"The 19th of April, 2018 marks 150 years since the birth of our founder, Paul Harris in 1868. That's a significant date for Rotary around the world. Two days later, on the 21st of April it will be the anniversary of the founding of our club 97 years ago. That's a significant date for all of us and it is reminder that we only have three years to achieve our landmark objectives and plan our celebrations to mark the occasion. It also signals an appropriate time to look back at our history. In a week it will be ANZAC Day.
These significant dates raise a myriad topics for discussion and review, and I have settled on Sir John Monash, our second President. I hear some of you saying not Sir John again! We know of his achievements as a military leader, engineer and civic leader but what of Sir John Monash the Rotarian? That's seldom discussed.
Just how Sir John Monash came to be the second President of the Rotary Club of Melbourne is lost in time. He had returned home from the First World War a great military hero and one expects he would have been an ideal inaugural President. We don't know about the views or influence of the Canadian Commissioners, Ralston and Davidson in Melbourne to establish the club. We do know that Colonel Ralston spent a couple hours alone with Monash explaining the ideals of Rotary and their mission to start a new club in Melbourne and presumably answered many questions.
There is one clue. Our first President, Prof Osborne wrote a very forceful letter to Sir John encouraging him to accept nomination as the second President. In his letter he claims the presidency came to him (Osborne) "partly through the accident of certain introductions carried by Davidson and Ralston".
He goes on to say that the powers that be had indicated their preference at one level for Monash. He states "I am not giving away any confidences if I tell you that in election of new members of the Directorate you were a very easy first". There is another clue to the reason as to why Monash was not our first President. Osborne having said the honour of President came to him partly through accident, goes on to say that there was a preference that the first President should not be a businessman. The reasoning behind this is unknown but it did make Prof Osborne the obvious first choice.
As the long standing Professor of Physiology at the University of Melbourne, he was urbane, spoke three languages, had great standing in the Melbourne echelons and was clearly the one of all 38 charter members who was obviously not a businessman.
So when we look back over 90 years can we say what sort of Rotarian was John Monash. He was there from the start. He attended the inaugural meeting to establish the club held at Stotts Hotel Collins Street at 1pm on the 21st of April 1921.
In his year as President the minutes of the weekly luncheon meetings are clear and concise and always give detailed coverage of attendance, the speaker and their topic and sometimes include details of the community singing! The minutes of Board meetings give no indication of Monash's enthusiasm for initiatives or projects. The club was still feeling its way and there was lots of soul searching about the role of Rotary generally. Common themes and initiatives included vocational guidance for young people, recruitment of new members, chartering of new clubs, playgrounds for children, assisting under privileged children and obtaining speakers to inform members on a wide range of issues such the milk supply, roads, trade, international relations, ethics in business, etc. In some respects not much different to our own program.
When Monash agreed to accept the President's role he made it abundantly clear that he would have limited time to devote to Rotary business. Professor Osborne in his letter encouraging Monash to follow him as the second President offered some leeway writing "I am aware that you have great responsibilities and urgent national demands on your energy and time but I would assure you that the Presidentship need not imply onerous work".
Monash in accepting the nomination made the following point "The hesitation which I have put down must be, such to the fear that I would probably be unable to render punctual and regular attendances at the various meetings, noting an already personal overload".
In the early years of the the Club regular attendance was vital. Members who did not meet the required attendance were expelled. Records of attendance were detailed and recorded in the annual reports. The Third Annual Report for 1923-24 reports the attendance of the Charter Members over the first three years. How did Monash fare with his busy schedule? I can tell you that out of a possible 138 meetings Monash attended 123 which gives him an attendance rate of almost 90%. This was the third highest attendance of all of the Charter Members.
During those first three years Monash was a Board member and he seldom missed a meeting. From the attendance records in the annual reports we can easily calculate Monash's attendance from the first meeting in April 1921 to his death in October 1931. His overall attendance at weekly meetings was 73%. From this we can see that Monash never played the "too busy at work to go to Rotary" card. Was he good Rotarian? Probably. Was he a committed Rotarian? Most definitely! We all know attendance is important and he set an excellent example for us all.
Bruce Davidson Archivist 17 April 2018