Dedicated to serving others

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By Chip Henriss

Charles Gibson came to Australia from Scotland as a three year old in the 1950s. He is now entering the next phase of his journey as he begins the wind down of his working life into an active retirement, where he hopes to spend much needed time with his wife Margret, his two daughters and two grandchildren.

He has finished his role as director of UnitingCare Victoria and Tasmania (UCVT) and will move into a 12-month contract two days a week as the synod’s executive officer for the Royal Commission Task Group, before fully retiring.

Mr Gibson was brought up in the church. His father was a Presbyterian minister before Church unification in 1977.

“I was born in Scotland and decided to immigrate at the age of three and took my parents with me; we were £10 Poms,” Mr Gibson said.

“Dad’s first ministerial placement was in Penola in South Australia next to the Coonawarra vines. That was in 1954.

“We moved, as ministers do, every five years or so to various spots. Our next move was Western Victoria.”

Mr Gibson credits his parents for helping him develop a passion for caring for others.

“The values I think were there and really came from both,” he said.

“My parents were a good team. My mum was the woman behind the man, as they said in those days.

“I saw a couple that were committed to each other and committed to the communities they were in.”

Mr Gibson originally toyed with becoming a minister and studied at the United Faculty before deciding that his true calling was in social work.

Having grown up in a somewhat safe and protective environment, he recounted his first exposures to the tough situations he was confronted with.

“I originally thought I might come in and be a counsellor; perhaps set up in a small private agency or something.

“I had placements in local government; in the Council for the Ageing and in mental health at the Austin in the child and youth psych unit.

“My final placement was with the children’s home section in the Social Welfare Department, which would have been the least likely option I would have ever thought of as a start to my career.

“It introduced me to a whole new world I’d never been exposed to – children who had been taken away from their parents and made wards of the state and placed in institutions.

“Our job was to work and assess whether they could go home or not. So there I was in my early 20s, pretty green in terms of life skills, walking into families and making recommendations around very significant life decisions.

“It was a rich tapestry of people I would have never encountered otherwise. So I decided that would be where I would have my first job,” he said.

After spending more than 28 years in social work and community services management, Mr Gibson began working with UnitingCare Victoria and Tasmania in 2003.

“I saw the Social Policy Advisor job advertised which brought together my experience from the community sector with a Uniting Church connection and I applied.

“I was lucky enough to survive the huge interview panel and I began the job in March 2003.

“What was an interesting contrast between the Department and here was that the director, then Colleen Pearce, came in on day one and said: ‘What would you like to work on?’ I had never been asked that question in the Department so it was a refreshing start,” he said.

He became director in 2010 bringing a full career of experience with him and helping to build closer ties amongst the 28 diversified agencies in Victoria and Tasmania.

“The strongest theme from my time at UnitingCare has been people’s recognition that this is a very strong network both in this synod and right across the country.

“It has been a network that hasn’t been as recognised externally as some other denominations and I think there’s been a strong realisation of that throughout the network in recent years.

“My primary role has been to strengthen that network. We strengthened in many areas, whether it is individual agencies strengthening their governance and performance, or developing the ability and ways for agencies to work collaboratively together. That includes sharing knowledge and expertise and assisting each other as well as advocating for those we serve.

“That’s the direction it needs to continue to head.”

A keen proponent of team work, Mr Gibson recognised that the talents and skills of people in the UCVT team and across the UnitingCare network have led to greater collaboration and strengths.

“Any director is only as good as the team they work with and the people I’ve worked with have been fantastic,” he said.

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