75th Anniversary – Snapshots from our founding years.

With our milestone birthday in just three months, Tony Fawcett takes a nostalgic look back to the beginnings of Lions Australia

Know what the initials L- I- O-N-S stand for?

Today Lions stands for community service but back when the organisation was being launched in Australia, it was explained to potential members that L stood for Liberty, I for Intelligence and O-N-S for Our Nation’s Safety.

Apex rebuff leads to Lions

Lions Australia might not have happened but for William “Bill” R. Tresise’s unhappiness that, nearing 40, he would according to rules soon need to retire as the 11th National President of Apex.

He was even unhappier when his attempts to form a senior Apex movement were rebuffed.

Fortuitously, a chance 1946 meeting with a soon-to-be International President of Lions led him to a meeting with the Secretary-General and Founder of the Lions Association, Melvin Jones, in Chicago.

In quick time he found himself appointed a provisional District Governor, with power to form Lions clubs in Australia.

WHERE IT ALL BEGAN: The year was 1947 and with the encouragement of far-sighted William “Bill” R Tresise locals flocked to a Lismore, NSW hotel for the chartering of Australia’s first Lions club.

The next year Bill, the owner of a plaster and hardware business, formed a club in his home town Lismore, followed by Murwillumbah (1948).

His aim was to have a Lions club in every town with a population of 3000-plus.

By 1976 there were 1,000 clubs.

Australia was the 18th country to enter the International Association of Lions Clubs.

Lions not liars!

When Sydney lawyer Bill Berge Phillips and friend Charles Copeland heard about the International Lions movement from local founder Bill Tresise, they determined to form a club in their home city.

Their big problem early on was getting members because few in 1952 Sydney had even heard of Lions – and it didn’t help that on sighting Bill’s Lions badge many enquired what the “Liars Club” was all about.

Furore over Lions birthplace fountain

A decision to demolish a fountain commemorating Lismore as the 1947 birthplace of Lions Australia created a public furore several years ago.

Constructed 20 years after Bill Tresise founded the first Australian Lions club, the fountain had fallen into disrepair and was considered by some as not worth saving … that’s until local Lions and others got involved.

Sensing the mood of the moment, the local council quickly moved into action, working with Lions to raise funds for restoration.

The following year the revamped fountain was unveiled, appropriately on the 70th anniversary of Lions Australia, with the addition of colourful mosaics telling a visual history of the organisation.

Enthused the local mayor: “The new artwork is a beautiful tribute to the rich history of Lions in Australia and we are very excited to be able to unveil it to the general public.”

Fittingly the unveiling was followed by a sausage sizzle.

 Luscious language

While the good deeds of Australian Lions have never been doubted, it’s fascinating to look back at how the language has changed since early Lions gatherings.

At the first National Convention, staged in Coolangatta in 1953, for instance, no-one reportedly raised an eyebrow when it was announced to all that Australians had much to be appreciative of, including “the lovely luscious ladies which graced its shore”.

Likely this choice of adjective was then not considered politically incorrect, given the word “male” would not be dropped as a condition of Lions membership for another 34 years.

Stickler for getting it right

DRIVING FORCE: Whether grammar or starting new clubs, Lions Australia founder Bill Tresise was a stickler for getting it right.

Australian Lions today owe much to local founder Bill Tresise for his attention to detail. As a perfectionist dedicated to personal development, he ensured the organisation’s launch ran along strict professional lines.

These demanding goals even extended to his family. As one of his sons, the late Max Tresise, would later reveal, his father disapproved of poor grammar and would have offenders among his young family repeat something until it could be recited word perfectly.

“We were encouraged to learn Rudyard Kipling’s poem entitled ‘If ’, even though it took months to memorise,” recalled Max. “We had to be word perfect before Wally and I, aged about 14 and 12 years of age, received our generous reward of 10 shillings each.”

Lion to the rescue

Early clubs were quick to realise the value of the Lions name. When Australia’s second Lions club, Murwillumbah in north-east NSW, decided it needed to act after the disastrous 1954 floods claimed an estimated 30 lives in the region, it commissioned a wooden rescue boat and named it the Lion.

Just 15 days after its launch, the Lion, which cost 745 pounds, was in action evacuating flood-bound people from low lying areas of South Murwillumbah.

Crews worked into the night on that mission of mercy, which won wide local praise.

Not even its sinking after being holed by a submerged fence post could stop the Lion’s ongoing rescues in the flood-prone region. It was quickly repaired by local company C Hawkins and Son that had built it and returned to service.

Heartbreak behind Lions mission of mercy

He might be a reluctant hero but Need for Feed founder Graham Cockerell takes pride in the $30 million hay bail-out for struggling Aussie farmers. Tony Fawcett reports.

Graham Cockerell knows well the heartbreak that can affect Australian farming families.

As an 11-year-old, PDG Graham, founder of Lions-based Need for Feed which in 15 years has delivered $30 million worth of hay to ailing farmers, suffered the loss of his father to farm-related suicide.

The memory and sadness of that event, which forced the selling of the family farm, has never left him.

Looking back on Need for Feed’s phenomenal record in helping drought, fire and flood affected farmers, Graham confirms his father’s death was a catalyst in the project’s 2006 founding.

It was around the 40th anniversary of his father’s death that Graham got involved. “It was the middle of the Millennium Drought and in Victoria, “ he recalls, “we had drought and fires at the same time and there were media reports that three farmers per week were taking their own lives. That all came home to me and I was in a position to be able to help somebody, which I did.”

First off, he delivered a load of his own hay to bushfire-ravaged Cowwarr in Victoria’s Gippsland. “That was going to be all there was to it, but it’s the old story … when I saw the enormity of the problem I felt I had to do something,” he says. “So we rounded up those we thought could help and the starting point was my own (Pakenham) Lions Club.

Before Need for Feed’s launch, Graham was unable to even talk about his father’s suicide. “I just wasn’t able to have a conversation about it,” he admits.

He first publicly revealed details when interviewed on Need for Feed by former Melbourne ABC radio presenter Jon Faine. “I had to go home and tell my grown-up daughters about how my father, their grandfather, died – I hadn’t discussed it with anybody before. But now I’m able to talk to others about it, and we feel that what we are doing is really making a difference.”

Like so many of today’s ailing farmers, Graham says his dad’s suicide was not due to him being a bad farmer. Through no fault of his own he was simply faced with hurdles he felt he could not overcome.

“There are a lot of good farmers out there, and I suppose some bad ones too,” says Graham. “But even the good ones get caught up in events that go for way longer than expected, whether a one-in-100-year drought or the latest floods on the NSW mid-north coast.”

ON THE ROAD: In 15 years Need for Feed convoys have delivered approximately $30 million worth of hay to ailing farmers.

Although reluctantly in the Need for Feed spotlight and ever anxious to deflect praise to his colleagues, Graham takes pride in the project having donated about 5,000 truck loads of hay or 180,000-200,000 bales, the equivalent of about $30 million, in 15 years.

Often a delivery has meant the difference between a farmer walking off the land and not.

Need for Feed has few problems finding volunteers. “It is getting bigger but it’s getting easier to manage in that we’ve got more people helping,” says Graham.

“Once most people try it they enjoy it and they’re hooked and keep coming back to help.”

Two-thirds of volunteers are Victorians, yet now many are based on the NSW mid-north and central coasts with hay runs in nearly all states. Just over half the volunteers are female.

In March the operation had grown so much a specialist Lions club was formed to relieve the Pakenham club. Regular volunteers were approached to become founding members of the Lions Club of Victoria Need for Feed, and of the 30 approached 29 happily joined.

Today Need for Feed is the only fulltime rural aid group among the big five Australian farm charities run totally by volunteers.

News of its efforts has spread wide, with donations from as far away as the US and UK, with 8,000 UK pounds recently donated by young Isle of Mann farmers, to be split between Need for Feed and St Vincent de Paul for bushfire relief.

Now a registered charity with Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) status, it provides corporates with a tax deduction when they donate.

Recent activities have been concentrated on NSW flood areas, with a run on average every month.

The project’s biggest run to date involved 90 trucks from Dubbo to as far as the Hunter Valley and the centre-west.

Along with hay, Need for Feed donates care packs and food hampers, including food for our canine mates (every farm has at least one dog!)

At 66, Graham, who runs a garage and spray-painting business with his partner and Need for Feed secretary Claire Johnston, acknowledges he has “probably spent too much time helping others and not enough building up a bank account” – but he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Retirement, he says, will have to wait.

 

To volunteer/donate to Need for Feed, visit www.needforfeed.org

Story by Tony Fawcett.
Feature Image –
FARMERS’ SAVIOUR: Need for Feed founder Graham Cockerell … his farmer father’s suicide was a catalyst in a Lions life devoted to others. Picture courtesy Andy Rogers & The Weekly Times

Yarrawonga Lions sew over 40,000 turbans for cancer patients

The Yarrawonga Lions Club in Victoria meet every Tuesday to sew, pack and dispatch turbans for cancer patients who have lost their hair due to chemotherapy.

Since the Club began the project in 2015, they have made over 40,000 turbans which have been distributed to oncology units all over Australia, and some overseas.

The project was founded by Club member, Debbie Van Corler, a cancer survivor herself. The club affectionately refers to Debbie as the ‘Turban Mum’.

Club President Joan Tufvesson says “The group is dedicated and set a very high standard as the recipients, who are going through a dark stage of their lives, deserve the best. Although their task has a serious element to it, this is not reflected in the ambiance of the room on Tuesdays, where there is lots of laughter and witty banter that makes the day a joy for all that attend.”

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the Turban Angels have utilised their sewing skills to make face masks as another fundraising means for the turban project.

Find out more about the Made With Love Free Chemotherapy Turbans.

 

Life after Leos

As a year year 12 student, Townsville’s Hannah Bellwood took off the 2007-08 Leo of the Year title. Thirteen years later Hannah MD, now Brisbane-based, married and soon to become a fully fledged anaesthetist, recalls her win and recounts how it helped change her life.

It was life-changing in a way I can’t even describe. Even just being involved in Leos was life-changing. What I really learnt and loved was the capacity to communicate with people from all walks of life, meeting people and learning what their common goals are. Helping people basically underpins Lions.

What do recall of your 2007-2008 win?

I’m one of those people with quite a good memory for these things. My topic was Opportunity Knocks and it was about seizing opportunities, and there were so many of those that came in my time with Leos and Lions. In Leos, I had so many opportunities to do cool and exciting things, contribute to people. It was at the International Convention Centre in Sydney. I can’t remember how many hundred people I spoke in front of but I was in grade 12 at the time and it was a really big deal, presenting to so many distinguished people. Lions come from all different walks of life so it was an overwhelming feeling. And I was lucky to win. I was nervous but I had been doing a lot of speech and drama in my schooling up until that point, and there was also that little bit of excitement. I do like being on the stage and putting on a bit of a performance in some ways, but regardless of the outcome I was just so excited to be in Sydney. I was in high school at the time so the idea of going on a trip by myself with my friends … it was going to be great regardless.

Did your win change your life in any way?

It was life-changing in a way I can’t even describe. Even just being involved in Leos was life-changing. What I really learnt and loved was the capacity to communicate with people from all walks of life, meeting people and learning what their common goals are. Helping people basically underpins Lions. And I then went on to a career in medicine, so the things I learnt through Leos and Lions basically have extrapolated to my career.

So did medicine run in your family?

There were no doctors in my family. It was a combination of things like Leos and Lions and my schooling, and I quite enjoyed science. Leos and Lions made me realise I wanted a career that involved helping people and learning what people experience in their lives. You can’t underestimate what difference you make through altruism, doing something for your fellow man. My way of combining that and science was to do something in healthcare. I decided to aim high with medicine. It all just worked out and I loved it and I got the marks and I managed to get through.

You have gained many honours, from graduating from medicine/surgery with an Academic Medal and as Class Valedictorian to being named the Australian Medical Association Queensland’s junior medical officer and medical student of the year. What do you consider your greatest achievement over those 13 years?

 It’s going to sound very cheesy but I think my greatest achievement if anything is marrying my husband, who used to be a Leo as well. All the career stuff aside, unless you’re got someone to share your life with, where it’s all fun, none of that other stuff matters much. There’s a lot of study in medicine and lots of exams. I just finished my final exam last year, and it’s a bit of an existential moment. After 13 years on the hamster wheel of specialty training you realise you never have to do another exam if you don’t have to. So that was pretty special.

What made you turn to anaesthetics?

I enjoyed it as a medical student and my part-time job through medical school was working in a pharmacy. Again, I liked being around people and I quite enjoyed pharmacology and medications … and also stickers – yes, I’m one of those Office Works sort of people. Anaesthetics is kind of an unknown specialty to a lot of the general public. (As anaesthetists) we really have finessed procedural skills, we’re experts in resuscitation.  We’re very much in control of everyone’s physiology when they’re asleep and we have to keep them very safe. It’s a vulnerable time for patients and I really like being put in a position of trust and compassion, that you are there to take care of their life right there in that moment. People forget that the surgery couldn’t happen without us.

What will you do when you’re fully qualified?

That’s a good question. Once I’ve finished my training it’s just about finding, not my forever job, but just a fulltime specialist appointment. My intention is to stay in Brisbane because Peter (Hodgson), my husband, has become a partner of his company down here. He’s a partner of a financial and accounting firm and is a financial planner himself.

I know you were both members of Twin Cities Leo Club in Townsville, but had you and Peter known one another for long before marrying?

Yeah, we met in 2010, the year he joined Leos. Everyone just thought he joined the club because he liked me but he ended up doing our most successful club project ever. And then we got married in 2016, six years later. And that was four years ago.

Was that project Sail4Palsy?

Yeah. At that time our club had about 20 members and Peter’s sister has got cerebral palsy, so it was a project close to his heart. It was just phenomenal that such a group of young people could manage to rally all Townsville’s community to make exceptional donations, put together this project. Peter sailed his little catamaran, which is only about 14-foot long, from Townsville to Cairns in peak summer cyclone season. It managed to raise $15,000, quite a lot for a bunch of uni students. To this day we very much put that achievement up on the shelf. Like we can’t believe we did that. We’ll never top it.

What do you think about young people becoming involved in quests like Leo of the Year? Good for them?

Absolutely, and without a doubt I’d highly recommend joining Leos. It changed my life in that it’s one of those unique opportunities you get to actually do some sort of community service. It’s not just the fundraising. It puts young people in a position of meeting others they wouldn’t usually, and learning how to communicate and work in teams. I had some amazing opportunities to travel as a result of it. Like public speaking, learning your own skills and having the opportunity to build on those sort of things. I hope Leos continues its success for years to come.

Older Lions often say ‘we’re not attracting enough young people. We don’t know how to attract them, they’re not interested’. Any suggestions from your experience? Things that could be done better?

It’s a busy, busy world and I think in some ways people put off joining Lions and Leos because they don’t have the time for them. Any strategies that make things as time-efficient as possible, or that allow people to contribute in any other ways they can, will make it easier. One of the silver linings to come out of Covid is the increased use of technology. If Lions meetings have the capacity to be run with technologies like Zoom, that will probably allow more people, especially those with work and family commitments, to be involved.

At the same time, whilst it’s hard to always attract younger members, the success of Lions has been built a lot on people at a certain time in their lives and their careers. Don’t stress. I think young people will get to that point in their lives too, where Lions is going to offer them what they want. It’s something that applies to me. I feel I have come full circle and Lions is something that I will come back to, definitely.

Story originally by Tony Fawcett. 

Lion Karen Feeds the Multitude

When Covid-19 first started spreading in Australia, Western Australian nurse Karen Molcher feared the worst. Karen, a nurse for much of her life, had seen one of her own sisters in the UK come down with a suspected case, and being English-born she had watched in horror as the disease wreaked havoc across that nation.  

“I was watching all that happened there and I knew how bad it was,” she says. “In the Iittle hospital near where my sisters lived, they had more deaths in one day than we then had in the whole of Australia.”  

A 17-year Lion with the Gosnells club, Karen was working casual shifts at the local Armadale hospital but desperately wanted to do more. “It was crazy,” she says. “We were putting doors on areas that didn’t have doors, doing PPE training, looking at process and everything. I was sitting at home thinking ‘I just want to be at work helping’. I felt guilty because at that time I was probably working 20 hours a week. Then wards started to close because they stopped elective surgery, so they were bringing staff into emergency.”  

That’s when Karen, then secretary of Gosnells Lions Club, saw her chance. She had noticed doctors and nurses around her were skipping meals, too busy to eat during shifts and too tired to eat healthily away from work. “Our doctors work rotating shifts – afternoons, mornings and nights – and our cafe wasn’t as operational,” explains Karen.  

“The only thing they had food-wise at the hospital was one loaf of bread and some margarine. As I sat there one day watching a young doctor, I said ‘you can’t eat just that’. ‘I haven’t got time,’ he replied.”  

After speaking to her husband, PDG Dave Molcher, Karen, a keen cook (she calls herself “a feeder” because of her need to feed others), approached hospital management to cook up meals herself for staff. As she had extensive training in quality and infection control, it agreed.  

Turning their kitchen into a process line and with Dave as chief kitchen hand, Karen spent her days off preparing vast quantities of everything from barbecue sausages and bean casserole and minestrone soup to chilli con carne. Meals were frozen and, using a freezer from their caravan, were stockpiled at the hospital so staff could help themselves. A menu of the frozen ready-to-eat dishes was displayed daily to make choosing easier.  

Instantly staff, many of them single and living alone, took to the service. With the support of nurse manager Carmen Callaghan, the initiative grew in popularity. In nine weeks and despite being called into the hospital’s Covid clinic to work extra shifts, Karen produced a phenomenal 550 meals to feed her work stressed colleagues.  

When Karen and Dave’s food bills started mounting, they approached fellow Gosnells Lions for help.  

A Zoom meeting quickly decided the club was in – although because of health and safety requirements it was purely on a monetary basis. Initially a budget of $500 was discussed but rejected, the club preferring to tip in “whatever is needed”.  

Along with her cooking project, at the same time Karen found herself at the centre of a Gosnells Lions Club hat-making initiative. With her time taken up working hospital shifts or cooking meals, she began suffering “bad Covid hair”.

“I was going into the Covid Clinic and my hair was getting so washed out because when we left work we were showering each time. “So I went to one of the girls, Lion Kath Beech, and asked ‘can you make me one of these scrub hats if I send you a pattern?’.” Soon other hospital staff were seeking colourful scrub hats just like Karen’s. “I can’t sew to save my life but Kath and Sandra Waters and friends of the club collaborated together to sew and produce enough hats for healthcare workers at the Armadale Hospital. They ended up making 100 of them. “Kath had her quilting friends helping her and a couple of non-Lions helped. We involved the public because they just wanted to do things. The hats brightened us all up at a difficult time and everyone had so much fun.” 

A piece of cake…

With a new baker, the traditional Lions Christmas Cake is currently being baked and shipped by the hundreds of thousands to eager customers around the country.

Tony Fawcett drops in on the cake bake.

It’s raised more than $60 million for worthy causes, been savored by our troops in Afghanistan and other war zones and become an icon for generations of Australians. For hundreds of thousands it’s a festive must. It is the Lions Traditional Christmas Cake.

Biting into a luscious, moist slice is an occasion to be savored. Yet despite it phenomenal fundraising record, the cake might never have been but for some early Australian Lions who played a hunch. It’s all part of the cake’s colourful history.

First released in 1965, clubs are annually flooded with requests for deliveries of the cake, and some of those requests are far from ordinary. Overseas emails regularly ask that cakes be delivered to loved ones around Australia, and many Australians send cakes to friends and family overseas.

Saving sight

While the cake largely sells itself, in its half century-plus history Lions have excelled at promoting the project in many inventive ways. In 1992 a TV advert queried, “Did you know that eating a Christmas cake can prevent blindness”, a clever reference to Lions’ SAVE SIGHT initiative. There have been Lions Christmas Cake decorating contests and cakes are regularly served to dignitaries at official functions, making it as synonymous with Lions as the Bunnings sausage sizzle.

Biggest bake names in Australia

While the cake’s traditional recipe has barely changed over the years, it has been produced by the biggest names in Australian baking history, brands such as Big Sister, Arnott’s and Top Taste. A year ago when Top Taste, the cake’s baker for 35 years, announced it was going out of business some alarmist sections of the media foreshadowed the end of the much-celebrated cake. No way.

Our cake was way too big a favourite for that.

After lengthy research and a bake-off by the final two contenders, Lions Australia late last year announced Melbourne family company Traditional Foods as the new custodian of the cake. Already Traditional Foods-produced Lions cakes are being shipped Australia-wide.

This week the company’s CEO Stephen Heath announced 70% of this year’s expected 400,000 to 500,000 of cakes of various sizes, including a Lions Christmas pudding, had already been taken from the oven and were heading to clubs for delivery. The products include the familiar 1kg and 1.5kg cakes plus an 80-gram slice, along with the 900-gram pudding.

Meet the new maker

For Traditional Foods, established in 1993 by Stephen Heath’s father, it has brought a hefty lift in production at its state-of-the-art, HACCP (Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points) accredited Dandenong South facility. Now the company’s biggest bake job, it’s roughly double that of the next biggest product. The initial bake took just over two months and will be followed by a top-up bake in October-November to satisfy late customers.

“It’s the cooking that takes the most time,” explains Stephen. “The larger cakes take two to three hours to bake, so that limits how many we can do in a day.”

Moist taste

“The recipe for puddings is unchanged,” says Stephen, “but the cake recipe has been modified to our recipes with a slightly greater percentage of Australian ingredients, 49%, than the previous one.” Ideally, Stephen would like to see them containing 100% Australian fruit but supply shortages and/or excessive costs prevent this.

Although he modestly declines to compare his company’s Lions cakes to what went before, he admits it was pleasing to receive feedback when he joined with Lions in offering samples at the May MD201 Convention in Canberra.

“The taste buds are in the eye of the beholder but the feedback there was all positive, and what I’m hearing is that some thought it was moister than the previous cake.”

Likewise, he is thrilled that what his company is producing is of such huge community worth Australia-wide.

“Hats off to Lions for getting this project up and running in the first place, and for sticking with it for all these years,” he says. “It’s a great project to be involved in.”

Where do you get them?

Clubs still needing to organise supplies for this Christmas should contact their state coordinators, listed below.

South Australia Tony Matthews 0418 892 445, tony.matthews05@gmail.com

Northern Territory Andrew Kent 0415 521 408, atkent1@bigpond.com

NSW & ACT Ken Brooks 0427 406 453, norabrooks2010@gmail.com

Queensland Dawn Hebblewhite 0427 753 177, q4cakesmints@gmail.com

Tasmania Cheryl Brown 0447 775 706, cheryl.brown.cb1@gmail.com

Victoria Terry Collison 0439 468 786, cakes@lions.org.au

Western Australia Carolyn Middleton 0408 815 091, party.candles@bigpond.com

Story adapted from original by Tony Fawcett.