‘It was meant to be a 3-month job, but I am still here.’

Retiring for the second time at the age of 74, the former Corporate Planning Manager at Qantas, John Fell, is now finishing his stint at Sydney University Postgraduate Representative Association.

John is the Finance Manager at SUPRA, a position he has held for 21 years. He was initially approached to fill in for the finance manager who was going on maternity leave. When it became clear that the employee on maternity leave was not returning to work, John was retained, where he remains today.

As the SUPRA Finance Manager, John is responsible for all financial matters, including payments, funding applications, and insurance. He oversees payroll for staff and council stipends, which includes maintaining records for annual and sick leave, long service leave, and time in lieu.

After serving at Qantas for 21 years, John began working at the University of Sydney in 1991 as a Finance Officer for Services. He then became the Finance Manager for Buildings and Grounds, and later became the Finance Manager for the University of Sydney Libraries.

Throughout his career, John pursued his love for hiking and travelling, exploring natural scenic areas both in Australia and around the world.

‘We cannot lose our focus. Our focus should always be on providing a service for the postgraduate students.’

When looking back on the past, John feels as if the past 21 years and the present are converging. The box of old files in the corner of his office, contrasting with the electronic files on his computer desktop, serve as a constant reminder of the changes brought about by technological advancements over time.

As the official representative association for postgraduate students at the University, SUPRA operates within the framework of its institutional affiliation. However, it also maintains its independence and operates autonomously, allowing it to make decisions based on the unique needs and interests of postgraduate students. When reminiscing about his past work environment at SUPRA, John recalled a room set up with computers for students to use.

‘We used to have a room with about 20 standalone computers for the students to come and use. Because back then the students did not have smartphones or laptops.’

With multiple office relocations preventing SUPRA from setting up more Resource Rooms, and the University Library gradually offering laptop loans, SUPRA’s role in providing this service has become redundant.

Beyond technological advancements, John also reminisced about when SUPRA had demonstrated strong support for social issues. While SUPRA has a long history of advocating for various causes, including marriage equality, anti-war and environmental issues, recent SUPRA Councils have placed more emphasis on supporting students’ daily lives and ensuring their rights are protected. John noted that this evolution has not gone unnoticed as the organisation continues to adapt and respond to the changing needs of its members.

‘At SUPRA, we have to keep up with times and be aware of current issues to ensure that we are meeting the evolving needs of students,’ John emphasised.

 SUPRA has also adapted its social activities to meet the changing needs of students. As John said, ‘It is very important to have a social outlet where international students can meet others.’ While the organisation used to organise barbecues once a week, in which John participated by helping with cooking, it has since expanded its offerings to include movie nights, free weekly fitness classes, weekend hiking trips and Wine & Cheese events.

John played a pivotal role in starting the Wine & Cheese nights, bringing his passion for wine to the forefront. He carefully selected wines he enjoyed and engaged postgraduate students in lively conversations about them. Sharing his knowledge and preferences, John created a unique and enjoyable experience for attendees, allowing them to explore and appreciate different wines. According to John, ‘The reason we have the party called Wine & Cheese is because the student councillors would go to the supermarket and get a whole lot of cheese and stuff.’ This event is now held monthly in the Courtyard Restaurant and Bar, allowing more students to participate and network.

With the growing proportion of international students, SUPRA developed its own legal service which can now provide international students with migration advice. According to John, ‘We never had a legal service, we contracted with Redfern Legal Centre, which is separate. And now we have had our own legal service for 5, 6 years.’ SUPRA’s commitment to offer students support in all aspects of student life can be seen, both on and off campus. And its services grow with students’ needs.

While the form of SUPRA’s services may have evolved, the organisation’s unwavering commitment to serving the needs of postgraduate students remains constant. As John says, ‘We cannot lose our focus. Our focus should always be on providing a service for the postgraduate students.’

‘There is no real formula for happiness. Just try and be happy all the time.’

Travelling, watching football, and bushwalking, John has plenty of plans for life after work. After his retirement, John plans to visit Eastern Europe and Scandinavia, northern China, and Mongolia.

While John is good with computers, he also enjoys turning off his mobile phone and entering the unspoiled area of the natural world. He likes to experience the fun of exploration and enjoys the time to escape.

‘I like to go into wilderness areas and camp overnight with no one around. I’ve stayed out there for a few nights with no phones, nothing,’ John said.

In addition to his paid work, John has devoted himself to voluntary work his whole life. He not only used to work for a non-profit organisation to support people with disabilities, but also volunteers at his neighbourhood Community Centre every Friday to organise food relief for people in need. Once he is retired, he plans to work at the State Library of NSW as a volunteer.

Whether in his working life, leisure time or retirement, John Fell always maintains a positive outlook.

‘There are lots of negative things happening in the world. But always have a positive outlook on life. There is no real formula for happiness. Just try and be happy all the time and look for something positive out of everything that happens.’

By Haonan Jian