The walk of life
Each year thousands of University of Canberra students graduate and become a part of a global community made up of over 75,000 alumni.Since the Canberra College of Advanced Education (CCAE) opened its doors in 1967, later becoming the University of Canberra on 1990, the University has helped shape the futures of Olympians, politians, scientists, prominent media personalities and famous authors and musicians.
Daraka Rome, Pamela Russell and Chris Kimball are just three talented alumni who have forged successful careers since graduating from the University of Canberra. The education they received helped transform their lives, opening new opportunities and taking them to exciting places around the world.
As key members of the University’s alumni community, all three have continuously sought to increase and assist with educational opportunities for others, strengthening the relationship between the University and the wider community, and passing on their passion for continuous learning. Using the powerful tool of education, they are all contributing to changing the world, one step at a time.
A journey without borders
When Daraka Rome welcomes me into her home with a friendly smile and a warm embrace, it’s easy to see why she is held in such high regard in the local community.
Dara, as she is affectionately known, is one of Australia’s leading conservationists. She has worked in senior positions at the National Archives of Australia, the National Museum of Australia and the Australian War Memorial.
She is responsible for an innovative method of mounting posters and paper conservation implemented at the Australian War Memorial in the early 1990s. The system is still in place today and is just one of many initiatives she has developed since moving to Australia in the late 1960s.
It was 1969 when she emigrated from Thailand, her birthplace, after receiving a scholarship under the Colombo Plan program to learn English. “They gave a scholarship for the first time to people from Southeast Asia,” Dara says.
Since its inception in 1950, the initiative, now known as the New Colombo Plan, has aimed to strengthen economic and social development between its member countries in the Asia-Pacific region. In 2017 alone, as many as 180 University of Canberra students will benefit from $600,000 in funding awarded to the University.
Dara had an honours degree in architecture and industrial design from Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok when she came to Australia, but she recognised the importance of English as a second language in her career.
Settling in Perth to undertake her studies, Dara met her husband. The couple moved to Canberra soon after tying the knot. Her husband, a public servant, accepted a position with the Department of Foreign Affairs and was later transferred to Mexico on a diplomatic posting.
It was during her time in North America that Dara’s interest in conservation spiked. “I was always interested in conservation and that really escalated in Mexico with all the beautiful artefacts and archaeological sites, and their strong focus on museums and conservation schools,” she says.
After three years in Mexico, Dara and her husband returned to Australia, where they watched a television interview with Emeritus Professor Colin Pearson AO from the then Canberra College of Advanced Education (CCAE), now the University of Canberra. Known as the ‘Father of Conservation in Australia’, Colin was promoting a new course in materials conservation. Knowing that Dara, who had recently had their first child, would be interested, her husband encouraged her to contact Colin regarding the course.
“I went in to meet him and was told that the applications had just closed, but he said I could still apply,” Dara recalls. “I received a call from Colin a few days later notifying me that my application hadn’t been processed and that he had to make a decision about students. He couldn’t wait for me, so I was going to miss out on the course and would have to wait until the following year.”
A few days later, Dara was preparing to leave Canberra for a few days when an offer to study at the CCAE arrived in the mail. She didn’t think twice, accepting the offer and diving into her studies while navigating motherhood.
Dara was one of the first students to study conservation at the CCAE, graduating in 1983 with a Master of Applied Science in Conservation. “Having only ever studied in Thai, I remember the course was quite difficult at the time and I really struggled with the chemistry subject,” she says. “Conservation is applied science, so there is a big science component to it.”
At the end of her first year, Dara fell pregnant with her second child. She almost gave up on the course and CCAE, but with her mother’s help, Dara continued to study and undertook a work placement at the National Archives of Australia. The experience was invaluable. Conservation was quite new at that time in Australia and Dara was able to develop her strength in paper treatment and protection.
The student life and university experience, however, was quite different back then. With a three-year-old in crèche that had limited hours, it didn’t leave much time for socialising. “It’s funny because in those times we never really used the word balance, we didn’t think about work balance and personal life,” she says. “We just did it.”
Now retired, Dara is still actively involved with the local community, giving her time to assist with transcribing and translating.
Building a legacy worth remembering
It’s been nearly 40 years since renowned Australian immunologist Pamela Russell walked the halls as a student of the University’s predecessor, the CCAE, in the late 1970s. At the time, the Diploma of Education graduate was able to relate to juggling parenthood and study commitments.
Pamela worked as a lecturer while raising two children. She also found the time to develop a number of new science courses. “It was quite difficult at those times to find a balance, but it was possible,” she says. “You just have to work very hard at it.”
Speaking to Pamela now, her passion for medical science and education is as strong as ever.
She recalls her interest beginning in the 1960s, when she studied a Masters in Immunology at the Walter & Eliza Hall Institute under Nobel Prize recipient Sir Macfarlane Burnet before undertaking a PhD under the supervision of distinguished research biologist Sir Gustav Nossal.
“At the time, immunology was developing many new concepts at an incredible pace,” she says. “I worked with some of the most amazing immunologists at a time when the major cell types involved in immunological responses were being functionally defined. Now, immunological methods are being used to treat some cancers. That was predicted at the time, but it has taken a long period to come to fruition. It’s extremely exciting.”
Changing the focus of her research due to her fascination of the area, Pamela applied for a job in prostate and bladder cancer in 1984. Facing funding issues, she approached famous newsreader Roger Climpson, who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer around the same time. Together they set up the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia, which continues to this day to raise awareness, support research and set up programs for patients and their families.
Pamela quickly developed an international reputation for her work on bladder and prostate cancer. A strong believer in collaborations, she has initiated global developments for medical science by encouraging those working competitively on similar projects to work together to tackle the issues.
There is no greater example of this than the Global Action Plan established by the Movember Foundation whilst Pamela was a member of their scientific council.
In addition to her groundbreaking studies, Pamela is a former director of the Oncology Research Centre at the Prince of Wales Hospital in Sydney. She also held a conjoint chair position in medicine at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) and was the Professor of Medicine at the UNSW’s Prince of Wales Clinical School. She currently works as the Head of Biomedical Imaging and Prostate Cancer Models at the Australian Prostate Cancer Research Centre at the Queensland University of Technology.
Over the years, Pamela has been involved in establishing several other organisations including the Genitourinary Oncology Group and the Australian Prostate Cancer Collaboration, and she has some exciting future projects planned in the area of imaging and potential treatment targeted at prostate cancer. Although she continues to raise money in competitive grants and industry support, she says one of the biggest hurdles she continues to face is funding in science.
“Grants can come and go – sometimes you are successful and sometimes you are not,” she says. “Over the years, the number of grants has been reduced and times are extremely tough, especially for mid-career researchers who have already proven their worth, but now have very few chances to obtain grants. Those are the moments when you have to grit your teeth, move forward and try to find another way to source money.”
Against the odds: a triumph over adversity
For many Canberrans, Chris Kimball is a familiar face. For 10 years, he fronted the ABC’s 7.30 current affairs television program. He told stories that were often difficult to tell: homelessness, drug abuse and eventually his own personal experience with cancer.
But the Canberra-born journalist’s curiosity and story-telling trademarks had developed long before.
Completing a Bachelor of Applied Science and Sports Media at the University in 2001, Chris describes his study experience as “a little bit different”. He travelled extensively throughout – sometimes for up to a year at a time.
With six months left of his degree Chris was offered a position with WIN TV in Central West New South Wales.
“I leapt into the role as a television journalist for a regional platform, completing the last part of my degree via correspondence,” he recalls. “It was such a terrific experience and the perfect grounding for a start in the industry.”
During his university years, Chris helped develop the mentoring program for young journalists and managed the program, strengthening the relationship between the University and WIN TV. After spending a few years with WIN followed by a stint with regional broadcaster Prime7, Chris transitioned into politics and worked in Dubbo for local Member of Parliament Tony McGrane. He was groomed to take on the position before Tony tragically passed away in 2004 following a short battle with liver cancer. Facing a fork in the road, Chris had the difficult choice of following in his mentor’s footsteps or returning to journalism. He decided to follow his passion and returned to Canberra.
Landing a job at the ABC, Chris quickly progressed from reporting on sport to hosting the 7.30 program. In 2012, however, he was struck with the diagnosis of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
Rather than taking a break from work and dealing with the disease privately, he decided to share his battle with cancer. To him, it was important to do so. “I don’t consider it a brave decision because I was just going through something that so many people and families are touched by in some way or another,” he says.
“It just happened to be a public component for myself. There was an opportunity to try and normalise what is such a terrible and abnormal aspect of life and a very frightening process. To get to work and say, ‘I'm here, I'm living with cancer and I'm going to keep on living’, that was just me trying to get on with life.”
Winning his own battle against cancer inspired Chris to give journalism up and give back to the community by working in the not-for-profit sector. In 2015 he became the Chief Executive Officer of Snowy Hydro SouthCare, the aero-medical and rescue helicopter service. The role allowed Chris to share the organisation’s story with firsthand experience. “The most rewarding part of the job was being able to meet the people who had been affected by the service and the former patients who had their lives changed,” Chris says.
Chris has since moved on from Snowy Hydro SouthCare. He is living a coastal life with his family, surfing at every opportunity he gets and making up for time lost due to his life-threatening battle with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
Before making the change, Chris left an indelible mark on the Canberra community. As a supporter of the Leukaemia Foundation, he worked on a joint project between the foundation and the John James Village to build a residential facility. “The day I left Canberra and Snowy Hydro SouthCare was the day the facility opened,” he says. “To leave Canberra on that day and seeing that it was finished was the perfect way to see out the project.”
Words by Stephanie Cossetto