Rotary Club of Warragul



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Rotary Club of Warragul

The Rotary Club of Warragul
History compiled and presented at the 75th Anniversary Dinner, 21 September 2013, by PP Don Cumming PHF SP

 Download pdf - The History of the first 75 years of the Rotary Club of Warragul (2,322Mb) - Click here.


Saturday, 13 July, 2013 marked the 75th anniversary of the chartering of the Rotary Club of Warragul.

As 1938 dawned Rotary in Warragul was little more than an idea waiting to get off the ground, but in Warragul, the local press were heralding the announcement that “Woolworths” were coming to the town and should be open for November 1939. Burton’s stores in the town advertised men’s shirts at 3/11 (40 cents) with trousers at 13/11 ($1.40), a new Humber Sceptre was ₤498 ($996) and a cruise to New Zealand was 31 Guineas travelling first class ($65). In Melbourne the Metropolitan Gas Company were advertising the new gas fridge for a 1/3 ($1.30) deposit and a rental of 3/10 (39 cents) a week.

The Warragul Theatre was showing “The Prisoner of Zenda” but the eagerly awaited film was “The Adventures of Robin Hood” staring Errol Flynn.

Indeed the following year the “Warragul Guardian” would run a serialised, written version of the film in the Newspaper complete with photographs from the film.

Warragul High School numbers had jumped by 50 to 252 and a bus was run for 20 pupils in the Strzelecki area. On the academic front though, concern was being expressed regarding the lack of a bus service to the Technical school at Yallourn and whether there was scope for a Technical school to be established in Warragul.

Australia was home to the Empire games in Sydney and, with 15 countries competing, Australia topped the medals table. The star of the games was Decima Norman who won five gold medals on the track while Margaret Dovey (the future wife of Gough Whitlam) finished 6th in the 200 yards breaststroke. The games had been timed to coincide with sesquicentenary (150 years since the foundation of a British settlement in Sydney).

Plans were being made for a visit to Australia by the King, possibly in 1940 or 1941, although nothing as yet had been firmly put into place.

Newspapers were awash with war, or the prospect of it, be it the China-Japan conflict, the Spanish civil war or the major unrest in Europe with Hitler making demands to add Nazi party representatives to the cabinet of Austria. While Britain and France protested against this action, no one seemingly willing to come to the aid of Austria. The press in Australia followed developments in Europe very closely and in reality there appeared to be little else in the news with major disagreements in Britain at cabinet level about the situation in Germany. This resulted in a number of ministers, including foreign secretary Eden, resigning as they felt that Britain should be taking a much harder line in supporting Austria.

The first Director's Meeting of the Rotary Club of Warragul was held at the home of President Hedley Heighway on Sunday 22 May 1938 at 7:30pm. Directors present were Hedley Heighway, Alick Swan - Vice President, Howard Elliott - Secretary, Ben Boon and Ted Lewis with an apology from Laurie Friend.

It is recorded that the District Governor, J Burgess Watt in a letter to Hedley Heighway on 2 August 1938, said that a cable had just been received from Rotary International in the U.S.A. saying “Warragul admitted 13 July, 1938, No.4791”. The District Governor then goes on to say “Naturally you and your fellow members will be pleased to know that, while you have accepted Rotary, so Rotary has accepted you. Mutual responsibility follows mutual acceptance”.

Then the “Big Night” arrived in the Warragul Palais (now Tattslotto and Priceline Chemist) on Saturday 24 September 1938. Over 250 people were present to witness the presentation of the Charter. There was a big contingent from the Melbourne Club [1921], with Dandenong [1935], Sale [1928] and Bairnsdale [1938] being well represented plus others from Tasmania, South Australia, New South Wales, and many parts of Victoria. The Charter was presented to President Hedley A. Heighway by District Governor of the 65th district, Burgess Watt.

Presenting the charter, District Governor J Burgess Watt outlined the aims andideals of Rotary. He said that Rotary stood for service to others, tolerance in dealings and personal contacts with one's fellow man and integrity in business dealings and international friendships. World peace, he said, would never be attained by statesmen diplomats or politicians. but only by the application of the ideals of Rotary.

Current Rotarian Paul Howells was given a task to produce a suitable record of the 75 years of the Rotary Club of Warragul, with some facts from me as the Historian, much research by Paul, and proof reading and editing by Richard and Mary Habgood. Matt Bradshaw was approached by PP Graeme Snape to print the booklet. Matt generously produced the booklet free of cost to the Club.

I found a couple of interesting sections; the first was that on 24 September 1938, charter night was that the day had borne witness to the VFL Grand final at the MCG where Carlton (15.10.100) had beaten Collingwood (13.7.85) in front of a crowd who had paid an average of 1/3 a ticket ($1.30).

The second was that the Warragul CWA ran a competition in the town amongst the ladies entitled “How to make him Happy” with a prize given to the best idea with some of the entries listed below.

First and foremost do not nag be tolerant of his untidy habits”

“Be interested in his interests”

“Be a good listener”

“Cook the dishes he likes best”

“Do tell him how important he is and do not forget to praise him when he helps”

“Don’t complain if there is no chopped wood, cut a pile yourself”

The Rotary year was from 1 October to 30 September.

I was born in Cooinda Private Hospital, Victoria Street, [where the Chinese Restaurant is today] August 1934, I am able to put a face to practically every person that has been a member of the Rotary Club of Warragul, currently 384. I was employed by a Charter member, Cecil Skews in 1950 and was inducted for membership by Charter Member Bill Pettit 14 November 1969.

It is interesting to note the foundation members of the club - they were

  • Hedley Heighway, Refined Oil Distributor (President)
  • Alick Swan, Grazier (Vice-President)
  • Howard Elliot, Butter Manufacturing (Secretary)
  • Laurence Friend, General Law Practice (Treasurer & Sergeant at Arms)
  • Benjamin Boon , Municipal Services
  • Edwin Lewis , Radio Services
  • Ernest Harvey, Light and Power Service
  • Ray Tassie, Service Stations
  • Ray Baxter, Furniture Retailing
  • Cecil Skews, Stock & Station Agent
  • Jack Shannon, Pharmacy
  • Ernest Henshall, Meat Retailer
  • Arthur Phillips, Hospitals
  • Arnold Milner, Shoe Retailing
  • James Pettit, Jewellery Retailing
  • Percival Wilkinson, Feed & Grain Retailing
  • Vincent Gannon, Newspaper Publishing

Since those early days the Rotary Club of Warragul has, in turn, sponsored the foundation of the Rotary Clubs of Traralgon in 1941, Korumburra 1948, and Drouin in 1954.

I would like to acknowledge the longest serving member of the Rotary Club of Warragul. Roy Berryman OAM PP PHF. Roy was inducted 22 March 1968, he has 45 years 5 months of service and is the record holder. Don McLennan had been the longest, from 1951 to 1996 when he died with 45 years 2 months as a member of our club.

I am next in line with 43 years 10 months, Neville Pellitt 43 years 7 months then Graeme Snape with 40 years 2 months.

In the early days of Warragul Rotary, the weekly meetings were broadcast on 3UL by landline, arranged by Rotarian Edwin Lewis who was manager of the radio station at that time. Noted in reports of meetings at that time is the fact that the club took an active part in the local Boy Scouts movement. For many years the club held an annual bottle drive which was most successful. As an example the 1951 Bottle Drive raised a total of ₤137 and, in 1952, ₤125. These proceeds were divided evenly between the Boy Scouts and Legacy.In more recent years, the Club has held meetings at the Scout Hall in Bowen Street and donated funds to help the Scouts cover increasing Insurance costs.

During those early years, the effect of the depression was still being felt, and money was fairly tight. Club finances were not great, and donations to other local organizations were somewhat limited. However, while money was scarce, the zeal of the Rotary members was undiminished. To mention just two of the projects they took part in – firstly, a roster was drawn up and members regularly paid visits to Warragul and district people who were ill and in the local hospital, and as mentioned previously an annual bottle drive was a feature for some years. Then, for some years the club undertook to supply free firewood to needy pensioners; some 45 tons being delivered in one year.

As funds gradually picked up, a special account was established for the purpose of assisting children of school age from families who were in financial difficulties. This included the supply of clothing and shoes. Later, this was expanded, in association with local secondary schools, to cover educational costs as well. However this was finally abandoned when the Government took steps to assist such students in need.

In 1951 the club decided to erect ornamental gates at the Sports Ground (Logan Park) as the year’s major project.

In 1952 the new showground gates were completed, although a bank guarantee had to be obtained since monies raised to cover the cost showed a shortfall. There were a number of organizations that felt they were not in a financial position to contribute, as clearly shown in an article from the Melbourne Argus of 17 January 1952.

When the Rotary Club of Warragul wrote to the Warragul sub-branch of the RSL requesting a subscription toward the erection of wrought iron gates, turnstiles and a ticket box at the showgrounds to commemorate the Royal visit, the sub-branch tabled the letter for a month. General opinion was that the branch had had a severe drain on its resources recently. The Warragul Football Club donated 25 guineas ($53) to the appeal.

Interestingly club minutes show that the bank guarantee was only gained as a result of a number of Rotary Club members personally taking on that guarantee. This caused some financial difficulties for the Club and the gates were erected when the final installment of ₤220 ($440) was paid.

Since then. the Club has undertaken many projects around the Warragul district including the formation of the Senior Citizens Club and the building of their Clubrooms. The Warragul Senior Citizens Welfare Committee to oversee the running of the Club was firts chaired by Rotarian Len Ryan while Rotary President Lin Patison became Secretary. Other Warragul Rotary projects included the building of the fences, gardens and a gazebo at Fairview Homes, the Helipad at the West Gippsland Hospital, the Skateboard Ramp in Bourke Street Park, the gazebo at Cooinda Lodge, provision of a passenger vehicle to Pindari (Vision Australia) Warragul and construction of a toilet block at the Girl Guides camping area in Mitzpah Rd, Buln Buln East.

In association with the Shire, Rotary Park was set up with a steam engine, Rotunda, children’s playgrounds and the toilet block installed. Work continues to this day in Rotary Park involving a total refurbishment for the Club's 75th Anniversary. Further projects over the years include the Rotary Clocks in Queen Street, a Bandstand in Civic Park, an Independent Living Unit for Scope in Bowen Street in partnership with the Lions Club of Warragul, a Youth Shed in Normanby Street, assistance for Habitat for Humanity to build homes for people with limited financial means and an Arbor and Gardens at Warragul Cemetery to mention just a few.

In 1966 the Rotary Club of Warragul took an interest in the formation of the local Historical Society, which has done splendid work in obtaining and preserving items of historical value for future generations.

In 1973 the Rotary Club held its first annual Art Exhibition in association with the Warragul Camera Club’s National Exhibition and this was staged in the Exhibition Hall at Logan Park. The purpose of this exhibition was to provide a venue for local district artists and others to display their work in the Gippsland region. From a rather humble beginning this event, now run each year at the West Gippsland Arts Centre is considered to be the premier Art Show in the Gippsland Region. Artists from Gippsland, Victoria and interstate submit their work for judging and sale. The sum of $338 381 dollars profit has been raised in 40 years.

In 1980, it was decided that members would construct art stands that would be suitable for the new Arts Centre being built. The stands were donated to the Arts Centre for its use. Some years later, the director of the Arts Centre suggested that the Rotary Club purchase the stands from the Arts Centre as there was limited space to store them. He was informed of their true origin and so we repossessed them.

The Rotary Club of Warragul has always been fortunate to have many members who do think outside the square. In 1977, eight members and four Rotary wives participated in a F.A.I.M. trip to Papua New Guinea to assist local natives in the building of a hospital in the rugged mountainous area in the hinterland. This was the first time such a team from just one Rotary Club had gone overseas to undertake such a project.

In 1984, a team of seven members, with a Rotary Youth Leadership Awardee, Trevor Renshaw who was in charge of the project as he was a carpenter, made the trip to Watum Island where their job was to erect living quarters for a medical officer alongside a four ward hospital that had been built by a previous team. Some years later a further team from the Club, together with other Rotarians from the district, undertook a similar trip to the Solomon Islands.

In more recent times, the Club has undertaken a sister club relationship with the Rotary Club of Jakarta-Thamrin, and together, the two clubs have undertaken to build facilities in several villages in Indonesia to mainly assist women about to give birth. The infant mortality rate was very high in these villages prior to Rotary making these facilities available, but, since then, the number of infant fatalities has been tremendously reduced to almost be non-existent.

Another trip saw club members assisting a local indigenous community in the far north to construct a dwelling for occupation. The Club has also supported a school in Tanzania with refurbishment and water. This project, and an Orphanage in Uganda, will benefit from support from the Club in 2013-14.

Another Club Project that has grown over the years has been the growing of suitable pine trees to be sold in December as Christmas trees. Now, the trees are sold from various outlets around Warragul and other areas, while the Club also supplies trees to other district clubs on a wholesale basis. A new innovation has been a “pick your own” offer which allows customers to select their own tree while still in the ground. From this project $248 728 dollars has been raised to fund local projects.

The Club has also been very active in the area of service to the youth and continues to be involved in the Rotary Youth Exchange Program. Hosting Exchange Students has been a very worthwhile program with some interesting characters arriving from overseas for the Club to host.

The Rotary Youth Business Leadership Award was set up by the Club and renamed the Rotary Youth Leadership Award; a joint venture with the Rotary Club of Morwell. This leadership program continues to provide a wonderful opportunity for young people to develop their leadership skills under the guidance of Rotarians and guest presenters. The team is to be commended for their continued enthusiasm, commitment and generosity over what has now been 19 years of dedication to the RYBLA-RYLA program.

The Club has successfully held a Business persons Dinner for many years; a professionally-run night featuring very high profile guest speakers who have included Dr. Robin Batterham, a Federal Government Advisor, Margaret Jackson, Past CEO of Qantas and, in recent times, Jeff Kennett, former Premier of Victoria and the Honourable Michael O’Brien, State Treasurer, to name a few. The Business Dinner has developed into an Iconic event held in Warragul each year.  

The Rotary Club of Warragul is proud of its past, and its achievements, but is ever mindful that the need to be of service is always there and looks forward to continue being a friendly force helping the community, After all, the Rotary motto is ever in members minds.....

“Service above Self”.

Allan Doery, President 1961-62 commented in his report:

“Time and energy given in service is often more rewarding [to the giver] than the donation of money”