Legislative Council: Wednesday, October 19, 2022


Gonis, Mr B.

Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. J.S. Lee:

That this council—

1. Expresses its condolences and deepest sympathies to the family, friends, Greek community and the wider community of South Australia on the sad and sudden passing of the late Mr Bill Gonis OAM on Tuesday 3 May 2022;

2. Recognises Mr Gonis’s longstanding service and contributions to the South Australian Greek community through his role as President of the Greek Orthodox Community of South Australia from 2015-2022;

3. Acknowledges Mr Gonis’s significant contributions to the taxi and transport industry in South Australia, for which he was awarded an Order of Australia Medal in 2006;

4. Pays tribute to Mr Gonis's legacy of selfless community service through volunteering at organisations such as the Julia Farr Centre and other not-for-profit organisations; and

5. Acknowledges Mr Gonis’s passion for Hellenic accomplishments and significant contributions to foster an inclusive multicultural South Australia.

(Continued from 8 September 2022.)

The Hon. C.M. SCRIVEN (Minister for Primary Industries and Regional Development, Minister for Forest Industries) (17:42): I rise to support this motion. Mr Bill Gonis OAM was one of the longest serving Presidents of the Greek Orthodox Community of South Australia Incorporated, and 2022 was his eighth year serving in the leadership role. In 2006, Bill was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia for service to the South Australian taxi and transport industry and to the Greek community.

He is remembered for his ongoing steadfast support and commitment to the Greek Orthodox Community of South Australia, as well as the broader South Australian community. He was a strong advocate, he was deeply passionate about the needs of the community, and also about helping people address issues such as access to affordable housing.

Bill was passionate about celebrating Greek history and culture. Under his leadership, the Greek Orthodox Community of South Australia supported community activities, cultural education programs such as the Greek School and Dance Academy, and major celebratory events such as the Blessing of the Waters and the national Greek Film Festival.

He was also a loyal true believer of South Australian Labor and the broader labour movement. He is someone who will be deeply missed. May he rest in peace. We also express our deepest sympathies to his wife, Christine, daughter, Betty, and son, Peter.

The Hon. C. BONAROS (17:44): I rise today to speak to the motion and pay my respects and give my condolences to the Gonis family, to his friends in the Greek community of South Australia at large and anyone else whose life was touched by Bill. I know that there are many such individuals. I think all of us are deeply saddened by the passing of the late Bill Gonis OAM, a community ambassador of the highest order, whose contributions to not just the Greek community but South Australia are widely felt, as we have heard from many members in this place and at events throughout the community.

His legacy as a giant in the Greek community was certainly on full display at his funeral. There were a number of very heartfelt and touching eulogies made on that day. Bill should be primarily remembered as a father, grandfather, a brother and a son. Indeed, anyone who knew him would know just how proud a grandfather he was since becoming a grandpa—or a pappou, as he would say. The joy was always on full display every time you spoke to him.

We cannot of course properly commemorate Bill's life without also acknowledging his incredible legacy as a community leader. As has already been mentioned, he was awarded the Order of Australia medal in 2006 for his tireless work with the taxi and transport industry, fighting for better conditions for taxi operators and more accessible services for the elderly and people with living with disability. As the longest serving President of the Greek Orthodox Community of South Australia, his tenure at his post, I think, speaks volumes about his desire to provide and give back to his community. He was a generous and selfless man. He was a visionary leader who led compassionately with humility and grace. He was certainly a statesman, a gentleman and a good man.

He not only advanced the interests of his community to which he served but was considered a titan in the promotion of multicultural affairs in Australia. Bill's innate sense of volunteerism and social solidarity through not-for-profit organisations and community groups is what drove him to provide support for Greek immigrants, family support to his community, care for the elderly, as well as the preservation of the Greek language and Greek customs in Australia.

He went about his work in a humble way and for the better good of his community. He had a way of working with many of us in here, no matter what our political persuasion, and treated us all with the same level of respect and courtesy. I think that served him very well, because issues were never politicised. Our communities were served well in terms of achieving positive results as a result.

No-one asked Bill to do these things. He was not paid for those services to the community. I think the most heartfelt thing that I heard at his funeral was the fact that every Christmas Day he would serve food to people. That is how he spent his Christmas Day. Many of us spend it with our family and our loved ones, but I think that generosity and humility that we talk about is certainly exemplified by the fact that he spent the better part of his Christmas Day serving food to vulnerable members of our community. That was all done because he had a good heart and a big heart, and his desire to help those who need it most was the defining factor and indeed a defining characteristic of who Bill Gonis OAM was.

On a personal note, I always felt very grateful for Bill's insight, his advice and guidance and assistance on issues that we worked on in common, and I admired his ability to work with all of us as equals, as I said. I think I speak for all of us when I say we owe him a debt of gratitude for all that he did for our local communities and our state. I take this opportunity also to extend once again my deepest condolences to his wife, to his children and his grandchild, and hope that they are doing okay.

The Hon. T.T. NGO (17:49): I also rise in support of this motion, and to express my personal condolences to the family, friends and loved ones of Bill Gonis OAM. I thank the Hon. Jing Lee for moving this motion and for sharing her personal reflections on how Mr Bill Gonis made a difference to the lives of so many. I also note that a similar motion was moved by the government in the other place.

Bill was many things to many people, including a well-respected community leader, and I know the sudden and heartbreaking news of his passing on 3 May 2022 came as a great shock to a lot of people. It was an especially difficult time for his family and friends, as Bill passed away suddenly, leaving this world at only 62 years of age, only days before his 63rd birthday.

It was such a heartbreaking loss for his wife, Christine, children, Betty and Peter, and the grandchildren he loved. My heartfelt sympathy goes to them all, especially his only brother, Trian Gonis, and his son, Peter, who I worked closely with through the Australian Labor Party movement for many years. I know they are missing Bill very much.

Bill will be remembered for his kindness and caring spirit, as well as being a community leader who worked hard to make a difference to those in need. Although immensely sad, it is a great privilege to stand here today and reflect on Bill's generosity of spirit and his tireless service to the South Australian community.

In 2004, Bill represented the SA Taxi Council when he was asked to solve a crisis faced by residents at the former Julia Farr Centre for people with disabilities. There was a shortage of taxis to transport residents in wheelchairs to and from their families and friends on Christmas Day, resulting in long queues of residents in wheelchairs waiting for an access cab.

Some 14 years later, and only a couple of years before the renamed Highgate Centre closed, Bill was still doing his Christmas Day visit to the centre. Although he was no longer working within the taxi industry, he continued to show up on Christmas morning to say hello to staff and residents and to make sure everything ran smoothly for their Christmas Day taxi trips to visit their family and friends.

Trian Gonis, Bill's brother, told me that his family were very often angry at Bill because he was always late for their family Christmas lunch. Bill was not just 10, 20 minutes or half an hour late, he was hours late, because he was working, without pay, to make sure those disadvantaged people got their taxi trips to visit their families on Christmas Day. Bill was happy to sacrifice his own family time for others.

As has already been noted in this place, Bill was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in 2006 for his services to the taxi industry and also for his service to the Greek community. Bill played an important role in rallying the Australian Greek community to help with the after effects of a terrible bushfire in Mati in 2018, helping to establish a community relief fund with Australian banks. The Greek Fire Appeal Committee was created, which Bill chaired, under the auspices of the Greek Orthodox community of SA. The committee allocated funds to purchase specialised skin grafting medical equipment in South Australia, which was shipped and donated to the general hospital in Magoula, Athens.

Other funds raised supported the volunteer firefighters, and this was just one of many significant contributions Bill made while President of the Greek Orthodox Community of South Australia. He led this organisation with integrity, great empathy and cooperative leadership skills, gaining the trust and respect of all those he worked with.

Bill left us too soon; however, his contribution will be everlasting and remembered by many. Here in our South Australian parliament individual members from all sides of politics have conveyed their sympathies and shared memories about Bill's great gift for giving. I thank them all for making it very clear that Bill made a difference and touched hundreds of lives throughout his life. May he rest in peace.

The Hon. I. PNEVMATIKOS (17:56): I, too, rise today to commemorate the life of the late Bill Gonis and to support the motion of the Hon. Jing Lee. Bill passed away suddenly on 3 May 2022 at the age of 62 years, only days before his 63rd birthday. He is survived by his wife, Christine, daughter, Betty, and son, Peter. Bill was the President of the Greek Orthodox Community of South Australia and was an influential and respected leader in South Australia's Greek community.

His life is one of many successful migrant stories of hard work, service to others and love of community. Both his parents migrated to Australia in 1956 from the Peloponnese in Greece. In his adult life Bill first managed a KFC franchise at Glenelg and a Hungry Jack's on Pulteney Street before becoming a taxi driver in the 1980s. He worked hard to climb the ranks of the industry, working as a driver, cab operator and radio dispatcher. He made significant contributions to the taxi and transport industry in South Australia, for which he was awarded an Order of Australia Medal in 2006. Some of his many contributions to the industry include:

helping to launch Adelaide Independent Taxis in 1991;

serving on the South Australian Taxi Council for many years, of which he was a life member; and

participating in the Australian National Taxi Regulators Group and the International Association of Transportation Regulators.

Bill is best known, however, as President of the Greek Orthodox Community of South Australia, serving from 2015 until his death in 2022. Bill was one of the longest serving presidents of the community. He worked hard to promote the culture, language and achievements of South Australia's large and vibrant Greek community.

Bill's community-mindedness also extended to the wider South Australian community. As previous members have noted, Bill volunteered at the Julia Farr Centre and other not-for-profit organisations. In fact, from 2004 onwards he volunteered at the Julia Farr Centre at Highgate every Christmas.

Bill also played a vital part in mobilising the Greek Australian community in South Australia to support fellow Greeks in the aftermath of the deadly 2018 Attica wildfires. He rallied local Greek associations together and formed a partnership with the Bank of Sydney and Delphi Bank to establish a community relief fund. It is because of these many examples of charity and service to others that Bill will so dearly be missed. His selflessness and love of community will never be forgotten.

Bill's endeavours to work towards unity in the broader Greek community should not be forgotten and it is hoped that his work in that area will continue. I certainly will miss our catch-ups and discussions on all things Greek community. Farewell, Bill Gonis.

The Hon. J.S. LEE (Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (17:59): I would like to thank the Hon. Clare Scriven, the Hon. Connie Bonaros, the Hon. Tung Ngo and the Hon. Irene Pnevmatikos for your contributions to this motion and also your personal reflections. I am very certain the Gonis family and the whole Greek community of South Australia would really appreciate those heartfelt words you have spoken today in parliament. I commend the motion.

Motion carried.

At 18:01 the council adjourned until Thursday 20 October 2022 at 14:15.