally the Union Bank and was erected in 1927. Later it was the premises of Elder Smith & Co. before becoming a Community Centre.
President of the Wagin RSL Sub-Branch David Hill and Treasurer Robert Boyd are waiting for us out the front. It’s hard to say hello at first as our greetings are drowned out by a huge sheep truck thundering down the street.
I love old buildings and I was keeping my eyes peeled for any old money bags which may have been mistakenly left behind.
The RSL has the best spot occupying the entire top floor which comprises of the main dining area, adjoining bar, toilets, kitchen and plenty of storage space.
“I’m relatively new to the RSL,” David said as we sit down.
“I came to an ANZAC Service one year, joined up, and now I’m President, that was four years ago.”
Wagin RSL Sub-Branch has a good mix of Members for the size of the town. It currently has ten Service Members and 14 Affiliates. But like so many other regional Sub-Branches David points out the challenge of getting new members.
“The thing is you get spread very thin in the country,” remarks David.
“You have the RSL, the Wagin Club, and various sporting clubs. For myself, I also help out with the bar at the Bowling Club and I’m tied up with the Hospital Support Group as Treasurer.
“It’s hard to get the younger ones interested in the demands of these roles, especially when they have to move on to where the employment is.”
Treasurer Robert Boyd says even something as enjoyable as a sundowner does not guarantee they will come running to your door.
“For the younger ones they are a bit reluctant to come to our Friday night sundowners because they need to drive back to the farm,” notes Robert.
“There are no taxis out here to get you back, so they’ll probably do the drinking on their farm.”
The last Friday of each month is dinner night and they are themed. Chicken all ways, which includes three different chicken dishes, Christmas in July and more recently, a lamb shank night have been popular.
“We have a number of widows in the town,” says David.
“They love to attend these nights and are Social Members of our Sub-Branch.”
In a town as small as Wagin you need to have your recruiting cap on all the time, especially when new residents arrive in the district.
“Every year the Shire of Wagin has new residents welcome,” David said.
“So everyone who has arrived in the town in the last year are invited to that and all of the local organisations go along so we can chat to all of the newbies. We try and sound them out and sometimes you win, sometimes you lose.”
While membership can be a challenge, fundraising is not.
“If you have a collection happening, we have a very generous community,” says David.
“The local Wagin IGA a few months back phoned us up and told us we were to be the recipients of their IGA Community Chest. It was a cheque for $600. So we get amazing support and our street collections always do well.
“For the Woolorama we ran a sausage sizzle out of the Eric Farrow Pavillion and we were competitively priced so that was good for (the RSL) us.”
As is the case with so many other SubBranches the locals embrace the ANZAC Day Services.
“The Community love the Services we put on,” David says.
“We had at least 200 at the Dawn Service and then probably the same again at the later Main Service. We conduct the Dawn at Six O’clock followed by the Main Service at Eleven O’clock. In addition to all that we do a ceremony at the Waratah Lodge Nursing Home.
“There would be about a dozen at the nursing home who are too frail to come to our other Services. We do The Ode and The Last Post. We also give a small talk. This includes them in everything but it makes for a long day for us,” David says with a smile.
As the conversation continued I jumped up to take some photos around the Sub-Branch. I found myself drawn to an item on the wall. It was the Australian Commonwealth Military Forces badge but this was a huge replica of it.
At the very centre of the main dining room wall, it commanded attention. Right on cue, David must have read my mind.
“There’s a story to this,” he says.
“That was actually made for the Perth Royal Show State District Displays. The Great Southern was going to use it last year. Their theme for the display was the ANZAC’s leaving from Albany. So they made it up and it was designed but they couldn’t get permission to use it.
“So we inherited it and it fills that space well.”
While it looks incredibly heavy David tells me it’s made out of Styrofoam and is in fact very light. Time was marching on so Andrea and I started to make a move.
As we made our way to our car we were just in time to see another truck crunch through its gears. We said farewell to David and Robert knowing that the Wagin RSL Sub-Branch was in great shape. The generosity in the town from the Shire to the locals is strong and helps the RSL continue its work.
This time I did spot the giant ram. He’s known as ‘Bart’ to the locals and I decided to wave him farewell but I don’t think he noticed.
- Royceton Hardey