I moved from Sydney to New York in 1990 to study acting and while I was there I decided I wanted to do something for the community.
I tried the Gay Men’s Health Crisis centre and became their volunteer administrator. Then I heard about this thing called AIDS Mastery by psychotherapist Sally Fisher.
I fell in love with the workshops, which helped people learn to live with HIV, so I started volunteering for them. I was trained in giving guided meditation and got into some spiritual stuff. I had my first spiritual guide, had spiritual counselling and got to be a Reiki master.
I started to see that by giving out, you got back. But I didn’t give out to get back specifically. I believe that giving out is marvellous.
I ended up selling my apartment in Sydney to pay my way though acting school and stay in New York. I started to work as a facilitator with Friends In Deed, a group of people who helped others with HIV/AIDS and cancer.
At this time I was doing so much volunteer work for so many organisations I just don’t know where I got the time to do it all. I was very passionate about my work.
Every year or 18 months I used to come home and visit ACON to see what they were doing. A lot of the information coming out of Australia about HIV/AIDS was the best.
I moved back to Sydney in 1997 and did work at ACON as a facilitator and counsellor. A year later I started working at PLWHA as the acting community development officer.
While at PLWHA I started to get people involved in volunteer work. I was the first person, I believe, to get volunteers through incentives of dinners, wine and clothing through ads sponsored by Sydney Star Observer.
And in 1998, for the first time ever at the opening of Mardi Gras, we raised over $10,500 through bucket collections. That year I got the community service award from the World AIDS Day Committee.
I did more fundraisers for PLWHA, including a fetishes and fashion night which made $10,000. I also went to speak to high school students and community groups about HIV/AIDS.
Then I did the celebrity shoe auction where I sent out 600 faxes in one night to all the different celebrities here and in America. The first pair to arrive was Oprah Winfrey’s gold mules. They were amazing.
I got Geoffrey Rush’s Armani shoes which he collected his Academy Award for Shine in. I chased Leonardo DiCaprio in Thailand and got him to send a pair of shoes.
For the auction I got Home nightclub for free, alcohol free, food free, and I got us onto E! News, the Bert Newton show, into Vogue, international magazines, every newspaper you can imagine. It was great publicity for PLWHA and raised the profile of HIV/AIDS, which is my main goal in life.
I was governor of the AIDS Trust of Australia for two years which was an honour. They were a wonderful group of people and we made lots of money for different charities. It was great to be able to direct money to organisations you could see needed it more than others.
I recently did a celebrity bag auction for BGF which took me a year to put together. I ended up getting bags from 60 people including Sarah Wynter, Sarah Murdoch, Naomi Watts, Geoffrey Rush. But raising money is very difficult now.
The bag auction raised only $23,000. It should have been $40,000-$50,000. Not many people turned up so most of them got absolute bargains. A Prada bag from Sarah Murdoch went for $800. A bag from kd lang got only $400. The most expensive bag that night was Justice Michael Kirby’s, which went for $2,700.
It’s getting terribly hard to raise money for HIV organisations. People aren’t talking about it any more and people think there are drugs now you can take to make it go away. People have become complacent.
Things need to change in fundraising. Look at the launch of Mardi Gras for instance. New Mardi Gras was trying to raise money, as was the Luncheon Club and PLWHA. People aren’t going to give money to everyone.
I think it’s terrible that different organisations are doing bucket collections around town. I think it should be taken back and thought about, and I think it should be more clear about where money is coming from and where it is all going.
It’s the older people in their 40s and 50s who are still giving money. I think we need to get our youth and get our children involved in fundraising. I think there needs to be more in-your-face advertisements, like the ones used to make people give up smoking.
People need to realise it’s a good thing to give away money. Why not have a dinner party one night, invite some friends over and get them to put 20 bucks in a jar? If you have eight friends over that’s $160.
There needs to be a campaign to explain how to give money to charities, about the tax benefits, as well as personal benefits. People really don’t know how to give.
Interview by Myles Wearring