A history in common, a future in progress
Long before any Branch was even thought of in Australia, Fellows of the Society who lived in Australia paid their yearly fees direct to London. However in order to take an active part in furthering the Objects of the Society the Fellows residing in Australia felt that the time had come for the formation of local branches. In NSW, Sir Hugh Denison very generously gave that branch their building in Bligh Street and Lady Denison gave the necessary furnishings. Sir Hugh also contributed a handsome sum of 25,000 Pstg. In Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania branches were also formed.
The Victorian Branch had to progress the hard way. Formed in 1921 under the wise guidance of Sir James Barrett, the membership reached 400. After the death of Sir James in 1945, Sir Thomas Nettlefold, the then Lord Mayor of Melbourne, graciously accepted the Office of President, and with the devoted help and council of a magnificent team, a striking advance took place.
Through the foresight and drive of Sir Thomas and of Mr.J.O.Holt the Hon. Secretary and his team, the Society purchased 101 Queen Street in 1947. Then at last, the Society had a home, but this was not all, for during Sir Thomas’ term of office the membership increased from 400 to 2000 Fellows.
In 1947 the opening of the Geelong sub-branch took place, the initial membership numbered 120. The Headquarters at Latrobe Terrace was purchased in 1963 and a memorial hall added in 1967.
It is well to realise that the devoted members of the Branch- both men and women – had given much of their time and money with no thought of “what they could get out of it”, which is unfortunately too often the case. The Society must not be regarded as a “Club”. It is true some have joined when going to England so that they might enjoy the wondrous facilities at Headquarters, and have resigned on their return. On the eve of moving to our new home where we were able to offer Fellows a much better service than in the past, we should remember this and try to carry out the Objects for which the Society exists, hoping that all Fellows and Companions will play their part. (Extract from RCS Journal 1947)
In 1948, Sir Thomas became seriously ill and to the regret of the Fellows of the Branch had to relinquish the Presidency. In 1949 Major-General F.Kingsley Norris accepted the office. Great advances were made with a thriving juniors section and a membership well over 3000, clearly justifying the foresight of providing a new home for the Society, which also showed the necessity for expansion in order to carry out the activities. Under the able Presidency of Maj.Gen F. Kingsley Norris supported by Sir Thomas Nettlefold whose health permitted him to again take an active part, the difficulty of finding a buyer for 101 Queens Street and synchronising the sale and the purchase of 22 Queens Road, South Melbourne. There was much discussion and thought given to the change and especially how to carry out the Societies Objects and to provide fuller facilities for Members.
We remained at 22 Queens Road, and in 1972 purchased number 20 Queens Road and added a Memorial Hall.
In 1976 due to changing circumstances both 20 and 22 Queens Road were sold and “The Gables” 15 Finch Street East Malvern purchase as the new home of the Society.
In 2003 with dwindling membership the Geelong Branch was closed and the headquarters build sold.
2003- current – In this period the Victorian Branch has seen a dramatic decline in membership but not a diminishing of the values and ideals which make up the Objects of the Society, which are to promote the increase and spread of knowledge of all things Commonwealth, respecting the peoples and countries of the Commonwealth as well as maintaining the best traditions. To foster unity of thought and action in relation to matters of common interest.
The Councillor is made up of an enthusiastic group of Society Fellows who have embarked on a re-building strategy that encompasses growth combined with due diligence, good governance, prudent fiscal management designed to meet the Socities Aims and Objects.