VOLUNTEERING is an investment in yourself as much as the community in which you live according to Graham Brown OAM.
Investment versus return is an outcome he understands as a partner of Taree accountancy firm, GPB Partners, and one that he translates to his personal life by volunteering his time on committees and projects that have improved the economic, social and community identity of the Manning Valley.
Graham has been investing his skills, time and money in the Manning Valley for more than 30 years and the presentation of an Order of Australia Medal on January 26 is an accolade that publicly recognises his contribution.
He laughs when he shares that his first reaction to the news was, "An OAM! OMG!" but adds that it also served as a catalyst for him to reflect on his life.
"I started to think back and realised that this was always me. When I was a little bloke I remember going to help my dad do all the community things. It is in the blood, and it's also a need to have our community go forward ... some people think like that and others don't," Graham said.
"It was instilled in me at an early age.
"I remember painting the Goondiwindi Town Hall with dad and this one (the OAM) is really for him because he died when I was 14-years-old at the age of 51. He would have been awarded all sorts of things for all the work that he did in his community.
"It (the OAM) makes you think about life but the thing I really want to share is that volunteering is such a rewarding thing and it gives you more than what you ever put in.
"It doesn't matter if you only volunteer one hour, you will get multiples of an hour back in satisfaction.
"It makes for a better feeling and a better life and makes you a better person.
"There isn't a better feeling than knowing you have just helped someone. Whether it be in a paid capacity as a professional or a worker or a volunteer - the fact that somebody says 'thanks' is probably worth more than anything."
The OAM is a very public 'thanks' to Graham for three decades of community service that began in 1983 when he and his soon-to-be-wife, Ruth, chose to make the Manning Valley their home.
International accountancy firm Ernst and Young had its sights on Graham and pushed to secure commitment with an overseas post. The career crossroad saw the young couple look to the choices they needed to make to secure the life they sought for themselves, and one day, a family.
Graham says they decided they wanted the lifestyle and opportunities of life in the country and knew they needed to leave Sydney soon or they would never leave.
"The next month I opened the institute journal that had a 'positions vacant' section and there was a job advertised in Taree," Graham said.
"I came up, had the interview, and even though I got a parking fine during the interview, that still didn't turn me off!
"Even then, and really even more so now, I saw that this area just had everything, its rivers, mountains, waterfalls, beaches, water sports and it is so close to the city.
"That brought me here and that kept me here and I threw myself into the community right from the word go - every time someone asked for something, I said, 'yeah I can do that' - so suddenly I was president of the businessman's association, treasurer of the Manning Entertainment Centre and numerous other things," he explained.
"That's just who I am."
Graham's contribution to the Manning Valley is diverse and includes serving in the roles of president, treasurer and director of Bushland Health Group since 1989, working with Taree Legacy since 1991, being the honorary treasurer of Manning Entertainment Centre since 1984, a director of Manning Online, treasurer of Cundletown Soccer Club since 2010, honorary treasurer of the Manning Tsunami Appeal Committee in 2005, chairman of the North Coast region, Institute of Chartered Accountants from 1993 to 2005, a member of the Greater Taree City Council economic development committee since 2012, chairperson of the Manning Development Corporation and a member of the Manning Valley Businessmen's Association since 1983 - and organiser of Tidy Up Taree.
Graham's cites "the opportunity to work with like-minded, positive people" as a major factor in his consistent choices to invest in our community.
"Everything you do in a volunteering group is a really positive experience. Tidy Up Taree was just a huge buzz for me because it bought together some amazing people," Graham said.
He looks to the future of the Manning Valley and the future of volunteering with optimism.
"The number of people in this valley who volunteer is incredible, we are an extremely generous valley.
"I've been involved with a number of charitable things over the years and it always amazes me just how much money can flutter out of people's wallets," he said.
"My personal experience (of volunteering) is that it is increasing but it is increasing in non-traditional ways.
"The next generation of volunteers won't be in service club groups like Lions, Apex and Rotary because the weekly commitment that they have got to make is not possible.
"In my view, be it right or wrong, is that to engage the young guys you've got to have a very small committee working things out, and then gather people to give one day a few times a year.
"That was my philosophy behind Tidy Up Taree. If you commit to a day, people will give you a 'oncer' and what we have proven is that they will give you a 'oncer' regularly."
So with the 'oncer' strategy in place and an OAM to add to his community service street-cred, Graham sees 2015 as a year of opportunity to rally a new generation of volunteers to build on the momentum of developing the economic and community potential of the Manning Valley.