He's the man from Uncle, and now he's the man at the helm of the Brunswick Valley Rescue boat, and he'd like to spread the word about the way to a happier, more fulfilled way of life.
Mark Gasson, CEO of Uncle, the Byron Bay-based organisation for mentoring boys, has taken over as boat captain of the Brunswick Valley Rescue Squad following the recent resignation of long-time member Rob Goodacre.
Mark grew up in London and gained a Masters degree in philosophy at university, but it was a chance encounter in boyhood that tugged away at him, urging a life more meaningful than that of the planned career in academia.
“I had an uncle who was a fisherman on the coast that I used to go and see all the time,” said Mark, “and one day when we were out on the fishing boat along came some guys my uncle knew on a rescue boat, and they gave me a ride - from that day on I drove my parents mad saying I wanted to work on a rescue boat.”
He followed his dream while still at university, training as a crew person, working his way up to skipper, with regular volunteer shifts both at Brighton and on the River Thames for eight years, throughout a brief academic career and a subsequent blacksmithing business.
Four years ago a desire for a change of scenery and the hankering for a more outdoor life led Mark and partner Suzi to Sydney, then a drive up the coast saw them fall in love with Bangalow, where they are now settled.
The Brunswick Valley Rescue Squad was surprised and delighted when Mark rang to offer his services.
“When I spoke to Rob he couldn't believe my skills - he thought I was making it up,” recalled Mark with a chuckle.
Mark is passionate about the importance of volunteer work, both for the health of the community and that of the volunteer.
“Volunteering provides me with a sense of fulfilment, a sense of doing something worthwhile,” he said.
“We live in a culture that is all about putting me first, and I don't agree with that at all - it is thinking about what we can do for the community that offers a more fulfilling way to live.”
He worries that, while volunteers are needed all over Byron Shire, numbers are dropping away, often because the demands on volunteers have increased, with “too many boxes to tick” and too much fundraising to do.
It was a big shock for Mark to come from a volunteer body which receives lots of government funding as the biggest charity in the UK, to the sausage sizzle culture of the Brunswick Valley Rescue Squad.
“When I joined up I didn't have any idea I'd have to fundraise as well,” he said.
“We are the primary responders in marine rescues, yet if the people in the squad didn't spend so much time fundraising, there would be no rescue and people would just drown.”
Because of this, Mark supports the idea of asking Byron Council for a ratepayer levy.
“Council has the ability to cover costs for all local emergency services so they didn't have to fundraise - not even a dollar a week would cover all rescue work,” he said.
“I think the reason the squad is losing members is because more time is spent fundraising than training to do rescues.”
He paid tribute to the dedication of his predecessor, Rob Goodacre, and thanked him for his years of service.
“Rob is irreplaceable,” he said, “and you couldn't find another to dedicate as much time as Rob.”
But Mark would like to emphasise that, despite some of the difficulties, volunteering is still the best way to have a meaningful life, and would love to hear from men who would like either to mentor young boys through the Uncle program, or from men and women who would like to train to carry out marine rescue with the Brunswick Valley Rescue Squad.
Mark can be contacted on 0408 675 598 for inquiries for both Uncle and the Brunswick Valley Rescue Squad.
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