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Accounting for uncountable generosity

Daniel Bouwmeester    September 9, 2022    3 min read   
Joe Buhagiar with his wife, Edie. Image: Hannah Sparks.

A long-serving accountant and former refugee is helping fellow Springfield residents complete their tax returns, free of charge.

85-year-old Joe Buhagiar is now decades into retirement, and he shows no signs of slowing down.

\”I like to help people,” Joe said. “This year, I decided I wanted to go back to volunteering.”

The accredited helper for the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) donates his time on Tuesdays at the office of Jordan MP Charis Mullen and on Fridays at the Camira Springfield Community Centre for lower income earners.

He moved to Springfield recently from regional New South Wales to be closer to family, including his sons Steven, in Crestmead, and Andrew, who lives in Forest Lake.

In 1991, Joe was a cargo revenue accountant working for QANTAS. He took advantage of a company-wide early retirement offer, but soon realised he still wanted something to do.

For about 30 years, Joe has visited public libraries around the country to offer assistance with tax returns – particularly in the regional towns between Sydney and Canberra in which he has lived, such as Kingswood, Yass, and Bowral, part of the Southern Highlands region of New South Wales.

“When I lived in Bowral, I spent years as a member of the East Bowral Community hall and did lots of voluntary work there and also offered free tax help,” he said.

Two years ago, Joe received the Medal of the Order of Australia for his contributions to public service in the Highlands. The honour cited an extensive record of notable accomplishments, including founding the Kingswood Soccer Club, becoming Regional President of the Southern Highlands St Vincent de Paul Society, and earning his Justice of the Peace qualification.

The medal was meant to be handed out on Australia Day in January, 2020, but the COVID-19 pandemic – as well as a big move interstate – delayed things until September of that year, when he was able to visit Government House and receive the prize.

Originally from Malta, Joe said the recognition makes him happy and is a “great feeling”, and he is especially appreciative of his father’s influence.

“My father has passed away now, but I hope he knows I have received this honour because it is through his attributes that I have been able to do what I did.”

In his late teens, Joe and his family became refugees forced out of Egypt by then President Nasser, during the ongoing conflict over the Suez Canal in 1956. They were interned for weeks and deported to the United Kingdom in 1967.

They lived with his aunt in Peterborough, in Cambridgeshire, England, where he later met his wife, Edie.

Today, he treasures a card from the Queen celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary.

Feature image: \”Tax Return and Calculator\” by Images_of_Money.

Daniel Bouwmeester

Daniel was born in a mining town in New South Wales to Dutch and Welsh immigrants, before relocating to Logan City, where he attended Canterbury College for twelve years. He pursued his passion for music by completing a first-class honours degree at the University of Queensland (UQ), and later signed with a local record label. He has travelled the world from a young age, including a student exchange in rural France, a job working the ski lifts in Colorado, and visits to the islands of the South Pacific. After a six-year career in market research, Daniel returned to UQ to complete a Bachelor of Journalism and Arts dual degree, majoring in political science. His varied experiences at home and abroad have contributed to a passion for spreading good news while defending the truth buried inside complex societal paradigms.