R100 Baton Relay Celebrate 100 years of Rotary making a difference in Australia and New Zealand

How  long has Rotary been in Australia ? Twenty , Thirty , Forty Fifty years ? Well you’re a long way short. Let me tell you about the story of Rotary In Australia.

From a beginning in Chicago USA in February 1905, through a vision of Paul Harris (1868-1947),  Rotary began to grow in the USA , Canada,UK and Ireland. Even during World War I, Rotary in Britain increased from 9 to 22 clubs,with other early clubs in  Cuba in 1916, Philippines in 1919 and India in 1920.

In  1921, Rotary International ( then called the International Association of Rotary Clubs) decided to expand Rotary into  Australia and New Zealand by sending two Canadian  Commissioners  Jim Davidson and James Layton Ralston, to establish clubs in Sydney, Melbourne, Auckland  and Wellington.

                                         Jim Davidson                                      James Ralston


Davidson and Ralston arrived in Sydney on 22nd March, 1921 on board the Ventura and, as someone has so aptly put it, …found it closed! It was “Show Week” – the ten days during which the country goes to the city for the Royal Agricultural and Horticultural Society’s Easter Show.

“Show Week” incorporates the Easter Holidays (Good Friday, Easter Eve, Easter Sunday, Easter Monday) and to that extended week-end was added “Show Day” ( Reference “SERVICE ABOVE SELF” IN THE ANTIPODES Rotary in Australia and New Zealand 1921-2014 by H Paul Henningham) .

Finding Sydney on holidays, the Commissioners then  proceeded to Melbourne. There they met with  noted Australian  Sir John Monash and other business leaders to establish the Rotary Club of Melbourne on 21st April 1921.  Thus The Rotary Club of Melbourne can rightly claim to be the first formed in Australia. On returning to Sydney,  they were instrumental in establishing the Rotary Club of Sydney on 1st May 1921.  Wellington and Auckland followed on the 7th and 13th June respectively.

Since that time, Rotary in Australia has grown to some 21 Districts , 1100 clubs and  30.000 plus  members. It has moved with the times and adapted through wars and the difficult economic circumstances.  Rotary in Australia is rightly proud to be celebrating its centenary during Australia Day 26th of January 2021.

Prior to 1985, Rotary world wide was a male only organisation . In moving with the times, women have taken up many important roles in Rotary with positions of District Governor and Club Presidents being filled by women and are active in Club organisations. Recently Jennifer Jones of Canada has been nominated as the International President for the 2022/2023 Rotary Year. Our congratulations are extended to Jennifer.

Further the current Presidents of  Australia’s oldest clubs, Melbourne and Sydney, are women. Congratulations Marion Macleod (Melbourne) and Fatima Ali (Sydney). During  this Centenary year, Rotary Clubs in Australia will be focusing on many humanitarian projects particularly those associated with impact of the Corona Virus on the needy and homeless essentially a continuation of what we have done since 1973.