Student Exchange - Gunnedah, NSW, Australia and Tazewell, VA, USA

A Rotary Group Study Exchange (GSE) in 1986 between District 9650 (northern NSW) and District 7570 (Virginia and Tennessee, USA) has lead to over 200 exchanges between the two Districts in a 20 year period. These include friendship exchanges, club to club exchanges and those under the Short Term Exchange Program (STEP).

In 1986 a GSE team lead by Brian Riordan of Rotary Club of Gunnedah West went to Virginia, USA.  One of the towns visited was Tazewell.  Hosting Rotarians in Tazewell included Fred and Elene Combs, Doyle and Linda Rassnick and Fred Harman. Robert Galumbeck of Tazewell was a member of the 1987 return team from Virginia. In the following year Robert Galumbeck returned to Gunnedah with his wife and two daughters and spent Christmas with Brian and Anne Riordan. This is when the idea of an exchange between the Rotary Clubs of Gunnedah West and Tazewell was first discussed. Those initially involved included Brian Riordan, Rob Galumbeck, Fred Combs, Doyle Rassnick and Fred Harman.

The first club-to-club exchange took place in 1990 when Kelly Combs and Melissa Nichol came to Gunnedah in June as the first representatives of Tazewell. Chris Riordan, Joanne Shaw and Peter Bee went to Tazewell in January 1991 as the first representatives of Gunnedah.

Later there were Rotary Friendship exchanges between Tazewell and Gunnedah with 25 people traveling from Tazewell to Gunnedah in 1993 and 25 from Gunnedah to Tazewell in 1996.

From 1998 to 2009 the Gunnedah West Inter-club exchange Committee expanded to manage the District 9650 Short Term Exchange Program (STEP). Exchanges were organized between the United States Eastern States Student Exchange (ESSEX) program; South Africa and Italy in addition to the Tazewell exchanges. Miranda Kerr was one of our STEP out-bounders in 1999.

During all of the Tazewell exchange activity, Fred and Elene Combs have been actively involved and have hosted many of the Club and Friendship Exchange members from Gunnedah. In 2001 a reunion of past exchange members was held in Gunnedah. At that function, Fred and Elene Combs were presented with a commemorative plaque by the Mayor of Gunnedah, Gae Swain, on behalf of the Gunnedah Shire. Fred presented Rotary Club of Gunnedah West with a plaque containing the names of all those involved in the Gunnedah-Tazewell exchange and certificates to all the exchangees present.


The exchanges were the subject of an article in Rotary Down Under in November 2002.

Tragically, Fred Combs was killed in an accident in August 2005. A memorial gathering of exchange students was held in Gunnedah. However, Fred’s memory lived on in the continuing exchanges between Gunnedah and Tazewell. In May 2007 Doyle Rassnick came to Gunnedah and on behalf of himself and Elene Combs, presented Brian Riordan with a Paul Harris Recognition. The final exchange between the towns of Tazewell and Gunnedah was in 2011 but the contact between the two communities continues.

Elene Combs put the value of exchanges in the following words:

Touring is just seeing.
Visiting with friends is being.
Being a part of

the family
the group
the community.

Taking in the sights,
Hearing the insights,
Listening to the locals,
Learning local colour.
Getting a feel for

the people
the lifestyle
 the land.

Being ─ not just seeing.
A glimpse of realism,
An indigenous experience.

EMC 6/01

These words are a fitting tribute to all those involved in Group Study, Club, Friendship and Short Term exchange programs.