Joe’s passion to help

| Bendigo Weekly | 31-Mar-2011 2.26

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INSPIRATION: Joe Newson. Photo: ANDREW PERRYMAN. More photos at www.bendigophotos.com
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After the worst possible start in life, Bendigo’s Joe Newson has become an inspiration for so many

God helps those who help themselves, we’re told.
But one Bendigo man sticks to the equally rustic rule that we all need a helping hand from time to time. And that everybody is worthy of that help.
Joe Newson is a big believer in people. Even though most would have probably lost that trust, if they had suffered what the affable grandfather did, early in his life.
He’s understandably short on detail, but at the tender age of eight, innocence was lost at the hands of a trusted family member.
The pain still lingers close to the surface, in this his 60th year; while it scarred him deeply, it never dimmed his bright outlook on life.
“I could have gone either way... but that’s where I’ve got my strength from over the years,” he said recently.
So, as the boy grew into a proud and successful tradesman, who took on many a wayward apprentice over the years, he retained the belief no one was beyond his help.
“There were some you couldn’t help,” he admitted.
“Although I never gave up hope with anybody.
“I always remember my oldest daughter coming to me and saying: ‘Dad, you can’t help everybody’.
“I said: ‘Debbie, don’t ever take away from me that I can’t help everybody’.”
And he’s helped more than a few.
“251 to be exact,” Joe said. Not in a boastful way, but with pride; like an old army general might recite his serial number after his full name. It’s a badge of honour for Joe.
The second eldest of seven, he began his working life at 13 and nine months. His first pay packet was a meagre five pounds a week, which routinely ended up in his mother’s pocket to help feed the rest of the family.
Many years later, in 1986, he finally decided to combine his passion for hard work, and compassion for people.
“There were houses going up everywhere,” he said.
“But in Bendigo, as far as you could look, there were no apprentices.
“It led me to say to my wife, Bev: ‘I’m going to do something about this’.”
With apparently no support from government he decided to wear the financial burden himself.
“In the end I did it all out of my own pocket, and with a lot of support from my family,” he said.
His inspiration was driven by a need to offer a kind of protection he perhaps didn’t always enjoy as a youngster.
“I was just determined as I got older to protect these young blokes, and be a fatherly figure for them,” he said.
“I just wanted to give them a start in life and get them on the right track.
“A lot of these kids come from broken homes, they’ve been abused, either physically or mentally and I wanted to be their protector.”
Some were thankful, others were tougher nuts to crack. A few were beyond help, and Joe was burnt once more. But he kept the faith.
“I’ve never carried grudges, I don’t like to hate,” he said.
“I dislike some things that people do but it (hate) never needs to be carried on.
“I don’t go to church but I’m a great believer in that little bloke upstairs as the best leveller there ever was.
“God can’t stop everything. There are a lot of twisted people out there, and there will continue to be.”
Like one apprentice who stole well over $1000.
“He was a druggie, you couldn’t help him,” he said.
“I’ve been rock bottom but it never deterred me in what I was doing.
“It never stopped me, we went to court with so many kids.”
“The magistrate thought I was a regular,” Joe’s business partner Ian Doak laughed.
Joe didn’t realise how much his life’s work was integral to his own health until four years ago, when retirement led to a relapse.
“I went to see a psychologist and it was all about that I’d given away being their protector and I was sort of empty in my life,” he said.
He had formed life long relationships with numerous apprentices.
“I’ve still got the names of the first three or four kids,” he said.
“I was never their boss, I was always their mate. I treated them like sons and daughters.”
While Joe was strict in the old fashioned sense, he was patient when it came to mistakes.
“There are two things I used to say: ‘If you’re not making a mistake you’re not trying something’, you learn by your mistakes,” he said.
“The other one I used to use always, which came from my grandfather. When I was nine years old he said to me ‘Joe, don’t ever leave tomorrow what you can do today’.”
The tradition continues today with Skilled Training Victoria which Joe believes is currently training 1300 apprentices statewide.
Joe is in semi retirement now, but has nine grandchildren to keep him busy.
“I’m still involved in getting kids off the streets and into jobs,” he said.“It’s been my life.”
A mad sports fan, Joe has also formed a good friendship with AFL supercoach, Kevin Sheedy, through Joe’s work with the Western Bulldogs coterie group.
Joe also brought Sheedy to Bendigo three times, raising over $63,000 for SCOPE in the process.
“I had the pleasure of meeting Joe about 10 yeas ago and enjoyed the time I spent with him,” Sheedy said.
“It was great for Essendon and Western Bulldogs coterie groups to get together to work for their AFL Clubs and the community in general.  
“Joe has done a great job working for both.”
 His dream is now to be around long enough to see the Bulldogs ply their trade, and win a second flag.

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