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Patrick Connelly of Grafton has been named recipient of the Order of Australia Medal. Pic: Josh McMahon.

Including everyone

Josh McMahon |

Many people talk about the value of inclusivity, but Patrick Connelly OAM has dedicated his life to making it a reality.

The Grafton Order of Australia recipient was humble in accepting the prestigious award on Australia Day, saying that he didn’t really want “too much attention”.

Since moving to the Clarence Valley in 1969, Mr Connelly has been a champion for those not considered outstanding or high achievers; those who may struggle to feel included in the community.

His mission began with hockey. In those days, only capable payers were included in hockey competition, with anyone deemed not good enough rejected from joining a team.

Mr Connelly helped create a new, more inclusive team, where everyone and anyone who wanted to join up was welcome. This team was called the Royals, and despite its approach to recruitment it actually won many games, according to Mr Connelly.

The club flourished and next year celebrates 50 years, with teams across all grades of competition.

The next frontier for Mr Connelly was the school system, and he became a teachers’ aid to help those who struggled in the classroom, or had challenging behaviours.

“These kids aren’t all angels – some of them are little shits – but someone has to listen to them, not give up on them,” he said.

“Working with kids who really have problems might be hard, but eventually you get a result, and it’s really awarding.”

Mr Connelly continues to help young people in the Clarence through Midnight Basketball, which gathers youth to enjoy sport, a meal, and an educational workshop.

He is currently in talks with the new Grafton PCYC to become involved in their work in the community.