Koala bear

If you’ve ever dreamed of meeting a real, live koala, the Sydney convention is the right place to be. Chloe (pictured above) was brought by Michael, a volunteer at Featherdale Wildlife Park. You can’t hold her, but this two-year-old koala is a charmer. She’s taking up residency in a booth inside the House of Friendship during the convention. Stop by and say hello, just don’t call her a “bear.” Koalas are marsupials and they’re very touchy on this point.

Convention goers weigh in on plenary

The opening plenary session on Sunday was highlighted by Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s announcement of his government’s $100 million contribution toward polio eradication. RI President Ron Burton gave his keynote address and Human Nature, one of Australia’s most popular music groups, performed music from Motown.

Here are some thoughts from attendees as they walked out of Allphones Arena:

I got goose bumps when the prime minister told us about the $100 million their government will give toward polio eradication. Rotary loves this. It was really amazing and an honor for us.

I thought Ron Burton’s speech gave us power to increase membership.
-Bernd Egger, Rotary Club of Halberstatd, Germany

This is my first convention so I had no idea what to expect. I was blown away. I felt like crying half the time. I was amazed to learn about what Rotary has done around the world. It was moving. Obviously, the $100 million contribution fantastic.

When Burton talked about loving Rotary and our work is all about who we are. I know there are times when you feel stressed and overworked but you should remember what is at the core of what you’re doing for Rotary. It was an inspirational thing for me to think about.

Plus Human Nature was one of my personal favorites growing up, so hearing them brought back some great memories.”
-Tara Pullen, Rotaract Club of Gunargarang, Australia

The best part was definitely when the prime minister spoke. What an honor for Australia to donate $100 million towards our primary cause.

It was also very informative. I learned a lot about fellowship, friendship, and service. The videos and images gave a great visual of what we do and who we are.
-Major R. Chandra Sekharan, Rotary Club of Bandar Sungai Petani, Malaysia

I think we are all aware of some of the membership issues facing Rotary. I was glad to hear President Ron speak so bluntly about where we stand and what we need to do to ensure our future.

I thought Human Nature was too loud and went on a little long, but all in all, a great event.
Donald Young, Rotary Club of Cromwell, New Zealand

It was awesome. The presentations were very good. I wish I could listen to the prime minister’s speech again. I thought it was quite rich and thoughtful.  The dance troupe [North South Wales Public Schools Aboriginal Dance Company] was terrific as well.
Thelma Bello, Rotary Club of Calaba, Nigeria

Sunday in Sydney

The wait is over. The 2014 International Convention in Sydney is officially open for business. As the city rested, Rotarians buzzed about the Sydney streets, packing the trains on their way to the Olympic Park. The excitement was palpable, and for good reason; there’s plenty on the agenda. Here are a few highlights:

– The NSW Police Band plays at the House of Friendship from 11 a.m. to noon.

– The first sitting of the opening plenary runs from 11:30 a.m. to 1:45 p.m. The premier of New South Wales will address the audience, as will the Prime Minister of Australia. If you can’t make the first seating, the second starts at 4 p.m.

– An Aussie BBQ will run from noon to 4:30. They’re serving Aussie Snags.

– For you night owls, a cowboy dinner cruise is sailing from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Journey across Australia on a lawnmower

Craig Alford

Craig Alford planned to ride a push bicycle across Australia to raise money for charity, but he hopped on his souped up Hustler Super lawnmower instead.

“This is so much more rewarding,” he said upon his arrival at Sydney Olympic Park on Saturday, the last leg of his 2014 trip, bringing his total kilometers traveled to about 2,500. “And a bit easier on the body.”

Alford, a member of the Rotary Club of Armadale and assistant governor of District 9465 in Western Australia, sells lawnmowers and other equipment at his business. He made his grand entrance by cruising past thousands of Rotarians on the main drag at Sydney Olympic Park. Then he threw down a couple of spins on the mower to get the crowd pumped up   — and to open up some wallets. He’s riding for mental health research, prostate cancer research, and polio eradication. Alford hopes to raise $1 million Australian dollars over 7 years, traveling some 15,000 kilometers in the process. He’s raised just under $200,000 Australian dollars so far.

“You come around the corner and see the expression on people’s faces of amazement,” he says.

His journey this year started in Adelaide then went up to Melbourne, on to Tasmania, back to Melbourne to Canberra, and over to Sydney. He’s averaging 200 kilometers a day. Along the way, he’s collecting all sorts of interesting stories.

“One lady had six dollars to her name,” he says, “and gave it to us as a donation because her daughter suffers from depression.”

Others just appreciate the original idea, though they should probably appreciate the execution too. Riding a lawnmower across Australia is a complicated, bureaucratic activity. For starters, he’s not allowed to cut any lawns. Australia won’t allow you to drive a vehicle with blades on roads. Secondly, he needs permits to ride in some Australian states.

“If you’re thinking of riding a lawn mower around anywhere, think hard before you do it because it’s a lot of work,” he adds. “But it’s a great adventure.”

Alford is accompanied on his rides by a support staff of 8-11 people, all Rotarians. So if you see him, give him a wave and a donation. If you’ve seen him in the past, share your stories in the comments field.

Walking to end polio

More than 1,500 polio eradication supporters took to Sydney Olympic Park Saturday for the End Polio Now 3K Walk.

“We are walking today to support our fight to end polio and continue our work to prevent any child from suffering from this crippling disease,” says Rotary International President Ron Burton, who opened the walk and welcomed participants near the Olympic Flame Cauldron.

Burton led the walk through Cathy Freeman Park, which now hosts the Olympic Cauldron of the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games. Over the three kilometres, supporters shared their experience with polio.

“Thank you to everyone who took part in today’s walk,” added polio survivor and advocate Ann Lee Hussey. “Every step that I take as a polio survivor is my constant reminder of how much eradication is needed. And I ask that everyone use the steps they took today as a reminder of our work to end polio.”

The End Polio Now 3K Walk is one of many events at the Rotary International 2014 Convention that support polio eradication.

Keep up with the convention on Twitter and Facebook by following the hashtag #ricon14 and view photos and videos from participants in a hashtag gallery on the Rotary Facebook page.

Water for lunch

Food wasn’t on the main menu during lunch at the World Water Summit on Friday, but rather, collaboration and fellowship.

Rotary members and expert speakers from the summit hunched over their plates exchanging ideas, swapping stories, and sharing projects about how they’re helping bring clean water and sanitation to the world.

“For a lot of people including myself, these types of informal, casual conversations are truly beneficial and speak to what Rotary is all about. There are things that come out of left field; things that you don’t expect,” says Tony Hollinsworth, a summit participant and member of the Rotary Club of Subiaco, Australia. “They can be a wonderful accident.”

Hollinsworth was one of 200 attendees at the water summit, learning about the importance of collaborating with private sector companies, NGOs, and government agencies on water and sanitation projects. During lunch he discovered that he shared a similar project in Lebanon as a district governor-elect who was also at the table. They exchanged business cards and promised to work together on future projects in the country.

So when you’re out to lunch this week, don’t think of it as a break, but rather an extension of the convention. Strike up a conversation while waiting in line at the cafeteria, browsing the House of Friendship, or waiting for the train to Sydney Olympic Park. You may be surprised how much you have in common.

Saturday in Sydney

There’s excitement in the air. The convention is only a day away. But there’s still plenty of Rotary business and events happening before it officially opens. Below is a sampling of what you can look forward to:

– This morning is the much anticipated 3k walk at Cathy Freeman Park to raise awareness for Rotary and polio eradication.

– The Billabong House of Friendship opens today. Over 14,000 square meters of display space is set up with more than 300 exhibits of Rotary work. President Ron Burton will open the house this morning.

– At ANZ stadium, Rotary alumni are gathering for a celebration, which will go until noon. Speakers include G. Kenneth Morgan, Ray Klinginsmith, Kalyan M. Banerjee, and others.

– The Water and Sanitation Rotarian Action Group is meeting at Novotel in the Parklands Room.

– The Delltones Iconic Australian Male Vocal Group will be performing live at the House of Friendship from 11 a.m. to noon.

– Accompany President Burton for a New Generations Celebration at ANZ Stadium (enter through gate C/D) from 3:45 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

This is only a taste of what’s happening at Sydney Olympic Park today. Be sure to download the Rotary convention mobile app for the full schedule. Also let each other know what you’ll be attending in the comments field below.

Time is on my side

So you’re having a great time in Sydney and you want to call your friends back home to let them know what they’re missing. Before you pick up that phone, you might want to check out this nifty little world clock meeting planner.

Green indicates work hours in each city (so that’s a “Go”) while red shows the sleeping hours (“Stop”). For instance, if it’s 7 pm in Sydney, it’s only 4 am in Chicago — prime REM sleep!

Ok, so the real intention of this website is to help you plan a meeting anywhere in the world — thus the green for go — but it can come in pretty handy no matter what the reason. And, of course, there’s an app for that.

Do you have a great travel website or app that’s helping you navigate the city? Share it in the comment section.

Ready, set, flashmob

This may not be your prototypical flashmob experience, but if you’re up for a new adventure, a little fun, and a chance to meet new Rotarians, this event is for you.

Rotarians are organizing a geocaching flashmob meet-and-greet, a chance to mingle with old friends and meet new ones. If you’re not familiar with geocaching, here’s a little background. Whatever you do, stay away from light tower number 6 until your GPS clock reads exactly 14:30.