Sharyn Mackenzie OAM

Fellow of the University of Wollongong

Citation orated by Professor Alex Frino

Chancellor, I present Sharyn Mackenzie OAM.

“It’s my vision, it’s my passion, but it’s a wonderful story of community engagement”. The words are those of Sharyn Mackenzie, co-founder of Strategic Community Assistance to Refugee Families (SCARF). The story is one of courage, tenacity, and humanity at its finest.

As a child in Fairfield after World War II, Mrs Mackenzie witnessed the flowering of multicultural Australia. Her response was not fear or withdrawal but a lifelong fascination and respect for different cultures, including Australia’s first peoples. Sharyn’s varied working life began as a governess to Indigenous children on a cattle station in Western Australia. From 1985 to 1999, she managed a ministry working with women in far-flung climes such as Nepal, India, Fiji, Zimbabwe and the Ukraine. In an even more surprising career change, she then she acted as financial comptroller for an eclectic group in the arts, quarrying and trucking industries. Such versatility and organisational skill would steer the success of SCARF as a Wollongong-based community organisation.

Sharyn’s mission for SCARF was to realise the potential and hopes of refugee families and thereby enrich the Australian community. Under her leadership and with the enduring support of her husband Kelvin, SCARF grew in one decade from an office in her spare room and a small homework centre at Wollongong City Library to offer a remarkable range of services that include English for Adults, driver training programs, health and nutrition, recycling and waste management, traditional cuisine catering and even an African women's sewing circle. Over 200 volunteers work with 1,000 registered refugees, most of whom have been living in camps or other desperate conditions for five to 20 years.

Sharyn Mackenzie’s mission has enriched not only individual lives but also this city and its University. The living tributes to her achievement are the refugee students who have graduated from UOW in fields ranging from Medical Science to Communication and Media Studies and Commerce and the young ones being supported by SCARF to achieve their aims of completing high school and nursing qualifications.

The University’s staff and students have been inspired to become part of Sharyn’s “team”. The Creative Community Connection, a thriving partnership between UOW’s International House students and SCARF, celebrates diversity and friendship and facilitates the sharing of skills and support. The UOW Community Engagement staff are also involved in running joint projects and many University Alumni have become SCARF volunteers.

Chancellor, Sharyn Mackenzie has been honoured by her city and by her country. With typical humility, she comments: “my life has been greatly enriched, indeed blessed, by the people I have met, worked beside, walked beside”. This University and the community can only be proud of their relationship with Sharyn Mackenzie. So many people who needed hope can only be grateful to have met a woman who respected their dignity and their talents and connected them with their new community. By welcoming refugees to these shores, Sharyn has instinctively acknowledged the truth in John Donne’s famous lines:
“No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main”

It is my privilege to present Sharyn Mackenzie for admission as a Fellow of the University of Wollongong.