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The RAAF Club (or RAAF Centre) came into being in January 1962 when the RAAF assumed responsibility for the facility from the Australian Army who had previously taken it over from the British Army. The Club became the focus point for much of the social and sporting life of RAAF families during their stay in Malaysia. It was an integral part of life for us in Penang and will be remembered fondly by all who were lucky enough to have enjoyed a Butterworth posting.
Originally the centre operated as a hostel, with 72 rooms available for accommodation. Primarily, accommodation was for newly arrived families awaiting housing, or families requiring accommodation prior to departure upon returning to Australia (hence the term "Hostel"). In peak times it provided recreational, sporting and general meeting facilities for the over 800 families.
RAAF Club Today
The RAAF Club in 2002 was awaiting redevelopment/ demolition by the new owners. Until a couple of years ago it was used as storage and a warehousing facility for new Honda motorbikes.
In 2007 the site is due for redevelopment as condominiums.
Now in 2012, the site at 10 Tanjong Tokong has been redeveloped as a shopping precinct. See photos on Kaye's Penang Talk.
The RAAF Centre was unique in the RAAF, and could be described as a mini self-contained community. It functioned as a meeting place for friends and offered excellent facilities for enjoyment.
The Centre was situated within easy access of RAAF families living on Penang, and only four miles from Georgetown at No. 10 Tanjong Tokong Road. It was idyllically situated under swaying coconut palms overlooking the Straits and the mainland, and caught the fresh sea breezes.
Use of facilities was a privilege extended to all RAAF members, Australian government public servants and their dependants in the interests of their family welfare. The recreational and sporting amenities were primarily for airmen.
The land and buildings comprising the Centre were owned by a local business man and the Australian government leased the premises for exclusive use of RAAF families. In the 1960s its prime function was to provide hostel accommodation for transients and married members awaiting housing.
The Centre was administered as a Welfare Club under the name of "RAAF Centre Improvement Fund" (RCIF) and had a set of government rules, approved by the Officer Commanding. Unlike other clubs which had members, the RCIF had none. The Officer Commanding through the Commanding Officer Base Squadron controlled the RCIF, assisted by a committee. The Centre itself had a permanent staff which in 1979 comprised one warrant officer, two sergeants, one typist, one storekeeper, two gardeners, two labourers and one watchman. Their wages were paid by the Australian government. The three SNCOs worked rostered shifts so supervision was provided seven days a week.
Finances for the day to day running of the Centre were provided from a small percentage of the sales made by the Caterer and the Hairdresser. In 1979 about M$5,000.00 was received monthly and the committee distributed this towards improvements and amenities.
The Penang Health Centre (an adjunct to No. 4 RAAF Base Hospital) was located on the 1st floor and staffed 24 hours a day seven days a week. The Department of Defence assumed full responsibility for provision of health care for all service personnel and their families, and this centre provided a convenient location for Penang residents to line up for regular innoculations! Other medical facilities included infant welfare clinic, pharmacy, dermatology clinic, ante-post natal clinic, surgical clinic, hygiene inspector and dental surgery.
On the ground floor was the Penang Housing Section where RAAF members could organise housing maintenance issues.
Other sections of the ground floor housed the chaplains, RAAF Police, Transport, Post Office, Supervisor RAAF Centre and Public Health Section.
Shops included milk bar, ladies hairdresser, men's barber, ladies dressmaker, gift shop (magazines, chemist lines, toys, clothes etc.), travel bureau, NAAFI shop, pay telephone and a library. The latter was run by a dedicated volunteer force of RAAF wives and new books purchased each month.
The Reception was the nerve centre where you could seek advice on most things. A noticeboard provided valuable information such as "what was on" at the Centre. Also anything from taxi and bus information to items for sale.
The main auditorium was used almost daily for events such as films, conferences, dances, dinners, parties and theatre group productions. Film nights were Wednesdays and Saturdays. Rooms were available for small hobby groups such as macrame, handicraft, weight watchers and keep-fit classes.
This floor was solely bedroom accommodation, providing daily- serviced rooms for airmen and their families who were awaiting allocation to permanent accommodation. Additionally, rooms were available to members of all Commonwealth Forces who were on leave. Each of the bedrooms was self contained and furnished to accommodate a family of four. The furnishings and surrounds were basic but was more than compensated for by the moderate tariff and the convenience of all that the Centre had to offer.
Because the Centre was a RAAF facility, a certain amount of disciplinary control was necessary. There was a dress standard and children were required to be properly supervised at all times.
Minimum dress regulations were as follows:
Uniform:dress of the day may be worn at any time.
Shorts, shirt and sandals: may be worn at any time in the grounds and until 1900 hours in the bar, dining room and auditorium.
Shorts, shirt, long socks, shoes or slacks, shirt, socks, shoes: mandatory in the bar, dining room and auditorium after 1900 hours.
Sporting attire: may be worn with an outer garment in the gorunds after sporting fixtures. Not permitted in the bar, dining room or auditorium at any time.
Prohibited: rubber thongs or "flip-flops", football or flight-line shorts, swimming costumes and t-shirts bearing suggestive or offensive words or motifs.
Food and drink was not permitted to be brought
into the Centre because the caterer had sole rights for the supply of
The privately contracted caterer provided bar, restaurant, barbecue, milk bar, cleaning, laundry and accommodation facilities. Maintenance of satisfactory standards and monitoring of charges levied was conducted by the RAAF Contracts Board and the RCIF Committee.
Considerable efforts were expended to ensure the Club was a pleasant place to visit. The Hideaway Bar with its expensive decor was one of the most pleasant bars in Penang. You could have a quiet drink, play the piano, play pool, darts or just relax after a hard day at work or sport. The outdoor beer garden provided a tropical environment for relaxing and enjoying the sea breezes.
On many occasions the club provided a venue for school activities from sporting events, plays, socials and dances. In 1987 it was the venue for a display of fine art from RAAF School as well as expatriate schools, while the auditorium was the scene of a most successful music festival. Many may also remember the Islander's Club which provided school staff with many a "happy hour"!
A prominent function of the RAAF Centre was the provision of a wide range of sporting facilities including badminton, tennis, basketball, boxing, volleyball, table tennis, darts and carpet bowls. These could be played either on a regular competition basis or on a casual basis.
Post 1988, the reduction in the number of Defence Force personnel heralded the closure of the RAAF Club. A new and much smaller RAAF Centre was established early in 1988 to cater for the reduced of families which would permanently reside on Penang.
The closure of the school and the RAAF Club marked the end of an era which will be long remembered by all participants.
Information from Recon Magazine
Vol 2, No. 2 March 1979