Warrane College UNSW | college accommodation for students at UNSW
Warrane College UNSW | college accommodation for students at UNSW

Raising over 80 million for charity

Portrait of Reg Richardson AM displayed in the National Protrait Gallery

Warrane’s guest, Reg Richardson AM, would have to be one of Australia’s most colourful – and accomplished – characters.

Few of the country’s leading entrepreneurs, art lovers and philanthropists wear coloured spectacles (bright red-and-green!) in honour of their favourite Rugby League Club – South Sydney. Even fewer have raised more than $80 million for charity.

But it was easy to see why he is so successful when he visited the College on Wednesday 25 July, 2012 – throughout his speech in the main common room packed with Warrane residents, Mr Richardson displayed an irrepressible optimism and sense of humour.

Throughout the talk, he spoke in a down-to-earth, matter-of-fact way about his adventures in business, as a patron of the arts and how he goes about raising funds for charities like the Melanoma Institute Australia (of which he is Chairman). He also gave residents a glimpse of his personal life, particularly his strong Catholic faith.

He said he was brought up in his early years by his grandmother who lived in South Sydney, but moved to Broken Hill to complete his education with the Marist Brothers.

Since leaving school he has been employed in a range of businesses, including information storage and management, wholesale pharmaceutical distribution, property development and investment. He also became Chairman for one of Australia’s largest financial planning companies and has been a director of a number of public companies.

One of his early positions was with one of the biggest mining companies in the world, Rio Tinto, followed by TNT, where he became friends with Greg Poche, who went on to found the transport company, Star Track Express. After Mr Poche sold the company, he became one of the biggest contributors to the charities that Mr Richardson has been involved with, contributing around $65 million of the total.

The charities include the Melanoma Institute Australia, Friends of the Mater Foundation and the Poche Centres of Indigenous Health at the University of Sydney and Flinders University in Adelaide.

Reg said that raising money for charity was the most rewarding thing that he has ever undertaken.

“I have never felt so great,” he said. “My wife tells me that it has changed me. She said I was a different guy. I feel like that Harry Chapin song: you finally like yourself.”

Asked what he considered the most important social issues of our time, he said sorting out the refugee problem which would be fixed if the mayor federal parties were not so entrenched in their positions. He is passionate about the issue of indigenous health with the 17 years age disparity, a national disgrace. He pointed out the 3,000 indigenous people are unnecessarily blind and 14,000 have unnecessary poor vision. He also said “aborigines are born with five times better eyesight than we have and then so many of them go blind. For me indigenous health is the major issue, along with the refugee issue.” Reg and Greg are involved with the University of Melbourne in a research project to establish how to fix this.

Asked how he was able to raise so much money for charity he said: “You just have to be creative and forceful and get on with it. There are a lot of decent people out there and I have just stumbled upon some of them.”

“You do get knocked back a lot, but you just have to get on with it. You can’t be too sensitive. Wealthy people are not always generous.”

Mr Richardson also spoke about his extensive involvement with the Arts, which has included appointments to the Art Gallery of NSW Foundation, and the board of the Museum of Contemporary Art. The proud owner of an extensive personal art collection, he has helped to brighten Australian hospitals by hanging many of his own paintings in their corridors.

[Warrane College offers more than just accommodation to students at UNSW: Details of other guest speakers are available here]