A RESIDENT of Brunswick Heads for more than 30 years, Phil Gander is a bona fide Byron Shire celebrity.
You often see the sprightly 81-year-old cruising around in his “rattling salvation”, the 1928 Chrysler Plymouth that’s become as famous as he is.
However, while most vintage car owners are content to take their prized possession for a leisurely Sunday drive, Phil has navigated his around some of Australia’s most isolated and unforgiving roads in the name of charity.
“We’re not put on this earth to take all the time; we’ve got to give a bit and when you do give, you feel all the more better for it,” said Phil, whose business card reads A.F.D.A. (A Fair Dinkum Aussie) and F.A.F.I. (Fiercely Australian Flamin’ Independent).
Some of Phil’s escapades include travelling down South Australia’s Murray River “pontoon style”, driving down the Birdsville Track, and putting the Plymouth on rails and travelling across a desert railway line.
Phil’s first foray into fundraising was for a 1985 Variety Club bash organised by explorer and philanthropist Dick Smith.
“Dick got a group of us to travel from Sydney to Bourke in far west New South Wales, and from there to Burketown in northern Queensland,” Phil recalled.
“That first event raised $250,000 for Variety and started what is now known as the Variety Bash.”
Since then, this self-scribed ‘JOATMON’ – Jack Of All Trades, Master Of None – has helped raise roughly $800,000 for various charities including the Kidney Foundation, Endeavour Foundation and Make a Wish Foundation.
Inspired by the “unseen, unheard and unpaid” volunteers around the country, Phil has dedicated his life to raising money for those less fortunate than himself, something he hopes will inspire a new generation to do the same.
“I think if we all looked at the number of people around Australia who volunteered their time every day, well, they’d easily outnumber the paid workforce,” he said. While some work voluntarily for the ego trip, he said most do it for the satisfaction of helping someone else in need.
“Those of us born in Australia, and who live here in and around Byron, are incredibly lucky and I believe we have to spread some of that luck around,” Phil said.
While this quintessential Aussie larrikin has started to wind down his charity work, Phil does have one more milestone for his Plymouth: to reach 1,000,000 kilometres on the speedometer before he “carks it”.
Phil says the odometer reading this week was 925,000km and he estimates it will take him another three or four years to clock up the magic million.
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