Chrissy Jones had the pleasure of meeting some American Rotarians visiting our local area as part of the Rotary Friendship Exchange. Chrissy chats with Dr Rita Rae Fontenot about her experience.
What is the Rotary Friend Exchange?
Rotary Friendship Exchanges are designed to promote peace and world understanding, as well as give Rotarians an opportunity to visit fellow Rotary members around the world. Four Rotary members and three guests travelled from District 6200 in Louisiana, USA to visit members of District 9650 In New South Wales, Australia.
Our District 6200 includes most of southwest and south central Louisiana and has 49 clubs, with approximately 2,535 members. Four clubs were represented in this exchange: Westlake Rotary Club, Opelousas Rotary Sunrise Club, Baton Rouge Rotary Club and De Ridder Rotary Club. These four clubs encompass the west, central, and east areas of the district.
Who travelled with you, Rita?
Travelling on this exchange were my Aunt Edna Guillory, Rotarian Lauren Rivet Schlamp and her husband Dave Schlamp, Rotarian Gina Rigsby and her grandmother Regina Harper, and Rotarian Charlie Roy, all from Louisiana. We were all hosted by members of the Rotary Club of Wauchope, who welcomed us into their homes and made us all feel like family.
Tell us about your trip to Australia and first stop Wauchope:
When March finally got here, we all were so excited to be embarking on our long anticipated Rotary Friendship Exchange between District 6200 of South Louisiana, USA and District of New South Wales, Australia.
Wauchope was to be our very first stop on the exchange, and none of us, having never before been on a RFE, knew quite what to expect – only that this would be the trip of a lifetime!
After flying into Sydney and getting over our jet lag, we embarked on the train journey to Wauchope on March 3. The 7 of us (4 Rotarians) were met by our respective hosts on arrival and all went home with our host families, where we were fed classic Aussie dinners and just got to know our hosts a little.
Who was your host family, and what do you think of Wauchope?
I was lucky to have Frank and Kate Harrison as my hosts. Frank gave me and Aunt Edna a tour of the town before going home, where Kate had supper waiting for us. What first caught my eye were the beautiful, bright purple Lasiandra trees that were in full bloom everywhere we went.
The gorgeous blooms of the Lasiandras and the sounds of Kookaburras were quite a warm welcome in the morning. After breakfast, we met at the park and we were shown the Rotary Meeting Hall. We Rotarians all thought this was something unique and special, as in the USA, most clubs do not have their own buildings; they meet in various venues. It was nice to see how the Rotary Club of Wauchope displayed all the banners they had been given by other clubs.
How long were you here for, and what were some highlights?
During our three-week stay in NSW, we were hosted in Wauchope, Forster, Walcha, Tamworth, Narrabri and Coonbarabran. While in the Hastings, we visited the Billabong Wildlife Park, Sea Acres Nature Reserve, Timbertown, and the Comboyne plateau. The trip was highlighted by the Lasiandra Swing Supper Dance at Wauchope Show Society Hall. This Rotary sponsored event was a fundraiser for the Wauchope District Memorial Hospital Palliative Care Unit.
The rainy weather may have dampened our spirits at first, but we all were in a jovial mood for the Swing Dance, held in conjunction with the annual Wauchope Lasiandra Festival. We were guests of the Wauchope Rotarians and soon learned what a jovial bunch of Aussies we were being hosted by. A fun time was had by all.
You visited some local attractions – what were those experiences like?
It was windy, cold, very wet weather on our first day in Wauchope, as we toured the Billabong Koala Park. In spite of the weather, we all enjoyed seeing the native Australian animals. The koala area was special – seeing these lovable creatures up close. Then, while driving around in the bus, we saw our first kangaroos in the wild and were all so excited. We toured all the beautiful nature sights around Wauchope that day and had a nice lunch in the forest reserve, all the while still marvelling at those beautiful purple Lasiandras.
On our final day, we toured Timbertown and saw glimpses of Colonial Wauchope. We learned how important the timber industry was in shaping and sustaining the town.
After a long day touring the area, we dined with our respective hosts that night. At the Lawn Bowling Country Club, where Aunt Edna and I took Frank and Kate out to dinner, I had the largest piece of meat I’d ever been served! They believe in large portions in Wauchope!
How would you sum up your exchange visit to Wauchope?
All in all, our first stop on the Rotary Friendship Exchange was a roaring success. Throughout our visit, we noticed the positive impact the Rotary Club had on the town. Wauchope itself and its surroundings were interesting and quite pretty, with help from the Lasiandras, of course.
The people made us feel ‘at home’ and showed us that although the Australians and Americans had their differences, they had much in common, too. Love of family, and pride in their town, area, and nation were evident in the warm, friendly, people we met while visiting Wauchope.
Thanks Rita Rae.