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.