In this episode, I’m talking with Terry Campese, Community Recovery Officer at the Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council and former star player for the NRL Canberra Raiders. Today we’re talking about Community Connections from a Local Government Perspective.
Terry has always had a strong desire to connect with his local community. In 2012 he set up the Terry Campese Foundation to support not-for-profit organisations in Canberra, Queanbeyan and Southern News South Wales.
I connected with Terry at the end of 2020 when he reached out to C2C to see how we could help with some of his local communities that were impacted by the bushfires. Together, as part of our Co-Designed grants solution, we facilitated a community-led grant submission.
I’m so excited to have Terry on the episode today to share his undeniable passion for community.
A little bit about Terry...
Terry joined the Canberra Raiders in 2002 once he completed year 12 at Karabar High School and had his First Grade Debut in 2004 vs the Penrith Panthers. He has always been passionate about community work and set up the Terry Campese Foundation in 2012.
The Foundation has been set up for the purpose of giving back to the local community. The aim is to support as many not-for-profit organisations in Canberra, Queanbeyan and Southern News South Wales as possible.
The Foundation has already donated thousands of dollars to CanTeen ACT and Southern NSW, YouthCareCanberra, Galilee Foster Care, Ronald McDonald House Canberra, Cerebral Palsy Alliance ACT and Southern NSW, The Salvation Army Queanbeyan, Home in Queanbeyan as well as donating support to individuals in extreme circumstances.
I like to start with where we met...
I received a call from Terry towards the end of 2020 as he was given our details by a peer from Resilience NSW and wanted to see how we could help with some of his local communities that were impacted by the bushfires.
After a quick intro chat, I started receiving call after call and email after email asking for help for many varying groups.
As it turned out we ended bringing all the different groups within the community of Braidwood together and as part of our Co-Designed grants solution, we facilitated a community-led grant submission.
Mel and I were lucky to meet Terry in person when we flew to attend the annual Braidwood Cup which hasn’t run the past two years because of drought and bushfires. It was a great opportunity to meet the local community in person during the COVID lockdowns.
So now we’re back on zoom for this chat, thanks so much Terry for joining us for this conversation.
Here are some questions I asked...
1. Let’s start with so you’re in a specific role until the end of the financial year at the local council you’re working for. And can you share what your current role is and also what your previous role was, which is I guess, what you’re going to be going back to soon.
Yeah, that’s right. So, the contract currently ends in June, but I’ll touch base on where I come from previously first, which was Program Coordinator for Community at the Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council. In that space, we looked after all the Aboriginal services, multicultural disability aged care, and also family daycare sat in that space. So, a very broad community space, which I thoroughly enjoyed. We sat on all the domestic violence, homelessness, social wellbeing committees within the community, which you got to sit down and listen to community members and services, who looked after the community and just discussed the gaps and where we can support the community as a whole. So I thoroughly enjoyed that role. I come from a community background and just love trying to fill those gaps and help people that fall through the gaps or need some support in that space. And, then we had a huge disaster across Australia really, all up the East Coast and I was asked to move over to the bushfire recovery space, which it was called at the time – Office of Emergency Management- was in charge back then, to look after all the bushfire victims and the community that were affected in that disaster. So, I thought it would be a great challenge for myself to learn and to be involved before the disaster. That side of things I thought would be really good learning for my previous role of community, and essentially it sits in that space. So, we didn’t really work too much in the Braidwood region which was heavily affected and the small community towns around so I also thought it would be great to get out and network and link with all the community champions and get to learn some of our LGA which we didn’t spend too much time in. That’s where I am now and they changed the name, Offices of Emergency Management changed to Resilience South Wales, which now Shane Fitzsimmons heads and our role was moved to a community recovery officer. So yeah, I thoroughly enjoyed my role here, it’s been a real privilege to be able to work with, our community and in the, in the region. Rebuilding their houses at the start, fences, just working through all the different services that were in that space at the start was a bit of a minefield. There were organisations and services coming from everywhere. There’s so much money and funding flying around. So just trying to learn all of that at the start was difficult. I think it took a good month to get your head around everything and get to know everyone that was working in that space, just so we could help our community best we could and direct them in the right areas so they could rebuild, or they could move forward with their lives, because it was, you know, such a big event. Some people lost absolutely everything, you know, some of the elderly, seniors in the area that lost their properties, they lost everything from when they were a young kid. So, some of the stories break your heart and you just want to be there for them and help them best you can.
I have to say, we’ve spoken to a lot of people in communities around your region, and I have never met someone from local government who is so loved and admired. And just the gratitude from them for the help and support that you’ve been delivering to them. And obviously, it’s before the bushfires as well. I’ve not experienced that from a local council person before. So, you’re obviously doing something very right. And it’s very genuine and passionate.
2. You’re obviously pretty passionate about the community. So why? Why are you interested in helping that real grassroots level communities?
Great question. And thank you for those words is very humbling. Actually, if you could have the video on, I’ve actually got goosebumps from what you just said. I don’t know. I come from a sporting background. So yeah, I played NRL for many years and was involved with school visits and hospital visits and just seeing them, I guess the change that you could make on someone who is going through the worst possible time. And just to see them, put a smile on their face, or just to stop thinking about what they’ve gone through at that time for however long you’re there for, just to make that small difference. It just resonated with me. I just wanted to do as much as possible. So as soon there would be a request coming out through to the players who have always put my hand up first. And I’d always be there, you know, first of the school or hospital, whatever it might be, and just thoroughly enjoyed that space. When I finished football, I didn’t know which direction I wanted to go and just going through the local seek job advertisements, it came up ‘program community coordinator.’ So, I read the job description and what was involved. I thought how good is this position, how good is this role. It was the first day of a job I went for, to be honest. So, I was a little bit scared and went for a job interview, putting on a suit to sit down in local government, which I didn’t know too much about. I was never really into the politics side – it didn’t really interest me, but I just couldn’t let this chance go so I applied for it in 2016. I was lucky enough to win the role. Normally in local governments, a lot of grant writing, applying for funding things like that, where I just bought a different perspective and a different view to what business as usual was like. I came in and got community sponsorship. So, your local businesses and the networks that I created and got throughout my football career, I try to help the community which has worked. It’s just a different way of thinking. So, I’m not sure if that has anything to do with my work, but it’s been very enjoyable. And just to bring that I guess that aspect of changing someone’s day or their life or whatever it might be, trying to do that in bigger groups now with some of our vulnerable and socially isolated different groups.
I have to say how lucky is the Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council that you just sat down and went on seek that day because I have to say, I think you’re a bit like me. We’ve had a few conversations about this in the past – we just think of it differently and we do a bit differently and we just kind of get stuff done that needs to be done to help others. And what a fantastic capability and skill set and mindset that the council now has from you during that. It’s so great to hear that it comes from the passion inside and it’s not just you needing to have a job and do a job. You’re obviously doing it for a full personal passion and delivering the outcomes that you want to achieve. That’s what’s awesome. So, community connections – at corporate2community is all about people and connecting people. And I did come up and spend a day with you and some of your contacts, and I can see that you are very connected.
3. How important are community connections do you think? From your own perspective, but also from a local government perspective?
It just creates a culture that people want to be involved in. If we come back to where I am now and in Braidwood, so it’s an hour from the office that I’ve previously sat in. So, I travel out every day. And this community out here is nothing like anything I’ve ever experienced. They’ve never had a community team within their council area previously. So recently, the merged Council. We’ve merged for five years now, it used to be Palerang Council out here and merged with Queanbeyan to make it Queanbeyan-Palerang. And so they never had a community section out here. So just the way they go about their daily life, they don’t rely on anyone, they just help each other. They create programs where they see gaps, and they just support each other in everything they do. And moving in this space has just taught me so much. And it’s just been amazing to be a part of it. So, when you go back to your comments earlier that the community really loves the work that we have done from this bushfire’s perspective, I think they have done it all for us. They’re the ones who have led the way. And we’ve learned and we’ve just had the support. And it’s definitely given me a whole new perspective of community and what it means to be a part of one and hopefully, I can take these learnings back into my prior role when I go back in June.
4. Yeah, it is a great community, Braidwood. And we’ll touch on a bit more of them later. So, what in your opinion, makes the community connected?
Just the relationships and just to know that there are people on the end of the line or your weekly craft groups, or whatever else. There’s so much stuff that revolves around community – sporting groups, your Pony Club etc. – just knowing that there are people there to help out if you are busy taking the young ones to sport. Having the confidence that there are people out there to support you through the tough times, or might not even be tough times, just to rely on support. To help you do your daily chores. It’s 2021 now and everyone is so busy. I can remember when I was a young kid life was not so hectic, there wasn’t as much on but now with family life and with work and with the pressures of paying mortgages and the price of food and petrol and just living expenses these days, it’s so much pressure and everyone is so busy. But there are people out there that can help you get through on the support. And just not relying on organisations or services to do that for you. I think it’s just having that connectedness where we can lean on other people to help to help in life.
Yes, it’s such a great way of saying it too. So, I’m a really firm believer that you build resilience through social capital building and through connections. And the more connected you are, then the more resilient you will be. And actually, just yesterday, I filmed a podcast with Daniel Aldrich, who I know I’ve mentioned to you because I mentioned him to everyone. He’s the global expert in social capital. And he has the three types of ties, the bonding, the bridging and the linking ties. I think Braidwood is a great example of a community, and I think the work that you are doing and I’ve heard that you’ve been doing, is a fantastic way of connecting communities through those three ways. So, family connections, and then community connections that are not the normal kind of ties that you’d have. Then the linking ties – to link government into communities. I mean, I might actually have to come back to you as being a little poster boy and a good practice example of social capital in Australia. So, stay tuned for that one. So, can I ask you, what do you think are the greatest challenges that you’ve experienced in trying to connect to the community.
5. So, Braidwood is obviously an example of a community that is self-driving its own connections and resilience building, what’s some challenges you’ve had from other communities that are just really struggling to connect?
Well, there’s still struggles in Braidwood and surrounds. What we see is community. Not everyone sees it like that. Some of our regional towns the people decide to move there because they want to be isolated. They don’t, they don’t want that interaction. That’s the essence of how they want to pursue their life. So, when it comes to trying to assist people and send them in the right direction and get them back on their feet. Throughout this disaster, people don’t want to have those conversations, they don’t want to come forward. So, we’re still seeing it now. We are 13 months down the track, people are still coming forward now that burnout or, we’re affected in that disaster. So, just all because of that, that social side that they’re not comfortable in conversations. They moved to those communities to be away from everyone. So that’s been a difficult one. Trying to link and touch base with everyone, because that’s what we’re here for. We want to help everyone we can. And the other one is people who you think are worse off than what they are. So, trying to get that communication over that if they get what they’re entitled to – that someone else doesn’t miss out. That’s another one that’s been very difficult through this time.
What we do is facilitate the national principles of community led recovery, which is all fine and dandy, except there are, you know, groups within communities who recover differently. So, whilst you’re trying to facilitate the holistic recovery of a community, you’ve also got to take into account that as you say, some people are there for different reasons, have different experiences, want and need different things so that that balancing can be really challenging. What I’m really impressed by just your words and your language too, is that you’re obviously really focused on inclusiveness. And I know, this goes to the roots of what we spoke about earlier, and we’ll come on to your foundation shortly. But what I love and I don’t hear very often, so again, I think you need to take the credit for it, is that you really go into things with that inclusiveness, who’s not there. I’m always the one in meetings going ‘who’s not at the table’. And I think that’s such a huge capability and strength for, again, for your local council to have, because it’s really easy to get in that mindset of ‘here’s the normal people who turn up, so we’re okay, they’re the loudest or the proudest. But, to have the ability to identify and reach out and ensure that there’s support in the right way. For those vulnerable groups that are not at the table, I think he’s really credible. So full credit to you for having that approach. Because that to me is a really massive benefit and a massive strength.
6. What’s the role then of local government to build or strengthen community connections? And I’m going to ask it in three minds, like before, during and after disasters?
Yeah, I think every Council is different. So, we have CRO’s, which are community recovery officers. I think there are 37 of us across the east coast of Australia that sit with Council. And, you know looked over from Resilience New South Wales. So, I think each Council rolls this position out differently. A big part of it was just trying to touch base with every single person that was affected. So, one of the things we did straight away in the piece was get a community development officer to sit with us. What she did was set up a community champion, we call it a renewal group of all the community champions in our region. So, we sat together once a week. And the idea behind that was that they knew of everyone, and they were the information sharing to get it out and forward anything new coming through. We used to meet once a week so all the information that we got in would be sent through that group and would get out to the community. And the community was more comfortable in talking to a community champion about any issues rather than someone who has been sent over from a different area. So we had that set up in place, and I think that was instrumental in the way in the work that we did early on.
That’s so good. And it’s again, it’s empowering internally. So again, you’re not sea-gulling in, you’re not coming into kind of crap all over everyone and then fly out again. You’re literally empowering it internally.
It was really good and we still meet now, so we meet monthly at the moment with that group and we just support them in any community events that they are doing. And anything is possible when it comes to road issues. It all comes through this now because we’ve built those networks and they’ve got trust with our group. So, they can come through us for any council issues, which hopefully, can get them in to see the right person in Council who might be at a system. So, it’s been great to see those connections and those relationships grow from day one when we didn’t know who each other were. That was a big part of why we are in this position that we are in now. The other thing we set up was a hot desk. It was a little bushfire assistance hub set up, which we put 10 desks in a space, and it was open to all the services that worked in the space from Salvation Army, Red Cross, your DPI’s, all your New South Wales health and Catholic Cares. And this space was open five days where all of those services would come and work out of. Also, the community had one point of call to come and see some of these services face to face, because doing things over the phone doesn’t suit everyone. Some people don’t have the internet, they’d rather come in and print the application form out and fill it out with someone. So that’s what we set up early on as well. The community had somewhere to go and sit down with someone face to face. So, I think those two things were very important for our council and it seemed to work really well to build those relationships and trust.
7. And do you think they’ll continue? Obviously, recoveries take a long time, but do you think they’ll continue moving forward and the community will just kind of continue to work that way?
Hopefully they see Council in a different light because this area, like I said they never had a community team. So normally, it was just your roads, rubbish and rates Council was for. But there’s so much more to Council, we’re the link in the collaborators and the networkers to assist and to direct people in the right area. We try to be on top of everything from mothers groups to craft clubs. Say there is someone new to town, and they asked a question on where they can go with their four-year-old during the week to have some interaction. So, we try to be on top of all that, because that’s what we believe resilience is. Being there and being able to answer questions to make people feel more comfortable and connected.
Yeah, it’s such a great approach. So right now, then, from your role, (and I know you’re about to end your role in the bushfire tree bushfire responsibilities).
8. What’s the biggest challenge for local government and I guess your role in local government right now?
Our area is different to a lot of areas, but the biggest challenge for us, I don’t see too many at the moment for our area, is these community champions, this renewal group. I can’t thank them enough for the work because if it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t be able to do the good stuff that we have done. So, I just hope we keep those relationships. Like what you just mentioned earlier – Where to from here – I just hope we keep building on these relationships that we have, and the renewal group continues, and they have the trust in us and it just keeps growing. It would be great to get some younger people. That’s the one thing that we find is hard, trying to connect with youth in any area and I think that’s an issue across Australia. How to get youth to come forward and support some of our seniors, and you look at all the different community groups out there, they are on the older side, or they are in a later time of their life. So, it’d be great to try and interact with them and get their voice across the line as well. So, I just hope that we keep these relationships that we have, and they can keep trusting us.
I mean, it sounds like you’re setting up such a great foundation. Then the next part, obviously, is continuing it and making it sustainable and more inclusive for the next generations.
Now, I’m just going to divert the conversation a little bit. And let’s not go into too much detail because we have spoken about this a little bit before. You know my feelings on this – I don’t believe the current structure of grants going out to communities, for the bushfires mainly, support community connections. So, I mentioned in the intro that you ‘re sending some different groups within Braidwood town our way and we were helping them individually to submit for grants. Then we identified that, hang on a minute, you’re all kind of wanting the same thing for the same type of outcome. So, we worked with all the groups and you were such a big part of those meetings and obviously bringing us together. We said, ‘let’s apply for one grant for the whole town, and everyone can have their part and play their role. So, I don’t feel like the current structure of grants works. It puts councils against community groups against a different community group together, I think to me, it actually does the opposite of building community connections and social capital. It’s not a local government decision, per say. But you have been part of the process of having to deal with community’s sort of fighting each other for funds. I guess the question is;
9. Do you think there’s a better way that the grants could be run that facilitated connected communities seeking funding as opposed to competitive groups and communities seeking funding?
100%. I think it needs an overhaul. The one that I’ve been involved in previously, we admin for club grants in our area. So, we would sit down with the guys of the general managers, I think it was four clubs, in the Queanbeyan-Palerang area, they would give us their figure of how much money was available. So, we had a rough idea of what was out there. Then we would send out the club grant application forms, then they would all come back to us at Council. And then, we sit down and prioritize for the clubs, what we think as Council. The benefit of that was, since we’re community development, and we have community development sitting in our space, we had an idea of the programs and organisations and everyone who supported each other within that community. So, if you’re getting a service that you haven’t seen before, from Sydney, applying for a grant, you knew that. So, you could feed that back to the clubs, if that makes sense. So, we’re supporting local charities or local organisations that have been there for a long time and have done really good things. You see the work that they do every day. And, the grant process wasn’t too big of a process for the community groups as well. It’s a pretty simple application form, which definitely helps. And if you have people on the ground that do see these groups, I think it does help. But you know, when it comes to this much funding, I’m not sure how they could do better. They do allocate so much funds to different council areas. But, if you would have talked about this two years ago, saying that there’s going to be this much money available because a huge disaster is coming, no one would have believed you. I don’t think anyone would have even put any thinking around this, but it definitely needs to be looked at because it can be done better, I believe.
Yeah, I agree. A decade ago, I set up the Australia Post’s grants program. So, I went through all the processes. Everything from, why are there grant submissions that require people to be paid to help the communities write the grants, because the submissions are so confusing. You know, what is the process? And to me, I’m interested in, what’s the percentage of grant funding for an infrastructure versus a people perspective etc. I think there’s so many consequences of how they’ve designed the grants programs. How they’ve run that, and then obviously, we’re waiting for the announcement. So, we’ll see what happens there.
Really quickly to touch on you – outside of your nine to five job. You’ve touched on this earlier in our chat about how you spent a lot of your time as an important and very high-profile rugby player doing community work. So, you set up a few years ago, the Terry Campese foundation to help youth in particular.
10. So, tell me a bit about the Terry Campese Foundation. Why did you set it up? And what’s happening with it now?
Yes. So, I’ve had a few injuries in my career in footy and I’ve had, you know, too many operations. So, by the time I hit 25 I had gone through quite a few. I had three ACL reconstructions, I’ve had hamstrings off the bone and groins and all the rest, which is you know, traumatizing to think about. So, within that time I was trying to keep yourself busy and I was doing a lot of community work. I was lucky enough to win the Ken Stevens award for the NRL. So that’s the big community award at the end of the year from all the 16 NRL clubs. I won that award which was great, but the thing that I loved about it wasn’t about the recognition. I definitely do not do it for any of that. It was about winning more money that I could give back to the community. So that’s what I really enjoyed about that award. In 2012 I approached a community person who I did a little bit of work with and heard how much great work she did – it was Pamela Slocum. I asked her if she would be interested in helping me set up my own charity, which she said yes. So, it evolved over time, so we set up the charity in 2012, which we used to do a yearly golf day and a couple of little events here and there to raise money for one charity in particular. And then the next year, I was thinking actually let’s go further than this. Because you don’t really see where the money goes at all. So, you donate the money to a charity and then that’s pretty much it until the next year until we donate that money again. So, then the next year after that, we started raising a little bit more money, and then we were picking different little charities that we believed in to give them the money. But, the difference between this one was that we wanted to purchase something. So, if it was, you know, disability service, we wanted to buy a wheelchair for a person who needed a wheelchair. Or, if it was for the Salvation Army, we wanted to actually pay for the program that they were running for the kids. And then it evolved again from there. And then we wanted to pick a direction because we had so much support from our community. They gave a lot of money, and I wanted them to be able to know where the money was going. Because it was easy to say Salvation Army, this and that but I wanted to have something specific. So, we came up with a youth program a couple of years ago. We worked with the local police in the Queanbeyan area, we got volunteers, mentor volunteers and did a youth program. For about five months we met weekly with some dis-engaged youth who were in juvenile justice orders. They had pretty strict guidelines throughout this mentor program. And then at the end, we took them over the Kokoda track. It was honestly one of the best experiences of my life. Personally, myself, I learned a lot on that track. And, just to watch the young people evolve. To see where they come from, what they go through each and every day, the challenges that they do have. The thing I loved was there were no telephones, no computers. Just to see the interaction. And these young people wanted to learn the culture, they were in there with all their porters, everyone had a porter, to carry their food and all the rest of the tents and stuff like that. And just to see the way that they interacted, they helped cook and they just grew as young people. Now this is going back, what, two years ago now. And I spoke to the youth liaison officer at the Police for an update on the young people and not one of them has been in trouble since going on that trip. So, the idea is that they have goals. We wanted to change the direction of one person’s life, but to hear that of all five, it’s pretty special. So, it makes it all worthwhile.
Another thing we just got from Melbourne, down in your neck of the woods, a sleep bus. So that actually arrives this month, which we’re very excited about. This came out of some of my previous role in community. I sat in on the homelessness form, and there is a big gap in emergency accommodation. And it’s very sad to hear some of the situations people get themselves in. Some of it is not their own doing and sleeping rough, and the extreme weather here in Canberra. It is either 40 degrees or minus 10. So yeah, we helped purchase this bus. It’s got 14 sleep pods in it for people who are going through a tough time and hopefully get them a good night’s sleep. They will be more active the next day if they’re not sleeping in the weather. So hopefully, this can change some people’s lives as well. And then we’re about to do another youth program similar to the Kokoda one but in Braidwood Central, which has been heavily affected from obviously the disaster and there was drought before the fires and then COVID. So, we’re going to take young people to Larapinta in June.
Oh, wow. So, you really are Mr. community. I have to say that like just here and everywhere and community is obviously just in your DNA every day.
What 2 things would you like to be done differently in the disaster space?
One we’ve touched base on it. I think the grant process for sure. I believe that. This is probably a bad thing to say but there has been a lot of funding out there and a lot of support for the community. The whole world rallied behind what had happened and donated money, and the government got behind it and tried to support people. But you know what, there were some people who I believe fell through the gaps. Listening to their story, and because they don’t fit a criteria, there was nothing out there for them. It was very hard to tell them, to communicate that to them and the disappointment on their faces. And just knowing that there was nothing that fit that criteria was very difficult. We still try and think outside the box as much as possible to assist these people. There are a couple of organisations that tried to fill the gaps like GIVIT and the YWCA and some of the church groups and stuff like that, that came in and could do a little bit of support in that space. But there were still a lot of people who I thought they could have probably had some funding, extraordinary funding somewhere to be able to help people like this. If someone lost their house, and it wasn’t their primary place of residence there was no way of checking what kind of debt they were in. Who knows they could have had huge mortgages on both houses, for example. That’s just one small example that there was no way of seeing what their financial hardship was at that time.
Yeah, they’re two great examples. I think, I hope and it sounds like it is happening, that there’s a lot of learnings taken from the process. But more importantly, those learnings will be actually integrated into better outcomes and processes for the future. And I hope that the local council or Resilience New South Wales are really embracing the knowledge and that you have, and your experience of the role that you’ve played with the disaster. I think there’s so much learning from that real grassroots level.
Terry, thank you so much. So today, I’ve been talking to Terry Campese and he’s the community recovery officer at the Queanbeyan-Palerang Regional Council. We’ve been talking about community connections from a local government perspective, as well as many other things. Terry, thanks so much for talking and we’ll talk to you again soon.
Always a pleasure. Thank you very much for having us and hope everyone enjoyed that little session.
I’m sure they will.