Volunteering comes naturally to Paul Etherington, who has always felt a responsibility to help others in his community. Paul’s life changed forever in 1973 when a colleague at the bank where he worked asked if Paul wanted to help with The Royal Children’s Hospital (RCH) Good Friday Appeal.
Agreeing to lend a hand, a few days later Paul found himself working alongside a group of Uncle Bobs Club (UBC) volunteers in the hubbub of the Good Friday Appeal counting room. In a space at the back of the Herald building in Flinders Street, Paul helped to count the piles of coins and notes from collection tins throughout the state. Every Good Friday since, Paul has given his time in the same way, with 2019 marking his 46th year working with UBC in the Good Friday Appeal counting room. “It was a fantastic experience and I haven’t missed since!” he says.
Eventually Paul signed up to become a member of UBC and over his 35 years with the club he has found himself taking on roles on the State Committee and the Board of Management, including two terms as State President.
Paul speaks highly of the proud history of UBC and all it has achieved since 1942, when four businessmen who drank together at the Riversdale Hotel in Auburn decided to donate a bob – about one round’s worth – to the Children’s Orthopaedic Hospital in Frankston. Since then UBC has raised more than $20 million for the RCH that has contributed not only to orthopaedics but to other crucial services including the Neurology Unit and the Early Childhood Intervention Service. UBC funds also support various other charitable causes working in the area of children’s health.
Like similar charities that have run for years on the work of committed volunteers, one of the biggest struggles facing the club is the need to continue to attract younger members. “That’s the challenge for us nowadays, to make sure we remain part of today’s society, that we remain relevant, and that we can still get the volunteers which we desperately need.”
As State President, Paul is busy with many aspects of the club including nurturing partnerships with corporate and organisational partners and liaising with the various UBC branches doing great work all around the state. And while the club has expanded its fundraising activities, the RCH Good Friday Appeal is still by far the biggest event on the calendar, raising essential funds for a hospital that Paul feels is such an important institution. “It’s because the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne is the heart of Victoria. Our children are our future, if we can’t support them through our volunteer activities, what else is there?”
Listen to an audio extract from Paul Etherington’s 2019 oral history interview
Transcription of audio extract:
“I think without volunteers you wouldn’t see half the equipment which you see around here. As I said, volunteers, some of them, the only thing they can do is give their time; to man a knitted goods stall, to be able to man a corner on Good Friday, etc. Volunteers are the very heart of The Royal Children’s Hospital Appeal. On the day I would love to know how many actual volunteers when you think between the CFA, between MFB, between schools, between 7-Eleven staff, between UBC volunteers, between Freemasons volunteers; there are so many people throughout Victoria. It’s because The Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne is the heart of Victoria. Our children are our future, if we can’t support them through our volunteer activities, what else is there?”