The inaugural Rotary Aussie Peace Walk was held in Canberra on 27-28 March 2021 amid COVID restrictions. The idea was to create an event that actively focused on peace, while creating opportunities for Rotarians to connect with the community. The main targets were youth and young families, with the idea of attracting younger members to Rotary and promoting its youth projects.
The event was initiated and directed by Chris Edwards (RC Hall District 9705), who said he didn’t want it to be a project that was owned or controlled by one Rotary club, because this could easily restrict engagement from other clubs. So, he formed an organising team that consisted of members from the Rotary clubs of Hall, Tuggeranong, Belconnen and Canberra Burley Griffin, along with a person from a Canberra walking club experienced in organising similar walking events.
The five key objectives of the weekend were to:
- Celebrate the Centenary of Rotary
- Connect with the community
- Engage a younger audience with Rotary
- Promote Rotary youth projects
- Support the Rotary Give Every Child a Future vaccination initiative
The weekend kicked off with an opening ceremony at the Canberra World Peace Bell, attended by Governor General David Hurley AC DSC, a representative of the New Zealand High Commission and Past Rotary International President Ian Riseley representing Rotary.
After an indigenous smoking ceremony and Māori haka, the party ceremoniously rang the bell six times to signify the opening of the first Rotary Aussie Peace Walk weekend.
This was followed by a Centenary Peace Dinner and indigenous art auction at the National Museum of Australia with guest speaker Dr Brendan Nelson AO, President of Boeing Australia, New Zealand and South Pacific, former Minister of Defence and past Director of the Australian War Memorial.
The dinner was attended by representatives from each of the nine island nations that are beneficiaries of the Rotary Give Every Child a Future project. The attendance of the Pacific Islanders made for a very entertaining evening of music and dance.
The organising team commissioned a local indigenous artist to produce a commemorative painting for auction, at the dinner. NZ-based musician Alex Coffey was also commissioned to write a theme song for the Aussie Peace Walk that was launched on the night.
On Saturday morning, the marathon walk started at 7am, the first of seven walking events. There were an additional three walks on both Saturday: 7km, 12km and 21km, plus three walks on Sunday: 7km, 12km and 24km. To receive a Rotary Centenary Aussie Peace Walk medal, participants were required to complete one walk each day.
The Peace Walk attracted 473 entrants with more than half walking on both days. Half of the entrants were under 60 years of age, with the youngest only nine years old. Over the weekend, 111 volunteers from 11 Rotary, two Rotaract, one Interact and a Zonta club provided volunteer support.
Post-event surveys were conducted with both volunteers and participants. The overwhelming majority of responses were very positive, indicating that they would be back next year with friends.
Almost $25,000 was raised for Rotary Give Every Child a Future.
In addition, five new members, to date, have been inducted into three Rotary clubs, the oldest being just 54. All as a direct result of the walk.
The organising team have begun the planning process for the next Rotary Aussie Peace Walk to be held in Canberra on 26-27 March 2022. Chris Edwards anticipates that next year will be a far more successful event, given that the first one this year was a big learning process, and he hopes there won’t be as many COVID-19 hoops to jump through!
Many thanks and congratulations to Chris Edwards and his team for a wonderful event, and an extremely generous contribution to Rotary Give Every Child a Future.