It was the name that caught my eye – “Limbless Soldiers” in big letters across the front of an austere red brick building that’s surrounded by equally sombre red brick walls and paving.
There are also a couple of guns in the garden as well as lots of memorials which are a reminder that the world wars really did involve the world – from Pearl Harbour to the Somme.
It is all quite unexpected among the intriguing variety of home architecture on the short walk between Merthyr and New Farm parks on Oxlade Drive at New Farm.
This place surely has a story to tell, being so specific in its purpose and bringing to mind the lyrics of Eric Bogel’s “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda”:
So they gathered the crippled, the wounded, the maimed, and they shipped us back home to Australia.
The legless, the armless, the blind, the insane, those proud wounded heroes of Suvla.
The Limbless Soldiers Association was formed in the years after World War I, but this building, now the home of the South Eastern District RSL, wasn’t officially opened until 1953.
The Sunday Mail reported on July 19, 1953:
“A special bathroom for use by disabled men is a feature of the Queensland Limbless Soldiers Association’s new £21,000 club at New Farm
“The two-storey brick building in Oxlade Drive will be opened by the acting premier Mr Duggan next Saturday. It will be the first permanent limbless soldiers’ clubhouse since the association was founded in 1922.
“The Queensland Limbless Soldiers Association has 440 members. The new clubhouse will accommodate visiting country members and include a library, lounge and dining rooms, billiards room and kitchen.
“It overlooks the Brisbane River and the limbless soldiers bowling green. The public appeal in 1944-46 and dances at the association’s riverside ballroom in the last six years paid for the building.
“Limbless soldiers helped arrange the dances.”
The site itself, according to one old timer, was a council dump where the kids played until the US 7th fleet arrived.
As there wasn’t a lot for them to do, the Commander Service Force ordered construction of an officer’s mess. They acquired the vacant riverside block from Brisbane City Council through the Australian Army Hiring Service and took possession on November 4, 1943.
It was flood land and needed a lot of fill before two igloo-shaped buildings with corrugated iron roofs joined by a timber frame foyer went up on the site.
Facilities included two 35mm film projectors and a projection booth and the site was tastefully landscaped. It quickly became a wartime Brisbane showplace.
At its peak in 1944, the US Navy had almost 6500 personnel stationed in Brisbane. They left on June 23, 1945.
The Brisbane Telegraph reported on January 3, 1946 that the Limbless Soldiers Association had been offered a site for a clubhouse in Oxlade Drive by the city council at a nominal rental.
The site was more than two acres on the river bank at New Farm tram terminus and had two buildings erected as a US naval officers’ club.
“These buildings included a dance hall stage, film, projection machines, lounges, bar kitchen and boat deck.”
The association announced it would build bowling greens and a swimming pool.
The two buildings, near the Limbless Soldiers red brick building, still remain largely unchanged and are now heritage-listed.
The bowls club went ahead too, and the Limbless Soldiers club hosted its first game in 1948. It became Merthyr Bowls Club 15 years later.
The Riverside reception rooms and Merthyr Bowls Club as well as the club buildings and memorial areas are part of the same package and it is all still managed by the South Eastern District RSL, which has been meeting there since 1947.