An entertaining interlude

A country girl from South Australia, Norma Murdock moved to Melbourne to follow her dream of becoming a singing sensation. When she tired of the spotlight she returned to SA, but found herself following her heart to the big city once more. Now she’s Norma Spalding and a member of the Probus Club of Langwarrin. 

Norma was a very protected 19-year-old country girl, who in 1944 was happily working in the Customs Department Office in Port Pirie, South Australia.

Norma’s mother was a pianist. Friends would often gather around the piano to hear Norma’s heavenly voice and, despite her shyness, Norma eventually came out of her shell and, with encouragement from her friends, would often sing at the local dances.

The war was on.

It was important to keep spirits up so a Concert Party was formed to raise money and entertain the locals and more importantly the Air Force boys stationed in Pirie.

Norma was a soloist, singing bluesy numbers and along with other artists delighted the packed Town Hall audiences night after night.

Eventually, Norma was noticed by a producer, who encouraged her to audition for J. C. Williamson’s, hoping that she would be good enough to join the Musical Comedy chorus in Melbourne.

After a successful first audition in Adelaide, Norma’s parents gave her permission to travel
to Melbourne where accommodation in a private boarding house in Burnley was arranged. “Moving to Melbourne was scary,” Norma says. “But because the accommodation was pre-arranged and the landlady was an aunt of a friend, I always felt welcomed.”

After another audition at the theatre in Melbourne, Norma was in.

She went immediately into rehearsals for the chorus of Rio Rita with Gladys Moncrieff, John McCallum and other principals.

Norma soon found that her newfound employment was exhausting. She worked six nights a week plus two matinees.

Homesickness didn’t help but Norma loved every moment of every show in which she performed, including Rio Rita, The Merry Widow, Maid of the Mountains, Victoria and her Hussar and Rose Marie.

Performing the totem dance from Rose Marie in the heat of summer, right over the footlights and with several encores, took its toll.

Following the end of the war when peace was declared, artists were asked to perform extra matinees. “My weight was down to barely over a stone and I was utterly exhausted,” Norma explains. “It eventually forced my retirement.”

By Norma’s 21st birthday, she was home and back into office work.

Of course, she missed the wonderful company of the girls she had befriended but realised that there was one person she missed more than anyone else.

“I met Harold on his return from New Guinea where he’d been fighting,” says Norma. “He was my landlady’s son.”

Harold and Norma kept in contact upon her return to South Australia. But before long, Norma was back in Melbourne and back with Harold.

In 1947 Norma Murdock became Norma Spalding.

After spending a number of years in Colac, the couple settled back in Melbourne.

As their golfing days came to an end a few years ago, a friend recommended Probus to fill the void. Harold and Norma missed the social interactivity that golf had always provided. So, five years ago, they joined the Probus Club of Langwarrin.

Harold and Norma are now in their 66th year of married bliss.

Although Norma didn’t sing professionally again, if you’re lucky, you may just catch a tune.

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Take the lead

Two women, each lending a hand on conservation projects close to their homes, found themselves embroiled in local politics and soon became mayors. Six-time Mayor of Ryde City Council Edna Wilde OAM and former Mayor and current Woollahra Councillor Susan Wynne spoke to Jessica Goulburn about holding the title. 

Edna Wilde OAM was thrust into the political arena after taking on council to protect a local park.

“In 1970, my husband and I moved to Marsfield and built our own home to accommodate our growing family. After about 18 months, we received a letter from Ryde Council informing us that the beautiful Dunbar Park behind our house was to be turned into a tip for two years, for later development as a playing field.

We appealed to the council, unsuccessfully. So every morning at 7:30 we would stand in front of the bulldozers to prevent the workmen from entering the park. We turned to Jack Mundey of the Builder’s Labourers Union, who immediately put a ‘green ban’ on the site, preventing all union workers from working on the park.

Ryde Council went ballistic and tried everything to overturn the decision. But after months of meetings and many threats, it was the council that changed its mind. Dunbar Park became the official sporting field for the district.

By this time it was 1973 and council elections were being held the following year. The Councillors who had supported the residents in the battle asked me to stand as number four on their election ticket. The plan wasn’t for me to get into council; they needed, and I quote, ‘a woman, someone well known in the area, and a person who attended church’.

As I fitted the criteria, I was the chosen person. Being number four on the ticket, I thought I had no chance of being elected. Well, I was wrong as all four candidates were elected. Here I was, a simple primary school teacher, with no interest in politics or being in council, thrust into the mix.

My family and friends thought it was great having a female voice on council as it really was a ‘man’s world’.

In January 1977, my world fell apart when my husband had a fatal heart attack. He had shown no signs of ill health. I considered getting out of politics but I realised that my husband was the one who had pushed me into it.

In 1980, I became Ryde Council’s first female mayor. To this day, I’m still the only female mayor that Ryde Council has had. Although I suffered no discrimination, I think a female mayor was hard for some to accept. It had never happened before; it was something new.

I’ve had opportunities to meet some very famous people – Mother Teresa for instance. She came to Ryde and we gave her a civic reception. I can say I met a saint in my lifetime. It was a very humbling experience.

Other highlights have been the many awards and medals I have received over the years as recognition of my service, including the Order of Australia Medal in 2000.

Having had the honour of holding the mayoral role on six separate occasions, in 2008 I decided to retire from council after 34 years of service.

When Gladesville Rotary Club was setting up a Probus Club, I was invited to be an inaugural member. I had never been involved in something that was purely social. It was a different approach to life. But little did I know! Straight away I was looking for the guest speakers and the next time I was doing the outings. Nothing stays still. At the moment, I’m just enjoying it.”

Councillor Susan Wynne worked in marketing, advertising and fashion before becoming Mayor of Woollahra Council.

“I got involved with the Watson’s Bay Tea Gardens when it looked like they were going to lose their lease. We were working with the local Councillors and I was really interested in the process. In 2008 I was elected as a Vaucluse Ward Councillor. Then in 2011 my peers elected me as mayor. That was probably my biggest achievement.

What I love most is that I get to see all the amazing community-minded people. I’ve always had the belief that one of council’s biggest roles is to create a sense of community. We should put money into parks, playgrounds, libraries and social events to foster that spirit.

A lot has happened during my time on council. We’ve received more funding for suicide prevention, we’ve upgraded parks and sportsgrounds, and I’m able to raise awareness for charities like White Ribbon Day and The Black Dog Institute.

I think women in politics have to work harder to get taken seriously, and get comments about their clothing and the way they look. [Having women on council] has its benefits, because we take a different approach.

It’s tough juggling my career with my family. I have two daughters and they love it, they come to a lot of the activities. I think it’s a great way to teach my daughters about working and giving back to the community. That’s such an important message for me. It’s really hard, it’s relentless, but you are giving something back.

It is a real honour to be in council. We’re here for the good of the community. Leaving the agendas, egos and politics at the door and working together, we’ll get a good result.”

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Water, water everywhere

When floods and other disasters threaten the clean water supply in the Asia Pacific region, a network of Rotarians springs into action to supply potable water. Jessica Goulburn spoke to Aquabox Project Chairman Ian Thomas about the project’s recent work. 

Here in Australia, clean drinking water is often taken for granted, but when floods, bush fires and earthquakes hit, some people aren’t so lucky.

In 1999, the Rotary Club of Eltham set up Aquabox Australia. Based on a similar program in
the United Kingdom, the project provides water purification and humanitarian aid in disaster areas with two products: the Aquabox 30 and the Aquabox Gold.

The Aquabox 30 is an 80-litre box containing everything necessary to purify up to approximately 30,000 litres of water. The Aquabox Gold has a slightly lower capacity for water purification but contains items such as blankets, tarpaulins, cooking and eating utensils, hardware, and mosquito nets. The project’s aim is to provide healthy and safe drinking water to help prevent waterborne disease.

Chairman of the Aquabox Project Ian Thomas first became involved with Rotary in the 1980s. “I was introduced to Rotary through Group Study Exchange,” he recalls. “It’s a scholarship- type award that sees six young business people travel to a Rotary district overseas and have a look at businesses.” He joined the organisation five years later.

Early days

Aquabox Australia has come a long way since its launch, with the box now more closely tailored to typical needs of disaster areas in the Asia Pacific.

“The first model that we used was the UK model, getting donations of used clothing and filling the boxes up with that,” says Ian. “Well, our region is different to the UK of course, so while that worked, it didn’t work very well. We decided that if we the boxes to an area about two were to continue to do it, we would revamp the whole thing.”

When it comes to the nitty gritty, the whole club is on board. “When we need to do something like
pack boxes, then all of the club members help,” Ian says.

Since 2009, the Rotary Club of Eltham has sent more than 1100 Aquaboxes – approximately 5.2 million litres of clean water – to disaster areas including Fiji, Samoa, Haiti, The Philippines and Pakistan. On home soil, the project has also helped victims of the bushfires in Victoria whose tank water was polluted by ash.

The project in action

Last year, Ian was informed of flooding in Cambodia and the club members swung into action. “One of our members was in Cambodia when the President of the Rotary Club of Phnom Penh sent a message around to people on his mailing list asking for assistance to get some gear up to the flood victims,” Ian says.

The message got to Rotary Club of Eltham, and Ian got in touch. “I said ‘This is what we’ve got. How can we help?’” Ian says.

A shipment of boxes was sent as soon as possible, with Ian and another Rotarian from Eltham accompanying it.

“It was good to see it first hand,” Ian says. “We distributed most of the boxes to an area about two hours north of Phnom Penh where the floods hit, and, almost a year later, received word that some of the boxes were still in use.”

More recently, the Aquabox project has assisted flood victims in Manila. After a call for help from the Rotary Club of Loyola Heights, the team sent 90 boxes – all they had available – within 10 days.


The team has started working on the next step: stocking boxes closer to areas prone to disaster. It’s a pre-emptive strike by the Aquabox project, aimed at avoiding delays of up to a few weeks getting the boxes on the ground in disaster areas.

“There’s about a 99 per cent chance that floods are going to be repeated in Phnom Penh or in Cambodia, so we have 120 boxes up there which can be sent out in about 48 hours,” Ian says.

The best advice Ian gives others wanting to launch humanitarian projects is to plan. “Once you start there’s a huge commitment. It’s certainly worthwhile but one of the hardest things is to secure a regular income of donations. Plus, you need commitment from other team members.”

The Aquabox project just keeps growing. As people in disaster-prone areas begin to catch on to what the Rotary Club of Eltham is doing, the requests pour in. With no shortage of disasters around the world, particularly in the Pacific, Ian says there’s always demand.

“We’re pretty happy and proud of the project, it certainly keeps us busy. We have earthquakes, volcanic activity and, of course, the monsoon season is always flooding somebody out.”

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Puppy love

How do you handle the change of lifestyle heading into retirement? Filling your days with loving a little furry friend could help! Jessica Goulburn caught up with animal lovers and experts to get the lowdown on how to find the perfect pet. 

Companionship. Loyalty. Unconditional love. Most people who own a pet will list these as three of the main reasons for having an animal. Animals do not judge, they don’t expect anything but food, water and love, and they make their owners feel needed. A pet can also provide a range of health benefits.

With 33 million pets registered in Australia, it’s clear that animals have a significant impact on our

lives. According to the Australian Companion Animal Council (ACAC), of Australia’s eight million households, 2.9 million or 36 per cent, include
a dog, 1.8 million house a cat, and there are approximately 18.4 million fish, just over eight million birds and over one million other pets including horses, guinea pigs and rabbits.

Healthy pets, healthy lives

Research has shown that there is a direct relationship between owning
a pet and improved overall health, which can be exceptionally beneficial to people as they get older. Experts believe that the impact companion animals have on owners’ health is largely the result of lower stress levels, meaning the impact or incidence of any condition that is caused or exacerbated by high stress levels could be lowered by pet ownership.

In the early 1980s, a study found that pet owners were less likely to die in the 12 months following a heart attack than non-pet owners. This was tested again in the 90s, finding the initial results accurate.

The act of petting a dog or a cat has a calming effect. Dr Peter Higgins, veterinarian and Dogs NSW spokesperson, was involved in a study that looked at how pets can help their owners medically, as well as help people in hospital recovering from surgery or illness, and people in nursing homes.

“Petting a dog can decrease your blood pressure quite significantly,” Dr Higgins says. “The study also found that people had an increased zest for life after they had spent time with a dog.”

A 1992 study revealed that pet owners had lower levels of risk factors for heart disease, including lower blood pressure and lower cholesterol, while an English study has also shown that minor illnesses and complaints were reduced in people who owned pets, and that owners of dogs were more physically active.

Pros and cons

There are definite positives of owning a pet, however, there are other things to consider when deciding whether a pet is the right addition to your life.

If you travel a lot, you must consider how your pet will cope in your absence or, if it is to accompany you, how it will cope with being away from home. “There are a number
of pet-friendly hotels now around Australia,” Dr Higgins says, “so even if you do go on a trip, in some cases you can take your dog or pet with you.” Either way, you need to assess the extra costs you may incur.

There is also the daily commitment you have to make to a pet, including being home to feed it, groom it and entertain it. Falling in love with a gorgeous pet is one thing committing to its needs is what is really important.

So, which pet?

As long as the pet you choose interests you, the therapeutic benefit is there. However, it is important that the pet you have selected fits your personality, lifestyle and living space.

“If you’re active, then by all means get an active dog,” says Dr Higgins. “Take it out for a run with you. But if you’re not active, there are over 200 breeds of dog in Australia, and then there are cats too, so there are plenty of options.” If you choose a pet that suits your lifestyle you’re not going to go wrong.

Most pets, especially dogs, need structure in their day and space to spread out and play. However, don’t be deterred just because you live in a small space or a rental property. Often, it is not the size of the backyard or the apartment that matters, it is finding the right pet – dogs and cats successfully live in highly urbanised areas – and making sure you care for and manage it well in the space that you have.

“If you’re living in a unit, you could get a small dog, a cat or a budgie,” Dr Higgins advises.

There are also certain expenses that accompany a pet and the initial purchase is probably going to be the least amount of money you pay.

“The cost of a pet is ongoing for its entire life, so you need to be able to factor that in. You have to get pet food, there’s medical attention with veterinarians, bedding, there’s ongoing care,” Dr Higgins says. You need to be able to care for your pet financially for an extended period of time.

Another consideration is how much time you have to commit to your pet. A dog, for example, requires lots of attention and activity. You need to be there to feed your dog, walk it frequently and keep it entertained. A cat, on the other hand, is usually quite content to keep itself amused. If you don’t have much time to spare, you may also want to consider the bird, reptile or fish option. These pets provide companionship, just in a different way. They are mostly dependent on you for their livelihood and they need your love and care.

Bringing your pet home

There are so many places to find a pet that it can be hard to know where to start. Buying a dog or cat from a reputable, registered breeder gives you the opportunity to visit the facility and gather all relevant information including where your pet comes from and what the future holds.

“You know the size [a purebred animal] is going to become, you know its temperament, you know how hairy it’s going to be and how much it’s going to eat,” Dr Higgins says.

Puppy mills or puppy farms are not the things of gruesome fairytales; they do exist, and they represent both horrible lives for the animals kept to breed and questionable – at best – health standards of the puppies. Without visiting the actual breeder of a dog, you cannot know whether they are breeding loved and health-tested pets or caged animals.

Adopting a dog or cat from a shelter gives it a second chance at life. Many animals end up at shelters because their owners can no longer care for them, or they are lost, injured and abandoned. The RSPCA receives more than 150,000 animals every year and aims to rehabilitate and rehome each one.

On top of that enormous number are plenty of animals with other rescue organisations such as Monika’s Rescue – one of Australia’s earliest and best known no-kill shelters – Pet Rescue, Australian Working Dog Rescue, and a wide range of breed-specific rescue programs run by breeders and breed clubs.

This means that even prospective dog owners who want a purebred can find their perfect match and give a home to a grateful furry friend.

While breed-specific rescue organisations will be able to provide the pedigree details of some surrendered dogs, when it comes to adopting a pet from a shelter, you will usually not have all health records of the animal available to you. It is also possible that, even though your new pet may have undergone health and temperament checks, you will never know exactly what breed the animal is or whether it is at risk of genetic conditions.

If this is a risk you are willing to take, adopting an animal from a shelter is a win-win situation. You give the animal a much needed home, while the animal repays you with unconditional love and devoted affection.

Recording the grand stories

An oral history project initiated by Rotary Past District Governor Patrick Roberts has spread far and wide, with 60 Rotarians now recording important stories for posterity. By Jessica Goulburn

Influenced by a strong desire to hear the voices of his ancestors, past district governor, Patrick Roberts initiated Grand Stories, a project to record oral histories and memories of community leaders
and relatives.

Of specific interest to Patrick was hearing of the challenges and successes of his grandparents or great- grandparents and putting voices to the pictures he had seen, in order to learn more about his family history.

Grand Stories has since expanded to include Rotary district governors, charter members of Rotary clubs and other people who have interesting and unique stories to tell. Project leaders now identify people in the community who have lived through challenging times, significant events or funny experiences, and record their stories.

Sue Hayward is the chairman of the Grand Stories committee. She has been involved from the start, learning oral recording techniques in order to pass this education on to fellow Rotarians.

“It’s a privilege to record a person’s story in their own words, for posterity,” she says. This allows their stories and their memories to stand the test of time.

The Grand Stories committee, through Rotary District 9570, ran workshops in 2010 and 2011 with Rotarians and other interested people.

Approximately 60 Rotarians have been trained to use the techniques identified when recording and transcribing the oral history of key community people, relatives and friends.

The recordings are given to the subject to be kept as part of their family history for future generations.

The committee is now looking at ways to expand the project’s reach.

“We would like to see those stories put onto CDs and then placed in local libraries where they could be accessed by the general community,” says Sue. “And we are hoping that, down the track, we might possibly be able to place these archives onto the Rotary International site for worldwide access.”

Plenty of people have unique and extraordinary stories to tell. The aim of Grand Stories is to ensure these are never lost.

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Worth its weight in trout

Eighteen months since their first excursion, members of the Bait Wasters are totally hooked on their little group, ‘Skipper John’ tells Jessica Goulburn. 

“Good fishermen fish in any weather” says Skipper John, so come rain, hail or shine, the Bait Wasters Fishing Club heads out every month for a relaxing spot of fishing.

The Bait Wasters of the Probus Club of Ballarat South started some 18 months ago, and now around a dozen members on average attend each fishing trip. “We reached 28 at one outing,” John says. “It depends where we go.” Some outings are mornings, some are an all day adventure, but members agree, no matter where the fishing group meets, it’s sure to be great fun.

With females averaging at least half of the attendees, John recalls watching some of the less experienced ladies struggle to put bait on their hooks. The women actually catch the fish though. “I’m stoked, really happy about it,” says John. “I don’t get to fish with a lot of ladies and there are a lot of keen ones. And they enjoy it!”

John has approximately 60 years of fishing experience under his belt and relishes the opportunity to guide fellow Probus members. “A lot of these people haven’t fished before. They just need a little bit of guidance and I’ve been lucky enough to give them some,” John explains.

Lucky too with the weather. John equates a fisherman to a golfer – able to continue in any form of weather. He, however, has arranged excellent weather for all outings thus far.

After the catch (when they catch) the group fires up the hot smoker and prepares a feed. With the ladies joining in on the fun, John says the men often request sweets for morning or afternoon tea to finish off their meal. “One of the chaps gives one of the ladies orders,” he says. “He tells her: ‘If you’re coming fishing with us, don’t forget to bring a slice’.”

The end of the long drought has brought the fishing opportunities closer to members, with water filling the local lake and clearing the weeds. The Probus Club of Ballarat South was one of the first groups to take advantage of the large fish population now established in Lake Wendouree, and Bait Wasters’ very own ‘Gilligan’, otherwise known as Kelvin, was the first to catch a fish in the newly filled lake. It means that fishing adventures are a lot closer to home, and much easier to come by, right in the heart of Ballarat.

While John initially campaigned for the fishing group to be named Fish Feeders, he now claims that Bait Wasters is far more fitting. The theory is that if there’s no catch, the bait has been wasted and, according to the Skipper, this happens often.

It has been said that fishing is not a matter of life or death, it is much more serious than that. For the enthusiastic Bait Wasters, a day feeding fish is a relaxing adventure with humour, good company and some good grub to wrap up the day.

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Keep on trucking

One of NBN Co’s five demonstrators, Graham Soawyer travels the country with the Discovery Truck, helping Australians understand the National Broadband Network. He told Jessica Goulburn about the truck, the NBN and his adventures.

“As a National Broadband Network (NBN) demonstrator, I travel around Australia in the Discovery Truck showing people what the NBN will eventually allow them to do online.

The NBN is the biggest infrastructure project the nation has ever undertaken. It will replace the copper telecommunications networks, which were started over 60 years ago, over a ten-year period and will give everyone, no matter where you are located, the opportunity to have an online presence.

The Discovery Truck, with expanders on each side, is close to double the size of the inside of a semi-trailer. We have a large screen wall and three additional screens on the inside. We’ve had more than 6000 people through the truck. Overwhelmingly, the feedback is positive, although some are perplexed when it comes to the technological side of things.

We show people what high definition videoconferencing is like and I’m finding a lot of mature-aged people now are using Skype. It’s the old story: you wonder what your kids or grandkids are doing in New York or London. The ability to see them and talk to them in real time, that’s the tip of the iceberg. With the NBN, no matter where you are in Australia, you will have that capability.

We also run a range of videos in areas of health, business and education. We have games such as fruit ninja and the new dance mat, which actually has a medical application. The NBN will also allow you to communicate with your doctor online.

My role is talking to people on a one-on-one basis. I find that if people come into the truck a little confused, by the time they leave, they have a pretty good understanding of how the network will make their lives easier.

There are three questions we get everyday: when, how much and what technology? The mature age groups are mostly concerned about cost. I’m from rural Victoria and it’s really nice to be able to go out and talk to people and say: “Look, it doesn’t matter where you are, you’ll have access to the same service at the same price as someone in the middle of Sydney or Melbourne.” That’s a pretty special message to be able to deliver.

Being able to talk to people and educate people on how the NBN works, and its benefits, is a very valuable opportunity.”

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