Date posted: 25/11/2020 5 min read

Meet the CA who bought a town: Michael Cleary FCA

Twenty-five years ago, Michael Cleary FCA sold his home to fund a project for the disadvantaged.

In Brief

  • In 1984, Michael Cleary FCA sold his accounting practice and took an unsalaried executive position with community organisation Fusion.
  • Fusion purchased the town of Poatina to become a facility that assisted disadvantaged children and adults.
  • He is now semi-retired and continues to make a contribution to Fusion and the wider not-for-profit world.

As told to Hannah Tattersall

At some time in life most of us ask the question, do I want to make a dollar or make a difference? For me it came in 1984 after building up a practice (and nice lifestyle) in Sydney. I felt led to sell the practice and take up an (unsalaried) executive position with Fusion, a 60-year-old Christian-motivated youth and community organisation.

In 1995, we heard that Hydro Tasmania was selling the township of Poatina (a 40-minute drive from Launceston airport). Fusion’s founder and I could see the potential it had to care for disadvantaged kids, and so sold our homes in Sydney to help Fusion fund the project.

We strata-titled the site and, over five years, paid off the Hydro from the proceeds of selling most of the 54 brick houses. We sold them to people committed to being part of a safe and supportive community, and gave a discount to those willing to spend some time sharing their skills and abilities with the kids in our care.

We described this as “re-tribalisation” – creating a sense of family and connection between generations.

Michael Cleary FCAPicture: Michael Cleary FCA. Image credit: Philip Kuruvita.

“We described this as ‘re-tribalisation’ – creating a sense of family and connection between generations.”
Michael Cleary CA

Fusion retained the retail facilities, service station, school, motel, golf course and 400 acres [162 hectares] of surrounding farm and bushland, developing a commercial basis for the operation. 

Twenty-five years later, hundreds of young lives have been part of the community and been given a second chance. (And many not-so-young people supported for a range of social and mental health issues.)

Capstone College is a Special Assistance School and receives the highest level of government funding because of the “high needs” of students who haven’t coped within normal education streams. It provides real-life learning opportunities such as hospitality in the motel or restaurant, retail in shops, science in nature, arts in our glass-blowing and other arts/tourism activities. We termed that “vocational rehabilitation”.

Working within the not-for-profit sector is a very different environment to the commercial world where, when you have needs, you just buy them. Part of my role has been helping Fusion centres develop resources through social enterprise.

I also enjoy getting out sharing the Fusion story with potential supporters to help resource the work. And I’ve had a diverse range of other tasks, from sharing management of an event starring school kids at ANZ Stadium a few weeks before the Sydney Olympics to organising a joint water-supply project with the Australian government in Ghana.

Fusion’s origins are in Australia but it now has community development work in 15 countries. A highlight was organising a conference in Germany bringing together emerging leaders from third world countries with proven entrepreneurs.

Earlier this year, I stepped down from day-to-day responsibilities and moved to semi-retirement. My wife and I continue to make a contribution to Fusion and the wider not-for-profit world, limited to negotiated projects or tasks, allowing time and energy for other pursuits including visiting our grandchildren spread across Australia.

Looking back, that decision in 1984 was never going to be a get-rich pathway for me, but I guess there are other currencies in life.

Poatina, the town Michael Cleary FCA helped purchase in 1995.Poatina, the town Michael Cleary FCA helped purchase in 1995.Image credit: Philip Kuruvita.

“That decision in 1984 was never going to be a get-rich pathway for me, but I guess there are other currencies in life.”
Michael Cleary CA

Read more:

Meet the CA bringing people together: Rebecca Mason CA

Rebecca Mason CA found herself in a unique position in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis.

Read more

For love or money: the challenges of not-for-profits

Many CAs volunteer their skills to not-for-profits, but the sector brings a specific set of financial and governance issues.

Read more