It was something about being a migrant that set Anne Wiggan on the road to volunteerism.
Arriving in Sydney as a six-year-old with her parents and four-year-old brother in 1953 at the Bradfield Migrant Camp, a sense of belonging became the main focus.
“Because you’re from somewhere else, I think you feel the need to give back,” she said.
“In a funny sort of way you’re partly dislocated and you ask where you belong. One way of belonging is seeing how you can contribute. It’s not for reward but having a sense of gratitude.”
The Bungonia woman has been justly rewarded with an Order of Australia Medal in the general division in this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honours.
“I was astounded; it never crossed my mind,” Mrs Wiggan said of the award.
“When the letter came in the mail it looked very formal. I thought ‘I hope I haven’t done anything wrong.’ After that I had to sit down rather fast.”
The nominator remains a mystery but the list of achievements is a certainty. Mrs Wiggan was honoured for her service to the Bungonia and Goulburn communities. She was a co-founder of Goulburn’s Abbeyfield Australia home for people with disabilities; a member of Bungonia Progress Association since 1975 and secretary from 1975 until the 1980s; a founding member of Rural Watch; a founding member and secretary of Bungonia and District Historical Society since 2002; a representative on the Heritage and Sustainability Parks Project since 2003; a volunteer with the Bungonia RFS; a member of the Bungonia Village Park Trust and a volunteer with the Sydney Heritage Fleet.
Mrs Wiggan is also a volunteer with Correction Services Weekend Detention. In her spare time she loves singing, currently with Goulburn’s U3A choir. Previously she was a volunteer and member of Saint Saviour’s choir, the Goulburn Consort of Voices and the Goulburn Argyle Society.
Early experience shaped her course. Mrs Wiggan said her family lived in “abject poverty” at the migrant camp, occupying an old boiler house, with galvanised iron walls and cold water. But her father worked his way up as a school teacher, blazing the trail with demonstration schools and spotting the potential in orphans with mental and physical disabilities whom he taught.
“That early experience was something I saw enormous value in,” Mrs Wiggan said.
After moving into a “derelict” 1840s home at Bungonia in 1975, she also became a teacher. She was the only female teacher at the former Saint Patrick’s College.
After 21 years in the sector she changed course, working initially at Kenmore Hospital with long-term residents and then with the Department of Ageing, Disability and Home Care as a case manager in Goulburn for people with intellectual delay. Mrs Wiggan also formulated training programs, allowing people to move from a structured environment into a supported community sphere.
“I saw a bunch of people with intellectual disabilities who would never receive financial support. The money was going to to people with severe disabilities, who were very deserving, but there was a whole sector that could lead lives in the community, yet there was no adequate housing for them if they left home,” Mrs Wiggan said.
She started and mentored a parents group which explored options. With Goulburn couple Annemarie and Noel Athea, the Abbeyfield pilot project was born. Today the Cowper Street facility accommodates 10 people with intellectual disabilities who lead semi-independent lives.
The care has extended to homeless, marginalised and vulnerable people attached to David’s Place at Kings Cross. Over many years Mrs Wiggan has organised a weekend of activities for a bus group at Bungonia, giving them a glimpse of a friendly community.
History has also been a great passion, partly formed by a wholesale restoration of and research on her own stone house. Three former inns dating back to the 1830s sit on an adjoining block.
Mrs Wiggan describes Bungonia as a hidden gem, the State’s first settlement south of Sydney, and a community that cares about and values its heritage.
“There’s an argument that you can’t preserve things and give them a value if people have no awareness of them. I’ve tried to make that a focus,” she said.
Singing has also provided many adventures, from performing with the Goulburn Consort of Voices at the 1988 Parliament House opening to representing Australia in Italy. Mrs Wiggan said learning under Dr Paul Paviour had been a “stunning opportunity.”
“Singing is a whole of body experience. It’s good for physical and mental health and hopefully, gives pleasure to people,” she said.
Mrs Wiggan admitted to still being stunned and questioning why she was chosen from the hundreds of other community volunteers.
“No volunteer does anything as an individual,” she said.
“It’s a collaborative effort and that’s where the strength comes from – everyone working together...For me it is about community, sharing, hospitality and service. People are people, we all fail and need a hand to be picked up and helped. We all deserve that chance.”
Other local connections also awarded in the Queen’s Birthday Honours were:
- Dr Michael Barkl, Wollongong, an OAM in the general division for service to the performing arts and music education, including as head teacher, Argyle College of TAFE, Goulburn.
- The late Dr Keith Francis Beck, late of Wauchope NSW, an OAM in the general division for service to medicine through a range of roles.
- John Randall Sharp, Exeter, and AM for significant service to the people and Parliament of Australia, to the aviation industry, and to the community. Mr Sharp was a former Member for Gilmore (1984 – 1993) and Hume (1993 – 1998), which covered Goulburn and district.