People with purpose: By George, there’s still work to be done

Posted on 14 Jul 2023

By Greg Thom, journalist, Our Community

George Mc Donald resized

“Be inspired, have your say, get involved.”

The words on George McDonald’s business card for the Kilsyth Community Action Group, a grassroots organisation in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs, could easily be the narrative of his life.

The energetic 91-year-old known for his colourful suits (think powder blue or bright orange) has devoted more than half a century to volunteering and community work.

A no-nonsense problem-solver who knows how to get things done, George says his lifelong journey of giving was born out of necessity.

After emigrating from Scotland in 1968 to start a new job in a new country, his immediate priorities included finding a place to live, enrolling his young children in school and coming to grips with culture shock down under.

These pressing issues were soon overshadowed, however, by the severe homesickness experienced by his wife Betty, a situation complicated by George’s extensive travel for work.

“I was dealing with a wife who had no friends or relations in Australia, whereas I met new people every day,” said George.

They sought advice from a doctor who advised Betty to take medication, but George was convinced there must be a better way.

Connecting with their new community was the key, he believed, and they chose volunteering over Valium.

“It’s all about meeting people. It was as simple as that,” says George, of the capacity for volunteering to help Betty integrate into Australian society.

George asked around and found Betty a position making school lunches with five like-minded women at a local milk bar for a few hours each day, opening her world to a steady stream of new faces.

Around the same time, the McDonalds met Australian couple Lindsay and Bev Trollope, who helped the homesick Scots expand their circle of friends by introducing them to the local Uniting Church.

Not only did the families become lifelong friends, but their meeting marked the beginning of George’s decades-long journey as a tireless community advocate in his adopted country.

George McDonald in 1984
Sartorial splendour: A younger George McDonald adds a dash of colour in 1984.

George, a keen badminton player, and Bev convinced the church minister to let them lay down a court in the church hall and then advertised in the local paper for players.

“When I started playing badminton, people came and joined and it just spread from there. Within three months we had 24 players. It was packed.”

As the popularity of the game grew, George played a key role in the ensuing years in expanding facilities from a lone badminton court in a church hall into a multi-court stadium with supporting facilities catering to hundreds of players.

The indefatigable nonagenarian never lost his love for the game either, playing in more than 1200 mixed doubles tournaments with good friend Bev, and he served as president of the Victorian Badminton Veterans Association for more than 40 years.

Along the way he also found time to officiate at three Commonwealth Games, at the World Masters Games, and as badminton manager at the world Deaflympic Games in 2005.

Off the badminton court, George’s contribution to the community over the years is long, varied and impressive.

His list of achievements includes everything from helping secure construction of a senior citizens building and organising keenly contested billy cart races to helping establish the Kilsyth Community Action Group.

“I was appointed secretary of the Celebrate Mooroolbark Festival in 2018 and am still an active member,” he says proudly.

George Mc Donald at CIC 2023
George McDonald at the 2023 Communities in Control Conference.

When asked to reflect on the secret of being a successful community advocate for more than 50 years, George advises others to never give up.

“You’ve got to find a clear need in the community, find the right people and just continue work on it,” he says.

In an era when the number of Australians volunteering has fallen alarmingly, George says he has no intention of stopping anytime soon.

“I’m in my ‘90s. What’s the sense in stopping?”

More information

Help sheet: Practical ways to boost your volunteer base

Tips: Fourteen ways to thank your volunteers

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