John Callanan flies helicopters for business, pleasure and a way of volunteering to charity.
John Callanan flies helicopters for business, pleasure and a way of volunteering to charity. Contributed

A new direction to help others not so blessed

BREAKING his back in a motorbike crash while aged in his mid-40s sent philanthropist John Callanan's life in a new direction.

"I spent 18 months in a wheelchair and during the recovery I realised I had been given a second chance at life, so I decided to live life differently,” he told the Tweed Daily News.

"That led me to experience gratitude and generosity, two very important keys to success as a human being.

"And it seems to me to be inherent in human nature to be generous and giving and help others; I reckon that is how we survived as a primitive race so long ago, so I figure that supporting others, sharing and caring is in our DNA and those that allow that natural tendency to flourish seem to live happier lives.”

The father of three and grandfather of eight has been a property developer for 40 years, and has generously given his time and resources to community organisations for the past 20 years.

Motorbikes are a part of John Callanan's life.
Motorbikes are a part of John Callanan's life. Contributed

As chairman of the Northern Rivers Community Foundation, he's proud to have seen more than 200 community grants worth almost $1.1 million handed to 90 community organisations in 12 years.

"(The organisations) have added tens of thousands of volunteer hours to our cash and helped innumerable people in the Northern Rivers, and even more importantly the NRCF is building a perpetual fund to enable that process to continue in perpetuity,” Mr Callanan says.

"I am optimistic that philanthropy will grow in our region as the needs of the most vulnerable members of our community are publicised via the NRCF and other organisations who are at the coalface of disadvantage,” he said.

NRCF Grant recipients in the past with grants committee chair Chris Hughes and NRCF chairman John Callanan.
NRCF Grant recipients in the past with grants committee chair Chris Hughes and NRCF chairman John Callanan. Contributed

"For me the Northern Rivers is paradise. I have travelled extensively all over the world.

"On a matrix of benefits and attributes, this region is outstanding in its natural beauty, climate, access to services, diversity and talent of people, levels of acceptance, wisdom and awareness.

"But it's not paradise for everyone, it is well above state average in almost all levels of disadvantage, be it homelessness, financial hardship, unemployment, grand-carers of grand- children, intergenerational substance abuse... the list goes on.

"But I always see challenges like those as an opportunity as opposed to a problem - in this case an opportunity to help build a bridge between those who are most vulnerable in our community and those who have a commitment to giving back and help others.”

John Callanan opens the refurbished Fred's Place laundry room at Tweed Heads in 2015 while Yvonne Wynen, Jason McDonald and Chris Hughes help out.
John Callanan opens the refurbished Fred's Place laundry room at Tweed Heads in 2015 while Yvonne Wynen, Jason McDonald and Chris Hughes help out. Scott Powick

This adventurous surfer, skier, aeroplane and helicopter pilot measures success in these terms: "Either achieving what one sets out to achieve, or learning a lesson on how to not do, and having another go, no matter how many times you have to 'have another go'.”

The NRCF supports social, environmental, cultural and education needs across the Northern Rivers, from Grafton, Yamba, Maclean and Evans Head to the Tweed Valley along the coast and west to Murwillumbah and surrounds and further west out to Kyogle and Casino.

John Callanan is a busy man.

"Yes my days are very full, from before dawn till I go to bed,” he says.

"I relax often during the day by breathing consciously, by meditating, and at night by sleeping eight hours and waking up full of energy.”


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