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30 October 2019
By Lotte Reiter
Stawell’s John Pye believes volunteering is all about perspective, and perhaps a personal inability to say ‘no’.
From the Country Fire Authority and Stawell Interchurch Welfare, to community-based Landcare network Project Platypus, the retiree has spent more than three decades contributing to Wimmera communities and environmental and social justice.
“I see it as a personal responsibility,” he said.
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“All people are generous in terms of their friends, family and community. But many stop there, they don’t extend it and put themselves in another person’s shoes.
“We can very easily end up in a state of mind where what is immediately around you is all that there is.
“But the world is bigger than that, and it’s about thinking ‘what’s my role in it?’”
As a science teacher at Stawell Secondary College from the early 1980s until he retired in 2012, one of John’s many roles and ‘more significant doings’ was as a volunteer for a student constructed and managed Grampians Rail Trail project.
The 11-kilometre bicycle and walking track is based on the former railway line linking the historic Grampians’ Mt Difficult Quarry with Stawell.
John said the massive task, an outcome of a Past, Pleasant and Future project, involved about 300 students working across six years.
At the time, John was teaching three days a week and volunteering the rest of his week on the project.
“I spent six years on it and another four years intermittently. It is one of the more significant things I’ve done,” he said.
“It certainly challenged everything I did as a teacher and created a whole different learning setting for the children. I had year-eight students as masters of ceremonies for events with hundreds of guests from Powercor, businesses and councils.
“As tiring and stressful as it was, it rates as the highlight of my teaching career.”
For his involvement in the project, John was a Herald Sun Teacher of the Year finalist in 2003.
But he said, just as with any of his awards and achievements, the final result and his ability to create change was more important.
“It is the doing, not the awards, that is my motivation and reward,” he said.
Some of the fuel for his volunteering also comes from a self-confessed inability to say ‘no’. In fact, earlier this year in an acceptance speech for his 2019 Victorian Landcare Individual Landcarer award, John said, ‘if there is an award for a poor suffering spouse who has a partner who can’t say no, I have a worthy applicant!’
His nomination for the award largely came back to his refusal to stand by and watch when Project Platypus was at crisis point.
Established in 1994, the umbrella organisation supports 11 Landcare groups across 3000 square kilometres of the Upper Wimmera Catchment, tackling conservation issues that continue to threaten both the natural environment and social fabric of the region’s communities.
John said problems at Project Platypus first arose in 2014, when the Federal Government cut environmental funding ‘basically to zero’.
“Project platypus is a community, not-for-profit group which has no direct funding to run the organisation,” he said.
“We went from having a heap of grants to a few, and it was going into slow decline.
“Project Platypus had gone from having a full-time manager to a part-time manager and faced the prospect of not having a manager at all. So, I put my hand up for the job. It was a hell of a steep learning curve. We were in crisis management for six months, but I couldn’t just stand by and watch it fall. The network can act and get things happening. No other organisation has that capacity.”
Always a volunteer
While John said he retired again after Project Platypus was restructured and a new manager took on his role, he still continues to volunteer.
He has been involved with Stawell Interchurch Welfare, which provides emergency food and services for people who struggle to make ends meet or whose circumstances are dire, for about five years.
He is also Stawell Urban Landcare Group president, after being one of the founding members in 2004.
“We’re about to have our first grandchild soon, and I wonder what sort of world we’re leaving for her,” he said.
“We are so lucky in this country and so wealthy compared to others, and a lot of that wealth is being built on plundering other countries.
“We’ve positioned ourselves nicely, but maybe we should also be giving back.”
The entire Lifestyle Wimmera Edition 5 is available online. READ IT HERE!