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Deserved honour for a maritime legend

28 Jan 2020

Deserved honour for a maritime legend Image

By David Schout

When Nigel Porteous went down to Docklands’ iconic Mission to Seafarers in 2000, he could see the place was on its last legs.

Despite its long history as the second-oldest sailors welfare institution in the world, the place was struggling financially and in need of urgent assistance.

Mr Porteous had received a call from a friend, an Anglican Bishop (the church associated with the mission), and he knew things had to change, and fast.

“He asked me to go down and have a look what’s going on,” Nigel said.

“I went down and had a look, and it was clear they’d run out of money. They were about to close and move off to somewhere else. I said ‘hang on, let’s see what we can do’. It’s an iconic building, the second-oldest mission in the world, we couldn’t just walk away from it.”

On the verge of being closed, the mission survived – but only just.

“I said ‘look, give me a couple of months, and I’ll see what I can do’. I rang around some shipping mates and asked if we could keep this show on the road.”

And he did exactly that, raising much-needed funds to begin the financial recovery process.

Within six months they could employ a part-time fundraising coordinator, and eventually would open the heritage building to outside groups for events.

It was at this time he became the mission’s vice chairman, a role he has held ever since.

“It was a close call,” he said.

“It would’ve been tragic if we’d moved.”

The story underlines why Mr Porteous was awarded with an Order of Australia medal (OAM) on Australia Day, for services to the community and to the shipping transport industry.

His dedication to the mission, which provides invaluable assistance to this day for seafarers from all around the world, is cherished by those within the industry.

Mission to Seafarers chief manager Sue Dight told Docklands News that without Mr Porteous stepping in, “the mission would no longer be”.

His overhaul of the board 20 years ago was a pivotal turning point in the group’s history.

He said the mission’s cause was still somewhat misunderstood within the community, and that seafarers these days had a “fairly terrible life” working in an industry that demanded long periods away from family and little rest in between jobs.

As such, the mission becomes a “home away from home”, where workers can receive practical care and moral support.

“I’m very conscious of the fact we’re the second-oldest mission in the world. There’s a responsibility that comes with that.”

At 81, he still plans to spend the next few years with the mission, which is currently undergoing extensive refurbishment works.

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