By Donald Moss
Having lived in George Town since 1961, Beryl Osborne is very much a part of the heartbeat of the bustling community situated in Tasmania’s north east.
Beryl has been a member of the town’s Uniting Church since its 1977 formation and, before that, was part of the Methodist congregation. She is now its chairperson.
And while the church has been a constant presence in her life for six decades, she also derives great joy from her involvement in an inter-denominational community group of volunteers based in the town’s port.
Seafarers Mission, located in Bell Bay, is the one of 26 centres around the country providing a valuable home away from home for sailors.
Beryl has been the heart and soul of that organisation for more than 30 years after taking on the organising role almost by accident, following an invitation in 1989 from her local Minister.
“Our Minister was actually leaving at the time and said to me, ‘it’s all yours’, so it was kind of passed on to me,” Beryl recalls.
Thirty-three years later, Beryl is still at the Seafarers Mission and holds the positions of co-ordinator and treasurer.
“I basically run the place,” she says.
The mission provides pastoral care, a warm, friendly welcome and other assistance to sailors.
Beryl’s colleague and fellow volunteer, Renato Zanchetta, says sailors come from far and wide, including the Philippines, India, Malaysia, Myanmar, Vietnam and some European countries.
“We provide assistance and care if they have been injured or are sick,” Renato says.
“They are often separated for many months from their families and are at sea for many weeks, and they look forward to coming ashore when they arrive in port.”
Beryl says the Mission’s great strength is that volunteers from a number of churches have joined to provide the service.
“The very important point is that it is run by a number of denominations, so it’s very much inter-denominational, as are many activities that take place in George Town,” Beryl says.
“We all support each other and the Seafarers Mission was started as a combined churches project, so all of the churches in George Town feel that they own it. We’re very conscious of that and it’s a very positive thing.”
That feeling of positivity extends to the impact group members have in making sailors feel at home when they finally set foot on shore at George Town.
Before that happens, though, some preparatory work is needed.
“When a ship is due to come in to Bell Bay, we have already been dealing with the company’s agents and they let the people on board know the Mission is open in the port,” Beryl says.
“We normally open in the evenings, seven days a week, but we will open at other times if requested.”
And while advances in technology have meant some changes have taken place, sailors still enjoy the opportunity to see a few friendly faces on land.
“When we opened in 1989, the most important thing for the sailors was the availability of a telephone so they could make contact with loved ones,” Beryl says. “Then computers came in and we have four of them available, with full WiFi provided.”
While COVID-19 meant many sailors weren’t allowed to disembark when ships came to Bell Bay, volunteers such as Beryl still ensured they were looked after, even if from a COVID-safe distance.
“All through COVID-19 we made up care packs for the sailors, with items like chips, chocolate and toiletries, which were the sorts of things they would only have been able to get by coming ashore,” she says.
The care packs continue to be distributed and, given the harsh winters George Town endures, one of the most popular items is a beanie, knitted by Seafarers Mission volunteers.
Despite being well into her 80s, Beryl has no plans to slow down, but hopes a new generation of volunteers might want to come on board. She still comes in a couple of nights each week and also does the required bookwork and grocery shopping to ensure everything runs smoothly.
In doing her bit, Beryl loves the fact she is providing a service consistent with the Uniting Church’s values.
“I think we are living out the ethos of the Uniting Church with what we’re doing here,” she says.
“We mainly see our mission as being to the seafarers and, while we do support other things, most of our energy goes towards this one.
“The Uniting Church has been a huge part of my life and a place where I have always felt comfortable and welcome. We make the sailors feel welcome in the same way that the Uniting Church makes us feel welcome.
“I’ll continue helping while I still can and I hope that the Seafarers Mission continues for many years to come.”
If you would like to assist the Seafarers Mission, contact Beryl on 03 6382 4124