Expansion is on the horizon for mental health service provider Hunterlink, which celebrated its fifth birthday in the form of an industry dinner in Newcastle on Friday.
Celebrations were chalked up as a success after guests went home regenerated after a string of inspirational speeches that reflected on the work that Hunterlink has achieved in the past five years.
More than 100 people from politics, government, trade unions and business gathered to listen to a host of guest speakers and share in dinner at Marina Views Function Centre on Newcastle foreshore.
As well as a 24-hour helpline, Hunterlink is also an Employee Assistance Provider and works closely with maritime industry leaders such as Svitzer, Flinders Ports, CSL and Newcastle Stevedores.
Hunterlink managing director Gavin Kelso attributed the success of the organisation on its ability to develop a relationship with workers and the employer, using their industry knowledge and unique engagement skills.
Mr Kelso also laid down his plans to expand its reach internationally after presenting a tribute to Hunterlink founder Paul Karras, who had passed away following a brief illness earlier this year.
“After beginning as a small mental health service provider here in Newcastle to becoming a national operator where our reach helps maritime and other workers in some of the most isolated regions of Australia is no small feat and that’s why we’re here celebrating,” Mr Kelso said.
“The next step is beyond Australia’s borders and with the support of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) we will be able to help at risk seafarers struggling with mental illness regardless of where the ship they are sailing is.
ITF President Paddy Crumlin was unable to attend the event because of international commitments but a message was read out from the night’s emcee -Walkley Award winning journalist Steve Cannane - stressing the importance of Hunterlink’s ongoing work for both domestic and international transport workers.
“The international industry in particular is renowned for even greater demands with crews of mixed national origin, standards that fall short of best practice and the nature of seafarers often being sourced from working communities in developing countries that are effectively isolated from their families in every sense of the word,” Mr Crumlin said.
“Hunterlink’s work counselling seafarers also traumatised by serious injury and death in the workplace is widely respected and appreciated.
“The organisation in many ways is leading in an activist approach to give comprehensive and sustained counselling and support, not only for the families affected by the injury or death, but also those in the workplace exposed to the trauma and often tragedy of the event.”
Shadow Minister for Mental Health Senator Jan McLucas, who was keynote speaker at the event, said it was important to recognise that looking after one’s mental health was as important as looking after one’s physical health.
“Although mental health awareness and treatment has improved dramatically in recent years, there is still a gap in services. Fortunately organisations like Hunterlink exist to plug that gap.
“And that’s why we’re all here to recognise the service and ongoing direction of this vital service, which has and will continue to help many.”
Maritime Union of Australia Newcastle Branch Secretary and Hunterlink Board Director Glen Williams opened the evening in extending his praises for the work Hunterlink had done with union members, either through times of tragedy, or through general day-to-day support.
NRL and Hunterlink mental health ambassador Dan Hunt spoke about his personal struggle and the stigma that was attached to metal illness.
The night was wrapped up with a candid and moving speech from Dave White, a coal miner who had accessed the Hunterlink service.
The event was sponsored by Maritime Employees Training Limited and Flinders Ports Holdings.