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Endeavouring to help

Emily AceSouth Western Times
There is not much philanthropist Tony Critchley hasn’t done in his life, from penning four books to undertaking local and international aid projects.
Camera IconThere is not much philanthropist Tony Critchley hasn’t done in his life, from penning four books to undertaking local and international aid projects. Credit: Jon Gellweiler

It would likely be faster to list the things Bunbury man Tony Critchley has not done in his life.

Sitting in a cafe and talking to the South Western Times, Tony humbly describes his gallant volunteering efforts which have seen him traverse the globe as casually as if he was discussing tomorrow’s weather.

Humanitarian, author, business owner, landscaper, cyclist, submariner and South Bunbury Rotary Club president are just some of the endeavours of Tony’s amazing life.

With four novels now under his belt, Tony said his first foray into writing was inspired by his father.

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“My father died pretty young from lung cancer, so I didn’t really know him – I don’t think I ever spoke with him really – he joined the navy when I was a boy and he was in the military,” he said.

“He fought in Italy and the desert in the tanks against Rommel and then he joined the parachute regiment.

“They were dropped 60km behind enemy lines – about 50,000 of them – and it was a bloody schmozzle.

“One in 10 were shot as they came down and most were captured, so he was a prisoner of war.”

After owning his own landscaping business for 25 years as well as owning a car wash in Collie, Tony became a member of the Australian Business Volunteers as a business adviser almost 11 years ago.

It was while Tony was on assignment overseas where he penned his father’s story of his time in the war and the effect it had on his family.

“I had always fancied writing a book about my old man but never really knew him,” he said.

“I didn’t have any internet, but I had a computer and I thought ‘what can I do?’, so I started writing.”

For his second book, Tony employed more of a creative license for a fictional tale based on his time serving as a submariner in Sydney, where he also spent time in the infamous Kings Cross.

“I used to know a lot of shady characters up there, I seemed to get along with everyone up there that I met, so I wrote about the people I met – and when you get to meet people like prostitutes in a bar, you find they are just human beings,” he said. “They have their own story, why they ended up where they are.”

His third novel was inspired by a trip to Sarah Island off Tasmania, a place where some of the “worst convicts of all time” laboured under harsh conditions, and his fourth title Hexagon Boys was a confronting fictional story about how children abused in the Catholic church coped with trauma in their 20s.

However, his creative flow stopped when his daughter, Sonya, was diagnosed with breast cancer last year.

“It stopped everything,” he said.

Instead, Tony picked up a bicycle and rode 1011km with fellow Rotarian Dave Castro to raise money for Solaris Cancer Care and Lift the Lid on Mental Health.

Leaving from Bunbury on June 7, the pair rode to Busselton, Margaret River, Manjimup, Albany, Arthur River, Darkan and Collie in 13 days, raising $14,000.

Tony took on the mammoth journey despite little experience, with the goal of helping the not-for-profit organisation which had helped his daughter spurring him on.

“When you get inside Solaris and meet all the people who run the place and the volunteers, you just see how warm and fuzzy it is,” he said.

“If you have cancer, you go there and get treatment and counselling, have cups of coffee and talk about how they are travelling because it is an emotional journey as well.”

His time with the Australian Business Volunteers led him to Syria and Jordan, where in 2009 he wrote a book on organic agriculture to guide the country’s farmers.

This also saw him travel to the Philippines, where he hopes to continue distributing solar powered lights to allow children to do their homework at night, and supply water buffalo capable of breeding to help farmers plough their fields.

With Rotary now helping to fund his ongoing projects, Tony hopes to also improve the village’s water supply.

“If I get this project finished, I would like to do a water project in the same area, because you can’t just keep travelling around the world – you need to focus on areas you know you can work in and I have got some good contacts over there,” he said.

In between his trips overseas from 2001 to 2015, Tony volunteered as an Advocate for Submarines and Vietnam Veterans, during which he represented them in a court of law at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, review board and Department of Veterans' Affairs to win them pensions and more.

Speaking on his volunteering efforts, Tony simply stated: “you get more out of it than they do, I am sure of it”.

Tony is about to begin writing his fifth fictional piece set during the Russian revolution, but was still deciding whether he would ever document his own life story.

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