Rotary Club of Canberra

Rotary Club of Canberra

District 9710
The rich history of the Rotary Club of Canberra can be found at their website. What is presented here are only samples. It is, as the early clubs were, a remarkable story of the History in Australia's National Capital and its members' contribution to Australia and the world.

"Rotary was introduced into Australia in 1921 by two fine Rotarians, James W. Davidson of Calgary, Alberta, Canada and J. Layton Ralston of Halifax. They organised clubs in Nova Scotia, Canada, Australia and New Zealand, the first Clubs in those countries. By the time that Canberra’s turn came there were already seventeen Rotary Clubs in Australia.

Canberra in 1921 was not yet a city in being; it was in fact only a city of builders and caretakers. It was not until 1927 that the Federal Capital moved in, and Canberra, I should think, must hold the record for a baby Rotary town, because it received its charter in 1928. We knew very little about Rotary at that time; we had heard of it vaguely as an institution of American origin which was spreading into other countries, but we had little precise knowledge.

The two field officers who came to sell it to us met with a certain amount of sales resistance. I remember that, in Canberra, we were a little shy of it at first. We suggested that this was a different sort of town and that it might not suit us nor we it. But they were expert salesmen and they roped us in.

At first, when the Canberra club was formed, we were a little self-conscious about it and our friends who were not among the elect foundation members were a little quizzical and sceptical.

It takes a little time in a new Rotarian country to feel quite at home in Rotary and to break down the barriers of reserve, but we made rapid progress."

(extract from Prosper the Commonwealth by Sir Robert Garran GCMG QC and Charter President of the Rotary Club of Canberra)

On his death at 89 in 1957, the Australian Attorney General had this to say of Sir Robert:

"Sir Robert Garran's death removes from the Australian stage the last outstanding personality who could be regarded as one of the architects of the Commonwealth of Australia."

Service to the community

With a membership approaching 700 over 70 years, it is difficult to do justice or give credit to the contributions made by Club members through their vocations. It must be recognised that the Club came into existence in the very embryonic stages of Canberra’s development.

As would be expected, our members have included many who have made a significant contribution through their vocations not only to the development of Canberra but to Australia’s place in the world. Many institutions, organisations or community facilities or amenities came about through the drive, enthusiasm, commitment and personal efforts of Club member both past and present.

Astronomy at Mt Stromlo owes its position to Walter Duffield; the Australian National University to Robert Garran, CSIRO to Bert Dickson and Colin Barnard; radio, TV and newspapers to Bill Rayner and Arthur Shakespeare; fine arts, literature and music had much support from Charles Daley and others; the Canberra & District Historical Society, YMCA, Boys Scouts and Girl Guides, Canberra Mothercraft Society, P & Cs at the time are all interests of Rotarians or their wives; the Canberra Institute of Technology (under earlier names) had much support from Keith Grainger and Brian Livermore; Cyril Davies made his mark as President of the ACT Law Society for 25 years; not to mention the host of members who made enormous contributions as senior advisers to the Australian Government to the present day.

In more recent times, Colin Slater must receive recognition for cultural and entertainment pursuits including opera and the Australian Rugby Choir; Alan Jones and Michael Sargent for their leadership of what is now ACTEW Corporation; Michael Talberg for the Canberra Festival for many years; Virginia Walsh to the National Capital Authority and other statutory boards; Jim Flemming to the Royal Australian Air Force; Sam Richardson, Cec Gibb and Noel Dunbar to education through what is now the University of Canberra and the Australian National University; and contributions to commerce by Charles Chandler, Ally Nish, Stewart East, Wilbur Rowell, Lou Westende, Denis Blight and many others.

These are just but examples of what our members have done. All in all, a truly magnificent contribution without a lot of fanfare.

Poland - Rotary and Freedom

A chance meeting on a train between Crakow and Warsaw in 1984 between PDG Jack Olsson of the Rotary Club of Canberra and a Polish Telecommunications engineer Marek Sredniawa led to the re-establishment of Rotary in Poland.

It is now history that Marek Sredniawa with the assistance of the Rotary Club of Canberra came to Australia for a professional Conference in 1984 and addressed the Club; that, by ‘dogged’ persistence, Jack Olsson sought and was given approval by the Trustees of The Rotary Foundation to lead a special Group Study Exchange team to Poland in 1988; and that Marek was the first President of the Rotary Club of Warsaw when it was re-chartered on 30 June 1989 after an absence of 50 years.

The Wall Street Journal of 10 January 1990 recognised the event in its front page headline ‘After Solidarity, The Rotary Club was sure to follow’.

Jack’s determined efforts puts him in the Rotary Global History books but what counts to him is that the Rotary wheel, as the symbol of friendship, was returned to Poland after an absence of 50 years.

Jack’s attendance at the inauguration of Rotary District 2230 in Poland on 28 June 1997 by RI President Luis Giay must have brought back many memories of the ‘long journey’ that made it possible.

PDG Jack Olsson pictured with Marek Sredniawa in Warsaw. Jack and his wife Phyl were present in Warsaw on 27 November 1989 when the charter was presented by the Past RI President Ernst G. Breitholtz (Sweden 1971–72). The Rotary Club of Canberra presented the President’s collar and badge, the Rotary Club of Canberra - Belconnen a lectern of Australian woods, Rotary Club of Yass a leather bag for the Secretary, Rotary Club of Canberra - Burley Griffin the brass bell and hammer and District 9710 provided an Australian flag on the occasion.

Extracts from Seventy Years of Service

Australia has had four Rotarians as President of Rotary International (only the USA has had more RI Presidents than Australia):

1948–49 Sir Angus Mitchell (Melbourne)
1978–79 Sir Clem Renouf (Nambour, Qld)
1988–89 Royce Abbey (Essendon, Vic)
1997–98 Glenn W. Kinross (Hamilton, Qld)

Paul Harris (far left) in 1935. Also seen are Sir Robert Garran (Charter President), DG Angus Mitchell (RI President 1948-49), DG Tom Armstrong, and Mrs. Jean Harris in the Australian National Rose Garden in Canberra. (The rest of the people are unidentified.)


Devised and implemented many ways of bringing assistance and "good cheer" to the large number of families on ration relief during the Depression; co-sponsored Rotary Club of Goulburn (1930); hosted District Conference (Canberra 1929)


Paul Harris visited the Club — 1 April 1935; supplied medical kit to Mount Franklin ski chalet built by Canberra Alpine Club; sponsored building for Boy Scouts; assisted the Canberra Band, Girl Guide Movement and YMCA


District Governor Robert Garran; hosted District Conference (Canberra 1939)


Supported prisoners of war; supplied food parcels to England; District Governor Harold Jones; goodwill tour of the USA by Robert Garran


Assisted soldiers in return to civilian life


Donated minibus to the Salvation Army for youth work; hosted a delegation from Vladivostok to learn about business, culture and government in Western society; supported children of Smokey Mountain (rubbish dump outside Manila) in the Philippines; supplied medical equipment to the Ukraine


Supplied mini-van to assist ‘soup kitchen’ for homeless youth; conducted pilot program of assistance to schizophrenics; District Governor John Louttit


Assisted with medical equipment for intensive care unit at Sri Lankan hospital through Matching Grant program of The Rotary Foundation; hosted District Conference (Cooma); co-sponsored the Rotary Club of Barnaul (Russia); signed ‘sister’ Club Agreement with the Rotary Club of Nara (Japan)


Initiated pilot program to assist Aboriginal community monitor health issues, particularly diabetes; supported an environmental educational program in Turkey

This page was compiled and provided by PDG John Louttit

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