“Kingsford has been my home for 74 years, so I can’t imagine living anywhere else.” – Stanley William Head.
Stanley William Head has spent his life devoted to Kingsford, the east Sydney suburb that has been his home for the past 74 years.
In recognition of his volunteer work within the community, the 88-year-old was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) in 2019, a privilege that made him feel “very humbled, honoured and proud”.
A modest man, Stanley reflects on this achievement with an admirable practicality: in his view, helping others is just what you do.
Born in Woolloomooloo, Sydney, in 1932, Stanley’s outlook was shaped by his early experience as a caretaker. When he was only 13 years old, his mother, May, was diagnosed with cancer. For seven years, Stanley took over all the shopping, cooking and cleaning, while also leaving school to support the family as an apprentice cabinetmaker.
Despite the long hours, Stanley was known to sacrifice his lunch breaks so that he could sing for his colleagues while they ate. His passion for entertaining others eventually motivated him to join the Sydney Theatre and Radio workshop, an amateur theatre group that hosted community productions every Saturday night.
“Acting gave me an outlet for all the worry I had for my mother at the time,” he recalls.
“It was a lot of fun. I was in about 27 plays through the Sydney Theatre and Radio workshop, and then a lot of variety shows through the Kingsford Musical Society. I was never paid for any performance. All of the money we raised was either for charity or local businesses.”
After his mother passed away, Stanley embarked on a new career with a paper supply company, where he would work as a printing supervisor and then supply manager for the next 30 years.
Not satisfied with merely sitting behind a desk, Stanley threw himself into various volunteer roles around Kingsford. In addition to his theatre work, he was involved with the Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Manchester Unity (a society that raised significant funds for local charities) and the Scout Association.
“I’ve been connected with the Scout movement for 30 years, starting when I joined as a member in 1943. We used to meet at the local church, but my backyard became our bottle dump for collecting bottles and newspapers when we were raising money for our own scout hall,” he says, adding that one of his proudest achievements was helping the club get a 99-year lease on a block of land.
However, it was at the church that he met the person who would become most significant in his life, his wife Carole – who shares his enthusiasm for community service. She was a Sunday school teacher, while Stanley was performing in the church choir.
They were married in 1964 and had four children: three daughters and one son. It’s clear the four children have inherited their parents’ civic-mindedness.
“Karen, our eldest, is the head nurse for the neurology department at Prince of Wales Hospital,” Stanley says.
“Then there’s Arlene, who is a school teacher, and Warren, who is a computer engineer. Our last daughter Deanne is a graphic designer working for the Planning Department of New South Wales. They’re all very talented in their own fields.”
After raising his children, Stanley found himself facing another challenge: a late-in-life career change, after he was made redundant from the paper company in the 1980s. Never one to sit idly by, he decided to complete a hospitality course, which seemed a natural fit for his personality.
Soon, he became the manager of a bakery, where the owner was struggling to pull herself out of debt.
“I saw that she was in trouble, so I offered her my help,” he says with his usual pragmatism.
“I managed to clear her debts within the first month by coming up with a way to move her old stock. I stayed in that role until she sold the business three years later and then I decided to retire when I was 60.”
While he was surprised to hear that he had been nominated for an Order of Australia medal, this is only one of the many awards that Stanley has received over the years.
In 2014, he was awarded an Australia Day commendation from the City of Randwick, which held particular significance coming from his local council.
Today, Stanley is finally slowing down, but he is eager to remain with Carole in his own home. “Kingsford has been my home for 74 years, so I can’t imagine living anywhere else,” he says.
Thanks to the services delivered by Australian Unity through the Commonwealth Home Support Programme, he will continue to do so. He receives assistance with cleaning around his home and meals.
After all, it only seems right that someone who has spent a lifetime serving others will now receive the same support from his community.
Words: Emily Tatti Photos: Michael Amendolia