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John Curtin Day
John Curtin Medallists

Brother Thomas Oliver Pickett (2002)

Brother Thomas Oliver Pickett has given more than 40 years of his life to helping others. From his early days as a teacher, football coach and mentor for at-risk youth, to his current community-based work, Brother Olly has always had an interest in helping young people.

His vision for all individuals to have their basic needs met and to feel valued has culminated in a series of projects that have helped those who are either underprivileged or disabled.

In 1993, in conjunction with the WA Education Department, Brother Olly developed a work-skill program in manual arts at Girrawheen Senior High School for at-risk youth. As the program grew, he taught skills in welding, brazing, creative model-making and painting to increasing numbers of young people who had experienced learning and emotional difficulties. Brother Olly’s success led to a large proportion of these young people returning to mainstream studies at school with a new sense of purpose and focus.

At St Mark’s Primary School and later at St Luke’s College in Karratha, Brother Olly introduced the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme, creating the largest group of participants in the award in WA.

His present major undertaking involves providing wheelchairs to children who are landmine or polio victims. With the support of the Rotary Club of Scarborough, Brother Olly set about designing and manufacturing low-cost, robust wheelchairs for children who have lost the use of their lower limbs through landmines or other causes of physical impairment.

His wheelchairs have found their way to children in India, Cambodia, East Timor, China, El Salvador and many other countries around the world. And his wheelchair factory has helped the many retirees who construct the wheelchairs feel valued in society.

Brother Olly’s leadership has meant that he has been able to take an idea and convert it into a reality for people in need. His decision to become a Christian Brother is a testament to his lifelong commitment to serving others. With humility and dignity, Brother Olly has given the better part of his life to worthy community service.

Work undertaken since receiving the John Curtin Medal

Since being awarded the John Curtin medal in 2002, Brother Olly is still involved with Wheelchairs for Kids Inc. (which is under the banner of the Rotary Club of Scarborough), where he is Volunteer Workshop Manager.

The organisation has 190 volunteers during the week, averaging 45 volunteers a day, and makes 400 wheelchairs per month. More than 37,000 wheelchairs have been donated to disabled children in developing countries since the project commenced in 1998.

In 2010, Wheelchairs for Kids developed a wheelchair for children following the guidelines of the World Health Organization, in which the wheelchair ‘grows’ in size as the child grows. Postural support devices have been developed to ensure that even the most disabled child can use the wheelchair with as much comfort as possible.

Besides the volunteers who work in the organisation’s four factories in Wangara, there are more than 70 women who sew the covers for the wheelchair’s backrest cushions, the hip and trunk supports and headrest cushions. There are also hundreds of women, and some men, who knit and crochet colourful knee rugs and soft toys, which are sent as gifts with every wheelchair donated.

To date, underprivileged and disabled children in 172 countries have been given a wheelchair, with each wheelchair fitted to the needs of the recipient as best as possible. The Adjusta wheelchair enables the disabled child to be off the ground and enjoy mobility with dignity.

Brother Olly remains passionate and committed to what he considers a very rewarding project.