I learned the other day that Elvis Presley never gave encores. “Elvis has left the building." was a way of telling the fans that the concert had really ended.
Well, Gerald has left the building, and moved to an island in Queensland with his family, where he’ll be starting a counselling practice. And roaming around the bay on a wooden boat (think 'The African Queen'), relaxing and reflecting. And fishing. Possibly.
Gerald and I met at Tilley’s back in 1997, with a few other members of the Management Committee of what was then called Murringu Canberra. I’d just finished a weekend with Bradley Fox-Lewin (creator of the Men Mentoring Men program which is now the core service of Menslink) and a group of men being trained to become mentors. I was surprised to see how many of them were also on the Murringu committee, until Gerald later told me that Murringu was the only game in town for men interested in men’s issues.
One thing we both agreed on pretty quickly was that it was a small game. A couple of evening drop-in groups for men who wanted to talk about their lives, run by members of the management committee who for the most part had never done anything else in the help space, their vision shaped and constrained by the range of their experience.
Gerald and I didn’t suffer those constraints. We started meeting at a little pizzeria in Garema Place, and over a few evenings of pizza and house red, we started to build our own vision for a community service organisation for men. It wasn’t long before we engineered the schism that saw the old guard of Murringu’s management committee resign en masse, leaving us free to change the name to Canberra Men’s Centre and transform the foundation of the organisation by replacing the committee with a Board of Directors. Our future as a community service provider began.
Gerald’s background was in community health, where he’d started to come across an unnoticed and unsupported group of men living alone. Adult men from their 30’s up to their 60’s, who were too young for (or unwelcome at) programs supporting older citizens. Men who didn’t have families of their own, or no longer had contact with them, so were off the radar of government and community family support services. Men using drugs, drinking excessively, often both, dealing with the impact of their abuse and neglect as children, and exposure to domestic and family violence. Men living with intellectual and physical disability, acquired brain injury, mental illness. Men who were frequently involved with the criminal justice system. Men who used violence, men who were victims.
Often these guys had been in various programs addressing some of these issues, but once their participation was over, they found themselves living back in the same places, surrounded by the same people, living the same lonely, disconnected and unsupported lives. Ready for the cycle to start all over again.
Then along came Gerald. He gravitated to Murringu because he thought there might be some interest there in supporting these men. What he found was no money, no experience, no skills and no interest, at least until I appeared. In those intense conversations in that little pizzeria we gave our idea the working title of Post-Intervention Support Services, and away we went. Gerald’s inspired contribution was to create a service delivering a capable professional case management practice based on an unwavering respect for our service users. An idea that grew into the MASS program – Men’s Accommodation and Support Services, the engine which drove the development of EveryMan into what it is today.
Within the MASS program, and later our counselling and violence prevention services, we learnt more about the men we were seeing, particularly their complex needs, and we grew into an organisation with the skills, knowledge and experience required to make a real difference. What Gerald’s work made possible was an organisation that was really interested in knowing what men’s interests and concerns were, and what was needed to support them in achieving genuine outcomes - for the men themselves, and for their partners, families and local communities.
As my co-founder, Gerald was a hard-working, creative and committed partner in building something that was nenver going to happen, a mainstream community service organisation for a group of men for whom no-one else was speaking – invisible, excluded, and mostly unloved.
He became known across the community sector and in government as a leader in his field, and earned respect everywhere he showed up. He was committed to bringing dignity to our guys when even the smallest opportunity arose, and he suffered when he was confronted by the indifference of others.
If ever a man deserves to find the peace and tranquillity in retirement, Gerald does. Whether he’ll settle for that, only time will tell.