When I look back on my childhood, it’s easy to see where my drive for voluntary work comes from. My family has always been involved in community service in some way -“ mum with netball and dad with surf lifesaving -“ and they worked their way up to the highest levels. I thought all families did this kind of thing, and it was only when I went to high school that I discovered other kids’ parents weren’t involved in the same way my parents were.
I grew up in Newcastle, and I first started as a volunteer at school when I got involved with the peer support programs, going to the local primary school and helping kids learn to read. I also became involved in scouting, became a youth leader and then got involved at branch level with the adult leader-training schemes. At Newcastle university, I was also the queer convenor on campus. It was such a golden period of my life.
I have to say, though, that when I hear people say they volunteer because it makes them feel good, I think that is a load of crap. It just sounds a little selfish. Helping people has always been my true motive, but you have to be honest and admit that there are other motives as well and, for me, I always knew it could help with my future career.
When I left university, I went teaching in western NSW in the red earth. It was a positive and negative experience, and it was the first time I had experienced homophobia in a really detrimental way, but not from the kids or staff. I liked teaching, but I knew it was something I wanted to do for only a little while. After about 18 months, I couldn’t be out there any more, so I moved back to Newcastle.
I got involved in education again, this time with the Department of Education, community colleges and then with ACON Hunter, working on a scheme for non-gay-identifying homosexually active men. That went on for about 12 months, but I decided to leave education, move to Sydney and try something new. I next found myself in real estate.
I was a receptionist in an agency in Double Bay, and I worked my way up to become assistant to one of the owners. So I was living this very Double Bay kind of lifestyle. I was also partying a lot after hours and was very heavily involved with the gay scene.
It was a hedonistic lifestyle with lots of sex, drugs and partying, and I was having a good time.
But I looked at my life one day and thought, Is this the job I am really meant to do? The whole point of the job was to make money and not about helping people, and making money is not something I have ever been that interested in. That was when I decided I wanted to be more involved in my community, and the group I chose was the Gay & Lesbian Counselling Service.
There was a good reason I chose the GLCS. During a break-up with a boyfriend, I had called the same counsellor at the same time every week to talk with him about what was happening in my life. He really helped me get through that time and so, when the dust had settled in my own life, I felt I wanted to repay them.
I was at the GLCS for about five years. I worked my way from volunteer counsellor onto the board and then I became president. But it was taking time, sometimes as much as 20 hours a week, and it was interfering with everything else. It was also a learning experience for me and I realised I was not diplomatic enough for the role. The president of a community organisation needs to be a diplomat and I would forget that occasionally. I also wanted to spend more time with my boyfriend Luke. It was another of the golden eras of my life, and I do envision a time when I will go back.
At the same time, I joined ACON. I remember the day I was sitting on the train reading the Star Observer when I saw the ACON job advertised. It was for the group worker and peer support officer. As I read the ad, I thought, That is my new job. And I got it.
I knew this was my dream job because back in 1999 I attended a cruising workshop at ACON and I closely watched the guy who facilitated that course, thinking, One day your job is going to be mine. That guy is now my boss and, symbolically, the first course I ever did run here was a cruising workshop, and I felt like I was taking over the dream job. We also do workshops around relationships, agreements, communicating and social skills.
Through 2004 I was running groups but, by the end of 2005, I had trained a team of volunteers to facilitate the groups and work with me on deciding what we wanted to do next.
This is all about helping guys in our community get where they want to be and helping people make better lives for themselves. I work here with the most passionate group of people I have ever worked with. People here really care about what we are doing. In so many ways, I feel I have found where I am meant to be.
Interview by John Burfitt