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"Sacred places: war memorials in the Australian landscape", Canberra, Tuesday, 17 November 1998: address on the occasion of the launch.

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Let me say at the outset what a delight it is for Helen and me to be with you at this opening of the 33'd Rotary Institute. My own association with Rotary began some 45 years ago when, I was awarded a Rotary Foundation Fellowship to study International Law in Europe. Subsequently, I became a member of the Rotary Club of Sydney of which I am currently an honorary member. I must say that I feel very much among friends.

It is appropriate that this 33rd Australian Rotary Institute is being held here in Canberra, our National Capital. Canberra is a traditional meeting place. The name “Canberra” is an anglicised version of an Aboriginal word metaphorically referring to the plain between the hills. When I was a boy growing up in this city, the Molonglo River flowed across the Canberra Plain - past Pialiigo which, in the language of the traditional owners, the Ngunnawal people, means “meeting place”. In pre-European times, many of the regional tribes would gather for their annual Bogong moth-hunting expeditions. Now, of course, Canberra has assumed a different importance to modem Australia as the “meeting place” of the elected representatives of the whole nation.

As some of you know, when my appointment as Governor-General was announced more than 3 years ago, I indicated that one of the things that Helen and I hoped to do during my period in office was to focus our efforts upon the disadvantaged in our country. In seeking to honour that pledge, we have visited and become associated with an extraordinarily large number of organisations helping the sick, the needy and other disadvantaged throughout all the States and Territories of the Commonwealth. Those visits and association have brought home to us many things. One of them is a plain fact of which Rotarians are particularly aware, namely, that the collective plight of the disadvantaged in our country is an immense national problem. Another is that, in the forefront or, more often, somewhere in the background, of much that is being done by organisations and individuals working for the disadvantaged there is a Rotary Club or a Rotarian providing financial or practical support or guidance.

The Rotarians of today in this country face increasing difficulties and discouragements in discharging Rotary’s mission of service to the community. Working hours are often longer. Television is an encouragement to stay at home. The pressures of family life are often greater. Sponsorship and access to the corporate dollar are often more difficult to obtain. Those whom it is sought to assist are often more unresponsive. In the case of the entrenched disadvantaged, particularly the young unemployed who have reached the stage



where self-respect and self-esteem are lost or all but lost, they may be defensive, abrasive and sometimes even resentful of those who seek to help. I sincerely hope that those increasing difficulties and discouragements will not be allowed to diminish the work of Rotary and Rotarians in this country at this time when that work is so greatly needed.

The extent of the work of Rotary and Rotarians for the disadvantaged in our communities is not surprising to anyone who is familiar with the history, the nature and the objectives of Rotary International and the character of those who have led it over the more than 93 years since the first Rotary Club, the Rotary Club of Chicago, was formed by Paul Harris and 3 companions on 23 February 1905.

Last year marked the 50th Anniversary of the death of Paul Harris. Over the past 45 years, I have been privileged to have had close association with a large number of the leaders of Rotary in Australia: the great Angus Mitchell, the first Australian President of Rotary International, Douglas Stewart and Ollie Oberg, who were both first Vice Presidents of Rotary International, Sir George Proud, Sir Frank McDowell, and Professor Alex Mitchell, who died only last year, are but some who come immediately to my mind. All of those leaders of Australian Rotary mirrored the qualities of Paul Harris. Let me take a moment to identify what I see as the most important of those qualities for they provide a true identification of the nature of Rotary as I know and have known it.

From the accounts of those who knew Paul Harris and from what he wrote and did, a number of nouns or phrases are clearly appropriate to be linked with his name. The first 4 are obvious to even the most casual observer. They are: vision, companionship, selfless service and plain goodness. To them I would immediately add 2 others: commonsense and humour.

In so far as commonsense is concerned, it is unnecessary to do more than remind you of the first major project of the Chicago Rotary Club. It was the establishment of public toilets throughout the City. It is difficult to envisage any convincing basis for opposing public toilets but it is a fact of life that those who seek to establish them seem invariably to arouse strident opposition. The Chicago Club was no exception. Its project was opposed by two formidable organisations. One was the Association of Brewers which contended that every one of Chicago’s 6,000 saloon bars provided toilets for men. The other was the Association of Department Stores which contended that free facilities in their stores were available for women. The Chicago Club, under Paul Harris, staunchly maintained that men ought not have to buy a glass of beer nor women merchandise to be able to go to the toilet. The Club’s project was carried to a successful completion.

In so far as humour is concerned, examples abound. Let me, safely in Canberra, quote from Paul Harris’ own well-known account of his visit to Brisbane in 1935 to address an inter-club luncheon. He wrote that the weather was hot and humid and he was feeling very poorly. He was sure that the Brisbane Rotarians had noted his sickly appearance and were concerned least he might prove unequal to speaking at the meeting. They decided to do something to revive his drooping spirits and drove him to visit a landmark of their city. Verbatim, as the poet said, I quote Paul Hams’ words:

“The automobile drew up in front of a new building on a hilltop and, as we entered, the Chairman of the committee announced that we were entering Brisbane’s new crematorium. It was indeed a lovely crematorium and where could the resourceful members of the reception committee have found any better place in this mundane sphere to revive one’s drooping spirits preparatory to


making a speech than a crematorium. It amounted to absolute genius. They did not miss a detail; they introduced me to the chief cook and he took us through the culinary department manifesting justifiable pride in his vocation” '.

No description of Paul Harris would be complete without a seventh noun. In the context of Rotary, I suggest that it is the most important of all. Paul Harris, himself certainly thought so for he used it to identify the essence of the movement which he founded. Writing in the first number of the National Rotarian published in January 1911, he said that if he were able to speak to every Rotarian in some enormous colosseum and allowed only one word to say to them, that word would be “toleration” 2 or, as we would be more likely to say, “tolerance”.

In one sense, the story of Rotary International corresponds with the modem history of tolerance - and freedom - throughout the world. Thus, Rotary, like tolerance and freedom, were suppressed and lost under fascism and restored in the enemy countries only after the Second World War had been fought and won. In another sense, Rotary International has represented almost a counter-point to the history of outside events and attitudes. It has stood steadfast and true to principles and virtues that the world has seemed to be questioning and discarding. Where mere pragmatism and selfish materialism have seemed the norm, it has proclaimed its unqualified message of selfless service to the community and of tolerance.

My reason for mentioning these things in opening this 33rd Rotary Institute is not a desire to be complimentary. It is because that message of selfless service and tolerance seems to me to be of critical importance in this country at this particular time as we approach the beginning of our second century as a nation.

At the commencement of these comments, I focused upon Rotary’s service to the community, particularly the most disadvantaged and vulnerable of the community. I have, on many occasions since I became Governor-General, stressed my own conviction that the ultimate test of the worth of a truly democratic nation such as ours is how we treat the most vulnerable and disadvantages of our community. Rotary in Australia is making a profound contribution towards enabling us to face that ultimate test.

The second of those qualities of Rotary, tolerance, is, of course, closely aligned with the first. It is of at least equal importance to contemporary Australia. Indeed, it is the basis of and the essence of the multiculturalism which sustains our nation.

Let me conclude these opening comments of the 33rd Institute with the hope that all that you decide here will be conducive to the advancement of the qualities of the great movement which you represent. I sincerely hope that your deliberations are as successful as you could hope them to be and that the future of Rotary in Australia is every bit as successful, as fulfilling, as inspiring and as productive as has been its past.

And now, with great pleasure I declare the 33rd Rotaiy Institute to be officially open.



See Professor Alex Mitchell, The Rotary Club of Sydney 1921-1981, pp.95-96. See Professor Alex Mitchell, The Rotary Club of Sydney 1921-1981, p.6.