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  • Writer's pictureMarnie Birch

John Abrami: A Tribute to Hazel

At 86 years of age, Rothwell resident John Abrami, is busy taking container collections to the next level, raising over $10,200 for research programs and charities.

Collecting containers for cash under the refund deposit scheme is a popular way to earn small change for many. At 86 years of age, you might expect Rothwell resident, John Abrami, to be slowing down. Instead, he is busy taking container collections to the next level, raising over $10,200 for research programs and charities. What started out as a way to fill his spare time when his wife became ill has become an obsessive hobby for John. One that reflects a lifetime of service to others and pays homage to his late wife’s charity work.

John Abrami with his daughter Chris Yet Foy

Police once pulled him over for breath-testing because his car smelt of beer, but 86-year-old Rothwell resident John Abrami doesn’t drink alcohol. He collects and sorts empty cans and bottles from retirement village residents converting the proceeds from the ‘Containers for Change’ scheme into donations. So far, he’s raised over $10,200 for research programs and charities and continues collecting containers to pay tribute to his late wife’s charity work.

“I said I would stop when I got to $10,000, but I can’t stop... So many charities need help.”

For most of his life, John has been of service to others less fortunate. After completing a stint in National Service, he worked as a paramedic for 18 years in England before immigrating to Australia in 1974 with his young family in tow. He and his wife Hazel embarked on a life of volunteering for various charities, including Save the Children in Strathpine, and were both awarded life membership for their efforts.

When Hazel’s health deteriorated, she moved into a Nursing home close by. With time on his hands and service to others on his mind, John began collecting containers and converting them into medical research donations between visits with Hazel in the Nursing home.

Word spread amongst the retirement village where he lived, and other residents pitched in with their empty bottles. John’s daughter, Chris Yet Foy, explains, “Dad’s been lucky that he has many people helping, dropping bottles at his doorstep.”

“I enjoy it,” he says of his work. Otherwise, it would all go to landfill.” John explains that he handles each container three times. On collection and sorting, again on compaction, when he crushes each can and finally, when packing the containers to take to the Clontarf receiving centre.

“I crush the cans, or I can’t get them all in the car,” he says with a smile, adding that he also removes the ring pulls from each can. They are collected and sent separately to the Queensland Blind Association.

Sadly, Hazel passed away several months ago. And although John says he misses her terribly, he plans to continue collecting containers to pay homage to Hazel, who instigated his work supporting as many charities as possible. Daughter Chris insists that this unusual pastime has been the thing that has kept her Father going since her Mother passed away.

“There‘s no stopping him. He is so focused,” she says, noting several other benefits in John collecting containers. Besides fund-raising and exercise, the social benefit of having regular conversations with other village residents and the reciprocal checking in on each other’s welfare is something Chris is thankful for. Although there is one downside to her father’s collection ‘obsession.’

“His car smells like a brewery,” she says, which tells you which is the most popular drink in the retirement village. “Dad got pulled over by the police once and breathalysed because of the smell of beer when he opened the car window. And he doesn’t even drink,” she says.

With so much money being raised from the container refunds, John is sometimes asked by other retirement village residents what he gets out of the proceeds.

“I don’t get anything at all,” John says. “What about your petrol, people ask me. But that’s my gift, I tell them. I enjoy doing it, and it doesn’t bother me at all.”

Given the staggering amount of funds he has raised, Chris organises the donations and sends the receipts to another Village resident, Frank Vessey, for bookkeeping and to ensure accountability of the donations. More than eighteen different charities and programs have benefited from John’s work, with every dollar raised supporting many charities including medical research into cures for cancer, Careflight, World’s Greatest Shave, Alzheimer’s, FUUK Cancer, Suicide Prevention, Cystic Fibrosis and others.

“We’ve got to do something about cancer. Haven’t we? Pleads John. “It might only be a little bit, but at least it is going where it should go.”

When he thinks about it, the motivation to help others stems back to John’s benevolent-minded Mother and a childhood growing up in war-torn Britain, where food rationing was commonplace.

“The people had nothing to eat, absolutely nothing. They’d knock at the door and ask for food, and Mum would give them some of the vegetables we’d grown from our garden.”

When wine bottles are added to the Containers for Change refund deposit program in November, one can’t help but wonder if John will collect them too.

“I said I would stop [collecting] when I got to $10,000, but I can’t stop,” John says. “So many charities need help.”

Containers for Change is a refund deposit scheme that pays ten cents for every eligible container returned to an approved collection depot in Queensland. It operates as a product stewardship arrangement with the costs paid for by drink manufacturers. This means that drink manufacturers take responsibility for reducing the environmental impacts of empty drink containers.


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