Well, here we are at the end of another Rotary year, and what a tumultuous one it has been. As District Governor my time really kicked off at the International Assembly in San Diego in January 2019. This was where the first of the five most significant events of my Governorship occurred, when then incoming R.I President Mark Daniel Maloney’s unveiled his theme “Rotary Connects the World”.
International Assembly focussed my thinking, which led to the second significant event when I decided to also have a theme as Governor, and I chose “Breaking the Chains”.
The third significant event was the continuing serious drought issue running up Eastern Australia and, in our case, affecting farming families badly in the East Gippsland region of our District.
The fourth significant event was the catastrophic fires late 2019 and running into early 2020. Again, in our Rotary District, East Gippsland bore the brunt of this.
The fifth significant event was the global pandemic COVID-19 or novel coronavirus, which is still infecting record numbers as we near the end of June.
Each of these events has played a very real part in shaping my year as Governor.
Rotary Connects the World
RI President Mark’s theme is in hindsight remarkably prophetic. Connections is what it all is about during the time of COVID-19 and Rotarians throughout the world, and in my view especially in District 9820, have embraced technology to stay connected.
Only two of our 47 Rotary and Rotaract Clubs have not been meeting online.
Breaking the Chains
Like RI President Mark, I must have had some kind of second sight at the time I developed this theme for the District for the year.
I said when I first introduced the theme that 'Breaking the Chains' is about removing obstacles in our mind that prevent progress and adaptability, and that the objective was to recognise our anxieties around change, and allow us to better deal with a rapidly changing environment.
I knew to be successful; we need some kind of disruption to force us into action. COVID-19 has done precisely that and we have seen clubs embracing changes that might have been some years in the future otherwise, were it not for the pandemic. I saw a real need for change, for modernisation, for doing things differently to protect our own future.
One of the things I did different, was to hold cluster meetings in the first half of the year. One of the most important messages I shared during these has unfortunately not been picked up and embraced by clubs, Boards and members. I said, “the most important project you have this year is your own membership”.
While we have had so much success in “Breaking the Chains” the District membership figures remain very disturbing, so I would repeat my message to all for the next year “the most important project you have … is your own membership”.
East Gippsland Drought
Farmers in East Gippsland have been doing it tough for several years. I had heard of the amazing work being done by Bairnsdale and other East Gippsland clubs, so knew we would need to focus relief efforts to that area. That was before the fires! However, we have never lost sight of the drought affected farmers who in many cases are still in drought even though the publicity for that has quietened down a lot.
PDG Janne Speirs along with PP Gillian Reeve and “Mr. Hay” Rex Estoppey and others of course, have been driving support for the drought affected farmers actively throughout this last year.  Some unfortunate drought affected farmers were also fire affected, so there has been significant collaboration between the drought and fire relief operations.
I took a position on the distribution committee for a major drought relief fundraising effort through Great Northern Brewing and Bendigo Bank working with Rotary Districts. More than $600,000 is currently being distributed from this through Eastern Australia.
East Gippsland Fires
District 9820 has done some of its finest work responding to the East Gippsland fires of December 2019 and January 2020. Assistant Governor at the time Ann Cross coordinated a meeting on New Years Day 2020 of the 5 East Gippsland Clubs, me and PDG Janne Speirs.
The result of this was the formation of the East Gippsland Rotary Fire Relief Committee.