Julia Topliss, Current President of Rotary St Kilda

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By: Jen Sharpe 

 

A spontaneous trip to Cambodia in 2008 was the catalyst for Julia Topliss to join her local branch of Rotary International.

Julia left the dense tourist area of Siem Reap, and was shocked by the stark reality of the poor living conditions she encountered, only a few minutes from the centre of town.

“For me it was like entering a picture of National Geographic that I’d seen as a child, and it really struck me,” says the Business Manager of web design and hosting company Web Prophets.

This experience in Cambodia resonated with Julia and her lifelong desire to make a positive contribution to those in need was reignited. Rather than make a regular financial contribution to a charity, Julia realised the wealth of skills she had accumulated over 17 years of running her own business could be a more fruitful way to give something back.

After an extensive search for a non-political and non-religious organisation, Julia discovered her local branch of Rotary International; the Rotary Club of St Kilda.

“The first time I went [to a meeting] it was confronting, with many members being from an older demographic” says Julia.

“I’d always said to myself I’d do community work, and I had   not done so up to that moment. So I said to myself ‘if that’s going to be the thing that stops you, then you’re always going to be someone who talks the talk, but does not walk the walk’.

Having witnessed the huge respect the Buddhist culture has for the older generation in Cambodia, Julia embraced the opportunity and enlisted her commitment to the club. Five years later the 44 year-old is now president of Rotary’s St Kilda branch.

“I’m probably the youngest member, which is a bit strange when taking on a leadership role. My challenge is to lead an organisation of people who all have a lot to teach me through their long term commitment and involvement with our community” she says.

Since Julia’s involvement with the club she has assisted with the raising of funds for local and international organisations. To date, her biggest project Relish – a book of recipes from Melbourne based restaurants, raised over $80,000. The funds from this project were shared by several organisations throughout Melbourne and overseas, including Sacred Heart Mission in St Kilda.

Julia says “I love being involved in all levels of community work. For example, the Relish project was a large, complex and very time consuming activity; whereas our working bee in April was much smaller in scale; but still helped in making a positive contribution toward people in need.”

The working bee was held on the 20th April with the Rotary Club of St Kilda combining forces with St Kilda Mums and the Highlands Foundation at St Kilda Primary School. The working bee involved making up over 100 Mother/Baby packs for expecting mothers in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea.

In Papua New Guinea many women give birth alone with no medical assistance. The Highland Foundation’s Mother/Baby Packs are an incentive for expectant mothers to attend hospital for antenatal clinics, education, and for the birth of their baby. Papua New Guinea has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the world. Infection following birth is the major cause of this. Each Mother/Baby Pack includes the basic elements to help reduce infant pneumonia, and other illnesses by improving hygiene and providing warmth.

“Participating in working bees like this provides the opportunity to meet new people in our community, and to develop meaningful connections. I know that before I joined Rotary I didn’t feel very connected with my local community … I had lived here for 10 years and didn’t know anyone,” Julia says

“By being involved with Rotary I have met a lot of local people; now when I walk down the street I feel part of my neighbourhood.”

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