Last Wednesday I was a guest at the Thomas Kelly Foundation Gala Dinner. For those that don’t know the Thomas Kelly story I’ll share a little.
18 year old Thomas Kelly headed out with his girlfriend for a night in the city. He was embarking on an exciting period in his life and had so much in front of him but on that evening he was the victim of an unprovoked and cowardly king hit. He was literally just walking down the street and in that moment a whole family’s life changed. Thomas underwent emergency surgery but after two days his family had to make the heartbreaking decision to switch off his life support.
The Kelly family have worked tirelessly ever since the attack occurred in 2012, to stop alcohol fuelled violence. They lobbied for lock out laws to reduce the availability and supply of alcohol. The results from the lock out laws are hard to ignore. A representative from St Vincent’s Hospital (our major city hospital in Sydney) spoke at the dinner of a 30% decrease in alcohol related hospital admissions. There are 70,000 victims of alcohol related violence in Australia, 14,000 hospitalised and 3451 of those with brain injuries.
The media is filled with bad news but some stories have more of an impact than others. BJ was born with cerebral palsy and there is nothing we could have done to prevent it, there is no-one to blame, it is what it is. To think that Thomas was a healthy young man and someone else took that from him is unthinkable. Thomas Kelly’s death struck a cord with me and judging by the 700 strong crowd at the gala dinner, I wasn’t the only person touched by the story. His family’s strength and commitment to make the world a safer place for our kids is remarkable.
The gala dinner was a wonderful evening. There were many poignant moments during the night but probably none more moving than Stuart Kelly who spoke of the love he had for his brother and the “deep scar” he still carries from losing him. But the evening was also filled with energy and happiness and was clearly a celebration of a life lost too early.
Justice Crew started the evening off by performing one of my favourite songs, Que Sera which got the crowd energised.
Brad Blaze entertained and had me amazed by his speed painting. I didn’t even know such a thing existed. He ramped up the music and began his work, with crazy, slap-dash brush strokes but within minutes it became apparent that his slap-dash was more accurate than my slow and laboured paint work. The first artwork he produced was a portrait of Bono from U2 and he painted him upside down. Next came a painting done all in black. I felt like tapping him on the shoulder and explaining that from the audience’s perspective it was a little lack lustre. Fortunately I waited because with great flourish he threw gold glitter on the “lack lustre” painting to produce an incredible picture of Pink. That picture then sold later in the evening to a Sony executive for $10,000. I wouldn’t mind that hourly rate but all proceeds were going to the Thomas Kelly Foundation so a great cause. If you get the chance to see Brad Blaze, do it, his show is highly entertaining but be warned you may leave feeling like me, completely useless with a paint brush.
At this point I should add that at the event I felt like a tiny fish in a huge aquarium. There were some amazingly accomplished people in that room. It was a diverse crowd with politicians, television presenters, radio identities, music producers and individuals who have contributed to society in a significant way. The individuals I admire greatly are people like Bruce and Denise Morocombe who have worked tirelessly to ensure young kids are safe from predators after their son Daniel was abducted and killed by a sexual predator. Ken Marslew who lost his son in a bungled pizza robbery and went on to set up Enough is Enough and has fought for victim’s rights ever since. Reverend Bill Crews who started the Exodus Foundation which serves meals and provides assistance to the homeless in Sydney.
There were many people I would have liked to speak with on the night but I had my sights firmly set on NSW Premier Mike Baird and the Lord Mayor of Sydney Clover Moore. I’m not quite sure what gets into me but I was a woman on a mission and by hook or by crook I planned to talk about accessible and inclusive tourism. As with my meeting in Melbourne with the Minister for Small Business, Bruce Bilson, I knew timing was everything. There was a break between courses so with my trusty friend Helen, who invited me to the event, we approached. We had a bit of a wait as someone was kind of monopolising the Premier’s time but being patient was worth it. He was lovely and I managed to share my business cards with BJ in the TrailRider and the beach wheelchair. Once again I mentioned that my mission is to see tourism for people with a disability represented in mainstream media. I told him that people with a disability needed to know where they could travel and have opportunities to do so. I also mentioned the lovely comments we receive from our overseas friends and how many mention they would love to come here after seeing the wonderful facilities we have here in Sydney. There were others waiting so I did what I could in the short time I had. One down and my eyes were firmly set on the Lord Mayor because I had a very specific goal. We were fortunate to attend the Lord Mayor’s picnic up until BJ turned 12. It is wonderfully organised event on New Year’s Eve for families of children with special needs. I feel there needs to be something for teens and young adults because they are actually the ones who would normally be heading out to a New Year’s Eve celebration. The Lord Mayor listened and at the end she said, “No-one has ever said that before.” Hopefully it is food for thought but I guess like everything it is all about funding. I planted the seed and that was all I could do over the music and in the time I had with her that evening.
The evening finished with Samatha Jade (X-Factor winner) performing and getting the crowd up dancing. Another amazing person there on the night was Dr Charlie Teo, an international renowned neurosurgeon, who proved that doctors can bust a move outside of the operating room.
I had a wonderful night and once again it reminded me that one person (or in the case of the Kelly family, one family) can make a difference to many. If you’d like to learn more about the Thomas Kelly Foundation or the Take Kare program in the city of Sydney you can read about it on the website.
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