At a small ceremony held at the Australian Consulate-General in Phuket on the bypass road, Wal Brown, well known for not blowing his own trumpet, said, “It’s such a moment, you don’t expect to be recognised this way.
“It is an emotion in you that can’t be described… It’s just a wonderful feeling and a great ending to my day,” he added, his voice starting to creak with emotion.
Ambassador McKinnon was not as shy in explaining what Wal had achieved to deserve the award.
“It really is a big pleasure for me today to recognise the tireless work of Wal Brown in the Phuket community,” he said.
“The Order of Australia medal is a very serious medal – it means you have made a real contribution to many people,” he explained to the small gathering. It is such an obvious one for you, Wal, and I am delighted that it can be recognised during my time here and that I can be involved in the investiture,” he added.
Wal is recognised for his coordination and support of the police volunteer programme in Patong and the International Liaison Volunteer Program supporting the Region 8 Police.
Present for the ceremony yesterday were Phuket Provincial Police Commander Pol Maj Gen Pornsak Nuannoo and Patong Police Chief Col Sujin Nilabodi.
“The programme wouldn’t have been possible without the tireless and admirable dedication of Wal who acted as coordinator of the programme from its inception,” Amb McKinnon noted.
“Some of the numbers really do part of the story: the programme involved volunteers from 14 countries, speaking 22 languages, with volunteers ranging in age from 43 to 79,” he added.
“The volunteers provided a valuable service to tourists needing a helping hand, no matter the circumstances. Volunteers worked alongside police and acted as liaise points for embassies and consulates in Thailand and the tourists they serve
“In his time, Wal and his volunteers have logged some 100,000 hours of work on the streets of Phuket. Many a dispute or incident was de-escalated as the result of the tireless voluntary work of Wal and the team,” Amb McKinnon said.
Also recognised was Wal’s efforts in helping to organise the Feeding Friends Patong food-relief campaign, launched with the help of friends to help feed people in Patong left without any income due to the COVID-19 crisis.
“So Wal has been something of an unofficial ambassador in Phuket in his time here,” Amb McKinnon continued.
“Many Australians visiting Patong find themselves in trouble will often turn to Wal often as a first port of call for advice, and that demonstrates not only his expertise, but also his connections and mostly the high esteem with which he is held.
“Wal embodies the very best of Australian values when it comes to cooperation and mateship with those in his community,” Amb McKinnon said.
Wal thanked those who nominated him for the medal, and credited Amb McKinnon and Matthew Barclay, the Australian Consul-General to Phuket, for their efforts in holding the investiture ceremony in Phuket.
“I could not go to Australia to receive the award. They had to get permission from the Governor-General to present it here because it is not normally done [outside Australia],” he said
“When you receive an award, you have to be there, you have to have done it, been everybody to, well, everybody – but it’s not only me, it’s all the other volunteers,” Wal emphasised.
Wal first joined the volunteers at Phuket Immigration in 2007, but in 2010 Col Arayaphan Phukbuakhao, at that time the Patong Police Chief, asked him to launch a similar volunteer programme in Patong, Wal explained.
“We started with 16 people, we worked every night of the week. When you have volunteers who have that level of dedication, they will do it,” he said.
By 2019 , the volunteer programme had 43 volunteers, altogether speaking a total of 22 languages.
Their work was not always restricted to Patong.
“We were asked by police to assist with a case on Samui involving an Israeli, we have a volunteer who speaks both the Israeli languages,” Wal recalled.
The volunteer was to be flown to Samui to assist. “It didn’t happen due to insurance problems of the volunteer flying over there by helicopter, but eventually it worked by providing assistance through the phone,” Wal explained.
“Working with the police in Patong has really taught me something deep inside. Thai police are diligent. They are very good. Australian police wouldn’t put up with what the Thai police put up with,” Wal noted plainly.
“People come from all countries, don’t speak the language, don’t speak English – and yet they go to the police for help,” he added.
He related one experience when he finished a night patrol at 1am and went home to bed, only to be woken by a nervous-sounding officer urging him to come to Patong Police Station to help resolve an issue with what he was told was a group of angry Australians.
“I got there and there were seven people at the police station, all yelling and pleading, ‘Can you help me?’ They weren’t not from Australia, they were from Belarus,” he said.
“After we settled them all down we finally got to the crux of the story: they had lost their great great grandmother’s umbrella on Bangla Rd.
“Once we could establish what happened, we could start on a strategy to help. So we organised to meet them at the police box the next day – and started looking for it,” hje said.
“That was one of those scenarios that just happens. Remember, people when they get into a stressful situation lose the plot – they get agitated, they can’t really put it all together,” Wal explained.
Wal also explained that he recently paid current Patong Police Chief Col Sujin a visit.
“He wants the volunteers to go back in October this year when the COVID restrictions are lifted.
“We still have about 20 volunteers still here in the country, and we will get them back to work,” he added.
“Oh, by the way – we never did find that umbrella,” Wal said.