The Way it Was - short pieces on the Club's history by

PDG Kelvin Carr OAM

(Kel's obituary)


Rotary Came to Australia in 1921

Rotary came to Australia in 1921. Two commissioners were appointed. They were J.W Davidson FRCS of the Rotary Club of Calgary and Lt Col. J.L. Ralston CMG DSO of Toronto. They arrived in Sydney on March 22nd 1921 only to find Sydney very much involved in the Royal Easter Show, so they came to Melbourne and called on Sir John Monash, Professor W.A. Osborne, Harold Clapp and Frank Tate. This allowed them to choose the charter members and to hold the inaugural meeting in Melbourne on 21st April 1921. The club met at Scott’s Hotel.

So I guess that is where it all began for us in Australia.

However it all started long before that.

In 1935 while in Australia Paul Harris told the story of the idea of extending Rotary in Australia.

It was in 1913, Rotary had only been going for 8 years. "Then," said Paul Harris " came a memorable experience". One Sunday Chesley Perry (Ist secretary) called me up and said that a young man from Australia had called at the office H.Q. and expressed his desire to hear of Rotary. Mrs Harris and I were delighted to welcome a visitor from Australia. He was Walter Drummond of Melbourne and after a day of discussion was keenly interested and left our home resolved to inaugurate the movement in Australia. He could, no doubt, in time have carried out his expectations, had it not have been for the outbreak of war."

Walter Drummond became the first secretary of the Rotary Club of Melbourne - an office he held for 9 years.


Rotary in 1921

The Rotary Club of Sydney was chartered a few weeks after Melbourne. Its membership was impressive. It included the chief of police, the town clerk Sir Thomas Bavin, Professor Edgeworth David and Sir Henry Braddon.

The R.C. of Melbourne first met at Scotts Hotel moving to the old Masonic building in Collins Street, then to the new Masonic hall in Albert Street and then later to the National Gallery.

Rotary started in the days when there was a touch of Old World dignity among business and professional men. Surnames were the customary form of address.

The formalities of the day in which the president was addressed as "Dear Professor Osborne" slowly changed. Prof Osborne was always known as "PROF" never " Bill". Today the use of first names is the norm in a Rotary club. Archdeacon Hancock, an early member, could never understand why members called him Bill.

Slowly barriers and formalities were broken down and the warm friendly influences of early Rotary were extended. You can’t really be mad at someone when you call him or her by his or her Christian name.

After two months in Australia, the two commissioners sailed to New Zealand to establish clubs in Auckland and Wellington.


Rotary and Probus

Many of our club know little if anything about Probus, yet it is perhaps one of the most successful programs of rotary.

It began in the UK in the mid 1960s when two business men retired, one to the north and the other to the south of London. They were both members of their local Rotary club. One member’s wife said, "why don’t you do something for the business men who have retired? You have Rotary but what about the men who are not Rotarians?".

He gathered a few retired men who thought that they could meet on a regular basis to talk of old times and business experience. The idea grew and then someone thought they should name the meeting. All kinds of names were suggested, "the old timers", "the has beens" etc etc.

Then one member said that there was a small village in southwest England called Probus and that there was also a roman emperor called Probus who loved wine-making. Eventually the idea of Probus, PRO short for professional and BUS short for business gave the name PROBUS.

The movement grew slowly. In1975 a New Zealander visited a friend in the Lakes District. He was taken to a Probus meeting which he enjoyed. On his return to NZ, he suggested to his Rotary club on the Kapati coast, that they should adopt the idea. So the first Probus club in down-under started.

A visitor from Hunters Hill in Sydney heard of this gathering and the first Probus club in Australia was started in that suburb. It grew slowly. In 1981 there were only 50 Probus clubs in Australia and New Zealand. The idea was based on friendship. It was to be for retired business and professional men and those who had had similar ideas. It was non-fundraising, non-political, non-sectarian and low cost.

The first club in Victoria was formed in Balwyn, the second in Melbourne. Our own club members were not interested despite the efforts of two or three members. Then in 1983 the idea was raised again under President Max Chester and a few members. Possible names were suggested and a venue was found for the first interest meeting at the Uniting Church hall in Ivanhoe. The then mayor of the city, Jean Baker, chaired the meeting. Some 47 men were present. The founding member of the Balwyn Probus club, John Pease (a former Rotarian), was asked to talk the the assembly explaining something about the movement. Questions were asked followed by morning tea.

After tea the mayor moved a motion that a Probus club be formed. The idea was approved. Certain arrangements were made as to day of the month and time of meeting. Then certain nominations were made for the first president and vice president. The late Perc Cleland willingly accepted the office of president with Rowley Hooper the vice president. Other office bearers volunteered with David Bland as secretary. Arrangements were made for the next meeting on the second Tuesday of the month. And so the membership grew. In a short few months it had grown to 60, then 80 and to more than one hundred.

There is much more to the story that could be told. Growth of new Probus clubs was slow but then country areas in our Rotary district were approached and took hold of the idea. Eventually the movement took off in Australia and New Zealand, so much so that there are now close on 2000 clubs and about 140,000 members.

Further it has been taken up in Canada, India, South Africa, South America, Germany and even in the USA. There are mens, ladies and mixed clubs. Our district (9790) has 96 clubs. One of the largest clubs is the ladies at Benalla with about 170 members. Euroa has about 140.

The older City of Heidelberg has a mens club in Rosanna, a ladies club in Heidelberg (Ivanhoe), a mixed club in East Ivanhoe and Warringal and a ladies club in Rosanna. There are also clubs in Macleod, Greensborough, Eltham (3) and several in Watsonia and Bundoora.


Our First District Conference

Our club held its first meeting on the last Monday in October in 1956 (29/10/56 at the Alphington Hotel). It was around the time of the Olympic Games in Melbourne. During that time we had several visitors from the Games. An exciting time for new Rotarians.

Every year each Rotary District is required to hold a District Conference. For many years our district held the conference at Lorne, what an occasion. We were all very new to Rotary and were too late to attend the first conference after we were chartered, but the following year our sponsor club, Northcote, was organising the conference and several of our members attended. Our club took part in the entertainment and sang selections from My Fair Lady.

The conference "took over" the whole town and all the guest houses. Accommodation was well attended but there were only 6 separate bathrooms in the whole area. Erskine House was the only place with the six, but it was good fun and one line up for the baths. The conference meetings were held in the local theatre and attendance at conference had to be limited to less than 800 people.

The conference opened on Friday night with sessions on Saturday and then a reception for the District Governor and his lady on Saturday night. Sunday was a free day with bowls and tennis concluding with a special Sunday evening with a simple church service followed by a special guest speaker. Monday was taken up with Rotary sessions. Many people went home in the late afternoon but many more stayed on over the night for a relaxed extra day when we could talk with some of the leaders of Rotary. Those were the days of a really long weekend.


A Home For The Elderly

In 1973 our Rotary club approached by a senior member of the staff of the council. She asked if the Rotary club would institute a progamme to establish a residence for the elderly in the city. This was made at the request of the council. This was accepted by the club as worthy, and we agreed to raise the sum of $10,000 as well as serve on the committee.

The then president of the club Courtney Oldmeadow gave strong support. Raising the sum of $10,000 was a sizeable amount in those days but the idea attracted the support of other groups in the city. This was the first kind of this type of accommodation in the city. There were other bodies who also had funds for such a project with our club taking a lead.

It looked like raising a million dollars and that amount was suggested by our president at the district conference in 1975.

However to our club's disappointment all the council wanted was our money. Our request to serve on the committee was declined. We had already carried out considerable research into possible venues as well as linking some other sources of funding.

So after some effort we raised the money but were allowed no part in the overall plan. Disappointing to our members. The site of the village was decided by the council. It was to be the land at Page's joinery in Waterdale Road North Ivanhoe.

Our President, Courtney Oldmeadow, died of Motor Neurone Disease in 1977.


The First World Convention

The first World Convention was held in Chicago in 1910. Rotary became international in 1911 when the first Rotary club outside the USA was formed in Canada. Slowly Rotary spread and its ideas and policies also were adopted.

When the movement started in 1905, Paul Harris declined the office of president but took that office at the first convention in 1910.

At first the ideas of membership were to encourage the business of other members. A rather cynical member, it has been said, is to have claimed that he wasn’t getting his share of business. I understand that there is no truth in the story that he was a funeral director. Soon this was considered unworthy of the movement and the idea of service grew. The first service that took place was to encourage the public fathers to provide toilets for the public. Before that the large stores were the only providers of such amenities. This idea of assistance for others grew in a variety of ways.

Conventions were popular. In 1917 the president was Arch Klumph. He made a suggestion that Rotary should establish a benefit fund. The idea was adopted and the sum of some $32 was collected. The fund grew very slowly. It wasn’t till the death of the founder Paul Harris that people wanted to commemorate his contribution to Rotary and the Rotary Foundation grew by over $2,000,000 in one year. The idea spread. The income from the fund was used initially as a scholarship fund to allow graduates to study abroad for one year.

How the project has grown!


Our Club's First DG

In 1960 the District Governor was Horace Bedgood of the Rotary Club of Melbourne. The Rotary Club of Hawthorn was appointed the host club in charge of all the arrangements. Our club had a good attendance.

The district governor in 1960/1961 was Ernie McCann of Geelong. By this time the selection of the succeeding District Governor for 1961/1962 had been chosen and to our surprise and delight it was our own member Roy Nichols.

It was not expected, for Roy had only been in Rotary for a few years, but his experience and leadership in the scouting world was well known.

We were a new club. Our membership was about thirty with one member overseas.

A committee of our club members was set up under the club President that met every week after work to discuss our plans. It was an exciting occasion with everyone involved in a variety of ways too numerous to be mentioned.

Conference secretary was Norman Curtis with banker Les Mann as treasurer.

But what a great time we had at Lorne.


An Interesting Project

Selling Broken Orange Peko Tea

A club member came back from a conference with some news from North Queensland that his district was selling tea from Papua New Guinea making money for international projects.

Arrangements were made to ship 14 chests of the tea from a plantation at Mt Hagen to Melbourne. We ran into some problems with the wharfies when we tried to collect the shipment with our truck. We delivered it ourselves to a large garage in Rosanna. With the co-operation of our APM member, some kitchen scales, a member’s basement, a well-printed label, several hundred double thickness paper bags and the enthusiasm of club members, we were in business. Several of our members helped at one or two working bees. Sales were slow at the start but the quality of the tea found a market at a reasonable price.

Over a period of time we made more than $2500 for project funds. When it was all over, we wrote again to the Mt Hagon plantation. The reply indicated a rise in costs. The manager suggested we should buy a container load !!!!! There wasn’t the storage space in the garage and the idea was dropped. A local pharmacist took the last lot of double lined bags but all in all we had a lot of fun.



The Olympics in 1956 and our Club

The last Monday in October 1956 was the first meeting of this club. Twenty-seven members were present. It was held upstairs in Claude Gilchrist’s hotel in Alphington. I can’t remember if there was a guest speaker or not. I know that the District Governor’s special representative Alex Gray of the Northcote Rotary Club was present and the immediate past District Governor was also there. It was all very new. Few of the members knew one another. Conversation was low as we gradually found out something about one another. We were introduced to the Sergeant-at-Arms Charles Snell, whose duty was to see folk were seated in plenty of time and that decorum was in order. In subsequent days the level of conversation grew.

The Olympic Games were about to start. We had several visitors from overseas, some of whom were official members of the world Olympic committee. Among our club banners somewhere is a triangular banner from one such person from from Lahore in Pakistan.

Our membership fees were ₤12/12/00 with a joining fee of ₤12/12/00. Our luncheon was six shillings and this also covered our Rotary International and district fees.

The Sgt-at-arms was there for the simple duty of seeing members were seated, luncheon was served on time, and generally saw that the president was introduced, guest speakers introduced and the meeting ran smoothly.

The so called "fines" session of today was never called a fines session but was extremely brief and largely related to so-named "misdemeanours", true or false, of members. Its purpose to have some light-hearted fun at the expense (generally false) of one or two members. NEVER A REAL PENALTY. There is nothing in the Manual of Procedure for the so called "fines session".

But one particular Sgt-at-arms, Harry Moody, used one I will never forget.

He spoke about the damage caused to the rice farmers in the Riverina caused by the "bald coots". He then proceeded to fine all the bald headed members. This caused a great laugh by those members who had hair. But the next week Harry then proceeded to fine all those members with hair. More laughter. The fine was two shillings !!