It would be little surprise to anyone who knows Michael Brosnan that he considered not accepting the Order of Australia Medal (OAM) that he was about to be awarded.
I was staggered that someone had gone to the trouble to put my name forward. You just do things. The thing about this community is there are hundreds who volunteer.Michael Brosnan
“I was staggered that someone had gone to the trouble to put my name forward. You just do things. The thing about this community is there are hundreds who volunteer. It’s very awkward being isolated from all the other volunteers,” Mr Brosnan said.
But the Pambula man who is a driving force in the Social Justice Advocates of the Sapphire Coast, caring passionately about the homeless and the disadvantaged here and in PNG, relented.
“I wasn’t going to accept it for a while and then I thought it might be good for volunteers generally. I’ve never lived anywhere where there are so many very active volunteers. You do it because you think you should and have opportunity and a reason, but you don’t expect this; it is an honour,” Mr Brosnan said.
He is quick to admit his priviledged education at the private De La Salle Catholic Boys School in Malvern, Victoria left him uneducated about “the real world”. He and his four siblings all attended private schools although he said his father had to take on three jobs to make it happen.
But there were some insights into the other world through the trips to Kew Cottages, “a monster Russian-esque building for mental health patients”.
You do it because you think you should and have opportunity and a reason, but you don’t expect this; it is an honour.Michael Brosnan
“It was atrocious and on Saturday mornings in Year 10 we would go and be with some of the kids who were more physically disabled,” he said.
Later he spent weekends at Ozenam House helping to feed the elderly and homeless.
At Monash University Mr Brosnan studied a combined economics and politics degree but ended up teaching English. It was during his early years teaching in technical colleges and high schools that the curtain was really drawn back on the lives of some of the less fortunate in society.
“I spent 15 years as a probation officer in the Victorian service. I was only given three to five boys at any time and some of those would be from the school but that helped me get an insight into the real world,” Mr Brosnan said.
This was in addition to his work as a teacher.
“I became the executive officer of the English committee and got to see a lot of schools. What got to me was the Indigenous kids who were put into a hostel, completely unsupervised at ages from 12 to 25.
“That took a lot of my time and it was all new to me,” Mr Brosnan admitted.
By this time he and Ann had married and had four children and he was an acting deputy principle but it wasn’t what he really enjoyed. They knew the Merimbula area and decided to make the sea change in 1982.
While waiting for his teacher registration to come through from Victoria Mr Brosnan started tutoring, working in the Top Pub at Pambula and landscaping.
That coupled with his family commitments, might be considered more than enough for most people but in between time he was a foundation member of Pambula Rotary Club.
He worked with a local builder who suggested he should start his own business.
“I set up as a landscape gardener and pool builder in the days when Jennings had just started at Tura Beach and I got snowed under,” he said.
After working for one of Robert Murdoch’s managers who had a property at Tura Beach, he was then recommended for work on several Murdoch properties.
“We ended up with three companies, one here, one in Sydney and one in Canberra; it was crazy and Ann was working full time running them all, doing the bookwork.
Basically I build tin shacks and it’s most rewarding.Michael Brosnan
The work of Bega Valley Advocates interested Mr Brosnan and he went to Timor Leste to help repair education facilities there that hd been “slashed and burnt” by the departing Indonesian Army.
The work was so successful in not only rebuilding and repairing but also in empowering the locals, that he hasn’t been back for a while although still sells Timor Leste coffee to raise money for the education of kids in Natarbora.
The plan was always to retire early and travel. He went to PNG and it sparked his interest after walking the Kokoda Trail and he used his planning, building and landscaping skills in project management there.
“But my real love is WeCare, where a group of local PNG women help to support women and children in ‘settlements’ which are really slums,” Mr Brosnan said.
“Basically I build tin shacks and it’s most rewarding. Pambula Pre school gives money and we’ve set up a quasi pen pal situation.
“There are 80 per cent of people in Port Moresby who live in slums and 800,000 live there; it’s gob-smacking, most are unemployed,” he said.
Last year Mr Brosnan went to help in PNG six times and will be back again in February.
Meanwhile the Social Justice Advocates are wrapping up another summer season of the Samaritan Op Shop. Now in its ninth year, for the first two years funds were dedicated to Somalian refugees fleeing to Kenya but since then have been focused on the homeless in the Bega Valley.
The homeless issue is still my focus. We host refugees but still housing and the homeless is a focus.Michael Brosnan
The move to help the homeless was driven by the charasmatic Father Constantine and Reverend David Ruthven and resulted in the crisis shelter being built behind St Clements Anglican Church.
“He (Father Constantine) preached social justice and just tweaked many things in me, I’ve alway been political, not just party politics; we have an impact on each other. He called for people to form a group.” Mr Brosnan said.
And the Social Justice Advocates were born. The homeless issue was spotlighted by the two churchmen.
“The homeless issue is still my focus. We host refugees but still housing and the homeless is a focus.”
Through the efforts of the Social Justice Advocates, funding has been raised from community and government which has seen six caravans, one unit and St James House used by those in need.
“This is the reason for the shop, we are determined to get another unit but we don’t want to be another housing organisation.”
The accommodation is crisis accommodation but can end up being more than that because of the lack of housing stock.
It’s something that lights the fire in Mr Brosnan’s eyes as he talks about the arrangements that see community housing stock sitting unused because repairs and maintenance is organised via FACs (Department of Family and Community Services) from Nowra and takes too long.
I cannot beleive it; we have the resources to fix this.Michael Brosnan
For someone who truly epitomises the can-do attitude, it is unbearable. Mr Brosnan has made several presentations to Bega Valley Shire Council looking for support for local Indigenous businesses to take over the renovation and repair of community housing so that it can take place, quicker and provide local work.
“I cannot beleive it; we have the resources to fix this.”
Over the past six weeks Mr Brosnan has been a constant fixture at the Samaritan Op Shop where apart from selling items, good quality donated furniture can help make a new start for those who may have lost everything.
Often seen lifting a sofa, table or washing machine on or off his ute Mr Brosnan appears to have endless energy and yet maintains he has “heaps of free time” to enjoy walking, reading and of course, travelling – to places where he donates more of his time.
Michael Brosnan is awarded an OAM for service to the community through the not-for-profit sector.
His citation includes mention of the Lasallian Foundation Australia and De La Salle Religious Order, his work as a volunteer, Papua New Guinea, since 2011, fundraiser, since 2011.
There is mention of the Social Justice Advocates of the Sapphire Coast where he is the current chair, his role as creator, Arts Scholarship in local schools, 2017 and his work with (and honourary membership) of the Pambula Rotary Club since 1992
Awards and recognition include recipient, Benefaction to the Institute Award, De La Salle Religious Order, 2017.