John Byrne grew up in the west of Melbourne in a large and loving family attending Corpus Christi Primary School in Kingsville and then secondary school with the Christian Brothers up the road in Yarraville. John left school early and went to work with the State Electricity Commission (SEC) for a couple of years before returning to study and then teaching Art and Ceramics at Maribyrnong Secondary College in 1977. In the aftermath of cancer, John’s focus on healthy diet and exercise led him to study Physical Education and to take on a new role at the school whereby he engaged with a number of newly arrived students in an after school recreation program. At this time he developed his interest in refugee issues and the school subsequently appointed him to the position of Student Support Worker to assist newly arrived young people from Southeast Asia, East Timor, Central and South America.
A former student, who is working as a financial consultant, reflected on the path his life has taken as a result of the support and encouragement John gave him:
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In 1999 John was awarded a Churchill Fellowship to travel to the United States of America, Canada, France and Vietnam to study the impact of illicit drugs on Vietnamese young people living in these four countries. In addition to this international research investigation, he also explored and documented the illicit drug industry in Vietnam and its impact on young people, families and community for the Victorian Department of Human Services. The findings of this investigation is documented in his report titled, Drug Culture in Vietnam: An Investigation into the Impact of the Illicit Drug Industry on Vietnamese Young People, Their Families and the Community, and How the Education, Health and Legal Systems are Responding to it (1999).
John advocated for and actually demonstrated how schools and community welfare agencies could work together to support and improve the lives of young people. He set up the Western Region Cambodian Lao and Vietnamese (CLV) Young People’s Support Group and the Link Program for newly arrived refugees at Maribyrnong Secondary College. He also founded the CLV Youth Accommodation Service and was chairperson of the Ethnic Youth Issues Network for over 5 years before helping to create the Centre for Multicultural Youth in 2000. John was the early founder of the welfare work for refugees in school model, the basis for transition programs for students today.
In 2002 John engaged in a PhD study at the Australian Catholic University in partnership with Mary of the Cross Centre, a service of CatholicCare Melbourne. The topic of his PhD was ‘Support for Vietnamese Families of Illicit Drug Users’. John conducted extensive interviews with family members from five Vietnamese families living with drug use and professional staff from five support agencies. In addition to producing a scholarly work exploring the factors underlying illicit drug use in his research subjects, John was insistent that there be recommendations from the study leading to improved support for such family members. John was unable to complete his PhD study due to his unexpected death on the 12th of July 2005. However his close friend, Dr. Maree Pardy, completed his thesis by turning it into a report that is titled, “It’s Like a Piece of You is Missing”: Support Needs of Vietnamese Families of Drug Users (2008), which was launched at the JBM Lecture in 2008.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row type=”full_width_background” bg_position=”left top” bg_repeat=”no-repeat” scene_position=”center” text_color=”dark” text_align=”left” top_padding=”30″ bottom_padding=”30″][vc_column width=”1/1″][heading]
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The JBM provides scholarships to support newly-arrived refugee and asylum seeker young people in the Western suburbs to succeed in their secondary and tertiary studies. Currently, the scholarships are provided to students from Maribyrnong College and Victoria University as both institutions are former places of John’s employment and are based in the Western suburbs.
The JBM has also agreed to allocate funds each year to assist disadvantaged students with educational related expenses, such as the purchase of public transport tickets. This need was identified by a couple of youth committees in the Western region. The JBM has organised for the Western English Language School to administer the fund that are accessed by youth and relevant support workers.