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Des Callaghan awarded OAM

Seymour born and raised Mitchell Shire councillor recognised in Queen's Birthday awards.

CHALPAT SONTI June 11, 2014 3:56am

Des Callaghan with the power behind the throne - wife Elizabeth and daughters Anna and Deborah.


To assess Des Callaghan’s contribution to the community, let us turn to two well-known Victorians.

The first was the late Marie Tehan, long time State Member for Seymour and minister in the Kennett Government.

‘‘I never heard the saying ‘the squeaky wheel gets the most oil’ until I met Des but since he told me I’ve never forgotten,’’ she once said.

The second was the late RSL supremo Bruce Ruxton.

‘‘There’s Des,’’ he once said.

‘‘He’s like a leech — you’ve either got to burn him to get him off or you’re stuck with him.’’

Those sayings sum up Mr Callaghan’s tenacity to a tee. And that’s why his approach to getting things done as a volunteer has seen him awarded the Order of Australia Medal in the Queen’s Birthday honours list.

It isn’t the first honour the Vietnam Veteran has received in his 66 years. In 2011 he received the RSL Meritorious Medal — the only member of the Broadford sub-branch to receive the organisation’s highest honour.

But he deflects the praise for the latest achievement, which comes courtesy of his community service which is detailed in the accompanying table.

‘‘I think my wife (Elizabeth) should have this one, you can’t do these things without her,’’ he said.

‘‘It was quite emotional to get this honour and I was very proud naturally but the family have been a great help. When my daughters were little, I didn’t need a diary — they were my diary. They would know exactly where I would have to go every night.’’

While Mr Callaghan has lived the past four decades in Broadford, he’s equally well known in Seymour, where he was born (the fourth youngest of 13 children, who all went to St Mary’s College) and grew up.

He also worked as an electrician at Seymour District Memorial Hospital for about 27 years.

And it is his upbringing from parents Tim and Alice (better known as Lal) he credits for his love of community service and work ethic.

‘‘It is a reflection of that,’’ he said.

‘‘There was certainly no nonsense in those days and discipline didn’t do you any harm. I think (volunteering) might have been instilled into me back then.’’

Living in Butler St, young Des would get up about 3am and go to what is now the Best Choice Bakery to slice bread, before hitching up the horses to deliver it.

‘‘That sort of thing is what you did then,’’ he said.

‘‘There was no pocket money and if you wanted some you had to earn it.’’

His volunteering efforts started with Hume Little Athletics held at Assumption College more than 30 years ago. Then it expanded to St Pat’s School in Kilmore, where he served on the board. It was there we might have seen the first hint of what Mrs Tehan and Mr Ruxton came to acknowledge.

‘‘I was successful in getting 21 Construction Squadron to build a football oval there for a slab of beer,’’ he said.

Volunteering snowballed from there and the rest, as they say, is history. Even his initial stint as a Mitchell Shire councillor came from being at a loose end when he was made redundant at the hospital.

‘‘It was an election year and I thought I had to do something with myself so I gave that a go,’’ he said.

The vagaries of preferential voting initially saw him miss out on re-election in 2012, but he got back in six months later when Kellie Stewart resigned.

Apart from his involvement with many community organisations, Mr Callaghan is also a bail justice and Justice of the Peace. Those appointments initially came from wanting to help veterans and their families.

‘‘When I got involved with Legacy, they needed to get a signature off a JP to get access to various entitlements and things,’’ he said.

‘‘I thought I might as well become one so they could do that through me. I got in touch with Max McDonald (the State Member for Whittlesea) and he said to me to become a bail justice first then we would consider the JP application.’’

Mr Callaghan thus became part of the first intake of bail justices about 24 years ago and has been kept busy with that work since. He sees young people regularly — some as young as 14 — who without any guidance have run off the rails, and that saddens him, as does the increasing levels of domestic violence, much of it drug-fuelled.

But he is also heartened by the increasing amount of youngsters who are taking up volunteering.

‘‘That’s something I would encourage everyone to do — go out and help one another.’’

There are a couple of causes especially close to Mr Callaghan’s heart. The first, obviously, is veterans welfare, something he found out first hand when returning from Vietnam.

‘‘When I came home there was no counselling service,’’ he said.

‘‘They dropped us off in Sydney and it was up to you to get back to Melbourne. That era was dreadful in the way they treated Vietnam vets, even the RSL didn’t welcome them.

‘‘But I think we’ve certainly learned from those mistakes now. The counselling services provided are just phenomenal and they need to be.’’

Legacy is an organisation that does its work out of the public eye, for good reason.

‘‘It’s not a secret organisation but you don’t talk about what is personal business,’’ Mr Callaghan said.

‘‘If we can help war widows and families it’s a hell of a relief for them, whatever we can do. We don’t receive any funding from governments and it’s all about fundraising.

‘‘Pucka are fantastic, especially the School of Armour. Every year they fundraise and send us a cheque for $4000 or $5000 or $6000. Seymour Legacy has been running for more than 50 years and we’ve put kids through school by paying their education fees or it might be something like paying the rates bill or something smaller — anything we can help with.

‘‘We’re very conscious of the money that comes in, we try not to hang on to it but to use it where it’s needed.’’

Mr Callaghan’s other great cause is road safety.

‘‘I’m really passionate about that,’’ he said.

‘‘Even the latest initiative for first offenders who blow above 0.05 to fit interlocks on their cars, that must be a hell of a deterrent for people, who know they’ll also have to pay for it.’’

Central Ward councillor, Mitchell Shire Council, since 2008.

Representative, Harley Hammond Recreation Reserve committee, 2009-2012.

Representative, Access and Inclusion Advisory committee, 2010-2011.

Representative, L2P program, 2010-2012.

Board member, Nexus Primary Health (formerly Mitchell Community Health Service), since 1981; has served terms as president and vice-president.

Representative, Mitchell and Murrindindi Health and Community Service forum, in the 1990s.

Board member, Community Health Victoria, Victorian Healthcare Association, 1998-2007.

Board member, Kilmore and District Hospital, 1991-2000.

Secretary, Broadford Sub-Branch, Returned and Services League of Australia, 1983-1988 and 2001-2011; president, 1981-1982; treasurer, 1992-1994; executive member, since 1981; member, since 1978.

Current honorary secretary, Seymour Legacy, for more than 20 years.

Honorary Bail Justice, since 1990.

Justice of the Peace, since 1998.

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