It is annual general meeting season and there are a handful of AGMs that I look forward to. One of them is the Good Neighbour Council of Launceston and last week, I had the honour of speaking at its AGM.
I first came across the GNC in 2006, when I met the secretary, Stella Goiser, at a women's forum. Stella has been involved with the GNC since the organisation's inception.
Today, she continues to be the secretary and her husband, Karl, has been the treasurer since 2003 - retiring only this year at the age of 92. Karl has been described as the most conscientious and hardworking man who would have liked to go on as treasurer, but for his impairing vision.
The Goisers are two of many members who make the GNC special and proof that there remains a place in every community for groups like this - and that everybody needs good neighbours.
Many people would not know that the Migrant Resource Centres in Australia stemmed from the GNC. This is a tribute to the GNC for its 70 years of outstanding community service in Launceston.
The GNC was established in Tasmania in 1949 as part of the Australia-wide Good Neighbour Council movement, to provide voluntary services to the thousands of newly arrived migrants and displaced persons from war-torn Europe and to help them settle in Australia.
There was a GNC in every state and territory. I found an old document that expressed the purpose of the GNCs as "to win public acceptance of mass immigration of post-second World War refugees and settlers by promoting rapid assimilation. They were formed to activate, encourage and coordinate the efforts of local church and community organisations in this assimilation role".
The language in settlement services has [thankfully)] changed over time from assimilation to integration and that's a topic for another day. In Tasmania, the GNC had its head office in Hobart with branches in Launceston, George Town, Devonport and Burnie, providing services that were undertaken by volunteers, and some with funding from the Australian Government.
Changes in government policy in 1978 saw the establishment of Migrant Resource Centres in Australia. At this time, funding to the GNCs was withdrawn. This essentially signalled the end of the Good Neighbour Council movement in Australia with many councils around the country disbanding, but not in Tasmania. The stoic members and supporters felt strongly that the knowledge and experience of the Good Neighbour volunteers could not and should not be wasted. There was still work to be done.
A new constitution was developed and with gusto, the Tasmanian GNCs continued their work. As with many community organisations however, the ageing volunteers were finding it increasingly difficult to continue visiting migrants at home and perform duties at the day centre [day centres provide a weekly face-to-face catch up that members very much look forward to].
Eventually, the GNC branches in Burnie, Devonport, and George Town closed down. The Good Neighbour Council in Launceston is the only remaining GNC in Tasmania and possibly the only one in Australia.
In 1994, a successful grant application secured much needed funds to employ part time staff to organise activities at the day centre and visit elderly migrants at home. The GNC's Coordinator, Wafa Ballard, needs a special mention for her genuine care for clients.
The GNC continues to provide services to migrants who arrived in Tasmania in the 1950s and 60s. An average of 50 elderly migrants from 10 nationalities attend the day centre every week. For some, it is their only opportunity to get out of the house and interact with others. Many live on their own.
Their families have grown up and moved away. The clients are in their advanced years with a small number farewelled each year. There is much sadness when the passing of members are read out at the AGMs.
The GNC's mission is to address issues of isolation by providing opportunities for social support and interaction for elderly people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.
This mission is fulfilled through social activities, guest speaker program, excursions, musical events, seminars and workshops, and visiting lonely people at home. The GNC celebrates clients' birthdays respecting their diverse spiritual beliefs.
The GNC works tirelessly to enrich people's lives and the volunteers make the best soup and sandwich lunch in Northern Tasmania. Happy 70th birthday to the Good Neighbours of Launceston - congratulations and thank you for all that you do.
- Ella Dixon is the chief executive officer of the Migrant Resource Centre Northern Tasmania.