Rosemary garland well deserved

Rosemary BrownRosemary Brown’s extraordinary life of helping others leads to a question that she has trouble answering.

“People ask ‘what drives me?’” she said.

“I have no idea. It is just inside my gut. You could say Christian conviction and sure I have a Christian faith. I was bought up in evangelical circles but I still say it was born in me.”

In January, retired teacher and educational advisor Rosemary was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) “for service to international relations through voluntary education roles”.

“Part of me was embarrassed because so many people do good things but I was very honoured that people felt I had done a few worthwhile things in my life,” she said.

An integral part of Rosemary’s volunteer work has been her attendance at St Luke’s Uniting Church in Mount Waverley since 1972, where she and husband Bill have held various offices such as elder, treasurer and parish council secretary.

“Being part of the St Luke’s community has been very important in our lives,” Rosemary said.

“Our two sons are still active members of church communities and they date their commitment to their early years at St Luke’s. The friendships we have developed there span many years and are deep and meaningful.”

One of her first voluntary activities with St Luke’s was establishing a play group in 1974 that brought in 90 mothers with toddlers who were new to the area.

“We discovered there were so many people from interstate without family support. We encouraged them to make friends,” Rosemary said.

St Luke’s was also involved with the local council’s Waverly Youth Housing Group initiative to provide shelter for homeless people and Rosemary chaired the group’s committee.

In the mid-70s Rosemary was part of St Luke’s initiative to help Timorese refugees resettle in Australia and she assisted a family headed by a pregnant mother while the father still overseas.

“You need someone who lives close to go down every day, which is what I did, to take her shopping and pay her rent,” Rosemary said of her role. She even organised carpet and curtains for the family’s home.

Rosemary still keeps in touch with the family.

“All the kids have gone to university. Just fabulous,” she said.

While working as an educational advisor at St John’s Homes for Boys and Girls Rosemary occasionally had children from the homes stay with her on the weekends and holidays.

Juvetta, who was a refugee from Idi Amin’s Uganda, became a part of Rosemary’s family.

“I took her under my wing. She calls me Mum and tells everybody ‘you better listen to my mum’,” Rosemary said.

Rosemary was on hand to help Juvetta survive a horrific attack.

“An ex-boyfriend threw methylated spirits over her and lit it with a cigarette and she went up in flames,” Rosemary said

“So I sat with her in the burns unit for months. Terrible, absolutely awful, she was very deeply scarred.”

With Rosemary’s help Juvetta was able to attend Griffiths University and is now a psychiatric nurse.

In 2001 Rosemary was living in Malaysia, where Bill was working. She became a voluntary consultant to a secondary school unit for children with intellectual disabilities.

Rosemary has since organised a number of visits by Malaysian educators, parents and government officials to see how special-needs schools and employment centres operate in Australia.

Despite this impressive resume, Rosemary had the passion to find another cause when Bill told her about a speaker’s presentation of the work of Teachers Across Borders in Cambodia. During the catastrophic reign of Pol Pot, Cambodian educators were systematically killed.

Since 2014, Rosemary has made three trips to Cambodia to help train teachers in modern education techniques.

“We’ve affected many teachers, about 300 or 400 teachers per year,” she said.

Rosemary has paid for her trips by organising fundraising concerts and selling scarves she bought in Cambodian markets.

“I am committed to Cambodia. If I am well enough next year I will go back,” she said.

A common theme of Rosemary’s professional and voluntary work has been her drive to help disadvantaged young people.

“I guess it’s given me understanding of all the kids with problems and they need the support,” she said.

“You just need to be there. Perseverance is another one of my middle names I think.”

Even at age 76 Rosemary shows little sign of relenting in her volunteer efforts. Those who continue to wonder at this drive could look to a typically pithy character summation that she offered: “I don’t sit and do nothing.”

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