Lions Clubs speak of the challenges and opportunities for the future as the movement's centenary rolls around

Harold Malone and Victor Cooper work in the Marong Men's Shed, a project made possible by the Lions Club. Picture: DARREN HOWE

Harold Malone and Victor Cooper work in the Marong Men's Shed, a project made possible by the Lions Club. Picture: DARREN HOWE

THE 30 or so people who attend a recent Lions Club changeover dinner in Bendigo easily have a combined 1000 years of community service between them.

That’s a lot of sausage sizzles, raffles, car park stewarding and fundraising.

Yet modern times has brought a lot of modern challenges for clubs in Bendigo. People struggle to find the time to get involved these days.

Kangaroo Flat Lions Club secretary Brian Ede was present when the club was formed in 1976 at a dinner at the Bendigo Town Hall.

They started with more than 30 members, and would produce a calendar with advertisements for all the local businesses, sell more than 10,000 raffle tickets for a cubby house and established the Lions Park on High Street.

In 2017, they have six members.

“Every couple of weeks we’ll have a barbecue around the place, with funding going to help Australian kids with cancer or to help children with poor eyesight,” Mr Ede said.

“We’re always on the lookout for new members, putting out flyers all the time. The younger ones don’t seem as interested these days, they just don’t have enough time.”

The club will continue to soldier on, helping out its fellow Bendigo clubs with barbecues and car park stewarding at major events.

As the Lions Club celebrates 100 years internationally, the Bendigo district’s eight clubs have made a focused effort to raise funds for local causes – their “centenary projects”.

The Marong Men’s Shed sits on the side of the Calder Alternative as an example of the success that can be achieved through the dedication of Lions volunteers.

The Lions Club of Maiden Gully-Marong, the newest of the eight local clubs, applied for the grant and organised the work which got the project off the ground.

After more than three years, the former SES shed is now a sanctuary for locals keen to reconnect to their community.

“For some of these guys, it’s really given them a great purpose in life rather than sitting around waiting for tomorrow to come along,” Maiden Gully-Marong Lions member Gordon Chalmers said.

“They can do whatever they like together, have a rib at each other, have a laugh. There’s no compulsion to work.”

The shed repairs old furniture, makes bits and pieces to sell and helps out the local pre-school. They receive donations of tools and equipment from deceased estates, building up quite a collection.

“It was an empty shed before. Now it’s got a new kitchen, new toilet, roller doors down the back,” Mr Chalmers said.

“The noise in here gets pretty loud, and there’s always sawdust and wood chips flying around.

“The Lions wanted to do a project that would benefit the community for a long time. This will be here for a long time we reckon.”

Volunteers from the Lions Club of Eaglehawk take part in a clean-up on a five kilometre stretch of Allies Road in Eaglehawk in May, picking up 100 kilograms of rubbish.

Volunteers from the Lions Club of Eaglehawk take part in a clean-up on a five kilometre stretch of Allies Road in Eaglehawk in May, picking up 100 kilograms of rubbish.

While numbers might not be as great as 20 or 30 years ago, the enthusiasm and capacity to fundraise remains as evident as ever.

The Eaglehawk Lions Club managed to raise $20,000 to contribute to the upcoming refurbishment of the Lake Neangar reserve – on top of their donations to the Bendigo Health children’s ward and local energy breakthrough teams.

The club has 16 members, made up of retirees, teachers, farmers and others who still work full-time.

Club president Marina Williams is one of those who works full-time and continues to attend and organise Lions meetings and fundraisers.

She said it was a struggle at times to attract new members, but it became easier when people saw the tangible effect they have on the community.

“You need to have these service clubs to keep going, they really help to get people 

together and to keep everyone focused on the fundraising task,” Ms Williams said.

“It’s an ageing group. But when you go to changeover functions, you could be in a room of 30 or 40 people and there would be a combined 1000 years of community service in there.

“I just find it amazing.”

The Epsom-Huntly Lions Club knows full well the positive effect the movement can have on the lives of individuals.

In recent times, the club has helped to put up a veranda for a single mother in Epsom with two children with disabilities.

The Lions Club of Bendigo provides a cheque for $1600 to the Marong SES.

The Lions Club of Bendigo provides a cheque for $1600 to the Marong SES.

They installed a smoke alarm that had strobe lights for a hearing impaired woman, and raised funds to send a young cricketer to New Zealand to play in a tournament.

Club member Geoff Lawry said they still have a couple of meetings per month and regularly hold sausage sizzles at Bunnings and supermarkets.

He said the club has 14 members at the moment.

“It’s difficult to get younger people with school-aged kids to join, because the husband might work during the day and the wife might work at night,” Mr Lawry said.

“In the past it wasn’t too difficult to get people to come alone, but these days it’s harder and harder.

“We’re lucky though, because we had our own clubrooms built in Huntly in the early days.”

They continue to welcome locals in desperate need of support, and consider fundraising on a case-by-case basis.

The Heathcote Lions raised $28,000 for a pavilion at the Heathcote-end of the O’Keefe Rail Trail for their centenary project.

The Lions Club of Bendigo raised $5000 for the Bendigo Health Foundation, and another $3000 for Bendigo Foodshare to provide 48,000 meals.

They also donated $1600 to the Marong SES – combined fundraisers for the 100-year celebrations. The funds would help the SES purchase life saving equipment.

The Lions Club of Strathfieldsaye holds a barbecue at the local IGA, providing free tamper-proof number plate screws to drivers.

The Lions Club of Strathfieldsaye holds a barbecue at the local IGA, providing free tamper-proof number plate screws to drivers.

Earlier this month, the Lions Club of Strathfieldsaye – one of the largest in the district – held a special sausage sizzle in the car park of the local IGA, frying up more than 10 kilograms of sausages.

They also provided drivers with free tamper-proof screws for number plates.

On a Saturday afternoon, they provided 300 screws to about 40 vehicles to stop them being a target of number plate theft.

Club member Jill Qualtrough said it was one of many services they have offered to the Strathfieldsaye and surrounding communities in recent years.

“In the past we have helped to fundraise for a car for a local family, which had four kids of their own and cared for four children with disabilities,” she said.

“It helped to transport the children to their doctors appointments.”

The clubs all combine to help out at some of Bendigo’s biggest events – the Sheep and Wool Show, Groovin the Moo, carols by candlelight, swap meets and the Madison.

Mrs Qualtrough said they did not do it for the recognition, but for the feeling of giving back to the community.

“If all of the Lions Clubs weren’t around anymore, it would be really difficult to co-ordinate and run some of these events,” she said.

“And people are always welcome to join up and lend a hand.”

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