A passion for rights

"DO in life what is right and when people ask of your deeds and words, be able to account for them on the spot," was the sound advice given to a Bridgetown resident, journalist/writer, PhD law researcher and convener Human Rights Alliance by his parents.

In fact, the philosophy was passed down to all six children - of which Gerry Georgatos is the eldest - by his migrant working class parents.

They instilled in all their children the courage and compassion to fight for what they believe.

His parents migrated to Australia in the 1950s from Greece.

Like migrants of the time, they found it difficult to communicate, they were blue collar workers but together they became a voice for the Greeks in Sydney and are still very well-known and regarded in the community.

As an English speaker in the house, Mr Georgatos took an active role in the area of social justice and became a voice piece for many in the Greek community - from workplace relation issues, council issues - as an eleven-year-old, Gerry helped in all.

"In the 1970s, language was an overwhelming barrier, there weren't enough advocacy groups or interpreters and even the unions didn't have a capacity to represent the needs of all the workers," Mr Georgatos said.

But nothing impacted on the young Mr Georgatos as much as the mesothelioma victims in Sydney "who had no one to speak for them".

"I saw them lying on their beds all wired up gasping for life and nothing could be done for them," he said.

"In those days it was a brick wall we faced and I learnt a lot by trying to confront, deal and negotiate on their behalf with employers and those who should have been representing them to try and get some justice for the victims."

What that did was leave a sour taste for Mr Georgatos, people not doing the right thing by others and people not being accountable for their actions.

His spirit from that day was sparked and the path was written for him.

The seed may have been planted by Mr Georgatos' parents, the passion he has for social justice and advocacy, but his career and his studies have enhanced the flame that burns so brightly inside the 50-year-old.

Mr Georgatos' life and career has seen him live overseas and study social justice and law in depth, even writing a PhD on racism - a topic that is very close to his heart.

Most recently, he worked in the tertiary sector as general manager of the Murdoch University student guild, where he spent six years.

This role gave him the opportunity to work with people from all walks of life.

He has worked with people from impoverished backgrounds, Indigenous students and says his proudest moment in this role was when he founded and built Students Without Borders (SWB).

"This became the largest student volunteer organisation in the country put together in 2004," explains Gerry of the group.

In 2008 Mr Georgatos and SWB were recognised by the State for their contributions, finalists in three of the eight categories of the Department of Community Services awards and winning two of them including Outstanding Individual Contribution for Gerry.

One of the achievements under Gerry was the computer recycling program.

About 55,000 computers were sent to impoverished backgrounds and communities mostly in WA and many thousands were sent to places in countries such as Uganda, Zambia, Senegal and India - where schools have never even seen a computer before.

"There were hundreds of social justice programs that we got students involved in, but it was also a hands-on and practical experience in making a difference in communities," he said.

"Most of them in outback communities remote but also international opportunities and my greatest pride now is that Students Without Borders has campuses in Iraq, Ghana, Senegal and Uganda."

Mr Georgatos decided to downsize his life and in 2011, moved to Bridgetown with his family.

Leaving a high paid job behind, Mr Georgatos was unsure what he would do, but being involved with so many causes, he knew he would always be busy.

Then one day, he got a phone call from the editor of the National Indigenous Times, Stephen Hagan, asking if he would be interested in writing for the newspaper.

Read part two of Mr Georgatos' story in next week's edition of the Donnybrook-Bridgetown Mail.

Bridgetown resident and journalist Gerry Georgatos on the job at the Australia Day protest 2012 in Canberra.

Bridgetown resident and journalist Gerry Georgatos on the job at the Australia Day protest 2012 in Canberra.

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