06/07/2004 - 22:00

Joe Poprzeczny - State Scene: For the greater public good

06/07/2004 - 22:00


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Those who attended the University of Western Australia or even just toured its northern grounds probably know that the creation and initial development of that campus was primarily due to the efforts and funds of Irish-born Perth newspaper proprietor, Sir

Those who attended the University of Western Australia or even just toured its northern grounds probably know that the creation and initial development of that campus was primarily due to the efforts and funds of Irish-born Perth newspaper proprietor, Sir John Winthrop Hackett (1848-1916).

UWA received a whopping £425,000 (about $30 million today) of the £700,000 from Sir John’s estate to establish studentships and bursaries, and build Winthrop Hall and the Hackett Buildings, while the Anglican Church used the £138,000 it received to build St George’s College.

Although UWA – by far the State’s wealthiest campus – and Perth’s other campuses, plus Fremantle-based Notre Dame, have subsequently received significant, though less publicised grants, none, so far as State Scene is aware, rivals in real terms those from the Hackett estate.

That said, it’s worth noting that another increasingly significant philanthropist has emerged in Perth who, like Sir John, wasn’t WA-born.

He is Japanese Zen Buddhist priest and entrepreneur, Dr Haruhisa Handa.

Although philanthropy is widespread in Japan it’s far less common for a Japanese to extend it internationally, and, in particular to distant WA, as Dr Handa has done.

Without listing the value of each of Dr Handa’s WA campus donations, the three recipient universities have together received about $2 million.

In that figure is $250,000 for Edith Cowan’s state-of-the-art Handa percussion studio, and Curtin’s chair in human rights education. Curtin has also received, since 1988, $1.3 million for the Seizan Fukami Scholarships.

Most recently UWA’s music department has been beneficiary of $400,000 to help purchase the historic Burgis music collection.

Dr Handa, an economics graduate of Kyoto’s Doshisha University, as well as being a successful businessman and composer, is a calligrapher, author, singer, actor, and motivational speaker.

His Japan-based businesses span several sectors, including publishing, educational and management services, and watch manufacture.

His three Western Australian subsidiaries are Professional Travel Service Pty Ltd, Keyside Marinas Pty Ltd (trading as Aquarama), and a Byford property. He has also headquartered his Australian cultural and educational philanthropic activities in Perth.

That means the Australian arm of the International Foundation for Arts and Culture (IFAC), which he founded in 1996, is based here.

IFAC is also registered in Japan, the UK and the US (New York). IFAC’s Australian trustees include Dr Handa, former head of Edith Cowan’s Academy of Performing Arts, Dr Geoffrey Gibbs, and long-time Perth accountant Michael Gasson, who administers Dr Handa’s business and cultural activities in WA.

IFAC boasts 1,800 individual and corporate members and promotes international cultural exchanges and specialises in supporting artistic activities.

Its projects in WA include the backing of special events at the WA Academy of Performing Arts, and the Australian Singing Competition, which has been staged in Perth three times, twice in Sydney and once in Adelaide.

IFAC also has underwritten the pathfinding Australian Opera Studio (AOS), located in Perth’s onetime railway junction suburb of Midland.

This pioneering academy offers budding operatic performers two years’ master and other classes. To launch it, IFAC outlaid more than $1.5 million for sets, costumes and musical instruments, and has met recurring costs of $1 million during the past three years.

Other IFAC events include a sizeable grant for the 50th Perth International Arts Festival, and $500,000 for the centenary celebrations of His Majesty’s Theatre.

As well as these big-ticket items IFAC has backed a range of smaller and more specialised events across rural WA, including a statewide student art competition, which offers a travel grant to Japan as a prize.

Japanese students have similar contests with reciprocal travel grants to Australia.

Dr Handa has also gifted to several non-cultural causes, such as the $1.5 million grant to WA’s Association for the Blind in its campaign to raise $11 million to redevelop its Victoria Park headquarters.

Understandably he’s come to be as highly regarded at WA’s tertiary academies and across the State’s cultural fraternity and charitable organisations as Winthrop Hackett is at UWA.

Winthrop Hackett, like Dr Handa, was involved in an array of civic activities, which he backed both with time and funds.

At the turn of the 19th/20th centuries Hackett served on Perth’s zoological gardens committee, chaired the public library board, Kings Park board, was president of the Museum and Art Council, governor of Perth High School, was UWA’s first chancellor and was chancellor of the Anglican Church’s Perth Diocese.

State Scene has also learned that Dr Handa’s extraordinary and, indeed, highly appreciated, efforts in WA are mirrored by similar humanitarian and educational work in Cambodia, China and Albania.

All this inevitably prompts many to ask why he does it, why is he a philanthropist.

Michael Gasson told State Scene that Dr Handa’s motives were religiously inspired and that he regarded Australia, and particularly WA, most highly. He visits about three times a year.

“Dr Handa’s first overseas friends hailed from Perth,” he said.

Nor should philanthropy be measured solely by the number of zeros after dollar signs.

What is referred to as ‘voluntary work’ by those not as spectacularly successful in business as Dr Handa and Sir Winthrop Hackett is crucially important in the running of countless specialist charitable organisations and agencies across the State. Thankfully WA has many tens of thousands of such civic-minded individuals.

Common, therefore, to Winthrop Hackett, Dr Handa and WA’s huge cohort of anonymous volunteers is their belief in and dedication to a common good, something that, if absent, would mean WA would be a far less congenial place in which to live.


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