A TOP Irish Australian businessman and philanthropist says he is “truly humbled” after being honoured in this year’s Australia Day awards for his charity work with Cambodian children.
John Kinsella, originally from Co Kilkenny, was appointed a member of the Order of Australia. In 1988, he and his brother William co-founded the Billbergia Group, now one of the biggest developers of waterfront apartments in Sydney.
“You need a bit of luck in life, and I think we’ve been quite lucky in that side of things,” said Mr Kinsella who left school at the age of 12.
“When things have gone well, you have to give back too.” It was a small newspaper article about a struggling Cambodian orphanage that spurred him into action 13 years ago. He founded Hope for Cambodian Children with a few likeminded people. The community-based charity has now helped more than 1000 vulnerable children through healthcare and educational projects, and by providing basic housing.
Mr Kinsella, who visits the charity in Battambang every couple of months said there are “lots of success stories”.
“We’ve got kids starting at university; kids who are motor mechanics, hairdressers and beauticians,” said the developer who also supports a charity in the Philippines. “It’s good to be able to help give someone a hand up….But it’s all
into making it work.” His own success is testament to the power of hard work, entrepreneurship and, as he frequently stresses, luck. After leaving school at 12 despite coming top in his exams, he worked on the family dairy farm outside Kilkenny’s Mooncoin.
His first came Down Under in 1976 when he won a young farmers’ scholarship to work on New Zealand farms. But it was Australia that took his fancy and he emigrated here in 1985. The enterprising Kilkenny man found plenty of work on building sites around Sydney. He soon became a sub-contractor after buying some equipment. Within a few years, he had joined forces with his brother William who’d followed him to Australia and they were sub-contracting civil construction projects around NSW.
“We brought the sewers to the country towns,” he said. But those jobs involved a lot of travel and Billbergia moved into residential property after John married his wife Riezel and they started a family. “The boss didn’t like me being away so much,” he said with a laugh.
The couple’s three sons are now grown up and Billbergia is about to celebrate its 30th anniversary. He said his work colleagues have been teasing him about his Australia Day honour. “You know what it’s like in construction,” he said. “Today they were asking me ‘should we bow?’.”
Mr Kinsella will be formally presented with the award later this year.