Rotary of Crawley (ROC): Anatomy of a 21stC Rotary Club

By Tony Thomas, Secretary, RC Central Melbourne-Sunrise*

INDEX

Executive Summary 1
Origin & History 3
About the Club 5
ROC Youth Leadership 6
Fundraising 8
Meetings 10
Appendix 1
Major awards to young leaders 12
Appendix 2
Profiles 13
Young Members 14

* This report is written in author’s private capacity.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

  1. Rotary in the Anglosphere including Australia is shrinking and ageing in membership. Membership growth plans and targets almost invariably are failures. This is documented in the March 2015 report by author and D9800 Membership Coordinator Chris Egger. Available at http://tinyurl.com/mypj4hm
  2. However, Rotary of Crawley (ROC) stands out as a club with a winning formula in all dimensions, becoming the largest club in WA within a year or two of its recent foundation. It demonstrates
  3. Membership strength and growth since inception
  4. High female membership
  5. Ethnic membership
  6. Youthful membership
  7. Fund-raising (enormous success)
  8. Fostering future community leaders
  9. Energy
  10. Networking with business elites
  11. Community recognition
  12. This report is an effort to understand the club and its success, in terms of both structure and the individuals driving it.
  13. Various aspects of ROC are not very replicable.

4a. For example, ROC started life on a clean page in 2010, unencumbered by long-standing club culture, Rotary “barnacles” and the “Can’t Be Done!” syndrome.

4b. Additionally, it had the full backing of wealthy business sponsors – which could be partly an effect rather than cause of its success. (Astute business people do not tend to back unimaginative or lost causes).

4c. The club’s ambience of business-member success in turn attracts young recruits who, apart from idealism, enjoy the networking opportunities.

4d. The club also benefits from its close association with WA University, along with use of the prestigious UWA Club premises. Again, this is both a cause and effect of its successful model.

  1. In which respects could ROC be a template for existing clubs, with potential to arrest their membership decline and effect a rejuvenation?

5a. Various Rotary ceremonials, in ROC’s view, are a barrier to recruitment, being relics of early 20th Century sociology and culture. It is not uncommon, for example, for clubs to start meetings by singing (rather, droning) the national anthem. ROC has made a clean sweep-out of off-putting ceremonial. Its meetings are run like a business breakfast and any up-and-coming business/professional person would find nothing odd or jarring about the meeting structure. I was particularly struck by the absence even of a “head table”, with president, speaker and guests sitting with rather than apart from members. See “MEETINGS” p10

5b. ROC’s success is due to the drive and strategic thinking of its founding group of individuals. While all clubs (sadly) are not endowed with comparable talent, they are also handicapped by the short-term thinking which is encouraged by the annual cycle and change of office-bearers. These leaders tend to act as place-holders and longer-term planning is hard to implement. Because
ROC minimizes leadership and board formalities, the annual changes are less significant. (See ORIGIN & HISTORY p3 , ABOUT THE CLUB p 5 and PROFILES p13.

5c. The club has invested heavily in subsidizing membership of youngsters by paying their dues and at least their first-year meeting costs. That’s an investment of about $1500 per youngster. Because these recruits are not random but targeted and screened, the club gains very high-calibre young members well worth their cost. To have five of them recognized at State and National level (civic awards, not Rotary awards), attests to the success of the selections. (Again, there is a chicken-and-egg syndrome: top young talent will not want to join a mediocre club).

I have gone to some lengths to sample the views of the club’s young members, rather than speculate about them. See ROTARY YOUTH LEADERSHIP p6 and Young Members p14

5d. The club’s level of fund-raising is spectacular. It’s a function of both know-how and networking. Re networking, the moral is that whatever the difficulties, clubs that   connect with movers-and-shakers in their community have the best chance of successful fund-raising. See FUNDRAISING p8

5e. Idealism: One Rotary tradition is strong in ROC, namely “Service Above Self”. The young members are highly-motivated to look after the disadvantaged. But note that those targeted for support are those whom young people encounter in their daily lives, especially sick children, the drug and mentally-afflicted and the homeless. I did not get the impression that overseas causes are high-priority, possibly because young people can’t manage long breaks from early-career work.

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ORIGIN & HISTORY

ROC began in February 2010 as a breakaway from RC Matilda Bay (chartered 1979, currently about 50 members). Half a dozen veteran members – most past-presidents – led by David Goldstone, and Jaap Poll, wanted the club to take a   more youthful and vigorous path. Others involved were Annie Wearne, Geoff Trowbridge, Conrad Chrissafouli, Katherine and her father Richard Hazlewood, and Peter Lawrance.

Goldstone, a consummate networker, has raised $11m for charity over two decades.   In 2009, after 16 years with Matilda Bay RC (and now 46 years in total with Rotary), he was undecided whether to maintain his charity work within or outside Rotary. He favored a new Rotary milieu designed for 20-40 year olds who could be mentored and coached as community leaders. This would involve shedding what he calls Rotary barnacles and formalities.

The group was unsuccessful in creating significant change from within their existing Rotary club and their polling of members about the issue created dissension with the board. The group left, realising it would be easier to launch a new club than effect the changes internally that they wanted.

An immediate issue was that there were already several clubs within a kilometer of the planned Crawley HQ (eg Matilda Bay, Dalkeith, West Perth, Nedlands…). Some of these clubs, concerned about cannibalization of their membership, used formal channels up to Evanston Ill. RI HQ to resist the new club’s formation. Eventually District 9455 then-DG Geoff Simpson ruled that the club could go ahead, given its aim of recruiting younger people new to Rotary, an age group not already represented in the existing clubs.

Other issues created dissension at District, Zone and RI level but were eventually overcome:

# The name “Rotary of Crawley” omits the usual inclusion of “Club”

# The club’s logo and branding by-passes the Rotary Wheel, instead using the image, in a blue circle, of the female statue called “Eliza” placed 100m in the river near the club HQ. (Getting permission from the sculptor and City of Perth was another coup).

The sought-after venue for the new club was the upmarket University Club for UWA alumni on the river foreshore. UWA Club has been reluctant to host external groups, but support from the Vice-Chancellor Alan Robson and the club’s ambitions to recruit and nurture young students tipped the scales. UWA Club is now a club supporter/sponsor, providing subsidized high-quality breakfasts at $30. The ROC has several university staff and alumni members.

Charter membership was kept for financial reasons to 32 (RI charges for each charter member, at a time of limited finances to start a new club) but within half a year had swelled to 100+, making it WA’s largest club. Almost all members were new to Rotary, although a handful were past members returning to the fold. Females were well represented (currently 46% vs 24.2% nationally and 20% globally) and the members’ average age was/is? under 40 (nationally about 66).

A highlight of the club’s charter breakfast launch for 240 guests was a 3-minute video speech by John Kenny, 2009-10  Rotary International President, congratulating the venture. Inaugural club president (for the first 18 months) Jaap Poll had been told that Kenny was far too busy to contribute but he persuaded Kenny’s personal secretary that the club fitted Kenny’s goal of attracting young members. In a second coup, 2010-11 RI President Ray Klinginsmith and PP D.K. Lee (2008-09) when they were in Perth , attended a ROC breakfast in November 2010 to celebrate the 100th recruit. This again was the result of direct invitations. “Everyone told us they’d be too busy,” Jaap says. “We also inducted 13 new members that day.”

President-elect Nick Poll says, “We   continue to put in a tremendous amount of work to make our club different, and challenge the assumptions about how a club can be run and perhaps demonstrate new possibilities for Rotary.  A lot of learning has come out of that.”

Presidents  

2010-11 Jaap Poll

2011-12 Lindsay McLeod

2012-13: Holly Ransom

2013-14: James McLeod

2014-15: Chris Eales

2015-16: Nick Poll.

 

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ABOUT THE CLUB

The club’s motto is “Giving has never been this much fun”.

Unusually, four of the six presidents to 2016 are fathers-and-sons: Lindsay McLeod (2011-12) and James McLeod (2013-14), and Jaap Poll (2010-11) and Nick Poll (for 2015-16).

Membership has fluctuated between 90-120. The upper end is about the maximum for the UWA House dining room.

Current members include at least seven with Asian/African origin, and at least two who have disabilities (physical or developmental).     One member is blind and has lost a leg, but gets to meetings by taxi and walks up the stairs using crutches. She does inductions, using a Braille crib-sheet. Also a world-class blind sailor, she’s currently travelling solo in Europe.

Current president Chris Eales says the club minimizes rules and procedures, relying on mature sensible people to give guidance. Most decisions are by email, and the board meets only each 6-8 weeks. The meetings take an hour with key people giving ten minute updates. The informality can have disadvantages– the finances have sometimes got messy. Firmer structure may be needed as veteran members retire and the club loses their expertise. He concedes the club could be seen as ’a bit cheeky and ra-ra!’.

Eales says, “We’re far from perfect and we need to get the best from the Rotary ethos and structure. Otherwise we’d be little different from a non-Rotary networking club.”

President-elect Nick Poll says that in the past, he frequently heard Rotarians pronounce themselves open to all people, from all walks of life – but often, it was only older white men making that statement: “ROC removes the boys’ club atmosphere and inside jokes. I can’t imagine Paul Harris intended Rotary to be that way.”

The club is attracting national and international media, including a cover story in Rotary Down Under in 2012, and in The Rotarian (international circ 1.2m) in April 2015. Access it at:

http://tinyurl.com/m9yoe7y

ROC YOUTH LEADERSHIP

In February 2015 the club’s David Goldstone was selected by an RI Chicago research company as one of four Rotarians worldwide to be interviewed focus-group style on membership and youth involvement.

Rotary of Crawley’s youthful tone has been set by meetings starting with the MGM lion’s roar, and the club‘s theme song is “ We will ROC you!”

More than 30% of members are under the age of 30 — compared with 2% in Rotary in Australasia and internationally.

Founding president Jaap Poll 75, says the club’s ethos is to spot, recruit and nurture future community leaders now aged 20-25. “We don’t give much weight to academic performance, although good youngsters usually excel at many areas of life,” he says.

The club attracts idealistic youngsters through paying the annual dues and, for at least one year, the $30-per-meeting-cost. The youngsters also want to network with older highly-successful members. Currently 16 of the 90 members are on scholarships.

The success of the program is demonstrated by three ROC youngsters winning the annual WA Young Australian of the Year Award and one winning the national youth award. (Appendix 1)

Bright youngsters are   targeted as recruits. Tim Lefroy, winner of the WA Youth Award 2014, was noticed because he was coordinating the annual swim to Rottnest, a major Perth event.

The sponsored scholarships are financed from donations to a fund by five small-medium companies and individuals averaging about $5000 each.

Sponsors have included Finbar property developers, Credo project management and facilities, nearmap.com photo-mapping, McRae Investments, Harold Clough and club member Torsten Ketelsen. The sponsorships will be renewed or new sponsors attracted.

The sponsoring companies keep in contact but are not recruiting the awardees.

The club also has a $160,000 endowment from Perth business philanthropist Jack Bendat’s Bendat Family Foundation, with the interest funding an $8000 academic scholarship on socially beneficial issues. The first awardee was  Scott Nodwell, doing Anglicare work with homeless. the current awardee is Taryn Chipchase (now with a resources company) and applications are open for the next award.

Jaap says that   the youngsters typically move out of Perth on their academic and professional careers and wind up in interstate or overseas Rotary.

The under-40 demographic creates a high churn factor but happily the club finds it easy to recruit new members. The current problem is that the veteran members who founded the club five years ago are now moving on, and their networking and organizing skills are less easy to replace.

President Chris Eales says: “All these young people make the club different, they give us a vibrancy and good conversation.

“We aim to give young people the experience of charitable work and fund-raising. They get to organize minor and major projects and see how committee-work operates. network

“We look for people who can lead, communicate and inspire, rather than know   how District and the youth committee work, for example.”

Scholarship holders and younger members have mentors who set them challenges . Eales is mentoring two members. One is Joshua Cunniffe 24, who is studying journalism and doing the club newsletter. He wants to try out in creative writing for ten years. The other is Kath Mogridge who now has a good IT job.

Taryn Chipchase 27,   coordinates the scholarship program at board level. She says the quality of members is the key attractor of young people to the club, and the seniors’ good connections and success in their fields: “Like attracts like.” Her own mentor is David Goldstone, who has done wonders for her personal development, she says. “Members are constantly following up with us, showing a genuine interest in our well-being and careers.”

The club also has teams of “Connectors” to ensure no-one gets ‘lost’ socially, and also to jog members into pre-booking their attendance (a UWA House requirement for catering).

An unusual event in 2014 was sky-diving, with about five people giving it a try and surviving. They were each required to find about $500 sponsorings for The Hunger Project.

Jaap says the   young people are better in the club than in Rotoract. “They’re interested in community work like drug rehab   rather than Rotary per se. We can better inculcate the Rotary ethos, and importantly, we older members can learn a lot from bright youngsters while they   network with us.”

ROC (like universities) have consciously set out to create an alumni of ex-members who talk up Rotary and ROC.   Goldstone says, “We have over 300 alumni like that, including one of our ‘scholars’ Michael Sheldrick, who’s 26. He now leads a staff of six in advocacy worldwide in The Global Poverty Program in New York.

“Michael never stops praising what ROC and Rotary have done for him. For example he’s invited me as a keynote speaker in Melbourne on April 10 at the Burnet Health Institute to talk about Polio Eradication. The main speaker is from the World Health Organisation.”

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FUNDRAISING

The club has had outstanding success with fundraising events, raising $1.1m through two annual dinners alone. Its 2013 “Night to Remember” dinner and auction directly and indirectly raised $730,000 for Teen Challenge’s Esperance drug rehab centre, thanks largely to club co-founder David Goldstone.

“How did we do that? Because we think outside the square, and because we involved many of our ‘scholars’ who wanted to be involved,” Goldstone says. “They wanted to learn how to run such an event. Today one of those members, Taryn Chipchase, has a job with American resources giant Conoco Phillips organising major events here in Perth.”

To raise multi-million sums, Goldstone (left) says it requires being dedicated and a good event manager. “You have to have the charisma and entrepreneurship and the network to draw in important people. A few primary people will make or break a fund-raiser. I said to one of them, ‘Hey, you’ve got a penthouse on Hamilton Island you seldom use, how about I package airfares for six and you add the penthouse to the auction?’ ‘OK, but I’ll pay the airfares as well!’”

“Another key is having glossy color auction booklets touting the prizes – never mind the footy jumpers and cricket bats, we made $23,000 just on the auction of two berths   for a Kimberley cruise in the True North small luxury boat. And $30,000 auctioning a string of pearls from Broome. Young Rotary people need to learn these arts of networking.”

The Night to Remember drew 300 people at $250 per ticket – unfortunately pitched so high that only a few club members could afford it. Goldstone says, “We ran it for outsiders, not members. We ran it like a Telethon with raisings displayed progressively on-screen. I saw someone – the same man who owned the penthouse – waving to me and went over, and he asked what the target was. I said, ‘$330,000 net, we’re $30,000 short.’ He said, ‘Go back on stage and announce an anonymous donation of $30,000.’

“Next day he rang me and told me to buy two airline tickets to Esperance for the day, for us to see the   premises there. There were 40 kids   and the success rate averages 80%. They put on a good lunch for us and told us kids still in the queue for rehab were dying. On the same-day return flight my friend said he was scheduled to London that week for a family foundation trust meeting, and he wanted – within 24 hours – drawings and costings for an upmarket annexe at Esperance. I got that done and he rang from London agreeing to the $400,000 needed.”

“The same guy next year helped me crystalise another great idea. Perth Arena was just finished, owned by the city council and to be managed by AEG Ogdens. It had a dozen or two VIP suites. We found a philanthropist to pay $152,000 for a 12-seat suite for ROC for 85 events a year for 2 two years, both sporting events like the Hopman Cup and entertainments like rock concerts.

“We staff it with two ROC young people for each event, who pay their own tickets, and they host a group of kids with severe health or disability issues, plus the carer or family. The suite is equipped with all medical gear on stand-by. We got the city council to agree to it all. Some of the kids have since passed on, others have recovered, but they all had a great day at the event. This has involved working with Ronald McDonald House, Variety, Starlight Foundation…”

Current President Chris Eales says that the five-year-old club is still building up finances. “I’m jealous of older clubs that have well-established annual fund-raisers like art shows that raise $60,000 regularly. We’ve been too ad hoc; you can’t base solid finances on one-offs plus sausage sizzles and chook raffles.

“We’ve been lucky in having members like David Goldstone with vast contacts and ability to raise funds at $100,000 a time. But these people are moving on or now lack the time.”

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MEETINGS

Members arrive from 7am to network before the 7.30am start.

Meetings are run as if for a business group. There are no toasts, grace, regalia, banners, sergeant, fines, or head table. An alternating Master of Ceremonies runs the meetings, tasked with creating energy and inspiration for the day. President Chris Eales says, “I’ve been to other clubs and noticed the vibrancy and energy are just not there. Meetings need a good ‘buzz’ given there is no compulsion to attend (nor any ‘Make-ups’ system).”

Comments:

Re absence of head table:

# “Our guests and speaker sit with members, why should the president hog their attention?”

# “The hierarchy idea dates from when men   were proud to be ‘company men’ in a highly-structured workforce. In today’s knowledge-based workforce, structures are flat and good people can even work from home. I’ve had incidents of blokes from other clubs demanding to be sat with visiting VIPs because the blokes had some past position in Rotary International. A mate commented to me, ‘If that’s what Rotary is about, I quit!’”

Absence of sergeant: —   “The club has never had one. Such sessions tend to ridicule   members, raise money from members rather than the public, vary in quality depending on who gets the sergeant job, and burn up meeting time that can be put to better use.”

An early-2015 meeting is described here.

The club uses a digital clock image on-screen counting down the seconds to the start of the meeting, which has to finish at 8.30am sharp. Up to half those present stay for coffee afterwards.

The meeting had about 32 present, down on the usual 45 because of vacation absences. People under 40 dominated and grey heads were the exception.

The absence of head table gave a more informal tone to the meeting compared with other clubs.

The Mistress of Ceremonies, Danielle Beck, described how she took two teenage girls to the city to distribute $5 vouchers and club hampers to homeless people. The vouchers for a croissant shop were pre-Xmas leftovers and about to expire.

One ‘client’ in Murray Street was well-known as ‘Black Elvis’ and gave them all a bear hug – he was so delighted to get a present without needing to beg for it.

Then they met ‘Steve’ selling The Big Issue magazine in Hay Street. While Danielle was chatting to Steve about how they shared the same birthday, a woman walked past and said, “Don’t talk to him! He’s a druggie!” and further unrepeatable insults. Steve maintained eye contact with Danielle until the woman moved on. Danielle congratulated him on his composure and integrity, and he began to cry. He said he suffered from anxiety and it was an ordeal for him not to react.

They talked for half an hour and Steve explained that he had recently won back his Big Issue selling job after getting sacked two years ago. He asked his new friends to take a group picture and send it to his mum is Tasmania, who was suffering cancer, to show her that his life was looking up.

“I don’t know what decisions these people might have made to end up where they are, but next time you meet someone homeless, get involved a bit more, after all we are only a few decisions away from trading places with someone” she told the meeting.

A 3-minute video followed from the “vInspired” British charity for young people. (“We look for inspirational videos,” President Eales says. “It puts members in a thinking mode, it stops them talking about the footie. We don’t run the meeting on a standard running sheet, we vary things.”)

A member then spent a couple of minutes talking about how to prioritise development goals, in benefit per dollar spent. His top scorer was the free trade deal with South Korea ($3400 benefit per dollar) and contraception aid ($120 per dollar).

The main speaker was about average. #

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Appendix 1 – awards to ROC young members.

Reece Harley, Perth City Councillor and 2011 City of Perth International Youth Ambassador. He was a charter member of ROC. Reece is the WA Program Director for   The Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience. He manages a team of 8 staff who run a structured Mentoring and Tutoring Program for more than 350 Indigenous High School Students from across WA.

 

Holly Ransom,  Young West Australian of the Year 2012. In the same year, became president of ROC and at age 20, the world’s youngest Rotary president. Named as one of Australia’s 100 Most Influential Women by the Australian Financial Review in 2012. In 2014, Holly was appointed by the Australian Prime Minister to represent the voice of the G20’s 1.5 billion young people in leading the G20 Youth Summit. Networked there with Barack Obama.

 

Akram Azimi, 2013 Young Australian of the Year. Akram, a child refugee from Afghanistan 13 years ago, became head boy of his school and topped its tertiary entrance results. He has become a dedicated mentor to young Indigenous people.

Joshua Cunniffe was State Finalist, Young Australian of the Year, 2012. He is an advocate for help for depression and mental illness sufferers, and has written a book about his own recovery from depression.

 

Michael Sheldrick – currently global policy and advocacy manager with the Global Poverty Project, which helps coordinate the polio eradication efforts. He was a finalist for the Young Australian of the Year, 2013.

Michael, a recipient of a ROC special scholarship, lobbied then PM Julia Gillard about polio, which led to her arranging a meeting with him and then polio eradication being put on the agenda for the 2011 Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting. The outcome was a $50m contribution from Australia and $70m from other leaders.

Tim Lefroy, Young West Australian of the Year, 2014 and past treasurer and scholarship holder, ROC. He is a state champion athlete and advocate for family farm enterprises.

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PROFILES

David Goldstone

David Goldstone 80, has been in Rotary 46 years. He has four Paul Harris awards and one Service Above Self Award, and was awarded OAM this year.

He retired 20 years ago after a career in computers, retail tourism and government grants consultancy.

He never finished school, and spent 10 years in sales with   IBM. He was posted to Perth with his wife Hannah, and chose to stay. Looking for another Perth job, he agreed in 1973 to run the lobby tourist shop in the newly built Perth Sheraton Hotel, a 12-hour seven-day operation selling items like opals and stuffed koalas. For the next two decades the hotel had a contract to house top US navy personnel, and he got to know them so well that he even got a global trip in an aircraft carrier. He enjoyed getting export development grants for selling opals to New York, and his final job was consulting to other businesses on Export Market Development Grants. After 14 years he had 380 clients nationally, from ship builders to architects.

In 1995 he had a quadruple heart by-pass and retired. He also still suffers the aftermaths of paralytic polio contracted when he was 20, and has problems losing strength in his legs.

His 1999 ‘Pennies for Polio Campaign’   raised $84,000 towards Rotary’s world-wide Polio Eradication Program. For five years he chaired the Subiaco Craft and Community Fair. Under his guidance it became the largest fair of its kind in the state, raising   $100,000 in four years towards CanTeen and other charities. In 2003, Rotary WA   began a campaign to establish the first public cord blood bank facility in Perth. David’s   organising of a fundraising dinner at Government House   in November 2006 raised nearly $170,000 net   in that one night alone.

His wife Hannah came to Australia at age 5 in 1950, with her Polish parents who had suffered in the Holocaust. She now wants to return with David to her long-term friends in Melbourne and the Goldstones will settle in Toorak/Armadale next month (April).

Jaap and Nick Poll

Founding President Jaap, who speaks Dutch, English, French, German, Spanish and Italian, is a geologist still active as a small-company oil executive.

His son Nick is President-elect. Nick’s lifestyle is colorful. He once windsurfed with a friend the 430km from Perth to Geraldton in three days. He speaks fluent French and Portuguese. A geologist, he lived in the Amazon jungle for three years in French Guinea exploring for gold, and today at 50 is non-executive director of listed small-stock Erin Resources.

 

Young Members

 

Libby Matthews

Libby Matthews, who turned 20 this year, is typical of the young crowd at Perth’s Rotary of Crawley (ROC). Inducted at 19, she’s not the club’s youngest, who’s an 18-year-old.

Libby successfully applied for a club scholarship that pays her dues and breakfast meeting costs. President Chris Eales and President-elect Nick Poll see her as another of the club’s future ‘super stars’.

“I wanted to get involved with giving back to the community and particularly to meet other young people

who are leaders in their area. ROC has that reputation,” she says.

Libby is studying business law and accounting. One of her club jobs is organizing quarterly meetings for new members. “It’s a fun night but in welcoming them, we also tell these young people what is expected of them and how we can help them,” she says.

Recently she hosted autistic children and the parents at the club’s donor-financed corporate box at Perth Arena, to see a top basketball game. The club has fortnightly access to the box to host carers and children with disabilities. “It was my first big experience at the club and it was great,” she says.

Asked about the 90-strong club’s healthy 44% female membership, she says it probably arose because the club started from scratch a few years without a legacy of male overweighting. “But I hardly notice,” she adds.

She loves the relaxed meeting format, which has a fresh style every week. “If a club’s not changing things and moving forward, it must be going backwards,” she says. Because it’s a tight schedule from 7.30-8.30am, she arrives at 7am to meet and chat with members.

 

Abdullahi Alim

A long way from Somalia

Photo: Abdullahi takes a selfie near the famous Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood Boulevard.

Abdullahi Alim, 22, a member of Perth’s Rotary of Crawley (ROC), arrived from Somalia when he was 5, with zero English. He’s come a long way since – last year he was in Los Angeles helping to run an international youth leadership program.

“My job was to coach seven college-aged kids through a series of workshops on goal-setting, time-management and standard leadership topics. There were great speakers – top celebrities, motivators and the pop stars the kids idealized.

“I was with two other coaches of my age from Rotary of Crawley. UWA sent us there and a club sponsor paid the flights.”

Alim’s been with the club since he was 19, and is inspired by projects includings ROC’s partnership with Lockridge High School. “Many kids there are from backgrounds where important aspects of family life are missing,” he says. “I also like introducing speakers at club meetings.”

Alim, who completed a finance degree last year, says Rotary of Crawley is designed for the 21st century. Most clubs are failing to tap the potential of young people like himself, who don’t fit the traditional power group of older Anglo-Saxon males. The Crawley club is diverse in age, gender and ethnicity. He was spotted by Holly Ransom, who at 22 was the club’s president and the world’s youngest Rotary president. “She did a really good pitch” he jokes.

Everyone knows him as Alim rather than Abdullahi, his given name. “At the Islamic school I went to, if you asked for Abdullahi, 100 kids would put their hand up,” he explains.

Tim O’Donnell

Is Tim O’Donnell, of Perth, Western Australia, the world’s youngest Rotarian?

Tim had his 18th birthday last September.

He went to his first meeting of Rotary of Crawley on the 7th August, 2014, and passed a probationary period designed to test his commitment.  He was inducted as a member on 13th November and has been mentored by club founder David Goldstone and Tim Lefroy, another young member who won the State Government’s Youth Award last year.

He was targeted as a potential member by club elders, partly because of his precocious track record in community service.  At Scotch College he was captain of community service (and Vice-Captain of School) and learned the ropes about charity work and liaison with organizations. “I was involved with the Disabled Surfing Association, assisting disabled children and adults to get a taste of freedom in the shallows and surf. It’s a rewarding experience for all of us involved,” he says.

The club pays him a two-year scholarship, which covers his Rotary dues and breakfast-meeting costs.  Tim will look to pep up the club’s involvement with Indigenous advancement and youth causes, and hopes to help generate events to raise the funding. “The club’s people are inspirational,” he says. “They’ve had after-works drinks with me and introduced me to their business colleagues in areas like oil and gas, law and education. I can see how important networking is to get results, and I’m discovering the structures involved in a fund-raising exercise.”

Tim is now starting second-year Commerce at the University of Western Australia.  During studies he’s working in sales for a jewellery and watch retailer.

Photo.  Tim (above) helping youngsters with disability enjoy the surf

 

 

Danielle Beck

Danielle Beck 40, typifies the energy in the club with her lively role as Master of Ceremonies at meetings.

“We only meet here an hour a week and my job’s to quickly set the pace. If the MC doesn’t engage the audience early on you are at risk of having a flat meeting,” she says.

Danielle, a self-employed executive coach, says she came from Melbourne two years ago and was looking for something more in her friendships and heard the club was great for networking.  Since joining 15 months ago she’s found members to be inspiring and keen to give more than take from their lives  – “It’s all about the human connection for me,” she says. Her main roles are coordinating the mentoring among club members and running the social program and is the President Nominee for 2016.

Because of the high proportion of females, the club dynamics are certainly different – “I love the mix of male to female ratio in the club but not having another Rotary Club to compare to I haven’t noticed it”  . #

 

Rotary’s membership problem: A framework for analysis

 

Apologies, I can’t get wordpress to upload the graphs and charts. However, if you paste the link below  to your browser (rather than click it), it works!

https://tthomas061.files.wordpress.com/2015/04/rotary_s-membership-problemv4.pdf

 

By Tony Thomas, Secretary, RC Central Melbourne-Sunrise* and Chris Egger, D9800 Membership Director

 

Summary

Rotary’s continuing good work in the community goes without saying. But in the Anglosphere, including the Australasian region, Rotary as an institution is in worse trouble on membership trends than most members realize.

This lack of knowledge is because Rotary shrinks from offering publicly any useful time-series data on membership trends – which are adverse in virtually all parameters in the Anglosphere. Rotary is well endowed with data reports and publishing them in management-style format wouldn’t seem difficult. (1)

By contrast, it takes mere minutes to discover rigorous time-series data on key indicators of any government department/body, major charity or public financial corporation. Lions Clubs publish comprehensive data on their membership and trends.

Rotary’s worldwide membership has been static for 19 years, with declines in the Anglosphere and Japan being offset by growth in India, South Korea and German-speaking countries. Obviously Rotary’s membership situation has deteriorated significantly on the basis of members per 100,000 of population. In Australia, for example, the actual fall in the past 22 years is about 28%, but per capita membership has halved.

Lions clubs worldwide and in Australia are significantly outperforming Rotary in membership trends. The two groups are of similar size. From mid-2009 to October 2014, Lions worldwide put on 3.5% member growth (Rotary: minus 1.8%) and in Australia, Lions performed relatively even better, losing only 0.5% of members while Rotary Australia lost 9.8%. (See Appendix 1).

If Rotary clubs Australia were better aware of their   serious situation, they may be more open to innovation. Many clubs’ framework and culture are virtually unchanged from 20 years ago – except that the clubs have shrunk and aged.

 

 

 

International Membership

International Rotary membership (1,207,000 as at 30 June 2014) has been static since 1995 (1,207,000) – i.e. 19 years, with membership declines in most developed countries (except for German speaking countries) matched by growth in many developing countries in particular India.

Country data includes:

Members lost, 2003-13

USA 58,481 (-15%)

England 7,743 (-16%)

Japan 23,248 (-21%)

Australia 5,260 (-14%)

Canada 4,167 (-14%).

 

Members gained, 2003 -13

India 34,068 (38%)

  1. Korea 12,671 (26%)

Germany 11,114 (27%)

Taiwan 7,567 (49%)

Brazil 4,045 (8%).   (2)

In 2011 the RI Board endorsed regional membership growth plans of 3% per annum for fiscal 2012-15. This has been unsuccessful.

The graph below is membership for RI Great Britain & Ireland (RIBI):

 

 

Australia /NZ/ S.Pacific

The membership of Zone 7B and 8 (Australasia/S.Pacific) in 2003 was 47,273 and by end-June 2014 was down to 39,413, a fall of 17%. The target for June 2015 is 41,944, which appears a bridge too far as members at Feb 28, 2015 (39,214) were down about 200.

The growth plans for the region will be reviewed later this year in Melbourne, by a team comprising Noel Trevaskis (Zone 8), Jessie Harman (Ballarat), Malcolm Lindquist (Mitcham SA), Philip Archer (Melbourne) and John Prendergast (NZ).

This zone’s members are relatively older than Rotarians generally. At 2012, 83% of zone members were aged 50+, compared with 70% for Rotary worldwide. About 33% were retired, compared with 21% worldwide. There appears a risk of a sharp membership fall in 2022 as a ‘bulge’ of older members passes out of the system.

AGE OF ROTARIANS

AGE Australasia: % Global: %
Up to 29 2 2
30-39 5 10
40-49 10 18
50-59 24 27
60-69 34 25
70+ 25 18

 

Australia

In Australia Rotary membership in 1992 was 42,559 and seems to have peaked in 1998 when Royce Abbey was world president at over 43,000 members (3). From 1992 to March 2015, membership fell 28% to 30,569 and with club numbers stable, average club size is down from 37.6 members (1992) to 27.

Rotary membership in Australia is about 13 members per 10,000 head of population. This is a far cry from Rotary’s peak in Australia on a per capita basis in the late 1980’s when Australia had around 26 Rotarians per 10,000 head of population.

Zone 8 (Australia/PNG) membership at 2012 was 31,826 and at end-February 2015 had fallen 4% to 30,569.

The shortfall on the 2012-15 member growth plan (3% growth pa) is 11.5%. The planned 34,559 vs actual 30,569 at end-Feb 2015 involve a 3,990 shortfall. (4)

None of the 21 Districts in Australia met growth targets and only one District, at Feb 2015, had improved its membership in 2012-15. That district was D9790 which covers the northern suburbs of greater Melbourne and northeast Victoria, with membership up by 2.0% largely due to the net addition of two clubs.

The budget for the Membership Growth Plan was $US 52,000. This spending doubtless led to a better membership result than would otherwise have occurred.

District 9800 (Part-Melbourne and northwards to Echuca)

For District 9800, member numbers have fallen from 3,133 in 1998 to 2,445 currently, down 22% in 16 years. The best recent year was 2007-08 when a number of large clubs all put on good growth, but this was not sustained. In the past six years the membership fall is 9%. Currently for each club having a good year on membership growth, about two are downsizing. The number of clubs is stable but average club size in the past six years has fallen from 38.3 to 34.4 members.

 

 

 

 

District 9800

Year        Members        Clubs

2010          2678               70

2011          2591               69

2012          2519               69

2013          2520               71

2014          2441               71

2015^       2445             71

^ At March 12

 

 

 

 

Sample club D9800 – RC Central Melbourne-Sunrise (RCCMS)

Membership trend for this club (author Thomas’s) is graphed below:

The graph illustrates the stasis in this club’s membership since formation in 1988. The club commenced with 44 members and 26 years later has 44 members. The peak was 68 in 2003 with a slide thereafter. This club is vigorous and well-connected, with significant community work, but lately has had difficulty finding lucrative fund-raising projects.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conclusion

Rotary in the Anglosphere has been on a long-term decline, despite the best efforts of many Rotarians. This report seeks to provide a framework for analysis. Solutions or adaptation are further issues. One significant question is why Lions are outperforming Rotarians on membership.

31/3/2015

* This report is written in Thomas’s personal capacity, and is not an official document of the club.

 

 

(1) RI headquarters obtains comprehensive member data not merely for administrative and billing purposes but for “Tracking membership trends, developing membership characteristics, producing demographic analyses, and supporting membership retention.”

(2) http://issuu.com/rotary123/docs/rotary_today_june. P31.

(3) All data for Australian membership pre-1992 was lost during an RI computer upgrade.

(4) The plan itself, as published, lacked any numerical data or target on membership.


 

Appendix 1

World Major Service Club Membership trends: Rotary versus Lions

Select Countries & World 30-Jun-09 01-Oct-14    
Member Count Member Count Member Change % Change
Germany, Austria, Switzerland and Luxembourg Rotary 67,611 74,120 6,509 9.6%
Lions 65,797 71,378 5,581 8.5%
US Rotary 368,145 332,636 -35,509 -9.6%
Lions 371,612 329,523 -42,089 -11.3%
India Rotary 105,661 126,933 21,272 20.1%
Lions 177,754 225,330 47,576 26.8%
Japan Rotary 94,932 88,377 -6,555 -6.9%
Lions 109,274 117,886 8,612 7.9%
Sth Korea Rotary 61,273 59,692 -1,581 -2.6%
Lions 83,636 78,023 -5,613 -6.7%
Taiwan Rotary 18,638 31,743 13,105 70.3%
Lions 34,057 43,031 8,974 26.3%
Australia Rotary 33,680 30,392 -3,288 -9.8%
Lions 27,236 27,109 -127 -0.5%
China Rotary 130 160 30 23.1%
Lions 2,933 23,562 20,629 703.3%
World Rotary 1,234,527 1,212,436 -22,091 -1.8%
Lions 1,322,683 1,369,608 46,925 3.5%

China’s restriction on Rotary clubs accounts for close to a third of Rotary’s global underperformance versus Lions.

Lions world membership data now includes Lioness and Leo members. At 28 Feb 2015 the total was 1.389m. Rotary worldwide would be almost identical at 1.385m at Feb 28, 2015 if the 165,000 Rotaractors were included. #

 

The Profits of Doom

Tim Flannery and his Climate Commission cobbers were on a nice little earner when the former Labor government needed to spruik its carbon tax. Tony Abbott ended that, so the Commission became the Council and donations made up the shortfall. Still running a deficit, however, is financial transparency

flannery pennies from heavenGoodness! What’s been going on at the Climate Council? Any charity living off appeals to the public for cash, needs to show a bit of transparency, but I mostly drew a blank from the council when I asked them about matters 1 to 10 below.

1. Why was Chief Councillor Tim Flannery beseeching the public last June 29 to make “urgent” donations to the council, when the council was sitting on a fat $1.24m surplus after a $2.12m avalanche of crowd-funded donations in the previous nine months?

2. Why did Flannery, on March 12, 2014, resign  as director from the beloved council he founded, along with his bestie and director Will Steffen, climate catastrophist at the Australian National University?

3. Why can’t I find any public announcement at the time from the Council about those resignations?

4. Why were those dramatic resignations not even mentioned for public consumption in the council’s 2013-14 annual report?

5. Why is the council so cagey about what it pays its CEO Amanda McKenzie? You can find out what a university vice-chancellor earns; you can find out what the head of a Big Four bank earns; you can even find out what Tim Costello, boss of the World Vision Australia charity earns ( $277,000 plus superannuation and long service. His total remuneration  in 2013 was $316,000). But you’re not in the race to know what Ms McKenzie takes home from the pile of money that fans donate to the council.[1]

6. Over at World Vision, CEO Tim Costello donates to World Vision all his earnings from speech-making, which can be as much as $150,000 a year. What’s the Climate Council policy on such side-earnings by Tim– up to $50K a speech, according to the Daily Telegraph — and his councillors?

7. What are we council donors  paying   Tim and Will  Steffen these days, and for that matter,  councilors  Lesley Hughes, Veena Sahajwalla, and Andrew Stock?

8. Dr Flannery took up what seems to be a full-time Professorial Fellow position with the Melbourne University Sustainable Society Institute in October, 2014. Has this new role scaled back his work and pay as Chief Climate Councillor?

9. Given the council’s dedication to scientific rigor, could CEO Amanda give us an update on her forecast in 2008 that the Arctic will be summer-ice free in 2013? When I  checked with the US National Snow & Ice Data Centre, the Arctic seemed to have 5.44 squ km of summer ice  last September 1.

Amanda should be keen to clear up any confusion about this.

10. How many all-powerful “Members” (as per Constitution) does the council have, and who are they?

Sadly, the official response I’ve hadfrom the council is from chair Gerry Hueston, ex-Australasian President of BP (just as well he wasn’t running a coal company!) and not very enlightening:

“The Climate Council operates in accordance with all obligations under the Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Act and the Climate Council constitution.

“We do not comment on internal finance or staff matters but like all not-for-profits, we rely on ongoing fundraising to run a sustainable and professional organisation.”

I did however get a nice personal letter from CEO Amanda (we’re on first-name terms now):

“Dear Tony, I wanted to write to say – thank you.Your donation today[2]  is powering Climate Council to cumulatively reach hundreds of millions of Australians with vital information on climate change, changing hearts and minds on this important issue. If you can share the fact that you have taken action and donated today it’s likely to inspire others to join you. We are only as strong as you make us.” Amanda McKenzie,Climate Council CEO, 10/4/15. (Amanda’s emphasis).

Nice as Amanda’s letter was, it still left me to find most answers unaided.

Question 1: Some background. Tim Flannery’s “urgent” appeal for donations, suggesting the council was facing some kind of crisis, began on June 29 and is still running. I suppose he would claim the “urgency” relates not to finance but to the council’s backs-to-the-wall propaganda fight against those “deniers” who are snickering at the 18-year halt to global atmospheric warming.

Flannery: “Right now we are witnessing an unprecedented rise in climate denialism in  the Australian media and politics… Which is why I am asking you to make an urgent donation to support me and discredit deniers in the media. It means we can add more capacity to our small group of staff and volunteers to rapidly respond  to misinformation in the daily media cycle with press releases, calls for corrections, fact based responses and briefings for journalists…” 

So the “urgency” is just the usual flim-flam, or flim-Flan that all fund-raisers go  in for.

Question 2: Why did Flannery and Steffen resign as directors? Some background: The council is successor to the statutory Climate Commission of the Rudd/Gillard/Rudd governments, which were spending about $1.5m in taxpayer funds a year on the commission’s climate hysteria. The cost’s included Tim’s pay of $180,000 p.a. for three days work a week, equivalent to a $300,000 notional annual pay packet.

Incoming PM Tony Abbott chopped the commission. The ex-members, led by Flannery and the commission’s ex-PR Amanda McKenzie, launched a brilliantly successful crowd-funding campaign ($1.1m in the first ten days) to recreate the commission as a charities-sector “Climate Council”.

It would not be a good look for the ex-commissioners to be trousering the donations as personal salaries, so the policy announcement was that councilors would do their tasks voluntarily.

Six months passed,  and should we be surprised if councilors began to wonder why they were saving the planet pro bono, or as my spell-check is determined to write, “pro-bonobo”. Planet-saving is hard work when all is said and done. I imagine there was some animated discussion about it in the boardroom, since the PR aspects of dumping the voluntary code can be assumed to have been formidable.

But where there’s a will there’s a way, and the council got around the PR problem by making no PR announcement, other than a subtle update deep in the Frequently Asked Questions section of its website:

“8. Are the Councilors volunteers or do they get paid for their time?

When the Climate Council was first set up, all Councilors committed to volunteer their time for six months, to ensure we could continue to produce authoritative, independent information about climate change following the abolition of the Climate Commission.

After the first six months, our Board decided that Councilors would receive remuneration for time spent on Council activities. This ensures we can continue to draw on the knowledge and experience of world-class experts to provide Australians with the best possible information on climate change.”

This still doesn’t explain why Flannery and Steffen resigned as directors. Idly scanning the council’s constitution, I noticed section 6.3: 

The Company must not pay directors’ fees to the Directors.”

Wow! Honorary work was a founding principle of the council! If from the outset the council had in mind that councilors might turn professional after six months, as per  FAQ No 8, it’s odd that  section 6.3 was written into the constitution itself, with Flannery/Steffen taking dual roles as director/councilors.

So the pair had the choice: stay unpaid or resign as directors. Or maybe their resignations were coincidence – e.g. they both suddenly desired a better work-life balance? Anyway, I asked the council and it isn’t saying.

The council appointed a quartet of new directors to keep up the numbers. The mega-wealthy Robert Purves, President of WWF Australia, and Martijn Wilder, a director and governor of WWF, stepped aboard. What care the council takes to ensure balanced representation on its board! By the way, Purves is a also governor of the Youth Climate Coalition, which council CEO Amanda McKenzie ran for four years.

The other new directors were Samantha Mostyn, non-executive director of CO2-spewing Virgin Australia, and like Wilder, she’s a director of the NSW Climate Change Council (again, note the impressive diversity of interests!). The fourth newcomer is Matthew Honey of accountants EY, who’s in the business of climate-change consulting and greenhouse gas auditing.[3]

Question 3: Why no public announcement? As mentioned, the resignations were not a good look. Maybe the council decided that it was smarter to merely conform  to the letter of the law, as per chair Hueston’s letter to Quadrant Online, i.e. disclosure only in the ASIC and Charities Commission data base.

Question 4: Why no mention in the annual report for the public? See Q3 above.

Question 5: What’s CEO  Amanda McKenzie paid? Nothing is said in the public-issue annual report, but there’s some obligatory information in the Charities statutory financial report. This info says:

“The totals of remuneration paid to key management personnel of the company during the year are as follows: $247,419. The number of key management personnel included in the group is eleven. Directors act in a voluntary capacity.”

One assumes both paid councilors and certain paid staff are in the ‘key management’ category. The ‘key’ staff appear to be CEO Amanda and, maybe, Chief Operating Officer Katrina Porteus. The council’s other five staff don’t seem ‘key’. The council won’t  comment on who’s ‘key’ and who isn’t.

The $247,000 figure also needs annualizing. It’s only for nine months, and in the case of the paid councilors like Flannery et al, their pay involved less than three months. Annualised, the $247,000 would be at least $330,000, at a guess.

The previous job of CEO Amanda, Monash  Ll.B. Hons – (thesis: emissions trading)  was “senior communications adviser” for the Climate Council,  a job worth say, $80,000 pa (or $150,000pa in the Rudd/Gillard public service) and before that she was for four years national director of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition. It has, in Amanda’s words, “passionate, amazing” members [i.e. crazed young Myrmidons]. [4]  Let’s imagine her council pay involves a decent fraction of that $330,000.

While the council waxes indignant about vested coal interests (not so much, BP fossil fuels), its own crowd-funding model means that unless the council keeps its climate scare-o-meter on  perpetual maximum, donors  lose interest and Amanda will be queueing at Centrelink. She’s doing her best – 15,000 placements of climate stories in the media, 100 million people cumulatively impacted in nine months. But 53% of Australians in the latest (2013) CSIRO survey didn’t believe “humans are causing climate change” , despite Amanda’s earlier missionary work at the Climate Commission.

With the warming halt continuing, I  imagine Amanda’s struggling for new converts.

As for her pay, pending accidental release by spreadsheet of all Climate Council pays and emoluments, ABC-style,

I guess donors like myself will have to endure the mushroom treatment.

Question 6: Do the councilor types donate back to the council their earnings from the speaker circuit? In fact Tim Flannery as “one of a new breed of planetary heroes” has been king of Australia’s speaker circuit, commanding as much as USD50,000 for speeches predicting what’s going to happen in the year 2100, and how,  by then, Gaia will have acquired a brain and nervous system to act as a living animal, as a living organism, at some sort of level

perth will dieClaxton Speakers’ website has Flannery’s views for sale at rate “E”, meaning $A15,000-plus. He can talk authoritatively  not only on Gaia’s brain, but on how a waterless Perth will become this century’s first  ghost metropolis, dams that won’t fill, and all that.

And here’s the good news, a reply today from the council’s senior media adviser Jessica Craven:

All speeches made by Councillors are made in exchange for donations to the Council rather than speakers’ fees.”

Question 7: What is the council paying councilors Flannery, Steffen, Lesley Hughes, Veena Sahajwalla, and Andrew Stock? The answer should be obtainable from a simple equation:

Councillor pay  2013-14 = $247,000  minus X (key staff pay). Sadly, council won’t say what “X” is.

Question 8: Has Tim taken a pay cut from his council gig since starting work as Professorial Fellow at the Melbourne University Sustainable Society Institute? He must surely be full-time there, as he announced on appointment in October 2014 that  “The research I am planning to undertake  will focus on what is needed to renew and replenish the Earth’s ecosystem.”

If that isn’t a full-time project, even for Tim, what is? Can he maintain undiminished output at the council, despite this potentially Nobel-winning assignment at the peer-review-challengedSustainable Society Institute?

Question 9: What does Climate Council CEO Amanda have to say about her 2008 forecast (when running the Youth Climate Coalition) that

“Climate change is desperately urgent. Melting is occurring so rapidly in the Arctic that we can now expect that there will be no summer ice by 2013, 100 years earlier than scientists had previously predicted – we have already changed the map of the world.” 

Could the 5.4m square kilometres of summer ice up there last September somehow throw her forecast into doubt?[5]

Answer: no response from Amanda.

If I were her, I’d argue that my 2008 forecast was based on both world-leading IPCC climate models and the 97% consensus of top climate scientists, so the actual level  of Arctic Ice today  (14m sq km) is irrelevant. I’d point to scientific statements like these –

  • Nobelist Al Gore (2008): “The entire North ‘polarized’ cap will disappear in five years.”[6]
  • Arctic expert Professor Wieslaw Maslowski, 2007:  My projection of an ice-free Arctic in 2013 “is already too conservative”.
  • World-leading Arctic expert Professor Peter Wadhams, Cambridge, 2012:  In what he calls a “global disaster” now unfolding in northern latitudes, with “terrible” implications, there will be a collapse to zero of the Arctic summer ice in 2015-16. “The final collapse towards that state is now happening and will probably be complete by those dates“.

Wadhams has now slyly pushed back his icy-pole-apocalypse to 2020.

Acting as Amanda’s avatar, I’d keep quiet about how the  Arctic forecasters are now postponing the ice-free state for decades to come. For example, world-leading ice expert Dirk Notz, of the Max Planck Institute, says, “If emissions stay high, almost all climate models predict the Arctic will become sea ice-free in summer by mid-century.”

Previous forecasts have been thrown where they belong, down the memory hole.

Question 10: The council is controlled by its “Members” but who are these “Members”? They have one vote each at general meetings and they elect the directors, hence they are the ultimate power trippers in the council. Some “members” are those who established the Constitution and other “members” can be admitted subsequently at the complete discretion of the Board. There can’t be many members because a general meeting requires a quorum of 60% of the total membership.

Alas, the council won’t even say how many Members it has, let alone who they are. I   applied to the council to become a Member myself,[i] but within 24 hours the council advised me that “The   Council board is not considering any new membership applications at this point in time.” That does hold out some hope. My goal as Member would be to make the council’s   work  more balanced and transparent by the appointment of eminent climate scientists Bill Kinninmonth and Bob Carter as directors. Wish me luck with the note below!

I wish to apply to become a Member of the Council, as per the Constitution.

8.1.2 Every applicant for membership of the Company must apply in the form and manner determined by the Board. 8.1.4  After receipt of an application for membership, the Board must consider the application and determine whether to admit or reject the admission of the applicant. The Board need not give any reason for rejecting an application.

As per 8.1.2., could you please supply me with appropriate protocols for my application?

 

Tony Thomas blogs at No BS Here (I Hope)


[1] Personally, $3, last weekend

 

[2] $3

[3] Annual report, p21

[4] “The mission of the AYCC is to mobilise our generation to solve the climate crisis”: Ms McKenzie.

[5] “I believe Australians have a right to know, a right to authoritative, independent and accurate information on climate change”. Tim Flannery

[6] Al Gore, 2007 in his Nobel Peace Prize speech: In the last few months, it has been harder and harder to misinterpret the signs that our world is spinning out of kilter. Major cities in North and South America, Asia and Australia are nearly out of water due to massive droughts and melting glaciers.” Since our massive droughts have ended and dams are ok, on Gore’s logic the world is presumably no longer spinning out of kilter.

[7] I wish to apply to become a Member of the Council, as per the Constitution.

Get Them Young, Make Them Green

Education ministers do not seem troubled that a  green propaganda machine, Cool Australia, has garnered the support of thousands of teachers and schools, happily peddling slick scare campaigns and nudging students towards its militant allies and dark-green partners. If governments won’t object, maybe parents should

eyes have itAustralian schools are handing over the  all-pervasive ‘sustainability’ syllabus to a militant green organisation, Cool Australia, whose curriculum material and projects have enjoyed a red-carpet ride into the state and private education systems, with accolades from the Australian Education Union and the Independent Education Union.

Much of Cool Australia’s program for schools is benign: recycle trash, don’t waste electricity, plant trees, embrace reconciliation. But the rest of the agenda tirelessly advances the supposedly impending global-warming catastrophe, plus, inevitably, preaching the evils of fossil fuels. The impression of what some might see as brainwashing is enhanced by the featured endorsements of hard-line carbon-phobic groups like the Australian Youth Climate Coalition and civil disobedience advocate/ex-NASA scientist James Hansen [1]. Beyond that, there are links to Bill McKibben, of the 350.org climate-zealot lobby group[2], and the Skeptical Science website, which devotes itself to pummelling ‘deniers’ while declining to publish their demurrals on its comments threads. Such groups’ videos are  offered to students to watch in their own time, leaving more time in class for ‘discussion’ of the messages.

The success of the Cool Australia in planting its deep-green message in the minds of school children suggests a growing and structural obstacle to any rational discussion of climate matters in the future, as green-indoctrinated voters emerge from the education system and join the ranks of voters. Sadly, while green-dyed propaganda becomes a fixture in the classroom, there is not much chance that, say, the coal-mining members of the Minerals Council of Australia or a Big Four bank lending for fossil fuel  projects, will be invited to contribute a measure of balance by providing curriculum modules that deviate from the green orthodoxy.

Cool Australia claims that 42% of Australia’s 10,000-odd schools had a teacher registered with it. From early childhood to Year 10, some 500,000 students were engaged, and 120,000 “learning activities” downloaded for their use. Roughly 20,000 teachers are signed on (that’s 1-in-15 nationally) and the number is growing at the rate of 1400 a month. Teacher sign-ups more than doubled in 2013-14. Targets for 2015 are “more than 50%” of Australian schools, 30,000 registered teachers, and 600,000 children from age 3 upwards (about 20% of all students). Penetration rates are about equal in the government, private and Catholic sectors.

One Cool Australia partner and donor is the magazine Dumbo Feather. Here’s inspiration, kids, from a current Dumbo article by Paul Yacoumis, an RMIT tutor (Environment Economics), Melbourne University tutor (“Reshaping Environments”) and acolyte of the university’s nutty Sustainable Society Institute:

  • “This year I will be further experimenting with self-sufficiency and minimising my participation in the corporate economy. I’m delving into urban foraging, trying my hand at dumpster diving[3] [getting food from rubbish skips] and cultivating a small garden in my front yard—although the food gods have not been especially kind so far… Fortunately for friends and family, I drew the line at hemp clothing.” 
  • “In my darker moments, I’ve even found myself hoping for some kind of global cataclysm—at least then the human race may have the chance to start anew.” 
  • “We can choose to allow the “evil” of social or ecological collapse to fall upon our future kin, or we can start to shift the power away from this unsustainable economic system that’s caused it and build a better one in its place.” 

As Cool Australia founder Jason Kimberley puts it[4]: “We understand … that all information at Cool Australia must be science-based, never politically or ideologically driven.” Regard Cool Australia and its partners as a team, however, and more than a whiff of ideology does seem to be wafting  around the classroom. Indeed, the Cool Australia material quite specifically encourages students to become political activists. In its main textbook, We Are the Weather Makers, we read (emphasis added):

“Tim Flannery says that community leaders ‘need to hear your voice’. Write a letter to a public figure or other influential member of the community explaining your concerns about global warming and climate change.”[5]

Cool Australia’s long march into schools begins with three-year-olds in “early learning centres”, what previous generations knew as day-care and kindergartens, where “our youngest learners” are “a long term investment in shaping our future”.[6] Make no mistake, activism is the end-goal. “Information and awareness are critical, but it’s more important to build young people’s skills and capacity to innovate and implement these solutions…” and this as well, “we educate and engage future generations in the critical thinking required for them to become the revolutionaries we need to tackle the challenges of the twenty-first century.”[7]

Despite its pleas for reduced consumerism, Cool Australia is, ironically, the brainchild of the Kimberley family, once the proprietors of the Jusst Jeans chain.  Craig Kimberley, who netted $64m from his group’s sale  in 2001, is a director, and his son, Jason, is founder and CEO. Consumerism is bad, apparently, once you have sold your chain of stores devoted to consumerism.

Jason Kimberley endlessly recycles the story of his ‘eco-epiphany’, which happened during a 2005 visit to Antarctica. He returned an ardent eco-warrior. While he may not yet have noticed that Antarctic sea-ice  is at record levels for the satellite era, school principals love his shtick. Kimberley claims to have spoken personally with 50,000 students, at the impressive rate of 10,000 a year. The people running Armadale Primary School in Melbourne were so impressed that, in August, 2013, they declared Jason “Principal for a Day”, with an address to the school assembly thrown in.

The Australian Education Union’s (former) National President, Angelo Gavrielatos, puts the case:

“I don’t know if the Cool Australia team fully understands what they are achieving… an incredible achievement in just six years. Only UNICEF has a greater schools penetration, and they had a 50-year head start… You are, quite seriously, the good guys in education.”

Cool Australia last year partnered with the AEU and Independent Teachers’ Union (ITU) on the “AEU/IEU Greens Conference”, featuring such activists as the global warming scholar Rod Quantock (B.Arch, Melbourne University [failed]), the comedian whose more recent laughter-generating moments are quite unintentional. The AEU called it “Greens Conference”; Cool Australia called it “Green Schools Conference”. Perhaps they’re both right.

Jason  Kimberley has scruples. According to one account, he “delights in reports from teachers of younger children who say their students see the Cool Australia learning activities more like games than serious learning. But he’s less inclined to talk global warming with his own kids: Florence, 8, Cooper, 6 and Olive, 3. ‘I don’t want to shove the environmental stuff down their throats.’ he says.”

Other wealthy backers of Cool Australia include:

  • Ex-Wotif tycoon and Greens Party mega-funder Graeme Wood, worth around $350m.
  • Aged-care tycoon Robert Purves,  WWF  president,  former board member of WWF International and Governor of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition.  Purves’ foundation has distributed more than $10 million to environment, climate-change and activist causes.

A major donor (possibly THE major donor) to Cool Australia since 2012 has been Bendigo Bank, whose Bendigo Wealth executive John Billington is on the Cool Australia board and endorsed a three-year sponsoring deal in 2014.   In a cosy double-deal, Bendigo says, “Cool Australia will deliver the Bendigo Wealth brand to thousands of teachers, children and their families.”

And Cool Australia’s report re-pays the praise with interest: “[Bendigo Bank] have a conscience and a heartbeat. They are far bigger than a bank.”[8] To suggest the scale of things, bear in mind that Cool Australia’s and Bendigo Bank’s national Enviroweek in 2013 involved 1200 schools and 162,000 students who adopted 500,000 “challenges”.[9]

Here’s how Bendigo Bank gets a free kick against the Big Four:

Cool Australia strongly endorses the Australian Youth Climate Coalition’s (AYCC) juvenile activists, who battle for Gaia by jumping around in  fish costumes at Lend Lease annual meetings, to name but one of their stunts, while denouncing coal financing.

AYCC boasts that it “can provide speakers and group facilitators to schools around the country. The AYCC draws on the significant experience of many of its member groups, as well as its own ‘Climate Messenger’ program to deliver excellent presentations concerning a broad range of issues surrounding climate change. To find out more visit http://www.aycc.org.au/ or call (02) 9247 7934.”[10]

A current AYCC campaign is Dump Your Bank. “Could your bank use your money to fund the destruction of the Great Barrier Reef and our climate?” it asks, going on to urge readers to “Take the Pledge. ‘I pledge to dump my bank  because they’ve refused to rule out funding coal ports on the Great Barrier Reef’.” AYCC has made a slick little video (below), featuring photogenic moppets, that specifically targets the Commonwealth, a Bendigo Bank competitor, for allegedly financing the Great Barrier Reef’s destruction.

The material on the AYCC bank-dumping campaign only refers to “Australia’s big four banks”. Posters are provided saying, “Love the Reef? Dump Westpac.” Ditto dump ANZ, CBA and NAB. No wonder Bendigo Bank is thrilled with the Cool Australia/AYCC tag-team operation.[11] Andwith Cool Australia and WWF, donations flow both ways. Cool Australia partnered with WWF on the  school curriculum for 2015 Earth Hour, and the curriculum recommended: “Schools can hold a gold coin day for Earth Hour or WWF-Australia.”

Even more brazen in relieving kids of their pocket money is the material promoting Cool Australia’s Enviroweek, set for the end of August.

“Enviroweek encourages students around Australia to take on a challenge and raise money for their own environmental causes, or donate funds towards Cool Australia’s projects. Since 2009, more than $260,000 has been raised for environmental causes nationwide.”

Education ministers, even Coalition ones, apparently see nothing wrong with environment lobbyists using class lessons to solicit kids’ dollars for their campaigning.

Guy Olian, a director of Cool Australia, is CEO of a business, Energy Lease, providing low-doc, zero-deposit  loans for packaged installation of domestic solar power installations. He was previously director of a similar company, Australian Solar Solutions.  The  pitch is that the solar loans can be paid off from the savings on electricity bills. Whether these savings come good may depend on whether governments maintain their solar subsidies (there was a flurry about threatened subsidy-axing in WA in 2013). Regardless, the solar-power lenders clip  the ticket. Maybe Cool Australia should issue a declaration of interest to teachers and kids every time its lessons sing the praises of household solar power, which they do a lot.[12]

The seductive power of Cool Australia is its professionalism in terms of classroom know-how. Teachers are required in  the new Australian Curriculum to interweave “sustainability” themes into the corpus of their teaching practice. The teachers are flummoxed, as  Dr Margaret Loughnan, a Monash health geographer,  has described:

“I have quite a few friends who are primary teachers and they are ringing me up and saying, ‘What is this about climate change? We have to teach climate change. We don’t know how to teach climate change. We have no text at all to teach Grade 3, so how do we teach?’

“From what I gather those poor teachers are blundering around in the dark and trying to get things off the internet to teach our children. It’s something that needs a little bit more attention.”

Enter Cool Australia with its portfolio of on-line, fun-and-friendly lesson plans: “Free online environmental resources where all the hard work is already done.”  The ‘free’ element must have a special appeal to under-resourced and smaller schools.

Cool Australia claims 90% of Australian teachers want to teach sustainability, with more than 85% unsure how to do it.

“We fill this gap, help fulfil teachers’ demands …  This is our gift to Australia. We are changing the face of education in Australia by incorporating real world understandings as part of the key school curriculum.”[13]

The teachers involved are spread evenly between Science, Maths, English, and the Humanities.

As Cool Australia puts it, “a Maths teacher will teach primary students to tell the time by linking time with water-saving activities. An English teacher will inspire students to develop a communication project that explains the challenges of “a clean energy future”. Some may recall those last three words from the Gillard years, when they featured prominently in the government’s ill-fated Clean Energy Future carbon-tax package.

Back in the classroom, teachers are delighted to have such tailor-made “toolkits”, approved by headquarters, to dial-up as required on “climate change, environment and sustainability”. The risible nature of Cool Australia’s “science”   includes its 2015 focus on “highlighting the impacts of global warming on Aussie food and farming”. Unmentioned is that global atmospheric warming stopped 18 years ago.

Australian farmers now coping with drought, storms etc., are suffering from weather and coping with variations in microclimates, as farmers always have. But Cool Australia knows better: “Tasteless carrots, bad pizza dough and poor quality steak are some of the impacts we can expect from Australia’s changing climate”. It quotes a study from climatologist David Karoly (of course) about the impact that extreme weather, climate-related diseases blah blah blah  “will have on the production, quality and cost of Australia’s food in the future.”

The basis for 16 modules of Cool Australia secondary curriculum material is Tim Flannery’s save-the-world book “The Weather Makers”, written way back in the ‘settled science’ era of 2003. The book in 2006 was re-issued for students as “We Are the Weather Makers” (every secondary school in the country got a copy) and again in 2007 as  “Thinking about climate change – A guide for teachers and students” . That free version was devised by David Harding, Rose Iser, and Sally Stevens, but who are these people? Well, one of them, Iser,  was the 2010 Greens candidate for the Victorian State seat of Essendon and later adviser to Greens MHR Adam Bandt.

Cool Australia has spruced up “Thinking About Climate Change” with up-to-date material from the Climate Council to make it a multi-media resource for its teacher clients, an initiative that reflects the group’s leaders are serious professionals with plenty of management/marketing expertise. Chair David Simpson, an executive coach,  is a veteran international advertising executive. Director Sergio Galanti is a turnaround expert with successes at Coles Myer and Kraft. He’s gone green because of “his children accusing his generation for the environmental challenges we face today”.  (Kids are pretty arrogant these days). Staffer Angela Andrews BComm, MTeach, spent a decade at Sydney boys school Newington College, and was an economics HSC examiner for four years. She also worked for Manly Council as Climate Change & Sustainability Education Officer.

Thea Nicholas, science and sustainability teacher and Cool Australia staffer since 2013, writes,

“I know first hand the challenges that schools, teachers and students face in this current educational climate … By providing a variety of curriculum resources that suits each educators  (sic) personal teaching style and needs, we will be creating a new generation of students who are change-makers and energised to help build a sustainable future.”

When a classroom teacher, she used Cool Australia materials in class for four years, and won many education awards.   However, her style was so apocalyptic that her students, she says, got traumatised. She expects, for example, a 6degC average temperature rise for Australia’s hottest days by 2100, wiping out many species along with the Kakadu wetlands.

“As I digest these devastating [IPCC] findings [she means ‘speculations’] my personal response is despair. I know this isn’t helpful, or productive, when my job revolves around writing sustainability curriculum for school kids.   How do I tell them that we may be up shit creek without a paddle?”

She recalled one of her science lessons six years ago about atmospheric gases. The kids were bored until they started talking about how people are causing global warming that would impact all living things. But then the kids got apathetic, anxious and hopeless. 

“ Had I failed these kids by peddling the scientific gloom and doom and not considering the psychological and emotional impacts of my teaching? It was clear these kids were feeling hopeless and this broke my heart. For me, there is nothing sadder than a child that has lost hope. A child who has barely seen the world – yet has experienced enough to not want to be part of it and contribute to the future.”

So she gave these (benighted) kids hope with a program for going green and cutting their CO2 footprints.

“This was the most rewarding and memorable experience of my life. One that defined my teaching career and ultimately who I am as a person.

“Imagine if every child around the world woke up tomorrow and felt empowered. … Sustainability education in our classrooms can achieve this…They learn that we are part of the Earth rather than simply a destructive presence on the Earth.

“We must make sure all children feel hopeful and enthusiastic about their future. Only then can they develop into CEO’S, politicians, nurses and builders who are solutionaries (sic) of the future.

And they will be solutionaries…if they learn how in schools.”

One Cool Australia module teaches Year 9 science students how to analyse statements by ‘sceptics’and ‘deniers’, and “make judgements around the motivations behind them”. After paying lip service to science scepticism, Cool Australia then equates “denial” about the  global warming consensus with tobacco companies originally denying health damage; anti-evolution arguments; claims that animals can learn languages; and even aliens and UFOs. Elsewhere, Cool Australia links climate scepticism with anti-vaccination campaigning. Any funding of research or groups by industry or energy companies (as distinct from government or green-lobby funding) is seen as cause for alarm.

Students are asked to assess statements by orthodox warmists vs. those by scary sources such as “denier” Fred Singer (a world-renowned physicist and space-research pioneer), the late Ray Evans of the Lavoisier Group, who is dubbed a “sceptic”, and someone from the US Western Fuels Association (another ‘denier’).[14] The exercise is set against the conclusion of John Cook’s notoriously flawed paper claiming a 97.1% consensus on warming orthodoxy (which on the paper’s own figures, was actually only a 0.3% consensus). Students are then asked to put forth their own credible statement on climate change. It would be a brave student who took the sceptic line.

With all its marketing and management firepower, Cool Australia knows how to leverage its reach. For example, it provides a template letter for parents to urge principals to get aboard the Cool cart:

Dear Principal,
Like most parents, I am very concerned for the future of our planet and how this will affect my child and their children. It seems that most of us are under-educated when it comes to understanding that our natural world is our life support system…I have recently become aware of the excellent teacher resource and student toolbox – Cool Australia…  I would like to talk with you to discuss how we can get the Cool Australia resources into the school’s curriculum…

Cool Australia runs on a budget of about $820,000, including $325,000 for the salaries of four full-time and three part-time staff. There is also a 20-strong team of top-qualified curriculum writers. Unless there’s some external source of finance, the pay at Cool Australia seems  modest. Moreover, all team members are expected to contribute an extra Stakhanovite-like  20 weekly hours to their official workload, as part of the struggle to succeed “in a very difficult market to crack – education.”

Cool Australia has superseded its original Environmental Science credentials and now touts its own conception of “Learning for Life” to students:

“This will include understandings about ethics, morality, wealth and the clear link between good mental health and spending time in nature.”[15]

Come to think of it, churches also want to teach about ethics, morality and wealth, but I can’t imagine 20,000 teachers welcoming their dogma and representatives to classroom and curriculum.

When not keeping an honest eye on the piffle being served in Australia’s schools, Tony Thomas blogs at No B-S Here (I Hope)


[1] From Cool Australia’s website: James Hansen, who warned of the dangers of global warming as early as 1988, said a United Nations-endorsed target for capping global warming is too high and will ensure future generations suffer “irreparable harm.”

[2] Cool Australia touted McKibben’s 2013 Australian visit and message:   “’The fossil fuel industry are outlaws against the laws of physics.’ He contended that the fossil fuel industry needed to lose their veneer of respectability, the way the tobacco industry has. ‘If it is wrong to wreck the climate,” he said, “then it is wrong to profit from that wreckage’.”

[3] A typical message on  Dumpster Diving Melbourne community facebook: “HEAPS of cauliflower, frozen pies, asparagus & some otha goodies in the city Aldi bin if anyone is in the area today & wants to hit it up!”

[4] Annual report, 2013-14

[6]  Annual report, 2013-14

[7] ibid

[8] ibid

[9] ibid

[11]  Other tidbits from the AYCC website include, ‘Climate denial is immoral, says head of US Episcopal church’ ‪ ; and  “The reckless business model of the fossil fuel industry is now threatening half of all bird species on the planet and entire nations are at risk of becoming environmental sacrifice zones.”

[12]  Cool Australia website: “The installation of rooftop-solar has become such a ‘no brainer’ for Australian households that whole suburbs could generate and store enough electricity to go-off grid.”

Tim Flannery’s Weather Makers book, by the way, also includes a plug for loan financing of solar power. “It is well worth taking out a loan,” he writes, “for in sunny climates like Australia or California or southern Europe the payback period is around two or three years. The solar heating devices usually carry a ten-year guarantee, so you will get at least seven to eight years of free hot water.” (Kindle edition, Location 2896).

[13] Annual report, 2013-14

[14]  You may need to create an account to access the material

[15] Annual report, 2013-14

The Day the Russians Came

Note: I didn’t write this, my tennis partner at the Essendon Retired Men’s Tennis Group wrote it. I discovered  his writings while compiling our tennis group’s quarterly newsletter. Apart from some condensing, my editing was minimal as Leo is a born communicator.

The war was almost over and an anxious Austrian town wondered what the peace would bring. Almost 65 years on, a man who found a new life in Australia recalls a young boy’s delight in joining the victors’ parade

tank smallSoon after I  was born in Vienna in 1934, I was dispatched to the little old town of Allentsteig to be looked after as a ward of the state. My childhood friends would ask, ‘Do you have a father or mother?’ My foster-mother, Frau Edlinger, would say, ‘Oh, we found him  in a basket by the  creek.’

My earliest memory would be the daily walk to the kindergarten. It was at the  lower end of the castle’s defences. Our rooms consisted of solid stone walls with hand-crafted iron doors and bottle glass windows. It used to be the guardhouse to defend the lower parts of the castle wall and was at the end of the longest roofed passage in Lower Austria. We used to sneak along the passage way up the stone steps for a view across the town. If we were caught the penalty was no free lunch the next day.

All this changed quite suddenly as 1938 brought a new regime to our small town. Our country became part of the Thousand Year Reich. The castle became the Germans’ headquarters. A new double-storey building at the other side of town became the new kindergarten — a clinical, tidy, perfect Germanic-replica, something we little Austrian kids did not comprehend. Even the sandpit was perfectly square. The worst possible part was the dismissal of our local teacher, replaced by strange sounding Germans whose accents we Austrians could not understand. We had never heard High German spoken, nor had we been made to line up every morning, march, and salute the flag and the strange new teachers.  ‘Get used to it’ the adults told us, ‘you are all little Germans now and be proud of it’.

Later, we had to join the Jungvolk, the little kids’ version of the Hitler Youth. From the age of ten we  started   training with hand grenades and light machine guns. I was also a choirboy, and between farm work, school, scouts and church, I was run off my  feet.

Late spring is the best time of the year in Lower Austria. By  April, 1945 the last snow had melted and the first  of the early spring flowers were pushing their heads through the soft soil. For we children wars seemed a long way in the distance. That was about to change.

We were situated right on the edge of a huge German Army camp, established at the beginning of the war. To avoid attacks by what were termed the Anglo-American ‘terror bombers’, the Germans built barracks to house thousands of Russian prisoners of war and a contingent of Allied officers. If they bombed us, the logic went, they would be bombing their own.

Towards the end of April,  the whole world seemed to be travelling past my front window: thousands of Russian prisoners being herded west. We ran out to give them water and bread although the German guards scowled.  ‘Let the children be, the war is nearly over!’ an officer shouted.

School had been cancelled some weeks earlier. Lack of firewood to heat the classrooms seemed to be the reason.

The Hungarian soldiers came past a few days later, but we were told by our elders not to race outside. ‘Those Hungarians are not nice people,’ the grown-ups warned, ‘they might take you away’. My friends sniggered behind my foster-mother’s back; she was looking after us that morning. ‘That would be a real adventure,’ Maria said to her cousin Franz. ‘We could write a story when school starts again.’

One day, the rolling thunder of distant cannons and their flashes of light across the clear night sky suddenly stopped and an eerie silence descended over our town. I decided to visit one of my school friends who lived on the outskirts of the city. I had not seen him for some days, as he was not allowed out by his parents who must have thought it was too dangerous. He sure missed a lot of fun.

I decided to take the long way up Hospital Road to avoid the school — maybe some of the teachers were still around — but the whole place seemed to be deserted.Not even dogs turned out to bother me with their barking and carrying on.

As I passed the side entrance of the hospital I heard the rumbling of heavy machinery, what sounded like tractors,  coming down the way from the direction of the cemetery. Looking up the road, it appeared that German tanks were arriving. The front tank had what looked like officers standing near the turret.

In my excitement I decided to do the right thing, just as we had been taught by our teachers: ‘You must salute an officer of the German Reich by raising you right arm and, in a loud and clear voice, say ‘Heil Hitler’. Having suffered beltings before for not raising my arm high enough I thought to do better this time. “HEIL HITLER!” I shouted.

Those Germans turned out to be Russians and, lucky for me, found it amusing. Perhaps I did not look threatening. My heart seemed to stop when a soldier jumped off the tank, picked me up and lifted me on top for a ride into the centre of the city.

Triumphant, I thought an entrance like that would impress all my friends and make me a local hero. But no, that reaction did not materialise, as the news that the Russians were coming had spread ahead of my entrance. Everyone was inside, not daring to show their faces, and all left for me to do was to tell my story of an amazing ride that lasted all of ten glorious minutes.

marzi

Leo Marzi, who plays passable doubles with the Essendon Retired Men’ s Tennis Group, and wife Sally at their Warrandyte home.

 

 

A Trotskyite on the Wartime Waterfront

Kenneth Gee (left) was a leading light of the Australian bar, but before that he laboured on the docks, an ardent advocate of the worldwide workers’ revolution. Those who have decried Hal G.P. Colebatch’s account of union sabotage will find the jurist’s memoir very hard to dismiss

geeOne waterfront-worker crime in  World War Two not touched upon in Hal G.P. Colebatch’s prize-winning book Australia’s Secret War is the theft of emergency supplies from ships’ lifeboats, mentioned in my recent piece on Colebatch’s book. My source is Comrade Roberts – Recollections of a Trotskyite, by Kenneth Gee QC (Desert Pea Press, 2006). The book is notable for  recording Leon Trotsky’s directive from Mexico to his Australian followers, that female members of the movement “should be rooted on the workshop floor”. Despite his command of five languages, Trotsky was unfamiliar with Australian idiom.

Gee is more au fait with the argot of the workplace, having spent the critical war years 1941-43 under the nom de guerre Comrade Roberts, working as a boilermaker’s laborer on the waterfront while trying to put into practice Trotsky’s blueprint for the overthrow of capitalism. Gee was originally a conveyancing solicitor from a middle-class background, and  later reverted to the law, becoming a Sydney QC. Like numerous other left proletariat (author, Windschuttle et al), he later moved to the right.  He died in 2008.

TO ORDER AUSTRALIA’S SECRET WARCLICK HERE

Gee, a wartime mate of Governor-General John Kerr and (later) Senator Jim McLelland, was also the father of novelist Kate Grenville (The Secret River, 2005) and Stephen Grenville, a deputy governor of the Reserve Bank (1996-01). His other son, Chris, a QC and judge, won prizes for his marmalade at Sydney’s Royal Easter Show.

For those keen to brush aside Colebatch’s accounts of union wartime mayhem as confabulations of rheumy old men,  Gee’s account is a harder nut to crack. Here’s Gee’s introduction:

“I must confess here that as I kept no diary or other record of events and am relying entirely on a distant memory, there will be faults in this narrative, especially of chronology. All I can say is that in this chronicle of steady disillusionment, all the persons portrayed were very real, only a few of the names have been changed, and that all the events recounted actually did occur.”

The incident of theft from a lifeboat (pages 116-17) is written in a curious style. I’ll extract it here, suggesting readers focus on what happened rather than on Gee’s sentiments.

One day Manpower sent a new man down to join the Neilson Bros [ship repair] crew on the  Ville d’Amiens. He was a rat-faced man, unable to meet your eyes when you spoke to him. All of us, including Big Andy, were sitting on the deck during smoko, when we saw that Cyril (and of course no toiler on the waterfront should ever be called Cyril) had climbed to the top of  one of the ship’s lifeboats, had lifted the tarpaulin cover, and was packing his bag with the canned food that might have stood between the crew and starvation as they floated among the debris of their stricken ship.

Now the waterfront was not a cradle for civic virtue or the home of glowing moral standards, and a little larceny, cleansed by the name ‘scrounging’, was de rigueur,  but the unwritten law was clear – a lifeboat’s victuals were sacred, not to be touched by the lightest of fingers.

The rest of us looked on in silent disapproval, each as in High Noon, with a fine reason for not interveningNot so Big Andy. He unwound himself from the deck, took Cyril by the scruff of the neck, and carried him bodily, as you might carry a naughty puppy, to the thirty-foot drop into the ship’s hold, where he was held squealing for mercy. The lesson taught, Andy took Cyril down to the wharf with a boot in his bottom, throwing his bag after him. We never saw Cyril again.” (my emphasis).

Cyril’s brazen  conduct in full view of a deck gang suggests he got away with such thefts previously.   Gee and his mates, despite their ‘silent disapproval’ , were passive.   Big Andy did intervene, effectively. Big Andy, Gee makes clear in various chapters, was tall and strong  and possessed of old-fashioned scruples against thefts from lifeboats, abuse of women, and bullies who attack his mates.

However, Big Andy had no scruples about bludging off the war effort. As Gee says:

“As far as I could tell, Big Andy did no work, although he was a laborer like myself, to one of the fitters. Even Kelso, the ‘pannikin boss’ (under foreman) a bully of massive build, was circumspect about giving orders to Big Andy. Every night, after we’d washed the coal dust out of our throats at the six o’clock swill at the Woolloomooloo pub, Andy would disappear, turning up next day on the ship’s deck, to disappear again that night. He was obviously Doing A Doubler, or Working a Darkie, waterfront jargon for working 24 hours in two separate jobs.  But even an iron man must have some sleep, so Big Andy had invented for himself a hessian bed on the copper piping inside one of the huge idle  boilers of the ship, from which neither Kelso nor his fitter mate – if he had one – made any attempt to dislodge him…” (pages 69-70)

He would

“…lie stretched out like a contented cat on his hessian bed and sleep until some in-dwelling timepiece woke him in time to join us in the Mad House in the Woolloomoloo pub.” (page 88)

When Big Andy was over-sleeping in the boiler, Gee and his mates would run from pub fights.  Wharfies in a fight would use their cargo hooks, “capable of ripping open a human face with one deadly stroke” (page 90). Gee notes, “We were saving face very literally.”

The stokers on the Ville d’Amiens (a 25,000 ton ex-luxury liner) were Senegalese, with the same ethos as the wharf workers. To keep the ship in port, rather than on seas infested with Japanese submarines, they sabotaged whatever tardy repairs the boilermakers had made:

“Every night in our absence they pumped cold water into the boilers, causing them to squirt jets of water into the stokehold like leaking kettles, and undoing our day’s work.” (page 71).

The aversion to work continued several layers above laborer Gee. On his first day, he asked the foreman Joe for a job.   Joe: “If you want a f***ing job, you can git that bar’er there and shift that f***ing shit to the other side of the f***ing yard.” This, says Gee, was long before the coyest of maidens had added the f-word to her lexicon. (page 66)

So Gee barrowed loads of steel offcuts across the yard all day.

“Next day  I went to Joe again to ask for a job. I was just unaccustomed to idleness. Joe could hardly believe the ears supporting his crumpled bowler.

“Christ! You’re the first c*** that’s ever asked for work instead of f***ing dodging it. You can get f***ing barrer and shift all the shit back again.”

Gee continues:

“It was my first experience of wartime cost-plus as an antidote to the bosses’ insolvency. The more the job cost him, the more money he made.” (page 67).

It seems there is another book to be written on war profiteering, this one about Australian businesses.

Gee at one point caused the entire Sydney waterfront to down tools. A boilermaker’s assistant, he had given his aged boilermaker mate, Little Andy, a rest by taking over with an expander tool. This violation of demarcation was discovered by another boilermaker but the pair refused to conform.   The Boilermakers Union was run by a Stalinist called Hughie Grant, and Grant  ordered the entire workforce of boilermakers on the wharf to down tools. “Every ship, dockyard and workshop had ground to a halt.” p108-11. This was after June, 1941, when Hitler invaded Russia, and the Communists were now supporting the war effort. But demarcation disputes trumped solidarity with Moscow.

Because of rivalry between Boilermaker and Ironworker unions, the latter ordered its own shop stewards to enforce a stopwork. The Amalgamated Engineers stopped work to support the boilermakers and the Painters and Dockers stopped work to support the laborers.

“The French officers [of the Ville d’Amiens] wondered what new madness had entered the heads of these wild Australians, on strike while the Emperor Hirohito was breathing down their necks.” (page 111) Not without reason, they regarded the wharf workers  “ as overfed, overpaid, illiterate colonialists, experts in dodging work.” (page 137)

Gee believes the higher echelons of the Communist Party ordered Hughie Grant back into line:

“[The] Hitler-Stalin Pact era of wildcat strikes was over and the Nazi assault on the Soviet was in full force. The most sacred of union rules had to bow before the siege of Moscow and Leningrad. The AIF were no longer five bob a day murderers…” (page 112)

Gee concludes, whimsically,

“So my own strike, my own small contribution to the Terminal Crisis of Capitalism, came and went in two glorious hours.”

For the Trotskyists, including Gee, there was no letup in policy to sabotage the imperialist war effort, or indeed to start a new war within Australia.

“When patriotic illusions were widespread among the workers, our anti-war policy (‘The Workers Have No Fatherland!’, ‘Turn the Imperialist War Into Civil War’) was not easy to implement…” (page 112)

Nor does Gee mince words about Communist tactics for union control:

“The Stalinist Federal Secretary of the Union, Ernie Thornton, famous for his beetling black eyebrows and the smile of a Bengal Tiger, had decided that the (Trotskyite) Balmain Branch, recalcitrant and defiant, should finally be absorbed into the totality of the union – which meant the total control of himself and the Communist Party. By using the discipline of his Stalinist members, and by chicanery, vote-rigging, fraud, stacking meetings with Party men from other unions, by the ‘adjustment’ (the Party’s own cynical word) of branch ballots, in short by every device born of a ruthless mind, all other branches of the union were now within his prehensile grasp.”

His assault on the leading Trotskyites, Comrades Origlass and Short, misfired. The Trots led a strike not against the bosses but against their own union.

Thornton appealed to the federal government of Ben Chifley for action in support of the union against the strikers. He rested his case on support for the war effort, since the ending of the Hitler-Stalin Pact and the Nazi invasion of the USSR  had reversed the Stalinist line on the war overnight. (page 141)

However, the hard-fought case (during which production for the war effort was suspended) went to the courts and then to conciliation, and then to the creation of two Balmain branches of the Ironworkers, one for each faction, “to live in endless disharmony”.

The Ville d’Amiens did not survive at sea despite all this TLC:

In spite of her renovated boilers, she had been the slowest ship in the convoy, and a Jap submarine had brought her down, just as the lion fells the most laggard wildebeest in the herd. (page 138).

On the next ship in, a British freighter suffering torpedo damage, Gee and his pals had been noticed in the morning “having a blow, reading a newspaper in the engine-room” (page 147).  A British officer, with some justice, denounced them as “f***ing Australian bludgers who read newspapers while people were starving in England because ships weren’t moving”.

Gee writes,

“A few days later tugs arrived and towed the old freighter off to Mort’s Dock to have the hole in her side patched up. We never discovered her fate, whether she joined the Ville d’Amiens in the lightless depths of the Coral Sea, or whether she found haven at last in a port in southern England…” (page 148)

Gee’s career at Neilson Bros ended with the sack:

“My mate Andy’s advice had been sound: ‘Get out of all this shit, Ken. Join the Commos and get yourself a job in the union’. It had been time to move on.” (page 159).

Gee became a trade instructor at a Tech for would-be engineering tradesmen. His class of 20 was all there “to escape the clutches of the Army or Manpower”. They included big-bellied Jewish Sam, who owned and ran a pseudo Bunny Club in the city and showed no interest in the course whatsoever. Sam left at the end of the three months of school. “What will you do with all that engineering wisdom?” Gee asked. “Make f***ing bunny tails,” Sam replied (page 150).

Trotskyites can also be  entrepreneurs. There was black-marketeer Comrade Bradley of the Boot Trades Union, who died a millionaire.  He had milk bars on the Manly Corso and Shelley Beach, and he discovered the recipe for US-style thick milkshakes which the GIs doted on. Bradley had ways of acquiring blackmarket petrol, meat, tea and precious milk. He would drive his ute to Camden and return with plentiful milk and cartons of cream, ‘rare as liquid gold’. (page 125)

“Brad’s nights were haunted by a recurring nightmare that some day a posse of horsemen from the Taxation Department would encircle the kiosk, and his tax-free money would be seized, added to consolidated revenue, and lost to Brad forever.” (page 127)

Bradley later bankrolled the Communist Party, bought and wrecked an ocean-going yacht, and died in a crash in his Daimler en route to Queensland.

Trotskyite apparatchiks, full-time plotting a revolution while the Japanese were heading down the Kokoda Track, never seemed to get called up to the Army with ordinary Australians:

Where there was a danger that comrades such as Comrade Origlass or Comrade Barker, too valuable to the [Trotskyist] Party to be lost to the Army, were about to be called up, the Party had an effective antidote. A fellow traveller named Murphy was in uniform, in Army Records, and for a humble pourboire [tip] was prepared to tuck away the file of any chosen comrade to the bottom of the heap, never to rise again.” (page 114)

Gee describes the petty corruption involved in dodging recruitment. Normally the Manpower official, if paid a fiver, would give you a choice of three jobs. ‘It would be a sad day if a citizen in his crucial position was not able to extract a wee share of wartime affluence.” (page 159). But now Gee found that only two jobs were offered, one outback and one in the islands, in expectation of a tenner as remedy. Gee paid the official and got a job in a local hearse factory instead, converted to trailer production. “My mates in the engineering shop were happy enough with good wartime wages and penalty rates. They’d never had it so good,” Gee says. (page 164)

Sacked, Gee returned to the Manpower official with another tenner and got a job in the Commonwealth Aircraft Factory in Lidcombe, which made fourteen-cylinder  radial engines for Beaufort bombers. It was being converted to make ramjets, with the help of  shiploads of state of the art machine tools of exquisite 1/10,000in accuracy.

It was a closed shop with ten unions involved. The management was cracking down on what it considered excessive toilet usage. “Everyone knew that there were men, especially,  who would creep away from their machines to spend half an hour studying the form guide in The Telegraph,” Gee says.

“I had been able to convince the Stalinist shop steward that there was no  connection between the war effort and the truants studying  form in the Commonwealth Aircraft’s too-comfortable toilets.” It was instead a health issue. A union notice went up on the toilets: “All unionists are instructed to ignore any attempt by management to restrict the time in the toilets required by nature. By order, the Combined Union Shop Committee.”

The management responded by announcing a time-and-motion study of the shop.

The truth was that the Americans had provided shiploads of state-of-the-art machines in the hope of putting some life into the Australian war effort, which was flagging since the US navy sank the last Jap aircraft carrier at Midway Island  [June 1942] and Australia was saved. (pages 176-9)

The American experts arrived:

“A con-rod that had needed four operations on three machines could be done with one operation on one machine with a single miraculously accurate template…they themselves, I discovered, were good blokes, never talking politics, but just eager to beat the goddam Japs and end the war and get home to their Mom and their apple pie…”

Gee was so impressed with these Americans that he realized that Trotskyite dogma was nonsense, and began his retreat from revolutionary ardor. He was spurred on by observing the union getting a nice chap Joe sacked because he would not join the union for religious reasons: “Joe and his large family would face joblessness for a long time.” (page 190)

Gee concludes,

“Three years with Leon Davidovich Trotsky had been enough… Time was, in my own Trotskyite days, when the voices of [Communists] Thornton, Healy, Elliott, Sharkey, Miles and the rest, could cause a whole nation to listen in apprehension – when on Moscow’s command an economy could be brought to a halt. But their own false paradise, Stalin’s Soviet Union, was brought down in ignominy by corruption and terror and is ruled now by a larcenous mafia.” (pages 192-5)

The wartime Trotskyite leader Origlass went on to become Mayor of Leichardt, moving from world revolution to kerbing, guttering and rules about dog droppings.

“In his robes of office, in street processions in support of his decisions, Mayor Origlass resembled an oversized naughty boy arrayed in his mother’s floral dressing gown.” (page 199).

Idly googling, I discovered Leichardt boasts an Origlass Park “in recognition of the contribution given by Councillor Nick Origlass to the community over many years. It has a covered playground and open grass area with Drinks Fountain and picnic area.” Origlass’s top-deck colleague, John Royston Wishart, a lawyer, misused clients’ money and did six months at Long Bay, emerging “to become a minor official in the Builders’ Laborers Federation, although he would not have know one end of a wheelbarrow from the other.” (page 200)

Gee returned to law, became a Crown Prosecutor, took silk and rose to the Bench as one of the Queen’s Judges in the District Court of NSW from 1975-85.

Tony Thomas blogs at No B-S Here, I Hope

COMMENTS [3]

  1. Patrick McCauley

    astounding … an army of Trots killing us with bludgery from within . Excellent work TT .. Kenneth Gee seems volume 11 of Australia’s Secret War – Hal G.P. Colebatch has found a hole full of dark matter that quite possibly is still with us.. Remember Albert Langer and the Monash Trots who sent money to the Viet Cong? Wonder where David Hicks got his ideas?

  2. en passant

    Many years ago I spent a short time in the car assembly industry and saw demarcation in spades. I really do think Australia needs a manufacturing industry, but there was simply no way it could be done when I attended so many meaningless meetings discussing how many unionists could dance on the head of a pin. I soon realised that I would either go mad or need a lobotomy if I stayed. I found another job and left. The plant closed 5-years later despite government subsidies as the Pavlovian Shop Stewards would rather destroy their livelihood than agree to reason and improved work practices. Workers of Australia! You are getting what you deserve … The same suicidal self destruction happened in the Scottish shipyards where they refused to adopt new methods and quickly ceased to exist. They thought this would bring a socialist Utopia, but all it brought was 20% unemployment and poverty – and mass immigration. Have you noted the dulcet Scottish accent among Australian Unions and in our parliaments?

  3. DRW

    It’s not the workers but trade unionists who are going to get theirs, how many manufacturing plants have been closed by trade union militancy?

‘Australia’s Secret War’ Marches On

All but ignored by reviewers, Hal G.P. Colebatch’s prize-winning account of unionist treachery during the Second World War continues to rack up sales — a triumph for both the author and Quadrant Books, which took up a topic the left would prefer to have remained unexamined

colebatch head smallSo how’s it going with Hal G.P. Colebatch’s book, Australia’s Secret War? Sub-titled “How unionists sabotaged our troops in World War II”, the book gets no marks for political correctness from the left-leaning literary establishment.

They intended to give it the totschweigen treatment (kill by hushing up or ignoring it, as Shelley Gare explained in Quadrant) but word-of-mouth gave the book a life of its own and Prime Minister Abbott was perverse enough to endorse it as joint winner in the history section of last December’s literary awards.

Colebatch has a problem with one foot and wore a medical boot to the prize presentation at the National Gallery, Melbourne. Tony Abbott noticed him having difficulty, took his arm and helped him climb the steps.

Others were less compassionate. One of the losing short-listed authors for the same prize, onetime radio personality, ex-Fairfax columnist and now serial Tweeter Mike Carlton, immediately complained loudly on social media that the award was due to the conservative political bias of judges Gerard Henderson and Peter Coleman. However, other judges on this panel, in particular Ross Fitzgerald and Ann Moyal, are more left-leaning than conservative, yet their decision was unanimous.

The shared prize, worth $40,000 to Colebatch, led to a ramp-up in Christmas sales of his book, a momentum that kept going through to the new year.

colebatch book cover bigAll up, sales from the 2013 first issue to today total more than 10,000 copies, an excellent result for boutique Quadrant Books and its hardback at the upmarket price of $44.95. Assuming Colebatch gets the usual 10% royalty, that’s another $45,000 for him.

The first print run in October, 2013, was 1000 copies but that sold out within weeks. “Since then we’ve ordered five more reprints at 2000 a time,” says Quadrant publisher Keith Windschuttle. “Its 10,000 copies sold is very good going for a book $10 pricier than the normal novel or gift book.”

Of course, such a figure can’t compare with blockbusters like Richard Flanagan’s Narrow Road to the Deep North (130,000-plus), but still looks pretty good compared with, say, Julia Gillard’s memoir My Story (62,000+), John Howard’s The Menzies Era (13,000+) and Bob Carr’s Diary of a Foreign Minister (11,000+).

Colebatch’s book lifted the lid on sordid behaviour of the wartime union movement, especially in the wharf, coal and transport sectors. These key workers treated the war as an opportunity to elevate their pay packets by industrial blackmail, regardless of damage to Australian troops fighting the enemy and the jungles. Additionally, watersiders were prone to plundering our military’s equipment, armaments, food and even presents sent to soldiers by their families.

As Colebatch’s critics have noted, some of his anecdotes from elderly veterans are misconstrued. On the other hand, I have come across documented anecdotes that Colebatch missed. Could one even imagine, for example, an Australian wharfie stealing emergency canned food from a lifeboat?  In his memoir Comrade Roberts (Desert Pea Press, 2006), the late Kenneth Gee QC recalls this wartime incident during his former political life as an organiser for the Trotskyist Communist League. The ship then joined a convoy travelling north and was sunk by a Japanese sub off Gladstone.

Colebatch’s critics also accuse him of cherry-picking his evidence from isolated incidents. Yet for the statistically minded, Colebatch provides tables of Australian working days lost directly to strikes during the war. These figures exclude indirect effects, such as when a metal shop halts work when a coal strike cuts off its coal. In the seven years from 1939 to the end of 1945, working days lost directly by strikes averaged 1.05 million per year.  By comparison, working days lost directly to strikes in the two years to September 2014 averaged only 106,000 a year (ABS data). Australia’s population during the war was 7.2 million. Australia’s population today is 23.5 million.

TO ORDER AUSTRALIA’S SECRET WARCLICK HERE

In other words, during the Second World War, when our population was less than a third of today’s, strikes were ten times more than the current rate. From this simple sum, Colebatch’s overall thesis is proved: Australia’s wartime experience was riddled with strikes and strikers. And as he says, all Australia’s historians to date have tiptoed around this topic.

Let’s move on from history to the recent history of Colebatch’s book. Quadrant’s Keith Windschuttle says Colebatch first approached him with a manuscript in the late 1990s. “I thought the topic was electrifying but the book needed more work. It didn’t have enough corroboration then,” Windschuttle says. “In the subsequent 15 years, Hal put a lot more work into it.

colebatch long“He came back to me with a manuscript in 2012 and it looked much better. He’d had a tough time with rejections from other potential publishers but Quadrant Books is a boutique publisher with a loyal subscriber base who I knew would like it. The topic appealed to people like me, the offspring of fathers who fought in the Second World War and who had heard anecdotes and rumours about the unions in wartime, but never the full story. My own father fought the Japanese in New Guinea, and I remember him being very angry about the unions, which I later thought was simply due to his innate conservatism.

“But my earliest childhood memories during the war and in the early post-war years are of frequent blackouts at home with my mother in the Sydney suburb of Belmore. Neighbours would say, ‘Oh, the workers at Bunnerong power station have gone out again!’ So everyone was aware something serious was going on.

“Many other returned soldiers gave their children fragments of information about union mayhem during the war, but the leftist preferences of the Australian history profession meant none of them ever examined the overall picture.

“Hal has performed an enormous public service by pulling these accounts together. Readers can now discover the terrible conditions that union strikes, delays and pilfering imposed on soldiers in the front line while they risked their lives to protect those at home.

“In my view, it shows that during the war the labour movement was collectively guilty of sedition. Labor Prime Minister Curtin knew this and, in the end, it killed him. Hal’s chapter on Curtin is convincing in showing that the labour movement’s betrayal of its own country broke its leader’s heart. ”

The book has gone virtually unreviewed, although Quadrant sent copies to all the usual media.* Windschuttle puts this down to the fact that, like people in the publishing business, mainstream literary editors tend to have pro-Labor leanings.

However, Windschuttle says publicity in two media outlets brought the book to a mass readership. Columnist Miranda Devine gave it a full-page write-up in the biggest selling newspaper in New South Wales, the Sunday Telegraph, and on Radio 2GB Alan Jones broadcast an interview with the author, giving it another boost.

The book is distributed to bookshops and online purchasers by Quadrant Books itself, out of its office in Balmain. Soon after the initial publicity in November, 2013, Windschuttle says it was fascinating to see the pattern of orders from bookshops, showing how, after the initial publicity, sales were largely driven by word-of-mouth recommendations from readers to friends and relations.

“Sitting in our office and watching orders come in from bookshops,

you’d see a shop in an outer suburb or country town which had never ordered from us before, ask for one or two copies. Then a couple of weeks later, the same shop would order five or six, then another couple of weeks later it would order twenty copies as word spread through the local community.”

Libraries are useful buyers of Australia’s Secret War but nothing exciting. Librarians seem to share the same political prejudices as book publishers and literary editors. A sampling of Victorian library clusters  (i.e. groups typically of three-to-five libraries) found 23 clusters stocking one copy of the book, two stocking two copies, and two stocking none. The biggest stock I could find was at Nedlands, Colebatch’s own suburb, with six copies.

Colebatch remarks that an air force veteran in his 90s dropped by recently and bought eight copies for his friends or their adult children.

“I got my interviews at the last minute from veterans who are now mostly infirm or dead,” Colebatch says.

Asked how he came to write the book, he says:  “As a small boy I sailed from Perth to Sydney with my mother and my grandfather Sir Frank Gibson to a fireman’s convention. We were on the old Kanimbla and on the stern was a circular platform that I guessed was the base for a four-inch gun. Many years later I was talking to a veteran officer from the Kanimbla and he remembered that platform well. He and fellow-officers mounted the gun there themselves, because the wharfies downed tools wanting danger money. That was the first germ of the story, in my mind.

“I began collecting stuff on wartime strikes as a hobby. I was very surprised to discover how widespread this industrial mayhem was. Eventually my mentor Paddy O’Brien in the politics department at the University of Western Australia urged me to do a book on it.

“I began putting ads in newspapers asking for vet’s stories, but insisting that they include their wartime serial numbers as a first check.”

Colebatch is already thinking about follow-up work on the same topic.

“A second edition of this book would include the union activities during the Korean and Vietnam wars. I’ve had some feedback about those from vets but haven’t yet begun advertising for stories. I should get on with that.”

Since the book won the Prime Minister’s prize for Australian history, Colebatch has been at loggerheads with Peter Stanley of the University of New South Wales, the fiercest critic of the book. Stanley said, among other things, that Colebatch had not cross-checked his informants’ stories against union records. Colebatch replies that unions would hardly have recorded that on such-and-such a day, their members pilfered Red Cross and family parcels destined for troops in the islands.

He did   quote a number of memoirs of unionists. And near-contemporary accounts by men like Vice-Admiral Collins, Australia’s highest-ranking naval officer) Jo Gullet, Australia’s most decorated soldier,   Charles Court (“strikes were a constant background to everything we did”) and Sir Bernard Callinan  are unlikely to be a  pack of lies, Colebatch says.

Colebatch’s current project is a biography of Victorian Premier Sir Stanley Argyle, now about half-finished. It will be his fourth biography, after those on his father, Sir Hal Colebatch, briefly a Western Australian Premier, WA mining magnate Claude de Benales, and Liberal MHR Bert Kelly.

He and his collaborator Jessica Fox (a mathematician who checks his science)   also have two full-length science fiction novels accepted by Baen Books in the US – “Time Machine Troopers” and “Counterstrike”. In the field of science fiction, Colebatch is a writer of world stature. All up, he’s written about 25 books, including eight poetry volumes, a dozen fiction and several institutional histories.

The 2015 four-day Perth Writers’ Festival has just finished, with more than 100 sessions. Despite winning the Prime Minister’s prize, Colebatch was not invited to join the 93 writers presenting there, led by the Green’s Bob Brown. In fact, despite his long history as an author, Colebatch never has been invited once to speak at his home-town writers’ festival. The only time the festival invited him to anything was four years ago, to compete with schoolchildren in an essay-writing competition. “I sent back a snooty reply that with my track record, I wasn’t really tempted,” he says.  “The university was embarrassed and promised to invite me to a grander role, but never did.”

* Rod Moran  reviewed the book in The West Australian.