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Curtin University
John Curtin Day
John Curtin Medallists

Ms Pieta O’Shaughnessy (2006)

Pieta O’Shaughnessy commenced working in community radio in the early days of its development, in 1976. Pieta recognised the value and impact of community radio on people’s lives and society as a whole. She helped found 6NR, which today broadcasts as Curtin FM 100.1, and thus began a lengthy association with Curtin. Pieta has since been pivotal in the growth and development of the station, her leadership having enabled it to become a valued part of the University and wider community.

Pieta also helped establish England’s first campus-based broadcaster, WEAR FM, in the early 80s.Under her direction the station was considered visionary, and received many accolades.

At Curtin FM Pieta recognised the lack of programming for the fifty-plus age group, and made it her mission to develop such a program. This has taken many forms and, on her retirement, was known as Seeking Solutions with Retirees WA. Pieta’s work in providing for this age group has been pivotal in the success of Curtin FM 100.1.

Her association with Curtin FM lead to Pieta making countless connections within the community, often highlighting causes with which she felt compelled to become involved. During an interview with Peter Sirr, the Executive Director of Outcare, Pieta was struck with compassion for the plight of the children of prison inmates, and the idea for the unique venture that is Santa’s Workshop was born.

Pieta called for donations of toys and gathered a small band of volunteers to restore those that needed attention. Initially restoration took place in a small area of the Curtin Child Care Centre next to the radio station, and the first Santa’s Workshop toys were presented to Outcare for distribution for the Christmas of 1999. Since these humble beginnings Santa’s Workshop has expanded greatly and is now based at Seven Oaks College, with the construction of additional facilities being planned for next year. Last year, toys were provided for the children of prisoners in all metropolitan prisons, plus some regional prisons. Besides Outcare, more than 15 other groups also received donations.

In 2002 Pieta’s passion for and dedication to Curtin FM was more evident than ever after a decision was made to close the station. Through troubled times, Pieta was an inspirational leader to the station volunteers and staff, and a key figure in developing the strategy which convinced the University to reverse its decision. Soon after, she became Acting Station Manager.

Pieta has been involved in countless other community projects, and is a particularly strong supporter of Boronia Pre-Release Centre for Women, coordinating donations for the Centre’s toy library and hampers at Christmas, as well as highlighting issues facing Boronia on her program. 

Pieta O’Shaughnessy is indeed a most worthy recipient of the John Curtin Medal.

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John Curtin Medallists

Mr Gerard Neesham (2006)

Gerard Neesham has used football, which has been an important part of his life, to build something that has profound, long term benefits for both individuals and the community.

Gerard was an Australian Rules footballer in both the Western Australian Football League (WAFL) and the Victorian Football League. He then displayed his leadership skills as coach of the Claremont Football Team in the WAFL and as the inaugural coach of the Fremantle Dockers in the national competition. Through these coaching roles Gerard established a connection with young Aboriginal footballers, and became aware of the cycle of disadvantage and disengagement confronting many Indigenous youth.

While relief teaching and coaching football at Clontarf Aboriginal College, Gerard identified an opportunity to make a difference. He had the foresight to realise that football provided an environment where young Aboriginal men do extremely well and that this success impacted positively on the players, their families and the wider community. He also understood how being part of a team can impart the sense of belonging that is so critical for young people.

Gerard developed a vision of using football to encourage young Indigenous students to re-engage with education. He saw football as a means of reconciliation, bringing Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians together. Gerard developed the concept of an organisation that would encourage aspiring footballers to perform well academically and on the football field, and he set out to convince Clontarf to set up a football academy at the College.

Clontarf accepted Gerard’s proposal, and he drew upon his determination, persistence and enthusiasm to raise the funds necessary to realise his vision.

The Clontarf Foundation Football Academy was established in 2000. The program goes well beyond just football training and school attendance. It teaches young Indigenous men good sportsmanship and healthy lifestyle practices, and helps students to find employment or further education.

Since the inception of the Academy, Gerard has given selflessly of his time to help Aboriginal boys achieve a future through football. Not content to have just a Perth program running, Gerard also worked at establishing regional academies. In its first term of operation, the College had approximately 50 students, and about 15 boys attending the football training sessions. Under the guidance and direction of Gerard, the program has expanded dramatically, with 440 boys enrolled in six academies across Western Australia.

The contribution Gerard’s vision has made to the community is acknowledged across Australia and the model is now being introduced in Queensland and South Australia.

Gerard Neesham is indeed a most worthy recipient of the John Curtin Medal.

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John Curtin Medallists

Boronia Pre-release Centre for Women (2006)

Boronia Pre-release Centre for Women is a leader in the field of justice. In an innovative project which is the first of its kind in Australia, the Department of Corrective Services has adopted a forward-looking model of imprisonment that recognises the diverse needs of women inmates.

The program structure and daily activities at Boronia mirror the responsibilities faced by women in everyday life and support a strong family and community focus. Boronia accommodates up to 70 women and their children in a community setting. The women live in Homeswest style housing and are responsible for their own cooking, cleaning, budgeting and grocery shopping at the Centre’s supermarket.

The women are required to work or study during their time at Boronia and can enrol in traineeships in areas such as hospitality, horticulture, retail operations, asset management and retail supervision. Those involved in the hospitality course cater for many government and community functions. Through improved health, work and education skills, the women are empowered to take responsibility for their life choices, and therefore the risk of re-offending after release is significantly reduced.
Not only does Boronia help prisoners rebuild their lives, it also makes a positive contribution to the wider community. Boronia’s unique community engagement and volunteer program builds mutually beneficial links with the community and local organisations. The women undertake valuable work in local businesses and not-for-profit organisations, encouraging them to develop new skills and build self-esteem as well as establish future employment links prior to their release.

Boronia women support many organisations such as their neighbours at Swan Care Group, Rowethorpe and the Baptist Theological College, as well as Edventures WA, Leeuwin Tall Ship, women’s refuges, the ACTIV Foundation, Santa’s Workshop and many more.

It has taken a great deal of vision and courage from key people to challenge the norm and pursue such an unconventional pathway. The development of Boronia initially attracted opposition within the community, but through tremendous leadership, determination and persistence, the community now largely embraces and supports the Centre.

The recidivism rate of women released from Boronia is less than one-third of the national average. This is testament to its success, brought about by the vision and leadership of its founders and the management of the current Superintendent and her team. In addition, the continued support of both the current Minister and Commissioner for Corrective Services has been vital to the continued advancement of Boronia.

Boronia Pre-release Centre for Women is indeed a most worthy recipient of the John Curtin Medal.

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