March 8 is International Women’s Day. To celebrate, the Diocese of Parramatta has interviewed Heather Gwilliam who was recently recognised on Australia Day with the Order of Australia Medal for her dedication to service to the community.
Part of Heather’s inspiring work is her 20 years as careers counsellor and educator in Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta.
Her humility and passion are clear, with the award giving Heather cause to reflect on the equal dedication of many other professionals and volunteers in the industry.
Working in disability support was an unexpected career path for Heather, a journey made possible with the collaboration of many others.
“It’s an opportunity made available to me at teacher’s college and I’ve never looked back,” she told Catholic Outlook.
Heather worked in the Special Education Division of Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta.
“I was employed to kick off a program called Transition to prepare students for leaving school,” she said. This program continues under the name of Post-School Options.
This was followed by many years at McCarthy Catholic College, Emu Plains as its first Industry Liaison Officer in the Trade Training Centre and also as a Careers Adviser.
Her legacy also includes being part of the founding committee of NOVA Employment, which is now one of the largest disabled employment services in Sydney. Its success has been beyond her wildest dreams.
“It’s found thousands of people employment and I think that’s terrific,” she said.
Heather’s passion for this important work continues after her time in the Diocese of Parramatta and she currently works across Western Sydney for TAFE NSW as a disability consultant.
Her tireless devotion as a pillar of the Blue Mountains community is widely recognised.
Motivating Heather’s cheerful perseverance is her deep Christian faith.
“The Lord Jesus does not differentiate between people. We should try to help anyone. Everyone should be equally valued,” she said.
“We shouldn’t see people with disabilities as ‘a special case’.”
“It’s something I’ve been called to do, as opportunities arise, to open more opportunities for other people.”
Heather’s family are thrilled with the award and Heather points out the important role of her supportive husband Noel and her loving children.
“You get a letter in the mail,” she said, describing the surprise of the award.
“I couldn’t say a word. Not even to my husband and children.”
“Everyone’s been absolutely delighted.”
“This is an award for all the volunteers and for everyone involved,” she emphasised.