Rotary Club of Blacktown City

Guest Speaker Dick White’s Presentation 4 July 2023

The Realization of One Man’s Dream

Recorded by Rotary Club of Blacktown City’s Secretary Paul Reid

Mel Gray introduced club member PDG Dick White to give his presentation on “The Realization of One Man’s Dream”. Mel advised that Dick is a past director of Australian Rotary Health, life member and Ambassador for ARH and a recipient of the Australian Rotary Health Medal.

With so much information and story content in Dick’s presentation we have printed it in full for those who were unable to hear it in person.

Dick began by asking us have you ever had a dream of what might be. I would say all of us have at some time. But how many would have seen their dream become reality?

Let me tell you a story. A member of a Rotary Club in Victoria – a Rotarian just like you and me – was greatly perturbed by the high incidence of babies dying in their sleep and he spent many nights thinking about it and about what could be done. His dream was that enough money could be raised to fund research into the cause of these deaths.

He took his idea or dream if you like to his Rotary club, then to the District and then to the National Institute and finally when Rotary International recognised the idea as a multidistrict activity – the Australian Rotary Health Research Fund was born in 1981 and of course, for those mathematically inclined; it will be the 42nd Anniversary in August this year. A young office girl was seconded from RDU to handle the paperwork and now 42 years later Joy Gillette is still there as CEO.

The Rotarian’s dream was to raise $2 million dollars to fund this research over a number of years. This was realised and Professor Terry Dwyer, at that time Director of the Menzies Centre for Population Health Research at the UNIVERSITY OF TASMANIA received the research grant and the result a momentous breakthrough in the major cause of Cot Death. The result – SIDS deaths dropped from 500 a year to fewer than 100.

A second dream was to be able to fund research into other areas and the enthusiastic support of the Rotary clubs of Australia made this possible and ARH was able to tackle problems of the aged and of youth.

There was a third dream and that was to make a major difference in the problems of Mental Health. At the stage ARH was looking at this area of research, it was the most underfunded of all medical research.

Forget it they were told – too hard. The present reality is that ARH has become probably the biggest non- government funder of research into mental health. Thanks to you Rotarians and the Rotary clubs of Australia, but guess what – last year ARH had over 100 applications for research grants and they could only fund a tenth!!

A problem facing researchers is that to be successful in gaining grants you need to have a track record – it’s a sort of Catch 22. How to overcome this? ARH started 3 year PHD Scholarships. A young researcher puts forward an idea to the Research Committee and the best ideas are given scholarships. Universities contribute part of the funding. This makes their (your) dollars go further. They are called Ian Scott Scholarships after the man who had the dream which became a reality. As support grew, Post-Doctoral Scholarships named after former chairmen of ARH were added.

The next dream was to find a way to help with the problems of Indigenous health – a problem that no government has found a complete solution for. ARH felt that the best way was to find a way for them to help themselves. So, they started the Indigenous Health Scholarships, because most indigenous people do not have families that can support them through their studies. This program was started by one man in South Australia, and he had managed to raise enough funds for 5 scholarships, but his health and age forced him to ask ARH to help. I was a director at the time and Cheryl Degura and I were given the responsibility of launching this as an ARH program. We started with 5 and this year Cheryl has grown the program to 80 scholarships. If you look at the list of sponsors each year you will see the Reid Family – well done Paul!

Rural areas have a problem attracting health workers – doctors and nurses so ARH started scholarships for medical students to spend their intern year in a rural area.

All this was made possible by the increasing assistance from Rotary Clubs but we came back to the many applications for grants that could not be supported. The dream was to solve that issue. The only answer ARH could see was to involve the general community and that’s how Hat Day originated. This has now morphed in Lift the Lid.

The RC of Blacktown City has now funded 4 PHD Scholarships thanks to Mel Gray and his “B” bike rides and one indigenous scholarship.

Did you know two non-Rotarians Con and David some years ago started up the Muscle Car Rallies with the funds raised, to go to research into Children’s Cardiac problems. Competition led to the abandonment of the rallies and to finish the project they came up with the Stretch to the Top limo drive.

They raised $33,000 for a PHD Scholarship and this with contributions of $33,000 by a university and $21,000 by ARH allowed the scholarship to be advertised.
Con of course is Spiro’s son.
Could I quickly tell you about a couple of ARH projects in which I was involved. In 2005 I was asked to be Chairman of the Rotary Health Safari which was launched on the day of Rotary’s Centenary by former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

This rather ambitious project started with an approach to Winnebago to loan us one of their biggest motor homes which we fitted out with a display which could be erected at each stop and in the back of the van were two desks with computers which allowed members of the public to undertake a questionnaire on Mental Health. The plan was to take the van around Australia stopping at major centres during the day and at night (with the help of local Rotary Clubs) conduct Mental Health Forums.


Former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett the chairman of Beyond Blue spoke at many of them. The whole project was to take six months and we were lucky enough to find John Flower who stayed with the van for most of the 6 months.
What was the result? Beyond Blue told us that over that 6 months, calls to their help line went up 40% and later at a Symposium in Canberra we were told that as a direct result of the Safari, Prime Minster Joh Howard had announced a major grant of 20 million dollars to be given to mental health.

In 2009 I was asked to Chair another crazy idea – the Great Australian Bike Ride. The idea was to have a large group of riders going right around Australia. Apparently, such an event of the scale planned had never be done before. We sought the advice of various riding associations, and the Queensland group told us that they couldn’t do it and that there was no way we could do it. So that was a good start! We had great time deciding on a logo, as you can see here.

We advertised for riders who had to raise $1,000 to enter. Surprisingly we got a good response. Once we had the core group in place, we sought riders for each section of the ride. The logistics then faced us. The ride had to be broken up into rideable sections. Accommodation had to be found and in Western Australia particularly, suitable camping sites had to be found. Camping gear had to be sourced – hopefully donated (which it was). How to feed the group? A BBQ trailer was loaned to us. Cooks had to be found.

Transport vehicles were needed – so we purchased two 12 seater buses at auction. Ted Atkinson had a contact, and we were able to have the buses decorated with the prototype of a new process – the one you see on all the buses and trains that you can see through.

Winnebago came good again but with a smaller motor home this time. This was to be the home of the Tour Leader.

We borrowed the Trees for Survival van and because it late in coming I asked Denis Lovely to drive it north to catch up with the group.

A tour leader had to be found as well as section leaders. We were lucky to find Geoff Kennedy from Healesville, who led almost the whole way – having just one break Councils around Australia had to be contacted to give various permissions.

Every police force in Australia was contacted – most not very happy to have a large group of bike rider coming through their state. To their credit they all came around and we were given police escorts out of Melbourne and into Adelaide.

The route through each town and city was laid down by the police and when the group rode up the M7 instead of using the bike path, I was blasted by the NSW police.

We had some wonderful sponsors such as Shimano who provided a bike repairer from Darwin to Perth plus a new bike for those who completed the whole ride and Anaconda who provided all the camping gear.

I spent many months at Parramatta each day planning, promoting – doing whatever was needed. We had John Flower helping, up to Sydney but we couldn’t afford him beyond there. I flew to each capital city to sort out issues that had arisen – such as a cook in Darwin who refused to join unless he and his wife were given the Tour Leaders camper van – that sort of thing.

When a van was no longer required, I was asked to drive it back from Adelaide. Bob Bensley from this club came over to help with the driving.

Mel Gray rode around our whole district with a scroll and gathered the signatures of every club president.

What was the result of all this?
Almost $250,000 was raised for mental health research, with cyclists travelling a total of 17,830km around Australia.

To cap it all the Great Australian Bike Ride was named as the fundraising event of the year.

A few years later I was asked to prepare material for 3 Para-Ambles.

These were a type of combined treasure hunt and quiz. The name is a combination of Parramatta and Amble for walk. Parramatta is a treasure trove of historical material, if you look for it.

Bob Gardiner helped me hunt out the questions and I prepared booklets with photographs to help people find the answers to the questions. These were fundraisers of course.

This club has taken upon itself to contribute funds every year to support ARH, as well as to our other great charity The Rotary Foundation.

There are many more stories of this club’s support of and involvement with ARH – Mel Gray’s “B” rides and the ARH Golf Days for example.

There are also many examples of dreams becoming realities in the 42 years of the history of Australian Rotary Health.

Mel Gray thanked Dick for his presentation and presented him with a handmade pen.

Rotary Club of Blacktown City Inc

Address: PO Box 12, Blacktown, NSW 2148

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