Inaugural Ron Castan Awards

October 11, 2013 by J-Wire Staff
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Dr Howard Goldenberg and Jacky Lipson are the recipients of the inaugural Ron Castan Humanitarian Awards.

They received the awards recognising the humanitarian work they have done from Nellie Castan The awards are named in honour of her late husband.

About the Award:

Mark Leibler, Nellie Castan and Gary Samowitz

Mark Leibler, Nellie Castan and Gary Samowitz

This year, in consultation with the Castan Family, Jewish Aid has launched the inaugural Ron Castan Humanitarian Award and Ron Castan Young Humanitarian Award.

Ron Castan AM QC passed away at a relatively young age, but left behind an enormous legacy in the field of human rights, and especially indigenous rights.

When Ron died in October 1999, the Monash University Law Faculty was in the early stages of setting up a human rights centre. It seemed obvious to those involved in the endeavour that the centre should be named after a man who had given so much of his life to advancing the cause of human rights.

The inaugural Humanitarian Award is fortunate to have the honour and privilege of association with the Ron Castan name.

The Ron Castan Humanitarian Award and the Ron Castan Young Humanitarian Award seek to recognise individuals who have attained excellence and renown in their chosen humanitarian fields and whose actions, in addition to their achievements embody the characteristics of the late Ron Castan that include wisdom, empathy, a sharp intellect, and graciousness.

Ron was a distinguished barrister and human rights advocate who played a leading role in some of Australia’s most significant legal cases, such as the Gove land rights case; the Franklin Dam case and most prominently; the Eddie Mabo case which overturned the doctrine of terra nullius (ie that Australia was “empty land”) recognising Aboriginal Land Rights in Australian law for the first time.

The Young Humanitarian Award seeks to recognise an individual under the age of 30 years.

The Recipients:

Dr Howard Goldenberg – Winner of the Ron Castan Humanitarian Award 2013

Dr Howard Goldenberg is a writer, an outback doctor and a lapsed mohel (ritual circumciser). He is married with three children and a riot of grandchildren.

His published works include two books – My Father’s Compass, a memoir (Hybrid, 2007) and of Raft (Hybrid, 2009), a nonfiction work that is an intimate and candid account of his work as a doctor in dozens of remote indigenous communities, over many years. Howard has written numerous opinion pieces in broadsheet newspapers and essays and stories in various print and online media.

Howard addresses many Jewish groups about indigenous welfare and his work within the community. As such, he contributes to a growing interest in indigenous issues and has inspired other people; particularly young people to work in this challenging area.

Howard’s interest in the plight of refugees saw him take on work as a doctor at the Christmas Island Detention Centre.

Howard is an avid long distance runner and has been committed to raising money for a variety of causes through his passion. Over 30 years ago he established a fun run to raise money for the Royal Children’s Hospital to commemorate the life of a young patient who died of leukemia. He has raised funds for the Haemophilia Research Unit at the Boston Childrens’ Hospital through sponsorship of the Boston Marathon he completed some years ago. Howard has run 36 full marathons.

While now retired from practice, Howard was once one of Melbourne’s busiest mohels. Rather than charge, Howard requested donations to charity from the parents. Howard has given hours of his time each week over the years to prepare boys for their barmitzvahs, not just teaching them to read from the Torah but also to prepare them for active Jewish life. He teaches by example that to become a good and decent Jew is to be of service to the Jewish and wider community.

Over several decades Howard has been travelling to the outback to work in remote indigenous communities as a GP. His work involves helping those in impoverished communities where physical and mental health is considerably diminished. Despite the emotionally challenging work, he has regularly sought out these opportunities for work despite geographical remoteness, and the many challenges.

Jacky Lipson – Winner of the Ron Castan Young Humanitarian Award 2013

Jacky attended Gardenvale primary school, and completed VCE at Wesley college in 2005. Throughout high school she was involved in the Jewish youth movement Hineni, and after graduating spent a year in Israel where she volunteered in schools, community centres, entertaining children and teaching English.  In 2010 Jacky graduated with a physiotherapy degree and currently works in the area of paediatric rehabilitation. 

In 2009, after finishing her leadership involvement with Hineni Jacky started volunteering with JAA twice with the Indigenous Partnerships ‘Derech Eretz’ program. Since then Jacky has implemented an ‘Allied health close the gap’ committee at her workplace: running events, raising awareness and advertising the issue of Indigenous health while also supporting the existing Aboriginal Health Liaison team.

In early 2010, as a JAA volunteer, she became a mentor for a pilot program aimed at helping members of the Sudanese community find employment. The program soon evolved to become LINKS (Learn, Integrate, Network, Knowledge and Socialise) due to the growing influx of refugees and asylum seekers in the area.  In just over a year, LINKS has grown substantially and runs conversation and English learning sessions. The students, whose numbers can be counted at anywhere between 25 and 40 each week, with new faces all the time, herald from many different backgrounds and walks of life. Many are refugees and asylum seekers. The range of nationalities includes Afghanistan, Iran, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, China and many more. There are 12 volunteers and well over 100 students have attended classes.

The award ceremony took place this week at the offices of Arnold, Bloch Leibler in Melbourne with relatively few attending.

The recipients made outstanding addresses and J-Wire is proud to publish them in full.

Dr Howard Goldenberg

Deborah Chemke, Mark Dreyfus and Howard Goldenberg

Deborah Chemke, Mark Dreyfus and Howard Goldenberg

Jewish Aid and the Castan family for their moral leadership; Mark Leibler and ABL – for their hospitality and their example; my loved ones – for permitting and forgiving my cumulative absences that total years; my wife Annette, intermittently widowed by a husband who follows his pleasure – in all this thanking and acknowledging I experience no strain, no strangeness in saying what politeness demands and what I sincerely feel.

But to thank the First Owners, whose hospitality we all enjoy, all the time, wherever we go in this country, is still, after all this time, to experience self-consciousness and awkwardness. But I do acknowledge this truth, this primal reality. And I look forward to the time when our children will know and speak it as readily as the Pakeha in New Zealand speak of the Maori.

I am going to make a few remarks about Boat Policy. And to tell you a few little stories.

The first Boat Policy comes from the Talmud, where the sages taught us the imperatives of the lifeboat: If you take to the boats and you come across one in the water whom you can rescue, you must bring him aboard. But if the additional weight of the castaway will sink your boat and cost the lives of those already aboard, you must not rescue him.

Now for a story: Just a few days after the First Fleet raised the British Flag at Botany Bay, a French ship arrived, under the command of Captain La Perouse. Had the winds differed only slightly, La Perouse might have beaten the English here. In that case we might have been speaking French here this evening.

A young Corsican cadet, fascinated by all science, who followed the voyages of Cook, and the flora and fauna described by Joseph Banks, applied to sail with La Perouse but his request was denied. The cadet’s name was Napoleon. Had Napoleon and La Perouse arrived before the British, our world might be very different.

In the event, after leaving Botany Bay, La Perouse and his ship were lost at sea. Had Napoleon been lost with that ship, there might have been no Napoleonic wars, no Code Napoleon, no emergence of European Jews into full citizenship, no eruption of Western Jewry into secular culture, into civic life.

Had La Perouse and Napoleon stepped ashore in Australia, would it have made the future different, I wonder, for the Wiradjujri in Botany Bay, for the Wurrundjerri here in Melbourne?

French or no French I think my ancestors, the Meyer family from Alsace Lorraine, would still have arrived here, as they did – as free settlers – in 1850.

My British ancestors, the Colemans, might not have come – as they did – in the 1840’s. As free settlers all these ancestors had a choice.

My father’s father would certainly have come here. He had no choice: he arrived here in 1898, a twelve year old

stowaway, fleeing persecution by the Ottoman authorities in Petakh Tikvah. Papa was a boat person and an asylum seeker.

My family story encapsulates the story of whitefella settlement here, of much emigration through history. We leave our homes for opportunity or through adversity. We arrive – in American immigration parlance, as greenhorns – and too often we resent, restrict or criminalise the next boatload of opportunists and refugees for their embarrassing foreignness.

Another little story: Hillel, the sage of the Babylonian Talmud, was accosted by a man who demanded, mocking: “Teach me the Torah while I stand on one foot.”

Hillel replied: Ve’ahavta le’rei’acha kamocha – “Love your neighbour as yourself. That is the whole Law. All the rest is commentary.”

What Hillel knew – but omitted from his reply – were the priestly services and their minutiae, the holy days and their regulations, the sacrifices and their specifications, the rituals, the splitting of split hairs…

He gave the mocker his good-natured reply; and he left us with his simplest of truths: love your neighbour as yourself.

In the present climate of antipathy to religion, Hillel’s words might well be religion’s only defense. What is the point, cry

the Old Testament prophets, what is the value of your fasts and your feasts, if you do not defend the widow, protect the orphan? What sort of Jew turns a hard face to the hungry, what sort of Christian turns back the boats? “Love your neighbour”, says Hillel, “Love your neighbour or hate his Creator.”

Shaun Tan’s graphic novel, “The Arrival”, is – like any graphic novel – mute. It is also eloquent, poignant and universal. The trauma of leaving, the trauma of arriving, the wonder of arriving, the whole great story of our ever- travelling species is all there. Any child who sees the book, sees all this with child’s eyes. We adults – if we use our child’s eyes – we can see the new arrivals.

We, the Castans and the Komesaroffs, the Flanagans and the Goldenbergs, the Leiblers and the Millers, the Genendes and the Klines – we have all just got off our respective boats.

We step off our boats onto someone else’s land. We step off the boat and we take our choice, to see the later arrivals with a child’s eyes or with no eyes at all.

We choose, too, to see or not to see the First Owners.

Another vignette. When my family arrived in Melbourne from the country, in 1955, I was nine years old. I went to Mount Scopus where they taught little of the Shoah, but sent us out collecting for the Jewish Child’s Day appeal. I knocked on every door in every street, and I received knockbacks that amazed me: People said: Not today, thank you…and, quite

often: I give at the church…

You can hear a reciprocal response from some Jewish people who question the activities of Jewish Aid: Charity begins at home, they say, that ugly little slogan. This is not the response of the little State of Israel, first on the ground after the earthquake in Haiti; it is not the practice of Israel, which is massively overactive in absorbing refugees, often Muslims escaping religious persecution.

In this connection Hillel taught, Im ani rack le’atzmi, mi ani? If I am only for myself, who am I?

For three terrible weeks I worked in the Detention Centre at Christmas Island. Every morning I went for a long run; I needed to.

I came one morning to a lonely spot where a tiny dead end street led to the empty sea. No boats, no drowners. Empty, silent, eternal. The signpost at the corner read, Tampa Street.

Tampa – the day our leaders failed us. The day we turned away from whatever was within us that led us to welcome so many thousands escaping China after Tien Minh Square. The day my pride in my country began to die.

Surely our boat is not overloaded. Surely Australia is not about to sink.

A final vignette. Working once in Central Australia, I was accosted by a full blood Aboriginal guy, an elder, who recognised the kippah.

His face lit up: Do you know Joe Gutnick?

Yes… slightly.

Is he a friend of yours?

I was unable to give a simple answer: Well, I hardly know him.

Well, he’s a friend of ours. We’ve got nickel on our lands. BHP wants to mine it. We don’t want them. We want Joe. We know him and we trust him.

Many whitefellas, Jews among them, visit the outback, see the degradation, and, wringing their hands despairingly, they ask people like me, What can we do? What can anyone do?

(As if I had the answer.)

Ron Castan saw something different. He saw a people dispossessed, humiliated. He saw a people alienated from their ancestral lands. He saw in the Aboriginal face a familiar face, the face of his own tribe.

When we see in the other simply a reflection of ourselves, we find what we can do.

In connection with “hopeless cases” our sages taught, in Pirke Avoth – The day is short, the work is great…

Lo aleicha ham’lacha ligmor, ve’lo atta ben-horin le’hibatel mimenna…

It is not upon you to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it…

Aboriginal people know and trust a number of Jewish names. The names of many Jews are on their lips and in their memories.

We are all reminded of this when we visit Springvale cemetery, the place of so much Jewish memory, of our own Dreaming. There, rising massive and golden, is the great stone dedicated by Australia’s First People to the memory of Ron Castan. The stone stands, mutely eloquent, saying, Go, and do thou likewise.

I sat once in an audience of Jewish doctors as Ron described the course of the recently successful Mabo case. I sat then and I thought; and I learned from Ron a path that can make us better Australians and better Jews.

Jacky Lipson

Jacky Lipson

Jacky Lipson

I would like to start off by expressing my gratitude to Jewish Aid Australia and the

Castan family, for launching these awards, providing encouragement andinspiration to myself and others to engage in humanitarian issues. It is an honour to receive an award in the name of the late Ron Castan, someone who has really

made a difference and contributed so much to our society and community. I am truly overwhelmed and incredibly grateful.

To Mel and Joel, my two dear friends who nominated me for this award, I really can’t thank-you enough, you’re both extraordinary people and its such a privilege to have you by my side supporting me every step of the way.

Thank-you to my family and all my friends for being a constant support to me.

One really is a product of one’s surroundings, and I am absolutely blessed to be surrounded by brilliant people, always encouraging me to think, reflect, do and achieve. Not only are you all generally just brilliant, but you have all been a physical part of everything that I have done, and I honestly wouldn’t have been able to do any of it without you, so thank you!

Ever since I was about 12 or 13, when I first set foot in a Jewish youth movement meeting, I have been involved in extra curricular community activities. I have to acknowledge the 11 years I spent as part of the Hineni youth movement. They were so critical in planting and cultivating the seed of humanitarian values, and my passion just grew from there. From such a young age, Hineni gave me the opportunity to learn and develop my leadership skills (among other things) that have been invaluable to all aspects of my life, particularly when working on other community projects as well as the development of my own.

Jewish Aid has also played an instrumental role in facilitating my desire to engage in humanitarian issues. Participating in the Derech Eretz program running school holiday programs for Indigenous children, has been a huge highlight from the past few years, and has really inspired me to actively advocate for Indigenous health equality in my workplace.

This brings me to my current project and passion. 4 years ago it began with myself and other Jewish Aid volunteers as a one-on-one mentoring program for the Sudanese community.

The program struggled in its early days with poor attendance. Sometimes we would wait in the library with no-one to show up. Until one day, a man named Raza approached me curious as to what we did each week, and asked if he could join us.

Raza was an Afghani Asylum Seeker at that point on a bridging visa, living in his friend’s home and borrowing money from him to send to his family back in Pakistan. Raza was a teacher at a women’s school in Kabul. Many times they were raided by the Taliban and had to use disguises in order not to reveal their true purpose. Luckily for Raza, he was informed of a deadly raid in enough time to escape. He and his family moved to Pakistan. Raza was also secretly working for a political party, opposing the Taliban with a strong emphasis on women’s rights.

Due to his involvement with this group and the nature of his job, he was wanted by the Taliban. He was assisted by the political party to escape to Australia in March 2011, leaving his family behind. We met him in the library 1 month later.

So Raza came, week in and week out, sometimes it was just him and other times his friends would join us. We were eventually approached by one of the library staff inquiring about our sessions (sometimes it got rowdy so you really couldn’t miss us!), she asked if we had capacity to help out others, as she has been trying to set up a conversation class but struggling with the increasing numbers of people in need.

From then on the wheels started turning and haven’t stopped. We now are our own independent group called LINKS. We stand for Learn Integrate Network

Knowledge and Socialise, we run weekly English conversation classes in Dandenong library open to anyone, mostly asylum seekers and refugees. Our numbers have exploded, with over 15 volunteers, an average of 30 participants a week, and over 70 that have walked through our doors since we started recording.

We spend almost two hours talking, listening, learning and laughing together. For some, the class provides much needed English learning and support, and for others it’s a chance to meet new people, learn their stories and ask questions.

Without delving into the politics of this highly contentious issue, it is absolutely unquestionable that this population are in desperate need of help, support, love and generosity.

The simplicity of LINKS is beautiful. You don’t need to be a teacher, a doctor, a lawyer, an academic. All you need is to be there with the ability to have a chat with someone. Most of our participants don’t have the opportunity to talk openly and honestly with an Australian peer. Questions like ‘is it ok to drink and drive?’ are brought up regularly, the implications of which could be life-saving. We have the ability to connect and build real relationships with these people in a true and organic way, it’s incredibly meaningful for both parties, and sometimes I wonder who gets more out of the exchange!

I had hoped that Raza could be here tonight, as the catalyst for the proliferation of LINKS. Unfortunately he couldn’t, but fortunately it is because he is working. He now works at Target with a relatively steady income, he has attained his protection visa and is now in the process of applying for his family to come and join him. This is just one of the many incredible, inspiring, and often tragic stories of the beautiful people we have the privilege to meet with each week.

I don’t know where I’ll be and I don’t know where LINKS will be in the future.

There are so many exciting possibilities. With a growing need, an extraordinary group of volunteers, and the support and recognition of organizations and people such as JAA and the Castan family, who knows where we could go! So thank you all again for your incredible support.

To quote Eli Wiesel: ‘The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And, the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference Because of indifference one dies before one actually dies.’

I am fiercely committed to my humanitarian values, and I believe that doing something good, can be as easy as just having a conversation with someone, and who knows you could end up changing that persons world. I hope that these awards provide inspiration and motivation for others, young and old, to quit indifference and engage. The world really is our oyster (kosher or not), and all we need to do is grab it.”

In his speech introducing the awards Mark Leibler said: “By naming tonight’s Awards after one of the true giants of civil society – the late, great Ron Castan AM QC – Jewish Aid Australia is continuing to perpetuate the remarkable legacy of a man with whom the partners of Arnold Bloch Leibler had the privilege of working over much of the course of his professional life.

A man in respect of whom we have named one of our recently renovated meeting rooms, such was his extraordinary influence on who we are; what we do; and why we do it.

Jewish Aid Australia is a similarly remarkable organisation. As its honorary lawyers, the partners and staff of Arnold Bloch Leibler have the privilege of observing at close range its dedicated and passionate pursuit of social justice for disadvantaged communities in Australia and overseas.

To our friends Gary Samowitz, Jewish Aid’s passionate CEO, and to Danny Almagor, its inspirational and indefatigable Chair, and to all your board, staff and volunteers, we congratulate you on your leadership and efforts.”

He went on to say: “The Jewish community brought a specific philanthropic tradition to this great city. Melbourne’s Jewish community has drawn from its long, rich tradition of giving, and has put it into practice in the modern Australian context.

Because Jews are acutely aware of the horrors that have befallen our forebears, which horrors continue to leave their legacy, and because of our appreciation of our common humanity, the deep philanthropic streak in us demands that we act wherever and whenever we can to help to overcome injustice.

This is why a significant part of Arnold Bloch Leibler’s pro-bono, public interest law practice is directed towards assisting the causes of the vilified; the oppressed; the disempowered; the ignored.

This is also why our long, strong and proud association with Indigenous causes is no co-incidence.

The credit for introducing Arnold Bloch Leibler to Indigenous affairs goes to Ron Castan. In 1993, fresh from his historic win in the High Court in Mabo, Ron presented my partners and me with the opportunity to act as lawyers for the Yorta Yorta peoples. Shortly thereafter, Ron brought us into contact with the then emerging leader, my good friend, Noel Pearson.

Also, towards the end of his life, Ron worked with some of Arnold Bloch Leibler’s partners on the legal structures required to assist him, and his friends from across the political divide, to fulfil his vision for a truly reconciled Australia, well prior to the reconciliation movement taking hold in the public consciousness.

Ron acted as lead counsel in the Yorta Yorta Full Court of the Federal Court Appeal in late August 1999. As fate would have it, the Yorta Yorta Federal Court appeal hearing became the stage for one of Ron’s final acts of public advocacy.

On reflection, it seems to me that destiny dealt its hand at that time, in that place. For, in fulfilling his duty to the Court and to his clients, the Yorta Yorta appeal hearing also presented Ron with an opportunity to put on the record his vision for a reconciled Australia; the product of years of thinking about these issues, and acting in accordance with his conscience.

In his oral submissions before the Full Court of the Federal Court in the YortaYorta appeal, Ron argued powerfully that the task of a court determining a native title application is to dignify the voice and the struggle for justice of a living Indigenous community, and to acknowledge their wisdom, tenacity and remarkable resilience, by submitting that:

“there is no room … in this field of discourse and under the statute and in the common law for some notion of a pre-existing pristine stereotype of what comprises … traditional laws and what comprises traditional customs …”

Ron continued:
“It may be counter-intuitive perhaps to think of Aboriginal people who work the internet and operate satellite television networks and tour the world in rock bands and do all of these things who nevertheless have connection with the land, based on their acknowledgment of their current law and observance of their current custom….”.2

Ron captured the essence of this challenge in his final submission to the Court:

“There is no image of the Aborigine standing on the hill with a spear against the sunset that conditions the exercise of the native title jurisdiction”.

Through Ron’s brilliant advocacy, the Yorta Yorta community powerfully submitted that at the heart of the trial judge’s approach to Aboriginality lay the fallacy that no changes must be made to an Indigenous community’s way of life to either cope with the impact of white occupation or to incorporate new ways of thinking or new knowledge. It is as if there is a model “authentic Aborigine” stretching forward from 1788 which the contemporary Yorta Yorta were required to connect with and emulate if they were to succeed in their application.

For Ron the future for a reconciled Australia was crystal clear – he challenged us all to replace stereotypes, prejudices, and misconceptions with a vision in which Australians are inoculated from racism and cultural blindness.

A future in which non-Indigenous Australians are finally liberated to begin to see clearly, as if through Indigenous eyes, the wonderful uniqueness of a just and reconciled Australian society, in all its enriching cultural expressions, from age old to the most recently arrived. ”


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