Mr O’Callaghan recently took over as Board chair and Mr Burns, the current Mental Health Commissioner for SA, will commence as CEO next month.
The two men have worked together before at the Defence Teaming Centre – Mr O’Callaghan as a Board member for 12 years and Mr Burns as CEO for six years – at a time when the DTC was campaigning for the Australian Navy’s ships and submarines to be made locally.
Both are sons of Knights of the Southern Cross, a national organisation for lay Catholic men. Barry O’Callaghan OAM (deceased) was a Knight for 50 years and a founding member of the Board of Southern Cross Homes and Phil Burns has reached the highest echelons of the Knights and is still actively involved.
Mr O’Callaghan, who is deputy managing partner of legal firm Piper Alderman, said he knew Mr Burns would be a “good guy” to work with and would bring his skills as a “collaborator” to Hutt St Centre.
The men have supported the centre in the past but Mr Burns said it was during his three and a half years as Mental Health Commissioner that he came to appreciate the “key role that the Centre plays in the mental health and wellbeing of South Australians”.
“One of the key tasks I had when I set up the Commission was to develop a vision, so we went and talked to people and we thought they’d say ‘too long in emergency departments’ or ‘I can’t get an appointment’ but actually what they said was ‘we’ve lost our sense of community’.
“So our vision was that South Australia aspires to be a resilient, compassionate, connected community, which is exactly what the Hutt St Centre is.”
After joining the Army as a 16-year-old apprentice electrician, Mr Burns finished his military career 30 years later as a Colonel. He was head of operations, based in Canberra, for campaigns in Afghanistan, Iraq, Bougainville and East Timor before spending three years in the Philippines.
Through his role as chair of the Veterans Health Advisory Council in Australia and his involvement in Legacy he had a strong interest in the mental health of veterans and their families. He also became involved with the Jamie Larcombe Centre at Glenside.
“I was always troubled and challenged that veterans weren’t being well looked after so when the opportunity came to do the mental health role I jumped at it,” he said.
With 400 volunteers and 76 staff at the centre, Mr Burns is the first to admit that the “experts” are already there and that his role is strategic planning and analysis. “It’s just about making it easier for them to do their job properly,” he said.
Similarly, Mr O’Callaghan was quick to praise his “highly professional and engaged” Board and also the centre’s Foundation which has a new chair in Mark Hall.
With redevelopment plans before the council, a priority for 2020 is to improve facilities.
In the meantime, the organisation is focused on the annual Christmas Appeal and helping people experiencing homelessness to stay connected: “For many of these people, Hutt St Centre is their only source of connection at Christmas,” Mr O’Callaghan said.
To make a donation to the appeal, visit www.huttstcentre.org.au/Christmas.
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