23 April 2019

A major northern Sydney retirement community which was originally formed to house World War I veterans has celebrated its 80th birthday in conjunction with ANZAC Day.

When RSL ANZAC Village at Narrabeen first opened in 1939, the site was home to 35 veterans in its first week, before swelling to 142 in the first year. Today, the village is home to more than 700 homes.

The 100 acre village is located on the Collaroy Plateau, with views of Narrabeen Lake and the Pacific Ocean (see the photo above of some veterans playing pool in the late 1930s).

According to RSL LifeCare oral historian Helen Johnston, World War I veterans Bill Wood and Stephen Stack were the impetus behind the village after recognising the need to care for “men prematurely aged by their war service and unable to make provision for their future by their disabilities”.

“These two men, along with Legacy, RSL and many like-minded supporters, campaigned and raised funds tirelessly to secure a “haven on the hill”, a place of respite,” Johnston writes.

“The village was officially opened at 3pm on ANZAC Day 1939 by Lord Wakehurst with an Honour Guard provided by the 17th Battalion under Lieutenant-Colonel FG Galleghan who had served with the 34th Battalion in France and would do the same with the 8th Division during World War II.”

“There were more than 5,000 people present amidst newly planted trees and shrubs and the ceremony was broadcast on radio 2BL and 2CH.

“RSL LifeCare now welcomes all to live in its Villages and Care Homes, regardless of veteran status. In opening its doors to all retirees we now care for the generations of Australians for whom the first veterans fought. They fought for us. We may walk in the shadows of “the originals”, but we will never forget them.”

Men walk through the Narrabeen war veterans retirement village in 1939

To celebrate the village’s birthday, RSL LifeCare has produced a short video using archive footage and interviews with former staff members.

Interestingly, RSL Anzac Village is not the first retirement village in NSW set aside for veterans….that honour bizarrely goes to isolated and windswept Bare Island, in Botany Bay.

Fortifications were constructed at Bare Island from 1881, to protect the city from a possible attack by the Russian Navy. However, the fort was poorly-constructed and was never used in a military operation.

The predecessor to RSL LifeCare however did establish a small retirement home for veterans on the fort in 1912.

The village was apparently a cold and inhospitable place for the veterans...but it was better than no home at all. Read more about the Bare Island retirement village here.

By ANZAC Day 1949, some 3,500 men were accepted into the then three sections of the RSL LifeCare organisation – Narrabeen, Linton Village Yass and Bare Island.

Men look over bushland at the Narrabeen war veterans' village in 1939
Narrabeen's RSL Anzac Village as it looks today