News & Events

Alan adds a new chapter to an extraordinary life

December 7, 2017

Alan Nichols copped a bit of criticism when he changed careers back in the 1960s. Some, including his father, asked why an ambitious young journalist, working for The Sun in Sydney, would ‘throw it away’ to become an Anglican minister. He ended up in parishes in working class suburbs of Sydney; areas he had covered on his crime beat.


More than half a century later Alan is still unclear about the answer, but he never regrets his decision. God got in the way of his plans and faith kept him saying yes to a lot of opportunities over the years, including the move to Melbourne in 1978 to ‘take up the role as CEO of the Mission of St James and St John (now Anglicare).


Alan and his wife Denise moved into Rushall Park village this year and love their new life. Already he has taken a keen interest in the proposed expansion and in the kiosk redevelopment.


Alan’s eight years as a crime reporter equipped him well for some of the work he got into through his life; it taught him that human beings have a great capacity to inflict misery and harm on one another.  He didn’t think anything could surprise him, but it did. Tragically he saw that play out first hand on his many visits to places like Rwanda during the country’s civil war and genocide and in refugee camps around Asia.


He has also seen and experienced compassion and hope where it had no right to flourish.


Alan reflected on his life recently with students from Fitzroy High School as part of the intergenerational project with OCAV. He was then asked to talk at the school’s valedictory night where he stressed the importance of learning, not just at school, but from the cradle to the coffin. He wasn’t just talking about the learning that comes from books. He was talking about stories handed down and shared, and Alan’s stories make for great listening.


He can tell you about his first French teacher, Mr Stan Wyck, who had worked for the French Resistance during WWII and whose life was like a Boy’s Own adventure. He regaled the young students with stories every Friday afternoon, awakening in Alan the desire to learn and a thirst for justice.


And there’s the time in 1992 when working with Jesuit Refugee Service in Burma he found himself in a refugee camp, sheltering as bombs whistled over his head.


Or he can tell you about his first trip to Rwanda during the civil war in 1994 when he saw the road out of Rwanda to the Congo filled with thousands and thousands of people running for their lives as soldiers rained bullets on them.


Alan’s stories are not always happy endings and he has had to call on his training as a journalist more than once to deal with the trauma. “You witness something, analyse what you have seen and then tell the story,” he said.


His career in the Anglican Church has taken he and Denise to some amazing and dangerous parts of the world and given them the opportunity to do some important refugee policy work with JRS, World Vision and Anglican Overseas Aid. Along the way he has studied, worked on government committees and served as Deputy Chair of Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre for eight years.

Alan and Denise moved from their Montmorency home to Rushall Park, looking forward to the change and to living close to the city, but assuring themselves that they ‘did not want their world to shrink’. There’s little danger of that happening.


Alan has retired three times, the most recent in 2015. He has trouble saying no to a project, or committee, where he can see that change is possible.


“I suppose there is a bit of adventure involved when you are part of something that you think might make a better world and empower others to make a better world,” Alan said. He has written several books over the decades and also supports many others, through his encouragement and editing, to have their work published.  His links with Burma remain strong and he, along with 15 others in a government program, supports a Burmese student who attends a Ballarat University.


He is also a volunteer guide at Bishopscourt, the official residence of the Anglican Archbishop of Melbourne. Founded in 1848, Bishopscourt is one of the oldest properties in East Melbourne.


Alan’s life choices took him a long way from the newsroom and his youthful ambition  “to work in the Singapore office of the Sydney Morning Herald”. That never happened, but a life of adventure and searching for just solutions, took its place. He has never stopped writing and sharing important stories of faith and hope with people from Burma and Rwanda to Rushall Park.


“It’s the people I have met and worked with along the way, they have inspired my hope and optimism,” he said.


Dorothy Clayton has felt very much ‘at home’ since she moved into Braeside Park nine years ago. Now, Dorothy, the village’s volunteer pastoral care worker, tries to ensure that others also feel a sense of belonging in the Berwick village.

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