Star citizen with her feet firmly on the ground

Canberra Citizen of the Year Diane Kargas Bray… “Let’s not forget, there are so many people who don’t get to enjoy Canberra like some of us do.”
Photo by Danielle Nohra

WHEN Diane Kargas Bray was working as the ACT Public Trustee, she saw many people include incredible donations in their wills, but the money was mostly leaving Canberra.

So she thought: “How do we keep those wonderful donations in Canberra”, and from that GreaterGood was formed in 2003.

Diane says the GreaterGood Foundation, which benefits Canberra and the region, was a major starting point for her work in philanthropy and the 70-year-old has not slowed down since.

Which is why it’s unsurprising that Adelaide-born Diane has been named the 2018 Canberra Citizen of the Year for her contribution to the community through her social enterprise and philanthropic work.

And it seems she takes after her mum who was one of the volunteers that helped build the emergency wing at the Adelaide Children’s Hospital.

“My mother always said: ‘if you don’t have anything to do there’s community to get involved with so you should never be idle’,” she says.

Diane first came to Canberra in 1965 as a young bride of 18, on a cold, snow-filled, August day, wondering: “What have I done?”

But as Canberra became home, her contribution to the territory grew and she has since been named ACT Local Hero in 2004, awarded a Member of the Order of Australia for her services to philanthropy, aged care, people with disabilities and juvenile diabetes research in 2009 and was listed on the Honour Roll of 100 inspiring women in the ACT in 2011.

“There are so many ways to give back in this beautiful community,” she says.

“Let’s not forget, there are so many people who don’t get to enjoy Canberra like some of us do.”

Diane, who didn’t start paid work until the age of 30 says people don’t need to be Bill Gates to be a philanthropist but, as a community, together everyone can be one.

“All jobs showed me that this is an incredible community and, for me, this is an opportunity to give back because I gained so much from working in the community,” she says.

One way Diane has volunteered her time was to help establish Common Ground, which was brought to Canberra by the late Elizabeth Dawson and provides quality apartment tenancies to people who have experienced homelessness and to low-income earners unable to access other affordable housing options.

The ACT government recently confirmed a second Common Ground presence will be established in Dickson, which Diane says shows the success of the first one in Gungahlin.

“With the second Common Ground coming I’d like to think we can look at some of the people still finding it tough that live on our streets,” she says.

“As a community we can do something to help these people who are doing it tough.

“We can ask them if they’re doing okay, buy them a cup of coffee and acknowledge their existence.

“It’s hard for people to see that, in a city so beautiful, we still have issues around homelessness.”

Diane also advocates for people with disabilities and encourages the growth of new social businesses that employ people with intellectual disabilities.

Her work with Hands Across Canberra has been instrumental in bringing together businesses, government and individuals to channel donations to local charities.

Even though Diane describes herself as a shy person, she says she’s had to put that aside to help bring change to the community.

“It can be overwhelming but the good feeling you get from seeing things change overrides that,” she says.

“Hopefully, I can raise the awareness in the next 12 months about what a great community we do have but I think we still have lots to do and there are lots of things I’d like to see. Canberra is small enough that we can lead by example.

“It’s past the time where we have to rely on the government to fix everything, when as a community we can fix it as well.”

But even though Diane is busy changing the Canberra community for the better, she says she still makes time to spend with her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren.

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