Sue and I are blessed with an amazing home. Our 1930s ‘federation-style’ house has been home to all of Wesley Mission’s Superintendents. High ceilings, picture rails, leadlight windows and creaking floorboards – it’s a home with history. Before we moved in, one of Gordon Moyes’ sons (who happened to be a pastor friend on the Gold Coast) told of a time when he lived here, and they discovered a buried World War II bomb shelter (complete with camp stretcher) in our spacious backyard.
Other than when we welcome guests to stay, Sue and I rattle around in this big, old home. I often wonder, ‘If these walls could talk, what would they say? What history could they shine a light on?’
Significant in the history of our home is a Saturday night in 1961. Just to the left of our front door is a room that was then Alan Walker’s home office, which today is home to my (very neglected) home rowing machine. That night, Alan took a call from a man in distress. “Hello, I have written you a letter, but by the time you read it, I’ll be dead.” “I’m sorry to worry you,” the caller continued, “but there isn’t anyone else that cares what happens to me. I wanted to tell someone.”
Walker pleaded with the caller to tell him his address and let him see him, and he would not but agreed to come to church the next day to hear Walker speak. After hearing Walker’s sermon, he called again, this time sharing that his name was Roy and that he thought he would be ok. But Walker insisted they should meet, and this time Roy agreed to a meeting at Pitt St, but minutes before they were due to meet, the Police called with the tragic news that Roy had taken his life. Walker and his wife, Win, oversaw Roy’s funeral and vowed that something must be done.
Walker called leaders of Wesley Mission to a meeting in his home, our home today. I expect they met in the lounge room to the right of our front door, opposite the home office. Arising from their discussion and prayer emerged the vision for ‘Lifeline’, a 24/7 telephone crisis-support service that anyone in distress could access. On 16 March 1963 – less than two years after that fateful event and subsequent historic meeting – Lifeline responded to its first call.
If, as Tim puts it, Australia is the poker machine capital of the world, it makes NSW, with almost 87,000 machines, nearly half of Australia’s total – the ‘belly of the beast’. Since they were introduced in 1956, the poker machine industry has had a stranglehold on NSW politics.
Remarkably, and in no small part to the ‘Put Pokies In Their Place’ policy platform that Wesley Mission launched late last year, poker machine reform is, for now, the number one election issue – the subject of an avalanche of media attention and political pressure.
Over the last couple of months, Wesley Mission has provided substantive gambling harm research and commentary to media outlets. We have engaged in many conversations with leaders of all political parties and independents as we have educated them about gambling harm and necessary reforms, publishing discussion papers, data analysis and recommendations, which we have also made public. Many outside the major parties have adopted our policy platform in its entirety. We have been among the stakeholders consulted by both government and opposition in their policy development. They have adopted some of our recommendations, and we have affirmed policy announcements where we can and critiqued where we must.
From its Sydney base, Lifeline rapidly spread to the rest of Australia. Last year, Lifeline services responded to more than 1 million calls across our nation. In early 1964, Time Magazine published an article about this innovative new service, which led to similar services popping up worldwide. Lifeline is now an international crisis-support, suicide prevention movement. I was deeply moved as, soon after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while driving into work, I listened to a radio interview with the Director of Lifeline Ukraine.
And it all started here. In our home. If these walls could speak indeed.
Today Wesley Mission continues to play a vital role in the Lifeline Network. We run Lifeline Sydney and Sutherland thanks to our amazing staff and volunteers, and Andy Moore is a member of the Lifeline Australia Board. And our work in suicide prevention has expanded through Wesley LifeForce, including 132 suicide prevention networks across Australia, a national training program that has equipped more than 40,0000 people to intervene in a crisis, and our aftercare pilot based in Coffs Harbour. Mental health and suicide prevention is one of our three key advocacy priorities.
This year marks the 60th anniversary of Lifeline. There will be several events here in Sydney and across Australia to mark the occasion. Wesley Mission will be hosting a very special Lifeline Anniversary Celebration service on Sunday, 26 March, at 4 pm in the Wesley Theatre. Everyone is welcome to attend what will be a very special occasion, so please consider this your invitation!
Here at Wesley Mission, we don’t just live in this shadow of our history, but with ‘open hands’ and a generous spirit, we create new history as we continue the work of Jesus Christ in Word and deed, doing all the good we can, because every life matters. Thank you for your vital contribution to writing this new chapter in our history.
Rev Stu Cameron
CEO and Superintendent, Wesley Mission