Centre for Indigenous Health & the Melanoma Institute of Australia
In 2008 transport magnate Greg Poche donated $10 million to help establish a groundbreaking Centre for Indigenous Health with outreach clinics across western NSW.
Poche had already given $40 million to kickstart the Melanoma Institute of Australia, a world-class cancer research and treatment facility born out of the existing Sydney Melanoma Unit.
When Poche heard of the melanoma unit’s plight – from good friend and fellow businessman Reg Richardson – it was living hand-to-mouth. Next year the institute will move into a purpose-built $40 million building in North Sydney, near the Mater Hospital.
So how did Poche get involved? In Poche’s own words, he “was looking for causes which needed investment”. As a hard-headed, results driven businessman, “they had to have very sound structures, people and skills which only lacked financial resources and infrastructure.”
The medical team is the world’s leading melanoma research, treatment and care organisation, Poche says. “They were already world-class in terms of people and skills. But they were living out of corridors in the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. There just wasn’t space for them to expand and we have the highest melanoma rate in the world.”
What the medical team lacked was someone with money who believed in them. The same was true a couple of years later when the high-minded academics of the University of Sydney’s medical faculty were urgently trying to attract financial support for their fledgling rescue program for Aboriginal health.
Again, it was Richardson who proved the catalyst. “Reg and I talked about finding another project,” Poche says. “Indigenous health is important to both of us, as it is to most Australians. Most non-Indigenous Australians feel helpless. So much money has been thrown into Indigenous health and other support over the years, and it really hasn’t made any difference. The life expectancy for Indigenous Australians is still about 20 per cent lower than for non-Indigenous Australians and infant mortality rates really haven’t improved.”
Professor Marie Bashir, the Chancellor of the University of Sydney as well as the Governor of NSW, has worked in Indigenous health for years, and maintains a keen professional interest in the subject. She describes Greg Poche as “a visionary philanthropist who appreciates the dire need for health education among our Indigenous population” and she is confident the new centre will reap dividends. “[The centre] will be an incredible means by which we can draw more Indigenous workers into collaborating and training, because that is the way to be effective in our journey of transformation.”
The Chancellor also believes that other Australians will be encouraged to donate by the example of a very successful person who thinks the centre is an investment worth making – “because that’s what it is. It’s an investment in a better Australia.”
This is an edited version of an article by Steve Meacham published in Sydney Annual, the 2008 Report on Achievement and Philanthropy at the University of Sydney. A longer version of the interview with Greg Poche was published in the Sydney Morning Herald.