How Gran’s pioneering spirit helped shape a year of highlights

Jack Heath, CEO, Philanthropy Australia Fri, 16 Dec 2022

On 26 November 1914, four months after the start of World War I, my grandmother Nellie Carrick, matriculated from the University of Melbourne aged 18 years. 

Over the next four years, interspersed with stints as a teacher required of her scholarship, she completed her Bachelor of Arts.  Nellie went to study a Master of Arts.  In 1922, she and Australian Fairytale pioneer Olga Ernst were the only two women to graduate with an MA.  She returned to teaching until she married William Heath in 1923 and then, as it was in those times, was no longer allowed to teach. 

William and Nellie lived together in Casterton, in far south-west Victoria, for 16 years before William died leaving Nellie with seven children, the youngest only six months old.  The older children were sent off to boarding school and neighbours helped her with the younger children. 

As a widow, she was allowed to re-register as a teacher which she did in 1947 before she moved the family to Camberwell in Melbourne two years later.  For many years, she taught English and History Canterbury Girls High School supporting her children and eventually paying off the mortgage on her house.  She saw five of her children graduate from the University of Melbourne with the sixth graduating from Maynooth University in Ireland and the seventh becoming a nurse.

We knew Nellie as “Gran” and she was indefatigable.  She was always steady and calm, wore no make-up and tied her hair up in a bun.  She would often be seen raking up the leaves in the backyard at Canterbury Rd.  Her bedroom was austere.  She cooked wonderful roasts and gave only books to her grandchildren for their birthday and Christmas presents. 

We loved Gran and thought she would live forever. At 80 years, and still a Year 12 State Examiner in English, she was hit by a car while out shopping at Camberwell Junction and died soon thereafter.  Years later we learnt that Gran had endured immense hardship while living in Casterton which elevated her quiet heroism and stoicism to another level.

In 2017, I was fortunate to receive a leadership award from the Arts Faculty at the University of Melbourne where I too had studied.  A year later I was invited to address a University Graduation ceremony.  This led me to dig out Gran’s report cards from the university archives and learn more about this inspiring woman whose story I briefly shared with the graduating students. It also prompted the idea of setting up a scholarship in honour of Gran to assist women who had endured significant hardship to study in the Faculty of Arts at the University of Melbourne. 

Following a conversation with then Vice-Chancellor Glyn Davis, the idea lay dormant for a few years until my sister Anna organised a Carrick family reunion in October this year.  The reunion also marked the ninetieth birthday of Gran’s only surviving son, my uncle Father Damien Heath.  We decided to establish the scholarship in honour of our remarkable grandmother but wanted to make it easy for people to contribute.  In a matter of only two days, we were able to establish the Nellie Carrick Scholarship Fund through the Australian Communities Foundation and family members began donating immediately.

I wanted to share this story with you because setting up and contributing to the fund has been such a wonderful and deeply rewarding experience for our family – and a personal highlight of my year.  There is something special in being able to honour the kindness and sacrifices of your ancestors and to experience a joy that comes from giving in the knowledge that others will benefit for many years to come. 

This personal highlight sits alongside the three other highlights in my philanthropic year that was 2022. 

First, it was a privilege to be part of PA’s National Conference which brought together some remarkable and inspiring philanthropists, outstanding non-profit organisations and First Nations Leaders who will help carry this country through the coming challenging years.

Second, PA’s policy and advocacy achievements the past year have been remarkable with the incoming Federal Government’s adoption of PA’s goal to double philanthropic giving by 2030 as the standout. 

And finally, it has been so wonderful to be part of a growing and outstanding PA team who share a deep-seated commitment to inspiring more and better philanthropy as we stand on the shoulders of all those who have gone before us.  Among the many contributors at PA, I want to thank Nick Richardson who will be leaving PA for an exciting new role to be announced in the new year.  This will be Nick’s last Philanthropy Weekly edition after almost four years fine service as our storyteller.  

Each day, in our increasingly fragmented world, philanthropy becomes more important.  For this coming year, a big part of PA’s effort will be directed to ensuring the Productivity Commission Review into philanthropy is well informed and puts forward strong and compelling recommendations for Government to adopt.  We are not likely to have this kind of opportunity for another decade at least, so let’s make the most of it. 

Over 2023, we will also look to enhance our value to members as we grow and deepen our peer networks and chapter groups.  We will keep our members informed as the referendum process on a Voice to Parliament unfolds and we will always welcome your feedback on how we can do things better. 

Finally, thank you, to you our members, for travelling the journey with us in 2022 and providing the kind of philanthropic leadership that this country so desperately needs.  We urge you to continue your giving in these economically challenging times and being open to sharing your own stories in a way that inspires others.

We wish you and your families a restorative break and look forward to connecting with you in the new year.  Till then, rest up, travel safe, and rejoice in being part of the growing philanthropic movement in Australia.

Warmest regards, Jack