4. The First Distinguished District Years, 1981 - 1988
In 1978 Long-Range Planning Chairman Gary Wilson presented a growth plan for District 70 with the title "90 by 1990". At that time District 70 had 49 Clubs and 90 Clubs was then considered more of a dream than a realistic goal. However, the slogan "90 by 1990" was enthusiastically adopted and rapid growth occurred throughout the District.
The most spectacular expansion occurred in Canberra between 1982 and 1984, in Newcastle and the North from 1984 to 1986 and steadily in the Sydney CBD. The massive new Club growth resulted in the establishment of Central Division in 1983, Monaro Division in 1984 and Hawkesbury Division in 1985. The number of Areas increased to 23. The chartering of other Clubs in their vicinity boosted formerly lone Clubs such as Tamworth, Taree RSL and Orange, while the establishment of Wagga Wagga Club extended the southern point of the District even further.
The result of all this activity was that the 90 Club goal was reached late in 1985. By mid 1988 the District had grown to 120 Clubs and when 1990 finally arrived there were 140 Clubs!
The achievement of Distinguished District in 1981 was not just a matter of status for District 70 in the world of Toastmasters International. Because the District was achieving its goals in Club growth, CTMs, ATMs, Speechcraft and Youth Leadership, growth was accelerating in all areas of District activity.
Many more Staff Officers were appointed to handle specialist and administrative roles. This allowed the senior District Officers to spend more time coordinating and administering the District Executive and to attend the many Area and Division Contests and Training Sessions that were being held.
The Down Under Conventions continued as an unofficial Regional style get together and Speech Contest to decide which contestant would participate in the World Championship of Public Speaking from the Australasian Districts, Districts 69, 70, 72 and 73. These Conventions rotated amongst the 4 Districts. Every 4th year when the Convention was hosted by District 70, the International President attended since the Sydney Convention was always the largest and most prestigious of these Conventions. The Presidents attending were Eric Stuhlmueller and his wife Lil at the Sydney Hilton in 1980, Eddie Dunn and his wife Beverley at the Sydney Hilton in 1984 and John Fauvel at the Hyatt Kings Cross in 1988. In the 1980's Training was introduced at the Down Under Conventions for the incoming Senior Officers of each District.
The District 70 Governor had been attending International Conventions in the United States since 1978 and it became common for many other District 70 Toastmasters to attend as well. This gave support to the Down Under contestants in the International Speech Contest Finals and also made the votes of the Australian Districts important in International Convention elections.
The success of District 70 finalists in the Down Under Speech Contests and the subsequent International Finals was rewarded in 1981 when Ken Bernard of Deadline (now Professional Speakers) Club became the World Champion of Public Speaking. District 70 was a force to be recognised!
With the establishment, consolidation and structuring behind it, District 70 in the 1980's began to match the top North American Districts in overall performance, although they had been existence over 30 years earlier.
The achievement of minimum goals for Distinguished District became an accepted standard and higher recognition naturally beckoned. The next few years were to be the "golden years" for the District.
In 1983/84, District Governor Ted Mackness led the District into 11th place in the world and the status of Select Distinguished District.
The 1985/86 team, with John Fairman as District Governor, made it to the highest category of President's Distinguished District (placed sixth) as well as winning all available awards at the Reno Convention, being President's 20+, President's Club extension (17 new Clubs) and Top Ten Bulletin.
In 1986/87, with John Keen as District Governor, District 70 achieved Select Distinguished District, being placed in 11th spot.
Then in 1987/88 the District team, led by the first female District 70 Governor Elizabeth Wilson, again achieved Select Distinguished District, being placed in 9th spot.
In 1982 Ken Rennie (District Governor, 1981/82) became the first Australian to be elected to the International Board of Directors and Gary Wilson (District Governor, 1982/83) followed him in 1986. Both members came from Parramatta Club.
In 1985, TI created the President's 20+ Award. This is presented to the 3 Districts with the highest percentage of Clubs over Charter strength. District 70 was an initial winner of the award in 1985, receiving it again in 1986, 1987, and 1988 when the District was rated No. 1 in the world for membership. That was the year that the District reached its all time peak in TI's two membership criteria of average members per Club (25) and percentage of Clubs at Charter strength (72.8%) as at 30 June, the end of the District year.
Because of its growth, District 70 moved into the top 15 Districts in size in this period. But it was consistently listed in the top few Districts for Speechcraft, Youth Leadership and Success/Leadership programs on a program per Club basis. District 70 News also became a Top Ten District Bulletin for the first time, the four Editors to be honoured being Joy Augustessen, (1984/85), Gary Wilson (1985/86), Ted Mackness (1986/87) and Geoff Wood (1987/88).
By 1988, District 70 was recognised as a cohesive District with a great District/Club culture whose performances led the world. The other Districts outside North America, many of whom in turn had major growth spurts and successes in the 1990s, closely copied the culture and ideas pioneered in District 70.