Josh McMahon Blacks, whites, ex-cons and prison officers aren’t usually people who would hang out together. But at the Clarence Valley Aboriginal Men’s Group, they do that, and a whole lot more. The group started out in 2001 as a group for Aboriginal men, thus its title. But when life member and ex-prisoner Ron Gorman took the reins a few years ago, he decided to make some changes, including removing the need for members to be Aboriginal. The group of around 70 men also now undertakes community projects to help the Valley’s elderly and disabled. These projects have included cutting wood, renovating a house, building pet runs, joining with police for crime prevention programs, and much more. “The government goes on about closing the gap – what better way of doing this than working together,” Ron said. Not only has the group changed a lot – Ron says he has changed immensely since joining upon release from prison. “I was someone you wouldn’t have wanted to know, someone who didn’t care about anyone but himself,” he said. “I’ve been out of prison for around 14 years now, and the group has changed my life. It made me see that you need to help others where you can, if you want respect … now if I can help one person each week, I can sleep easy at night.” Ron now works on projects shoulder-to-shoulder with men who were his prison officers during his time in gaol. The group plans to celebrate Australia Day with a barbecue at Bunnings in South Grafton, to raise money for the Rural Fire Service. Ron said personally he agreed with the term “Invasion Day” when referring to Australia Day, but he did not see this as a reason for division between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people today. “It happened when I wasn’t even born. If we’re going to stop living in the past, then we’ve got to forget this stuff,” he said.