1 June 2023

How a ‘coward punch’ inspired this Griffith mum to help young people

| Oliver Jacques
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Betsy Farrugia on Banna Avenue

Betsy Farrugia’s decade as a dedicated career advisor has seen her recognised in NSW Parliament. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

When Betsy Farrugia’s 17-year-old son Andrew was killed during the early hours of New Year’s Day 2007, the loss put her on a course to shape the lives of hundreds of young people of a similar age.

“What happened to me motivated me to work in a secondary school, even though I didn’t understand exactly why,” she said.

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Andrew was coward punched from behind in an unprovoked attack on Griffith’s main street Banna Avenue, robbing Betsy of her talented and promising oldest son.

“It’s a really hard thing to deal with in a family, as no doubt other families can attest to, who have suffered similar tragedies.

“The grief evolves, it never leaves you but how you see it changes. It becomes an intrinsic part of you. Dwelling on things won’t change the outcome, you don’t go around feeling sorry for yourself.”

A number of high-profile ‘coward punch’ attacks around the same time saw parents of victims band together, front TV cameras and lobby to strengthen the penalties for such offences.

Mrs Farrugia, though, quietly created her own legacy away from the limelight.

“The other parents were on different journeys to me, I just wanted to make a difference in somebody’s life to make it better … I was driven to help young people, to see how I could change their lives.”

The South Australian-born farmer secured a job at Marian Catholic College in 2008, where she first worked in admin then as a career advisor for 11 years.

“She was amazing at her job,” Imreet Singh, Marian’s 2021 dux said. “She started helping me in Year 9, guiding me on subject selection.

“In Year 11 and 12, she took me through all my career choices. She was so knowledgeable, she just knew everything.”

Another ex-Marian student, Giorgia Ceccato, said Betsy continued to help her even after she left school.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so she took me through all my subjects, she showed me a bunch of different courses. She’s incredible, she knows how to navigate all the different paths, she’s no longer a career advisor but even this year she is still helping me become a teacher.”

Giorgia Ceccato at a speaker's podium

High achiever Giorgia Ceccato benefitted from Betsy’s advice. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

Several other ex-students said Betsy would go the extra mile to make sure they were on the right career path.

Her decade-long efforts at her school saw her recognised in NSW Parliament via a Community Recognition Statement.

Mrs Farrugia explained the secret to her success.

“I’d always get to know students and become interested in what they like doing,” Betsy said. “That way I could develop a plan with them on how to achieve their dream.

“When opportunities came across my desk [for work experience], it wasn’t enough to just send them an email. You won’t get a result. You’d have to go and find the student and say, ‘Come and see me. Do you want to do this? This is what it’s about’.”

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She said seeing a young person achieve an important goal was the best feeling in the world.

“It was wonderful to see Imreet get into medicine. It was a big thing when he thanked me, a career advisor is sometimes a thankless job.

“It’s also just as great a feeling when a student who isn’t as academic gets an apprenticeship.

“I’m really passionate about vocational education, too many people are just focused on uni.”

Betsy now works as a senior advisor in NSW politics. But she still helps students, like Giorgia, whenever she can. She also has no plans to retire in the near future.

That will please the many in Griffith who continue to benefit from her wisdom and work ethic.

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