People

Meet Mr Fix It – The Local Hero Helping Homeless Women

John Holland
Photos: Naomi Giatas

There’s not much John Holland can’t fix. The volunteer tackles all sorts of odd jobs when he drops into Catherine House, tool box in hand.

“I’d never heard of Catherine House before I started helping out,” he says.

“When the previous handyman hung up his tools, an email went around the Department of Environment where my wife works. She suggested it to me.”

That was eight years ago.

“I enjoy it. For quite a while it was quite tricky because I was trying to fix things I’d never seen before. I just had to find a way around it.”

Catherine House provides supported accommodation services in Adelaide to women (18 and over) who are experiencing homelessness.

The organisation has been operating since 1988, and now has a team of 50 staff and over 50 volunteers.

“Some I’ve got to know quite well,” says John.

“They are really caring. I don’t know if they get paid but they seem like the kind of people who would do it for free anyhow.”

John does everything from hanging picture frames to maintenance. Forty-eight women are accommodated on a nightly basis. That’s a lot of cupboard doors to fix.

“I enjoy it. For quite a while it was quite tricky because I was trying to fix things I’d never seen before. I just had to find a way around it.”

John Holland

John is well accustomed to female company. He grew up surrounded by 12 siblings in Ireland, then Lancashire in the UK. He has eleven sisters and one brother.

“Mum died at 93. She was tough.” He smiles. “She was about 71 when she retired from teaching. She was a very caring lady.”

John moved to Australia in 1974. “A week before Cyclone Tracy.”

“You can hardly imagine what they’ve been through to get to that stage. For a long time, they obviously felt there was no hope but eventually they got out.”

He worked in Western Australia’s Pilbara mining industry, then in Sydney and eventually South Australia where he worked at the gliding club at Waikerie.

When he’s not gliding, he can usually be found training in indoor rowing and athletics for the Australian Masters Games in Tasmania during October.

John is proud to donate what little spare time he has left to the Catherine House.

“Some of the clients here have obviously been beaten down for years and years. Their self-esteem is gone. They come here and at first they tend to be slumped down, looking at the ground, unable to look up.

“You can hardly imagine what they’ve been through to get to that stage. For a long time, they obviously felt there was no hope but eventually they got out.”

John knows that domestic violence can effect anyone.

“It happens to strong women, too. My sister’s husband was quite violent and she had two young children. She is physically strong as well as mentally strong but it took her awhile to get out.”

He encourages anyone curious about volunteering to find what fits their skillset.

“There’s such a vast range of things you can do, you just have to find what suits you.

“You get far more out of it than you put in. There’s no doubt about it.”

 

Know a local hero we should feature? Let us know in the comments, below.

Smiley Fritz

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