Sir Bernard Freeman


Bernard Freeman was the leading figure in the Rotary Appeal for the funds necessary to build two International Houses in the city of Sydney. He was the first signatory to the Trust Deed of 24th August 1962 that established the Appeal and Chairman of the Trust. If one had to choose a single word to sum up his life’s work that word could well be “service”. He served his country in the AIF and the Australian Flying Corps. He served on several hospital boards and charitable and humanitarian institutions; he was a member of the Sydney Opera House Trust; all of this on top of an enormously responsible job as Managing Director of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Australia. There was widespread approval when his contributions were recognised by the award of the C.B.E in 1956 and by a knighthood in 1967.

But it was in the great Rotary International movement – the model for so many service organisations – that Bernard’s desire to serve coupled with his managerial skills and energy found their greatest outlet. The International Houses Appeal is possibly the greatest of the projects initiated by Rotary in Australia. Bernard was indefatigable in his efforts for the cause. The Appeal was originally thought of as a one-year project; then when the target was two houses, not one, a three-year project. In reality it became a five-year project, the last two years being particular hard for Bernard Freeman as enthusiasm within Rotary waned. There was pressure on him to cease the appeal at a stage when, because of the principle of earmarking donations for either the University Sydney or the University of New South Wales, the 100,000 pounds for Sydney was raised when UNSW had only about 80,000 pounds. A lesser man would have succumbed to the pressure.

Bernard Freeman had the satisfaction of seeing International House, University of Sydney, opened in June, 1967, and of serving as the Deputy Chairman of its Board of Management.

He and Mr H.W. Shephard were two of the original six directors of our Board of Directors which first met in 1964. He diligently served as a director until 1980. His business experience was of great benefit to the Wardens and his co-directors.

He was a warm person who had a particular liking for young people. Bruce Smith recalls that Bernard used to arrange Saturday morning film showings for disadvantaged children and on one occasion he invited Bruce to go up on stage and peep through the curtains at all the happy faces. Bernard’s own delight at the sight was obvious, said Bruce.

Incidentally, one of these events was held in aid of the International House Appeal. The film was one of the great fairytales “Mary Poppins” and the whole local Rotary movement rallied in support.

Sir Bernard’s contribution to our International House is commemorated by naming the Library after him. On reviewing the history of the House it is most fitting that his service be further recognised by the conferment on him of Fellowship of International House.