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Rotary is an organisation of business and professional persons united worldwide who provide humanitarian services, encourage high ethical standards in all vocations and help build goodwill and peace in the world.

How did it begin?

On the 23rd February 1905 Paul Harris and three businessmen met in a Chicago office.  Paul told the others:

“that it would be a good thing if a group of businessmen could get together periodically to get better acquainted and perhaps to help each other.  The new club might be started on the basis if only one member from each business or profession, so there would be no competition and, as there would be no rivalry, there would be less chance of dissension within the new club.”

The others agreed and decided that to build friendship they should meet weekly, rotate the meetings in each other’s offices, rotate the office bearers to prevent anyone having too much influence and chose the name Rotary.  The first President was Silvester Schiele.

Why Service to Others?

As friendship deepened among the first members, their concern moved from how they could help each other to how they could assist their local community.  Their first project was to campaign – in the face of strenuous opposition – for public toilets outside the Town Hall.  Service above self was born.

How Rotary Spread

In 1910 the sixteen clubs in the USA held a Convention in Chicago and formed the National Association of Rotary Clubs, electing Paul Harris as the first President.

Rotary became international with the formation of Clubs in Canada in 1910 and Ireland and the United Kingdom in 1911. The 1912 Convention adopted the name International Association of Rotary Clubs and Paul Harris was named “President Emeritus”.

The first non-English speaking Club was Havana, Cuba in 1916 and the first Asian Club was Manilla, Philippines in 1919.

Clubs were formed in Australia and New Zealand in 1921 and the name “Rotary International” was adopted at the 1922 Convention.

After 50 years, there were 429,000 Rotarians in 9,011 Clubs in 98 countries.  After 100 years, there are 1.3 million Rotarians in 32,000 Clubs in 166 countries.

As Paul Harris said “the grandeur of Rotary is in its future, not its past”.

A World Influence

In 1942 Rotary convened a meeting in London UK of the Ministers of Education of 21 Governments (many in exile) to plan a worldwide educational and cultural exchange to counter aggression in the future.  From this meeting came UNESCO.

The 46 countries which met in San Francisco in 1945 and formed the United Nations had among them 55 Rotarians and formal representatives of Rotary International which still has three observers at the United Nations.

The 1985 Convention launched Polio Plus, a campaign to eradicate poliomyelitis from the world by its centenary year of 2005.  This program was adopted by the World Health Organisation in 1988.  To date, Rotary International has raised $119,220,260 million, and immunised 500 million children and eradicated polio from 210 countries.

In 1917 at the Atlanta Convention Rotary decided to establish an endowment fund for the purpose of doing good.  Almost nothing happened for 30 years!  When Paul Harris died in January 1947 there was a spontaneous gesture from Rotarians who sent donations in his memory and the Rotary Foundation became effective.  This arm of Rotary supports all Rotary’s programs of peace and humanitarian service throughout the world.

A World Symbol

From the outset, Rotary Clubs devised emblems based on a wheel.  The Rotary Club of Melbourne began with a kangaroo on a white background inside the wheel.  In 1923, the present design was adopted as the only symbol.  It has 22 cogs, ten spokes and a keyway and is protected under law from misuse.

Rotary for All

Until 1989 only men could become Rotarians.  In 1978 the Rotary Club of Duarte, California invited three women to become members.  Rotary International withdrew the Club’s Charter.  The Club’s appeal to the United States Supreme Court was upheld and women were accepted as members.  The necessary change to the Rotary International Constitution was made in 1989.

The Object of Rotary

The object of Rotary is to encourage and foster the ideal of service as a basis of worthy enterprise and, in particular, to encourage and foster:

  • the development of acquaintance as an opportunity for service;
  • high ethical standards in business and professions, the recognition of the worthiness of all useful occupations and the dignifying by each Rotarian of his/her occupation as an opportunity to serve society;
  • the application of the ideal of service by every Rotarian to his/her personal, business and community life;
  • and the advancement of international understanding, goodwill and peace through a world fellowship of business and professional persons united in the ideal of service.

The Four Way Test

One of the most widely printed and quoted statements of business ethics in the world is the Rotary "4-Way Test."  It was created by Rotarian Herbert J. Taylor in 1932 when he was asked to take charge of the Chicago based Club Aluminum Company, which was facing bankruptcy.  Taylor looked for a way to save the struggling company mired in depression-caused financial difficulties.  He drew up a 24 word code of ethics for all employees to follow in their business and professional lives.  The 4-Way Test became the guide for sales, production, advertising and all relations with dealers and customers, and the survival of the company was credited to this simple philosophy.

Herb Taylor became president of Rotary International during 1954-55.  The 4-Way Test was adopted by Rotary in 1943 and has been translated into more than 100 languages and published in thousands of ways.  The message should be known and followed by all Rotarians.

Of the things we think, say or do:

  1. Is it the TRUTH?
  2. Is it FAIR to all concerned?
  4. Will it be BENEFICIAL to all concerned?

When you are inducted into Rotary

When a new member is inducted into Rotary the President will address them with the following charge:

“You have been chosen for membership of the Rotary Club of Melbourne because your fellow members believe you to be a leader in your vocation, and recognise those qualities of head and heart which fit you to interpret and impart the message of Rotary to your fellow citizens.

You are the chosen representative of your vocation in this Club and a knowledge and understanding of your craft must come to us from you.   On the other hand, you become the ambassador from us to your classification and it becomes your duty to convey our ideals and principles of service to the industry, or profession, you have the honour to represent.

The community will know and judge Rotary through your embodiment of it in character and service, and we accept you, as a member, because we believe our principles and organisation will be safe in your keeping.  We also expect much from you in help and inspiration that will enable us to be better Rotarians and, with this hope, we most heartily offer you the right hand of Rotary fellowship.”

Australia To The Fore

Four Australians have served as the President of Rotary International.  The first was:

Sir Angus Sinclair Mitchell 1948-49, a member of the Rotary Club of Melbourne

Next were:

Sir Clem Renouf 1978-79, a member of the Rotary Club of Nambour, Queensland;
Albert Henry Royce Abbey 1988-89, a member of the Rotary Club of Essendon; and
(Glen) Glennie William Kinross 1997-98, a member of the Rotary Club of Hamilton, Queensland.

Australia has hosted three Conventions of Rotary International -

1971   Sydney

1993   Melbourne

2003   Brisbane

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