Rotary was founded by Paul Harris in 1905. A lawyer in Chicago, Illinois, USA, Harris was raised in a rural village in Vermont. He envisaged a new kind of club for professionals that would rekindle the fellowship he had known in his youth. After meeting with three friends, a coal dealer, a merchant tailor and a mining engineer, it was decided that business leaders should meet periodically to enjoy camaraderie and to enlarge their circle of business and professional acquaintances. Meetings were rotated among their places of business and so the name “Rotary” emerged and so too did the commitment to improve the lives of the less fortunate.
When this first Rotary Club of Chicago donated a horse to a preacher in 1907, the Rotary commitment to service was born and Rotary became the world’s first Service Club organisation. By 1910, the International Association of Rotary Clubs was established (later renamed Rotary International).
In 1916, witnessing the growing popularity of the Clubs in various regions worldwide, Rotary set up a District system. The organisation became truly global — transcending national boundaries, race, language, and religion — as Clubs mushroomed throughout Europe, South and Central America, Australia, Africa, and Asia. Rotary was represented on six continents by 1921. To reflect this worldwide presence, the name Rotary International was adopted one year later.
In February 1921 the Board of the International Association of Rotary Clubs authorised the establishment of Rotary Clubs in Australia and New Zealand. Melbourne became the first club in Australia to be chartered and Sydney soon followed. Brisbane and Adelaide were formed in 1923, Hobart a year later and Perth in 1926. Meanwhile, Rotary was being extended to provincial cities and large towns and by 1928 there were 17 Clubs in Australia.
For the purposes of administration, Rotary Clubs throughout the world are allocated into Districts. A Rotary District covers a number of clubs within a defined geographical area. Australia became District 65 in 1928. By the 75th anniversary of Rotary’s arrival in Australia, there were 23 Districts with 1178 Clubs and some 42,000 Members. District 9800 was defined in 1990.
The District Governor leads the District. Two Past District Governors, Sir Angus Mitchell and Royce Abbey have gone on to become President of Rotary International.
In 2001-02, our first female District Governor was Ann White of the Rotary Club of Albert Park.