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Wednesday, 14 March 2012
Page: 1712

Senator WILLIAMS (New South WalesNationals Whip in the Senate) (13:00): I rise to speak on something that is very close to my heart, and that is the service clubs we have in Australia: Apex, Lions and Rotary especially. We were privileged in my home town of Inverell to host, just a few weeks ago, the New South Wales-ACT state conference of the Apex Clubs. And then, last weekend, the Inverell, Inverell East and Warialda Rotary clubs in Inverell hosted the Rotary District 9650 conference.

I was privileged to join Apex many years ago, when it was a young men's services club for men aged 18 to 40. Apex started in 1931, during the Great Depression, by three men in Geelong: Langham Proud, Ewan Laird and the late Sir John Buchan. It is a wonderful organisation that grew right around Australia, especially in rural and regional Australia, where Apex was really endorsed and the clubs were many—growing fast, with high membership. In Inverell we had two Apex clubs. The Inverell Apex Club was formed many years ago, shortly after 1931, and the Sapphire City Apex Club was formed in the 1970s. We had two Apex clubs in our country town of around 10,000 people. Sadly, the Sapphire City Apex Club—which I was honoured to become a life member of when I retired from Apex at 40—no longer exists. Around the north of New South Wales, at Bingara, Ashford and many other country towns, Apex clubs that were very active clubs now no longer exist, and this is of great concern.

There seems to be a culture developing in Australia where the attitude is that, if we do not have it, the government has got to give it to us. That is over all three tiers of government—local, state and federal. It is a culture I have seen develop over several years, or for even longer. Years ago, if we did not have it then our community pulled together to deliver what we wanted. Of course, our service clubs were a major part of that. I look back on Apex and what we did in the early days of our association for things like microsurgery and kids' cancer research. In the early 1960s, Apex even lobbied the Australian government to abolish the White Australia policy, which I believe was brought in many decades ago by the Labor Party. Imagine if the White Australia policy was still in place in Australia today, to judge people on the colour of their skin.

I remember well watching a video of the 1960-61 tied cricket test in Brisbane, when Richie Benaud was captain for Australia and Sir Frank Worrell was captain for the West Indies. It was a great test series and after the five test series were played they had a tickertape parade through Melbourne. The great West Indian bowler Wes Hall was talking to the Prime Minister, and the Prime Minister thanked the West Indies for their wonderful display of sportsmanship and the entertainment they brought the Australian people. Wes Hall said to the Prime Minister, 'It's amazing you let us come here to play cricket, but because of the colour of our skin we're not allowed to live here.' It is a part of Australian history we cannot be proud of. Apex was one of the organisations that lobbied for the abolition of such regulations, and thank goodness they were successful.

What the service clubs are delivering for our country is simply amazing. As I said, we had the Apex state convention in Inverell a few weeks ago, and last weekend some 550 people came to Inverell for the District 9650 Rotary conference. In looking back at the achievements of the service clubs, let us look at Rotary. One of the greatest things that Rotary did for my family was when my eldest son, David, went to Thailand as a Rotary exchange student in 1998 or 1999. He had 12 months in Thailand and enjoyed it enormously. He came back speaking another language—what a great thing to be able to do. He speaks fluent Thai. A couple of years later, my daughter Rebecca went to Brazil as a Rotary exchange student. This is part of the international building that Rotary provides for our community. Of course, Rebecca came back from Brazil speaking fluent Portuguese and went on to learn Spanish. To have a daughter who speaks English, Spanish and Portuguese—it is certainly far advanced from how we learned to speak in the shearing sheds, I can assure you. This is what the service clubs offer and give—not only in Australia but right around the world.

Rotary sponsors a breast-screening program. The bus for that comes into Inverell. What a magnificent service for the early detection of cancer. Rotary distributes bowel cancer screening kits; many Australians have had their lives extended, hopefully by many years, because of those kits. The achievements of Rotary over many years are just huge, such as ridding the world of that hideous disease, polio—which I believe is nearly gone. A very close friend of mine is one of 13 children, and two of his sisters were born with polio. The legendary radio announcer John Laws is one who suffered from polio in his younger days. To have Rotary as part of the extermination of that disease is wonderful. But these are only some of the things that our service clubs have achieved.

Then there is Lions. A bloke from Lismore retired from Apex at the age of 40. I think his name was Tresise. He went to a service club conference in America and came back and started Lions in Australia. That is why the Lismore club is Lions club No. 1 around Australia. The Lions do tremendous work for our youth and for education. There are the things you do locally in service clubs and there is fellowship and friendship. In my Apex days we would go out and cut firewood and donate a load of firewood for a pensioner. We would go and paint a house for a Legacy lady. We had several painters in our club and, of course, what usually followed when a house was painted was one or three beers at the local establishment, with fellowship and a bit of fun. We enjoyed helping the community and we derived so much out of it.

The ideals of Apex—I hope I still know them—are: to make the ideals of service the basis of all enterprise; to develop by example a more intelligent and aggressive citizenship; to provide means of forming enduring friendships, rendering altruistic service and building better communities; and to promote international understanding and friendship. The ideals of many service clubs are like those, and what they achieve in our community is simply wonderful.

I remember that many years ago the Inverell Apex Club built the tourist information centre in Inverell, in Campbell Park. It was to two-storey building built by volunteers, a magnificent achievement, which stood for many years until it was removed—to the disgust of many, I might add—when Coles extended their car park there. I also want to mention that Inverell, which is my home town, has super sports facilities for a town of 12,000 people, but it is a service club, the Inverell Apex Club, which is directly responsible for much of the facilities. In 1968 the outgoing chairman of the Inverell Apex Club, Col Campbell, was concerned that the town did not have satisfactory sporting facilities, and Apex formed a committee to carry out a survey. The results were presented to a public meeting, and that resulted in the formation of the Inverell Sports Council in 1969, chaired by a man who was to become a life governor of Apex, Alderman John Northey. The sports council, with the Shire Council of Inverell, has been responsible for the establishment of a magnificent sports complex catering for many sports, the establishment of a hockey complex and the upgrade of the town's main sports oval, Varley Oval, which has hosted major events. In fact, the Inverell Sports Council was used as a model for others being set up throughout the state.

Our cricket fields are known as the McCosker ovals. Why are they named McCosker? After the great Australian cricketer Rick McCosker, who was born and grew up in Inverell and became known to many in 1977 when, at the Centenary Test, he had his jaw broken by a bouncer from one of our British friends and then went out to bat in the second innings with his face bandaged up. Rick McCosker is very proudly known as one of the great sporting achievers of our town of Inverell—hence the ovals being called the McCosker ovals.

Many achievements in Australia have been because of service clubs, but there are benefits you get as an individual from being involved in them. In Apex when we had an age range of 18 to 40. They were the tough times. That was the age range where people had young families, many costs and not a lot of money. But the time we put into working for communities in those service clubs was really satisfying. My concern is that Apex numbers have now dwindled. We used to have 18,000 Apex members throughout Australia. We have is nowhere near that number now. In my home town we lost the Sapphire City Apex club and we lost clubs in Ashford, Bingara and other towns. The Inverell Apex Club used to have about 75 members. You had to line up and go on a waiting list to become a member, and hence a second club was formed. But now our local club has only 12 to 14 members.

I appeal to Australians to get involved in a service club, whether it be Apex, Lions, Rotary or Quota. Whatever club it is, get involved because you will not only do a lot of good for your community and your country but you will do a lot of good for yourself. One of the things we used to have in Apex was interclub debating competitions. They were very entertaining, I can assure you. There was always a lot of fun and a lot of laughs during those debates. I remember one day we debated whether we should have a metric calendar: 10 minutes in an hour, 10 hours in a day, 10 days in a week, 10 weeks in a month and 10 months in a year. It was quite humorous. I can remember Howard Finlen bringing the roof down—not literally, of course, but with the laughter he caused. Those were the sorts of things we got up to. And, as I mentioned, it was through the magnificent Rotary Youth Exchange that two of my three children benefited enormously from going overseas, living in another country, learning about another culture and learning another language. Rotary International has achieved so much.

You might want to join a Rotary club, a Lions club—Lions International is a magnificent organisation—or an Apex club. But I underline Apex because it is an Australian-made organisation. It was made here in Australia, as I said, back in 1931 by three men in Geelong. We need to build numbers in the Apex clubs to keep the Apex association alive so it can deliver for communities as it has done for many years. I was fortunate to be district governor on two occasions, in 1991 and 1994. In 1991 we went to Perth for our national convention and in 1994 we went to Burnie in Tasmania.

If you want to help your community, if you want to build better communities and make friends and if you want to go to bed at night saying, 'I can sleep with a peaceful mind because I have helped someone today'—and that is how it is—join a service organisation. Through these organisations the community benefits and the people benefit, and those who join clubs, do the work and get involved are also great beneficiaries. That is my message: join a service club, help yourself and help your country.