This history was compiled and presented by Club Historian Bob Mills at the Club's 70th Anniversary Dinner on 7th April 2005


The birth of Rotary in Chicago in 1905 was the beginning of an organisation whose ramifications for good have reached tremendous proportions. It took nearly 20 years for it to reach Australia and its establishment in Melbourne in 1923 was the beginning of a mushroom growth in this country. One of the early offshoots from Melbourne was to Adelaide in 1924 when yet another thriving branch of this family was established. In 1935 Rotary Club of Adelaide sponsored our Club to become the third Rotary club in South Australia after Adelaide and Mount Gambier.

The Club's Charter was granted on 17th April 1935. It was presented on 4th June at the Oriental Hotel by Sir Angus Mitchell, a member of the Melbourne Club and District Governor in 1934/1935, and who subsequently became the first Australian to be President of Rotary International. The Club had 18 Charter Members with the last passing away in 1976. Seventeen of the Charter Members are shown in the photo in the photo gallery linked at the bottom of this page, together with three others who joined later in 1935.

Early Days

Meetings were held in the Soldier's Hall in Arthur Street on Thursdays at 1.00pm. In 1942 the meeting was changed to Fridays at 6.00pm and the meal charge was one shilling for Members and one and sixpence for visitors. Inflation struck hard in 1949 with two price increases, firstly to two and sixpence and then three shillings by year's end. In 1949 the meeting venue was changed to the Unley Council's banqueting hall. An outside caterer provided the meals and the price escalated to seven and sixpence. The food consisted of sausages and mash with Members having to clear the tables at the end of the meal and scrape the plates; a re-enactment of such a meal for the 70th Anniversary function was hastily abandoned! Meetings have been held at the current venue in the Unley Community Services Club since 1969.

The Club's territory originally comprised the City of Unley, the District Council of Mitcham and part of Marion and Burnside. This area has been reduced over time but we still retain a very close association with Unley itself and enjoy a good relationship with Unley Council. No doubt this relationship has been enhanced by the fact that we have provided from Club Membership nine Mayors, nine Councillors and four Town Clerks.

The Club continued to prosper in its early years and the Members enjoyed many Rotary functions such as a Father & Son night which was well attended. Presidential Induction nights were prestigious functions for Members and partners. At the 'Pier' Hotel in 1954 our oldest surviving Past President, Ron McLeod, was inducted. The Christmas meeting has always been popular with the inevitable choir leading the carol singing. The Club's 25th anniversary in 1960 was well attended, as were other partners nights.

Rotarians have always enjoyed 'hands-on' projects, such as maintenance and painting the Veteran's Clubhouse in Parkside, cleaning up four days after the 1983 Ash Wednesday fires when the remains of a house were loaded onto a single truck by four Members.

The annual Unley Way To Go fete has been supported for many years while the Paint Your Heart Out program was a good avenue for Members to show off their painting skills, including re-painting the RSL Hall in Arthur Street and the Rotunda in the Soldiers Memorial Gardens. Recent events include a house clean-up for an elderly gentleman and tree planting in the 'Trees For Life' program.


Fundraising has been an essential activity to allow local community and international projects to be implemented. The Club has been most fortunate to have such a huge and consistent fundraiser as the Thrift Shop - the envy of many Clubs.

The idea of a Thrift Shop was the brainchild of Phil and John Bohnsack and it started in 1973 in premises adjacent to the Institute on Glen Osmond Road. The helpers are all volunteers made up of partners of Rotarians, friends and Rotarians with people working on a regular roster. The Shop has had four relocations since its beginning and is now located at 130 Unley Road where volunteers continue to happily offer their help. Since 1973 the Thrift Shop has raised over $900,000 in today's dollars.

Thanks to the large amount of money raised from the Thrift Shop many major projects have been possible and included:

  • A blood cell separator donated to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital and paid for over a four year period;
  • The Fred Claridge Memorial Bus donated to the Julia Farr Centre;
  • Replacement of the Unley Soldiers Memorial Rotunda and Bandstand in the Club's 60th year and which involved local tradespersons, unemployed people and Rotarians; and
  • Supporting the Indigenous Medical Student program which was instigated by a Member of the Rotary Club of Mitcham. Our first student, Dr Olivia O'Donoghue, has graduated and now works within the aboriginal community in Alice Springs.

Service Projects

The Club has had a strong involvement in the community with a wide range of projects:

  • Following the death of its Member, Peter Nelson, the Club and his widow Marjorie instigated the Peter Nelson Leukemia Fellowship Fund. Trustees were appointed to run the Fund and included Members of our Club. To date well in excess of $2 million dollars has been raised.
  • The Police Officer of the Year Award has been presented annually since 1978 and aims to give recognition to police officers for outstanding service to the community.
  • Community Service Awards were made in conjunction with Unley Council to local people in various categories following nominations from the general public.
  • A walk through the Heysen Tunnels prior to the official opening was a multi-club project and attracted many thousands of people.
  • The annual Carols in the Rotunda is improving in popularity each year and has included a musical Father Christmas in a more powerful sleigh than is normal.
  • A major financial contribution was made to the Unley Council project to construct a Peace Garden in memory of the victims of the Bali bombing.

On the International scene many projects have been completed involving medical treatment including plastic surgery for a badly burnt and disfigured girl from Malaysia, a hole-in-the-heart operation on a ten year old boy from Malaysia and more recently plastic and reconstructive surgery for Bertha from East Timor.

Youth Exchange is one of the very important initiatives of Rotary and this Club has been participating over a period of 38 years with 42 students involved, either incoming or outgoing. It is truly wonderful to witness the maturing that these exchanges have on our outgoing students and to know that the experiences being given to incoming students have the same transporting effects. Our first exchange student from Japan was Yumiko Gungi in 1972 and she was hosted by various Members' families. Freya Gehling recently completed a year in Belgium and our current student is Isabel Alsen from Sweden.

Fellowship & Fun

Fellowship has been a very significant part of our Club with keen participation by Members, partners and friends:

  • The bottling of wine, with the obligatory tasting and barbecue, was a popular pastime in the seventies and was a source of fundraising as well as fellowship.
  • Attendance at District Conferences has been rewarding for old and new Members alike and being involved in the various activities was encouraged.
  • The annual Garden Party was normally booked out and was held firstly at the home of Alan and Nan Clarkson for 11 years and then at the home of John and Valda Edwards for 16 years until 1997.
  • A recent luncheon at the home of Bob and Maria Mills was enjoyed by all and included a keenly fought series of petanque games on the lawn.

70 Years of Achievement

Over the past 70 years the Club has had many significant achievements:

  • Seven daughter clubs were created and the family has now extended to 13 grand daughter clubs, 11 great-grand daughter clubs and two great-great-grand daughter clubs within Districts 9520 and 9500.
  • Six District Governors have been provided from our membership with the Charter President, Walter Sims the first in 1940/1941 and the sixth being Jeff Nankivell in 1983/1984.
  • At the 40th Anniversary in 1975 the first two Paul Harris Fellowships to be given in South Australia were awarded to Fred Claridge and Ferg Ballantyne both of these Members had also been District Governors.
  • A total of 52 Paul Harris Fellowships and four Sapphire Pins have been awarded with eleven Fellowships given to non-Rotarians for service to Rotary and the community. There are currently 12 active Paul Harris Fellowship Members in the Club.
  • Some 400 people have been Members of the Club.

What of the future?

Major projects to celebrate Rotary's 100th anniversary and our 70th anniversary have been selected to provide a balance between support for an International project and locally based youth initiatives.

  • A significant donation over a three year period has been pledged to the Overseas Specialist Surgical Association of Australia which sends surgical teams regularly to East Timor and the eastern parts of Indonesia to provide reconstructive surgery.
  • The Club will be supporting six attendees at the RYLA camp in 2005 and will host the event.
  • The Club will also support a RYWELL course and camp designed to build self confidence and reduce aggression in youths at risk of serious offending.

There has been a good influx of new Members over the past five years with current membership numbering 56. There is a vast range of experience and strength within the membership from the three new Members inducted on 22nd March 2005 to our longest serving Member who was inducted in 1968.

The Club is proud of its far reaching community involvement and achievements over its Biblical lifetime and with the experience and strength of the membership and a healthy Thrift Shop the Club's commitment to the Object of Rotary will continue well beyond three score and ten.

Seven new Rotary clubs established

Our daughter clubs are listed below with the year of their formation. Click here to see the Club's family tree.

  • 1950 Prospect
  • 1953 Murray Bridge
  • 1957 Port Pirie
  • 1962 Mitcham
  • 1966 Mount Barker
  • 1967 Glen Osmond
  • 1983 Hyde Park