Rotary Club of Launceston

Rotary Club of Launceston

District 9830
When the Rotary Club of Launceston Tasmania was chartered in August 1924 the island state of Australia had a population of only 200,000 and was planning the centenary of separation from New South Wales in 1825. It was only a decade after the first aeroplane flight to Tasmania and 12 years before a submarine cable would link the state to mainland Australia, enabling telephone conversations from Tasmania to Victoria. A depression, so severe that 50 percent of breadwinners had no jobs, gripped the land and Sir Hubert Opperman set a cycling record of five hours and fifty nine minutes along a blue stone road from Launceston to Hobart ( more than 200 kilometres)

The leaders of commerce and industry at that time were fine, benevolent, industrious and God- fearing men who with their families typically attended church on Sundays, dressed in their best tailored suits, wore felt hats and most of them smoked pipes. It was observed in a book written by a club member Sir Raymond Ferrall that in those days “only men who smoked a pipe were considered steadfast and trustworthy”.

So it was to a town of 30000 people that Professor W A Osborne and Mr W A Drummond secretary of the then recently (1921) formed Rotary Club of Melbourne Victoria brought the idea of forming a Rotary club in Tasmania. They received little encouragement for several weeks until they met (Sir) Doctor John Ramsay in Launceston and as a result of his enthusiasm on February 18th 1924 the Rotary Club of Launceston came into being and charter 1803 was granted in August of that year by Rotary International.

Launceston had the honour of being the first Rotary club in Tasmania and at the inaugural meeting a telegram was received from Sir Henry Jones (the first president of the Rotary Club of Hobart), “forgiving Launceston for robbing Hobart of its birthright”.

The club started with 25 members, men accustomed to lead, not follow, to make their own decisions, to raise their own banner. For them their Rotary emblem must be unique, different and memorable. A special meeting was called and the platypus was unanimously adopted as the centrepiece of the Rotary emblem for the Rotary Club of Launceston.

It was enthusiastically displayed and printed at every opportunity and when the Club’s first president Dr. John Ramsay became Past President for the second time, having served two terms 1924/25 and again in 1926/27, his wife, to mark the occasion presented a Past Presidents jewel and ribbon incorporating the platypus emblem. The jewel disappeared for some time and in 1931 a second such jewel was presented to the outgoing President at that time, Charles F Monds.

Rotary International for some time wrestled with the problem of how to deal with an “improper” Rotary emblem being used by a Rotary Club on a remote island off the South Coast of Australia and the Rotary convention of 1932 issued a decree forbidding the “mutilation” of the official emblem.

Fortunately, mail travelled slowly by steamer in those days and the new Past Presidents jewel had been engraved and had begun circulating by the time the word arrived. Almost half a century later the original platypus surfaced again, about the time the affairs of Lady Ramsay’s estate were being wound up. The first Rotary Club of Tasmania therefore has two unique and precious heirlooms, one of which must be chosen and worn as their badge of office by each new Past President.

Sir John Ramsay served twice as president, the only person to do so and was one of the 30 founders of the Royal Australian College of Surgeons. He was a Master of Surgery and Surgeon Superintendent of Launceston General Hospital. In many diverse fields he was a born leader. When one of his patients “died” on the operating table he plunged his hands into the open chest cavity and performed the first heart massage which brought the patient back to life. Although short in stature, Sir John Ramsay was in every other sense of the term, a “big” man.

Membership grew to 34 by the end of the first year and the pattern for steady growth for the Rotary Club of Launceston had commenced.

The year 1926/27 saw Rotarian A C Ferrall and son Raymond attend the Pan-Pacific conference and then proceed to Denver Colorado US for the RI convention In 1928 the Rotary Club of Devonport was formed under the sponsorship of Launceston. Since then the Club has been responsible for the formation of nine other Rotary clubs and assisted in the establishment of several others.

Early in 1929 Launceston was hit by the most disastrous floods in its history and Rotary organised the collection and distribution of clothing for people made homeless.

It was in the year 1931/32 that RI President Sydney W Pascall visited the Club and planted a tree of friendship in Royal Park . Paul Harris also visited and planted a similar tree in the same park in 1935.

With the great depression still hurting, Rotary commenced a tradition of youth work with the Salvation Army, the Children’s Hospital and Toc H. The second decade of Rotary was dominated by relief work and help given to Red Cross and Red Shield. Clothing and food parcels were sent to Britain during World War 11.

The Post- War decades saw youth work continued with youth camps, a free kindergarten, establishment of recreational and picnic areas and the positioning of a steam railway engine in a park to give countless children a place to play.

The Bring Out A Britain scheme was set up by Rotary in Tasmania in 1956/57 and by 1974 the Club had assisted 144 people to settle in the State.

Many other projects, too numerous to record here, have been undertaken since then and continue to be carried out. The Club has produced five Rotary District Governors and 10 Mayors of the City of Launceston .Many more members have served as Aldermen and held other prominent positions within the City in various avenues of service.

To serve with the Rotary Club of Launceston is an experience of personal development unable to be found elsewhere. The Club’s good works have multiplied as today’s Rotarians continue to write their own pages into the Launceston history.
This page was compiled and provided by PDG John Louttit

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