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BILL’S AWARD A WIN FOR WHEELCHAIRS FOR KIDS

Bill Gibbins, a final-year student of Parade’s class of 1963, is this year’s recipient of the Old Paradians’ Association’s Community Service Award.

Bill and his wife Iolanda (pictured) were in attendance at the Association’s recently-held High Tea, where Bill accepted a glass memento from the College’s Acting Principal Mark Aiello (1990) on behalf of the OPA, together with $1000 to be donated to the charity of Bill’s choice, Wheelchairs for Kids.

In declaring his support for Wheelchairs for Kids, Bill told the story of the Christian Brother Olly Pickett, who oversaw the voluntary manufacturing of wheelchairs for children who needed them. He related the tale of how in 2009, the World Health Organization sought the support of any wheelchair manufacturer globally to develop a unit which could be adjusted manually to cope with the growing body of its young user.

“The organization that came up with something acceptable was Wheelchairs for Kids,” Bill said, “which in the years since has further developed those wheelchairs to a fantastic level of sophistication”.

Bill revealed that he visited the West Australian headquarters of Wheelchairs for Kids (www.wheelchairsforkids.org) last year, where he met the organization’s volunteers, the oldest of them a man 94, and the network of women who crochet rugs and toys “because each child who gets a wheelchair gets a rug and a toy with it”.

“This organization makes miracles happen,” Bill said. “A lot of these kids live in depressed countries where there parents would otherwise have the responsibility of carrying them everywhere they go . . . and all of a sudden, out of the blue, they have a wheelchair.

“It is a miracle that’s happened 45,000 times.”

In concluding his address, Bill again referred to Br. Olly Pickett as the driving force of Wheelchairs for Kids from the outset.

“Ollie moved over to Perth after he became a Brother and he’s basically run Wheelchairs for Kids in the years since, ” Bill said. “He was born in Victoria, he went to school in Victoria and that school was CBC Parade. How good’s that . . . and if I haven’t found you next year’s Community Service Award winner I’ll go he.”

The Community Service Award, established in the Old Paradians’ Association Centenary Year of 2014, acknowledges those Old Paradians who contribute significantly to the welfare of those in need.

The Award recognises and honours individuals who are community builders, creating healthy community through their contributions and commitments, and may include the following criteria, in that the recipient:

  • promotes a vision of responsible community membership which is respectful and inclusive of all ages, cultures and abilities;
  • demonstrates the spirit of creativity, innovation and initiative by responding in a proactive manner to an issue relevant to the well-being of our community;
  • has identified an issue in the community and has selflessly taken action to address the issue; and
  • promotes a belief and recognises the value of volunteerism to community and individuals.

Victoria Police Sergeant Jon Ellks (1984), an Old Paradian at the forefront of the massive recovery operation in the wake of the Black Saturday bushfires, was the Association’s inaugural recipient. Then followed Alex Fabiani (1976), Lucas Zugaro (2013), Kevin McMahon (1965) and now Bill.

Bill was the founder of trucking company FCL which he sold some years ago to the LinFox group. A committed philanthropist, Bill won the hearts and minds of all Australians back in 2007 when he spent part of his fortune to outbid a Sydney developer to save the Albert Park headquarters of the surviving Rats of Tobruk – just when the old veterans thought age might finally weary them and the years condemn.

Bill assured the Rats that the premises where their association had met for more than 50 years was theirs to keep for as long as they wanted. As he told them at the time: “I thought I’d buy it and let you keep it going, because we owe you a debt that can’t possibly be repaid”.

In 2008, Bill was awarded with Life Membership for his support of Riding for the Disabled Association of Australia.

At Warrnambool Racecourse last December, Bill proudly oversaw the inaugural running of a race he founded, The Jericho Cup – a $300,000 flat race which recreated that staged by Australia’s mounted troops in Palestine in a brief lull in hostilities during the First World War.

The original race, involving members of the Australian Light Horse, was run over three miles through the desert sands. Dubbed ‘The Jericho Cup’, line honours went to a horse named Bill the Bastard, arguably Australia’s greatest war horse.

Inspired by this story, in part because his wife Iolanda often jokingly referred to him as ‘Bill the Bastard’, Bill sought an opportunity to honour the courage and spirit of the mounted troops as the centenary of the event neared.

And so the Jericho Cup came into being - a race restricted to Australian and New Zealand horses to preserve the fighting spirit of the servicemen and their mounts, their sacrifices and bravery.

Images courtesy Anthony Glatzel