School chaplain Owen Backwell initially agreed to one year with Hervey Bay High; he is now in his 18th year.
School chaplain Owen Backwell initially agreed to one year with Hervey Bay High; he is now in his 18th year.

Chaplain shares life's moments

QUEENSLAND’S longest-serving school chaplain Owen Backwell has been serving at Hervey Bay State High School for the past 18 years.

Some of the students he sees now are the sons and daughters of pupils he saw years ago.

Owen said he was there to support the students, the staff and their families and while he had a spiritual input into the school community, he didn’t preach to those who came to talk to him.

The former professional AFL player connects with students through sport, school camps and excursions.

“Once they get to know us, then they’re happy to come and talk to us,” Owen said.

As well as helping troubled students who might be suicidal, self-harming, running away from home, dealing with a death in the family or pregnant, he also encourages the pupils who are excelling.

Owen said serious matters were referred to the police or welfare agencies.

He also helps teachers with their problems and shares their joys.

Recently Owen married teachers Trish and Reagen Collier on the Point Vernon foreshore and he’ll be travelling to South Africa soon to attend the wedding of a former student.

While there, he and his wife Glenda will volunteer at an AIDS orphanage.

“No one wants to adopt the kids that have AIDS,” Owen said.

“It’s a bit of a burden financially if you’ve got an AIDS baby.

“It’s really sad.”

He modestly shrugs off the title of the state’s longest-serving chaplain, saying: “It’s just because I’m old.”

But many school chaplains only last a few years because dealing with problems is demanding work.

“I’ve been called out all hours of the night for different reasons to support people,” Owen said.

“My debriefing’s watering the garden.

“If my wife sees me watering and it’s pouring rain, she knows I’ve had a hard day.”

But he said once he had done all he could for someone, he didn’t worry about it at night.

“I’m not a worrier,” Owen said.

“I don’t talk about cases at home.

“Once I get home, I turn off.”

Many students have stayed overnight at the Backwell family home and they have also fostered children in the past.

The couple has also raised three sons: Dean, who is also a school chaplain in Hervey Bay, Brett, who is a professional AFL player, and Tim, who works in the mines.

Owen said that when he initially took the job at Hervey Bay High he was offered a three-year contract but he thought only one year would do.

But now in his eighteenth year with the school, he still finds he has more to offer.



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