For the first time since 1921 Katoomba is without its beloved RSL, savaged by a ferocious fire last Friday.
The blaze, believed to have started with an electrical problem in the roof, sent massive fireballs into the air as it tore through the RSL at about 1.30pm on Friday February 24.
At the peak of the lunchtime inferno, 60 firefighters from the Mountains, Lithgow and western Sydney, tried to get it under control using 14 fire trucks.
When the emergency hit, diners in the Chinese Restaurant left their meals on the lazy susan and staff abandoned car keys and handbags, all in a rush to flee the fire. Luckily no-one was hurt [See Page 3].
Vital war memorabilia was lost but club officials and fire officers managed to salvage 125 medals - but five remain lost in the rubble. Other items including swords, bugles, photos, books, disarmed ammunition and weapons have been destroyed.
“They’re gone it's quite devastating,” said the RSL club president and sub branch vice president, Brian Turner. “We were on our hands and knees in the rubble [but] I am just so stoked that we were able to retrieve these and they are in an Anzac limited edition [biscuit] tin. It’s poignant.This is what the veterans and their families cherished.”
The club is still in talks with structural engineers and the insurance company and expect it will cost several million to rebuild. The Gazette understands the club may rebuild in the far north side of the carpark closer to the Clarendon site.
“We need this knocked down and rebuilt straight away,” said CEO Nick Darias.
The club is hoping they can keep their 48 (mostly casual) staff members in work, by reallocating them to the Wentworth Falls Bowling Club, which they also own. Courtesy shuttle buses are set to run from Katoomba.
“We’re going to be looking after them, we’re going to try and increase trading, move a lot of our activity from here down there, keep the members promotions going, little old ladies who come to bingo every week, we’ll get the buses to transfer people,” Mr Darias said.
Two events that loom large on the club’s calender are Anzac Day in April and the Blue Mountains Music Festival in just over a fortnight’s time. Mr Turner said neither event was in jeopardy but would continue in a revised format.
“The sub branch has plans whether it be a reduced Anzac service depending on what is happening here, for example with demolition with the size of the carpark.”
BMMF’s Bob Charter said they had been able to secure a new venue at the Palais Royal Ballroom to replace the club’s damaged auditorium.