Coming into the historical town of Tenterfield on Thursday afternoon made me feel nostalgic: I was driving past the Tenterfield School of Arts where, in 1889, the ‘Father of the Federation’ Sir Henry Parkes gave his famous ‘Tenterfield Oration’. So many places so similar to the days when, in the mid 70’s, I first visited this place, working as a Dealer Rep, my territory the entire state of NSW bar Sydney itself. And of course, around this time, the town was made world famous by the late Peter Allen singing ‘Tenterfield Saddler’. [What? Before your time? Henrietta, add your memory to the items that fade!]  So, where do we go for dinner? Well, how about Stannum House, the truly olde style building on the main drag, painted – depending on your personal taste - in either ‘Ghastly Pink’ or ‘Hot Cherry’? But I digress…

Only those truly devoted to the Rotary movement, which includes a bevy of Past District Governors arrive early. [Not sure: Is “bevy” the correct collective term for PDG’s? Perhaps it’s a conference, or a pride? Surely not a gaggle?] Sitting at the Registration Desk late Friday morning, I welcomed the elder disciples of our fellowship, most of them attending the Governor’s luncheon. The real rush started towards the evening, as the Welcome Dinner guests rolled in at the Historical Tenterfield Railway Platform. Many were dressed, as instructed, in “International Dress”. The Jury is still out on whether the style of a certain individual from Burleigh town, dressing as Bazza MacKenzie in London (as in Barry Humphries’ 1972 movie) can be classified as “International”. So the prize for Best Dress was not awarded and was instead presented to
Mayor Pete Petty, in consideration of keeping his welcome to Tenterfield address short and crisp.

Things became more serious on Saturday morning. The International Youth Exchange Students paraded their countries’ flag, proudly wearing their badge and pin encrusted blazers, their bare feet in their best Sunday dress thongs. Except for the Swiss guy, who wore socks and sandals. After the rendition of Advance Australia Fair (closer to loud than pitch perfect), DG Harry and PRIP Bill Boyd’s brief welcome speeches, the first Keynote Speaker came on. (For the ignorami among you: PRIP stands for Past Rotary International President. Can’t get any higher than that in Rotary.)  I had been looking forward to hear Jo & Corinne about their War on Waste project they named ‘Good for the Hood’. Quote from their website: “We’re neighbours and have 4 young boys between us, so we have plenty of experience with fart jokes”.  Well, they didn’t disappoint! But then I imagined them presenting at a Rotary Conference, say, in 1970, and I nearly had an internal haemorrhage! Visualize the faces, the big eyes of the primly, conservatively dressed Rotarian and Rotaryanne audience: “officially” they would have been horrified, unofficially they would almost have been bursting at their seams with laughter! Famous comedian Craig Reucassel of ‘The Chasers’ fame is one of the major protagonists of the War on Waste.  The second part of Saturday morning was on more serious issues: Professor Michael Good spoke on the Malaria Vaccine Project (very topical at present!), David Enterman spoke on ‘Mental Health in the Bush’, and former Australian of the Year Bernie Shakeshaft on ‘Backtracks’. As the first words on his website say: “Backtracks is all about keeping kids alive, out of jail, and chasing their hopes and dreams". And they are doing this without government help: reducing crime, reducing suicide ideation. One wonders: It costs about $260,000 per annum to keep a child in Youth Detention. Go figure. “I can prove that this works, help me to force the issues on to the table.” Bernie affirmed.
 
On to Saturday afternoon: Well, she did name her organisation after a saint. One wonders whether, in ancient times, Gemma Sisia of the School of St Jude would not have qualified herself? What a dynamo! Brought up on a farm in nearby Armidale as the only girl among eight kids, she certainly had some grounding for her future call in life. After graduating with a double degree in Biochemistry/Genetics and a Dip Ed she volunteered to work in Uganda at a Girls Centre, teaching maths, science and… sewing. The experience ultimately led her to Tanzania where she started the School of St Jude.  You should have been there! (In Tenterfield, I mean, not necessarily in Tanzania…) It’s well worth your time to read up about Gemma on her website – click here.
 
The Business Session was quick and crisp, as the individual clubs’ delegates were equally keen to share a beer or a glass of wine and join “The Future Leaders Networking Drinks” group. [What a name! How long does it take a committee to come up with this?] Dinner was again at an unconventional venue: the Tenterfield Transport Museum. Surely many of the older patrons felt a light shudder running down their spines and goose pimples forming on their arms as they were seated among highly polished ancient Holden FJ’s, Chevrolets and various other “Yank Tanks”.  There would have been the odd gentleman, thinking he was unobserved, who remembered driving his girlfriend to the dance on Saturday night, gently stealing a brief touch of his lady’s knee.  Yes, in the good ol’ days, real cars had chrome bumper bars and bench seats front and back. Since seatbelts and ‘Distracted Driving’ laws had yet to arrive, this enabled the girl to “help” driving, holding on to her partner with both hands, just making sure he wouldn’t fall out. BTW, that was the principal reason for the invention of the Column Gear Shift...  [Yes, Henrietta, she could also slide over all the way to the left, ostensibly because she wouldn’t want to distract the driver… ☺] 
 
On to Sunday morning.  In my youth, one of the most annoying sights was that chap who on Sunday morning turned up bright eyed and bushy tailed, regardless of the fact that four hours earlier he had rolled home after an all-nighter pick wack paddy whack.  Well, this mob must have all been in that class! OK, they had more than 4 hours of sleep though. Some went on the Heritage Walk with DG Harry.  But when the bus, returning from the Champagne Breakfast on Bald Rocks pulled up, the loud chorus of “… Taaaiime is a traveller, Tenterfield Saddeler…” indicated that Champagne at breakfast indeed works. Every time!
 
The first Keynote was given by Father Charlie Burrows. No, I can’t say that I’ve met him before either.  Just as well: you would meet him on Indonesia’s Death Row, where the Irish Catholic priest is often the last man to speak with the inmates. What a personality, what intense power he emits!  On a visually more artistic note, the second speaker of the morning was Al Mabin. This lady is one of Australia’s foremost landscape photographers. A picture tells a thousand words and my feeble descriptive powers would be totally inadequate. So, simply jump to her website, where you can buy several of her books, eponymously named The Drover, The Grower, The Driver. The latter is all about the big Mack Roadtrains one finds in Outback Australia.
 
After DGE Andy Rajapakse whetted our appetite for next year’s conference, PRIP William Boyd (he is from Brisbane, by the way) summarized the conference.  In closing, he recalled a time when, on a visit to the Philippines, he met Ynday Mijares, who was infected with the Polio virus. That same lady, many years later, became the Charter President of her Rotary club. Ynday had portrayed the Rotary Wheel as a candle God had sent her. I quote Bill Boyd:
 
“In my years of traveling the around the world, I’ve often thought of that candle, that ‘Candle of Hope’ that is the Rotary Wheel. Because one of the saddest things you see as you move around the world is that of people really suffering, the people who live in the most dreadful conditions. What you see when you look into their eyes is a total lack of hope. And it is Rotary that stretches out and gives them that hope.  Be that in the hay runs, now almost a distant memory, be that in the recent Bushfire appeals through RAWCS. And now all that is about to be vastly superseded by the potential horror of a COVID-19 pandemic. Without getting unduly sentimental, Lorna and I love our family. But very, very strongly Lorna and I love Rotary. Everything we have seen throughout the world, everything we have seen here at this wonderful District Conference, leads us to believe that this is a wonderful organisation to be part of.”
 
Franz Huber
Rotary Club of Surfers Sunrise.