In 2003 Bernie Victory was in a quandary. Asked to set himself some sort of ‘challenge’ as way of raising money for Centacare Catholic Family Services he was a bit unsure about what activity to choose.
At a time when ‘adventure’ experiences were just taking off, Centacare’s fundraising arm organised a number of events that had people abseiling down the side of the Hilton Hotel, falling out of planes to go skydiving and trekking to Base Camp at Mt Everest.
As assistant director, Bernie needed to make a personal commitment to the cause and so the idea of taking on the Kokoda Track came to mind.
“I had just read a book on Kokoda and I was considerably heavier (some 20kg) than I am now and they asked me to pick a challenge I liked. Kokoda was at the top of my mind and the need to raise money for Auricht House was also at the top of my mind.
“I remember going for a walk with (director) Dale West up Mt Lofty early on and I don’t think I made it to the top and I thought, ‘this is a really dumb thing to do’.
“But once I signed up to Kokoda there was no choice, you cannot wimp out and so the training started – and has just continued ever since.”
He describes his first Kokoda trek as a “life changing experience”.
“It was my first time overseas and it revitalised my energy after 20 years of being a ‘coach dad’ on the sidelines of my girls’ basketball teams, without doing too much exercise. And I loved the history and love the people over there.”
The 14 treks he has since completed have raised nearly $1 million for Centacare, with some of the money used to build Auricht House at Elizabeth, a respite home where children with disabilities are cared for while their families can have a well-earned break for a few days.
“I remember overhearing a conversation our receptionist was having with a mum who had a child with autism and she was really needing some help. The receptionist gave the standard approved answer that they could put her name on a waiting list for respite care, but she needed to let her know that the waiting time was five years until they would get to the top of the list and receive respite. Five years!”
Bernie, 61, is also proud that Kokoda funds have helped to fund renovations at Kolbe Cottage in Plympton and support Centacare’s Bilby Bus, a mobile playgroup for families who are isolated or in crisis.
Helping families in need has been a constant source of motivation throughout his 35-year career with the welfare organisation, which he joined as a volunteer with wife Pauline in 1981.
Two years later the former teacher was employed full time to run the centre’s natural family planning and marriage education programs.
“I loved teaching (at Sacred Heart Middle School) but (Monsignor) John Swann was in charge of what was then Catholic Family Life Services and he had been appointed to a parish, so he asked me if I’d be interested in looking after the marriage education program until they got a new priest to take over his role,” Bernie explained.
“It really was exciting times. I was involved in the national committees of the Catholic Society for Marriage Education and the Australian Council of Natural family Planning. There was lots of travel, lots of training courses and lots of conferences.
“When Pauline and I got married in 1979 we did a pre-marriage education course at CBC and there would have been 50 couples there together. When I came into the job one of the things I changed was to break those courses into smaller groups with an adult education focus, so the participants could have more input. I also started using the ‘prepare’ and ‘focus’ inventories for individual couples.”
Through the inventories each person answers questions about their relationship, family and children to highlight areas where there is common ground or differing points of view.
Following the arrival of director Dale West in 1989 and the consolidation of services, Bernie took over the position of manager of education services. In the early 1990s he was instrumental in establishing Access programs, a semi-commercial venture where Centacare would provide counselling services to other organisations for a fee.
In 1997 he was appointed assistant director and over time became responsible for administration and human resources areas.
“Things I have loved most is the training and induction of staff and supporting managers in HR issues. Also making sure that the people in the frontline were actually supported with all the things they needed – from IT to financial structures to quality accreditation.
Bernie said the services provided by Centacare have changed “significantly” over the course of his career.
“In the 1980s our main focus was on relationships, counselling, education, parenting, family planning and a bit of immigration, but the needs have exploded.
“In the past 35 years there have been whole new areas – there is now our work in disability, employment, homelessness especially youth homelessness, domestic violence, drugs, alcohol and mental health has grown enormously, as well as the alternate care of children through our fostering and reunification programs,” he said.
With his last day of work on June 10, Bernie said he was looking forward to an active retirement where he can spend more time with Pauline, their three adult daughters and three grandchildren and of course, walking, which is now such an important part of his life.
Plans are in place for a walk with friends in late June through the Bungle Bungles in Western Australia and in September he is taking his first post-Centacare group to Kokoda, this time raising money for domestic violence programs. When Bernie returns he will start tackling some of the local steep terrain to prepare for climbing Australia’s 10 highest peaks in January.
Not bad for someone who didn’t make it to the top of Mt Lofty on his first attempt!
Footnote: Bernie’s personal assistant Denise McGinn, who started at Centacare in 1985 and also ran the NFP program for some years, will be retiring on June 10 after a stellar career with the organisation.Jump to next article