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Brief histories of the early New Zealand Clubs

Rotary Club of Wellington, First Club of New Zealand

Rotary International District 9940

New Zealand’s Capital Club: 


The Rotary movement first came to New Zealand when thirty-five men met at a luncheon in the rooms of the Y.M.C.A., Wellington, on 7 June 1921.  This was a mere sixteen years after the inaugural Rotary meeting in Chicago.


Amongst the guests at the luncheon was one of two special envoys from Rotary International, Colonel Layton Ralston, who carried the new club’s charter.  The two Canadians had been touring Australasia promoting the extension of Rotary.


The occasion had an echo seventy-three years later, when the Rotary Club of Wellington provided funding for a new teaching programme at the University of the South Pacific, dubbing it the Davidson-Ralston Fellowship. 


Wellington City: population 164,000  Greater Wellington: population 335,000

Situated at the southern tip of the North Island.  An area of mountain ranges, with rugged coastlines, two good harbours and and fertile hinterland.


Wellington is not the largest city in the country but it is the governmental, political, diplomatic, financial and commercial capital of New Zealand.  There are facilities in education, research, art, drama and music proportionately stronger than the size of population would suggest.  Average levels of education and training, and levels of income are substantially above those in other cities in New Zealand.  A certain politician claimed also, a few years ago, that the median IQ level of the Wellington population that he represented was above the national level; he was subsequently voted out of office.


The City by virtue of its role attracts non-government organisations, lobby groups, national trade and professional associations, and a wide variety of service industries.  This in turn makes it an attractive conference and exposition centre.


The City’s character is reflected in the strength of the Club’s membership, the quality and variety of its luncheon speakers, and in the variety and impact of its service programmes. 


Spotlight on membership:  a curious consequence of the Club’s membership character is its regular bottom ranking in the District for luncheon attendance, such is the amount of internal and international travel that is undertaken by members in the course of their work.  A standard Presidential fining call each week is ‘overseas travel - comings and goings’.


The Club has exploited the expertise and connections of its members in facilitating and promoting significant developments in the community.  Some of these programmes have had regional and national effect:  Karitane Hospital; Milk in Schools scheme (later adopted as a national Government scheme); Crippled Children’s Society; Tuberculosis Association; Meals on Wheels; Mobile Blood Transfusion Service; Cancer Society; Birthright Wellington; National Society on Alcoholism; Outward Bound; National Child Health Research Foundation. 

In a less visible way members of the Club serve on boards and executive committees of a large number of charitable and social service organisations, and as trustees of charitable funds.  Some of the latter have been established through gifts or bequests by Club members; notable examples are the J.R. McKenzie Trust, the J.R. McKenzie Youth Education Fund; the Wellington Rotary Charitable Trust; the Salmond Fellowship; and the J.I. Ilott Charitable Trust.


Spotlight on membership:  the Club has had an extraordinary number of long-term family associations.  Some names have appeared repeatedly in the roll of members over the decades: Button; Cook; Fisher; Gibbons; Greenwood; Ilott; McKenzie; Mayer; Myers; Norwood; Radford; Smith; Baker.


The Club by virtue of its seniority has been able to make a large contribution to the Rotary organisation.  It has been the sponsoring club for a number of new Rotary clubs and in 1922 gave considerable support to the formation of the distant Christchurch club in the South Island. Seven District Governors have come from the Club, and one member, Sir John Ilott went on to become an R.I. Director and R.I. Second Vice-President (1943-44).


The Club has through much of its history placed an emphasis on work with youth and education.  It has been active in the customary programmes for educational exchanges, Rotary Foundation Scholarship, RYLA, Outward Bound, and Rotaract.  In 1998, in anticipation of the centenary of Victoria University of Wellington the Club declared a special relationship with the University, established annual scholarships for students, and brought into the Club more members from the university sector.


Spotlight on membership:  immediately after the landmark R.I. Convention of 1988/89 the Club inducted its first woman member - Beverley Wakem, who some years previously had been a Rotary Foundation Scholar under the Club’s sponsorship.  The Club now has twenty women members in a roll of 150. Amongst these, as an Honorary Member, is the Governor-General, Dame Silvia Cartwright.


Visitors are almost as much a feature of Club luncheons as are the absences of Club members who are out of town on business.  We are pleased to see members from other Clubs, and we have a reputation as a Club which is welcoming and interesting to visit.  The members of this Club are proud of their City and their region and well-equipped to advise visitors on things to do and see in any spare time that they have.  Wellington is a place with spectacular scenery, a lively arts and entertainment sector, national institutions such as Te Papa (national museum), National Library, New Zealand Film Archive and National Archives; home to the National Symphony Orchestra and the Royal New Zealand Ballet; and a world-class sports stadium.  A hour of driving will take you to one of New Zealand’s most distinctive wine making areas, home of Martinborough vintages.  A couple of hours in the inter-island ferry from the downtown terminal and you can be in another premier wine area, Marlborough. 


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