Every so often you find out about one of those wonderful people who are so community oriented, they give up countless hours of their time to help others. Frances Breen is one of these people … retired Court Registrar, Pastor, school assistant, chorister, and Deputy Commander of Forster Marine Rescue, Frances is an inspiration …
Hi Frances. Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your family…
I am married with three children and three delightful granddaughters. The first time I visited this beautiful part of the world was in 1958, the year before the bridge was opened. I travelled with my family from Tamworth to a church reunion at Tiona campgrounds. I still remember the ride on the Tuncurry/Forster punt as a seven year old, the most exciting thing that had happened to me up to that point in my young life.
From then on, I became a regular visitor to the area. I eventually introduced my husband to the area before we were married; he couldn’t wait to retire and reach his “liberation day”, the day in 2007 when we (our daughter included) left the noise and busyness of Sydney to retire to our home by the water in Forster.
Maybe because I began my working life later than my husband, it wasn’t long before the urge to get back into a rhythm of work and the daily challenges of running a court house beckoned in the form of a phone call from the Attorney General’s Department. I jumped at the chance to fill in as Registrar at Coffs Harbour for a few months and eventually took on the role of Registrar/Assistant Coroner at Taree, from where I finally retired (again) in 2011.
What was your work background?
I began my career in the Local Court of NSW in 1987 and worked my way through the ranks to become Registrar of some metropolitan courts (Parramatta, Burwood, Ryde and Hornsby) as well as some regional courts, Dubbo, Coffs Harbour and Taree.
I would say mine was one of the most rewarding careers I could imagine, never two days the same, each day filled with challenges of all kinds. A day in the life of a court Registrar can consist of dealing with staffing issues, liaising with architects over the new court house, making decisions in bail courts, talking with the media, settling fencing disputes, counselling the grieving over the sudden death of a loved one and topping off the day by joining two people in marriage.
What first sparked your interest in volunteer/community work?
One day, when I was busily working away at Taree court, my husband walked into the downstairs door at Forster Marine Rescue and discovered a whole new world of radio operating and boat crewing – a chance to live out some of his dreams of working on boats. We would compare notes at the end of the day. He would sprout tales of learning about knot tying, drift patterns and search and rescue techniques, whilst I bored him with my courthouse stories.
I admit I didn’t take too much notice, until I retired, and as a bit of a fun thing to do, talked my neighbour into coming with me to learn about weird radios that go by the name of VHF, 27 meg, HF, DCN, UHF etc. My interest in the goings on of Marine Rescue developed from then until this year, when I was elected the first female Deputy Commander of Forster/Tuncurry Marine Rescue.
My role as Deputy Commander is to generally work collaboratively with the Commander, support his role and fill in if he is absent. I am also the current administration officer, which involves preparing correspondence and working closely with the “behind the scenes” team which keeps the engine room running.
Intermingled with this, I also began to fulfill my childhood dream of becoming a teacher by volunteering at local schools to help young people struggling with literacy and numeracy skills. I have conducted one on one coaching, as well as provided group assistance for teachers who work in learning support, some with disengaged students. The result of seeing a child begin to flourish and enjoy their school life is worth more than any monetary reward.
What church are you associated with, and what do you most enjoy about your role there?
I have been a lifelong member of the Community of Christ Church and am currently co-pastor of the Green Cathedral Ministries at Tiona. Our mission is to share the message of Christ, to promote communities where love, joy, hope and peace abound. My enjoyment comes from sharing with the many visitors who come to the Green Cathedral from all parts of this land as well from overseas who bring home the fact that indeed, we are one in the eyes of Christ, we all share common challenges and have an innate desire for peace and justice, wherever we live.
I’ve also been informed that you enjoy singing. What choir are you a member of?
From our small congregation at the Green Cathedral was formed the Green Cathedral Community Choir, which usually meets weekly to practice in an informal setting, have a few laughs and generally come up with a presentable version of a song. We perform at major church services, for community groups such as the View Club, the CWA, at the local aged care facilities and wherever else we are invited. We welcome new members and are especially looking for more males to join our happy group of choristers.
What is it about being a volunteer that keeps you inspired?
The rewards from volunteering are multifaceted. I get to work with many wonderful people, whose community minded spirit is amazing and infectious. I get to “get out of the house” quite often, priceless for one who is domestically challenged. I get to enjoy the satisfaction of the “thank you” from the stranded boatie, or the passing yachtie who expresses their gratitude for their ability to feel safe, knowing we are keeping an eye on them; the email from a grateful parent whose child has progressed in school to an extent not imagined because of a few hours of coaching, the feel of the age worn hands encircling yours at the end of a choir performance in the local nursing home; the list is endless.
Final say …
It is said we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before. This is certainly true with our unit in Forster. The unit operates solely because of the dedication of its current members combined with the legacy of those who put countless volunteer hours into creating the building itself and contributed endless hours to the training, fundraising and operations that result in the well run unit we have today. My hat goes off to them. May your waters always be calm and may you always find that safe harbour in your life.