Main site navigation

Elizabeth Cham


Elizabeth Cham, portrait

More information about the Poland-born community in Australia can be found at the DIMIA website.

Elizabeth's contribution to philanthropy and the nonprofit sector cannot be underestimated... She has worked to raise the public profile of philanthropy and its contribution to Australian lives.

Born in a displaced persons camp in Germany on Christmas Day, 1948, Elizabeth Cham was the daughter of Polish prisoners of war. Her parents, Jozef and Aniela, were shipped to Germany following the 1939 invasion of Poland. While working on a German farm, her father was sent to the infamous Buchenwald as punishment for listening to BBC radio. He remained there for five years. Finally, in September 1950, the family were able to migrate to Australia.

Initially dispatched to Bonegilla in Victoria's north-eastern region, the Cham family moved to Ballarat where Jozef was posted at the White Swan Reservoir for two years, as a condition of entry to Australia. Ballarat - particularly the area between Sebastopol and Redan - was already home to a strong Polish community, and families thought little of helping one another to build homes and get by. Like others, the Chams purchased land and lived in a self-made shed until such time as a family home could be completed. There they set up a large garden, growing fresh fruit and vegetables. Jozef later took on work at the Ballarat paper mills.

Elizabeth was educated at Loreto College. At the age of fifteen she moved on to the school's commercial college where she equipped herself with shorthand and typing skills. Before long she had obtained a post as personal assistant to Mitsubishi's Melbourne-based managing director. Her fantasy of working for a high-ranking business personality quickly dissipated as the reality set in - typing letters would be mundane work no matter who they were being typed for. She resigned after six months and took on temping work. The decision was a life-changing one. A temp position at the University of Melbourne's Department of the History and Philosophy of Science encouraged Elizabeth to consider taking on academic studies herself. Her colleagues were supportive, and she enrolled in a political science degree. It would be the first of several.

Elizabeth quickly found work as personal assistant to the Prime Minister's principal private secretary - a remarkable post for a new graduate. She worked for Gough Whitlam until 1977, well after his dismissal. Imbued now with a thorough understanding of the machinations of government, her next post was research assistant to Professor Manning Clark, then producing the fifth volume of his History of Australia. She began studying for a Masters degree in the late 1980s, supporting herself in part with paid work for the Felton Bequest and the Buckland Foundation - prominent benevolent trusts still in operation today. By 1996, she had been offered the position of National Director for Philanthropy Australia (established by the Potter and Myer Foundations in 1975). A poorly resourced secretariat at the time, the organisation has grown at the astonishing rate of 17 per cent per annum and now serves as the national membership body for grant-making foundations and trusts.

Elizabeth's contribution to philanthropy and the nonprofit sector cannot be underestimated. Since her inception as Director, she has worked to raise the public profile of philanthropy and its contribution to Australian lives (in the form of medical research institutes, public galleries, academic scholarships, school facilities, hospitals etc), and to change a persistent cultural attitude which dismisses philanthropy as self-aggrandisement or a tax dodge for the very wealthy. More tangible change she has brought about by way of the tax law, which until the time of her appointment was a disincentive to large-scale giving. By initiating meetings with the Prime Minister, Elizabeth sowed the seeds for the creation of the Prime Minister's Business Community Partnership. Support from this roundtable led to the creation of new laws around the establishment of foundations which should see an estimated extra $1 billion dollars in philanthropy by 2011.

Elizabeth Cham married in 1987. She is the parent of three children and mother of one, and lives in Melbourne. She announced her resignation as National Director of Philanthropy Australia in 2005.

Source of Image:

<< Previous | Next >>

Select Resources

National Library of Australia
Polonica Collection
Collection of archives and manuscripts relating to post WWII Polish immigration to Australia

National Library of Australia
Polish Australian Oral History Project
Project undertaken in conjunction with the Polish Historical Institute in Australia

Polish Historical Institute in Australia"

Polish Weekly
296 Nicholson St, Footscray 3011, ph: (03) 9362 0128

Bulletin of Polonia
Polonia (Polish Association of Queensland )
10 Marie Street
Milton QLD 4064
Phone 07 3369 2747
Fax 07 3876 3977
(Published monthly)

Kurier Zachodni
PO Box 307
Mount Hawthorn WA 6016
Phone 08 9443 8866
Fax 08 9443 8879
(Published eight times a year)

Tygodnik Polski
296 Nicholson Street
Footscray VIC 3011
Phone 03 9362 0128
Fax 03 9362 0108
Published every Monday

SBS Radio
Polish language

Polish Community Organisations

New South Wales

Polish Association in NSW
(Cabramatta Brch), West St, Cabramatta 2166, ph: (02) 9724 5738

Polish Club Co-Op Ltd
15 East Tce, Bankstown 2200, ph: (02) 9708 2433

Polish Club Ltd
73 Norton St, Ashfield 2131, ph: (02) 9798 7469

Polish Foundation in NSW
182 Liverpool Rd, Ashfield 2131, ph: (02) 9797 7332

Polish Sports Recreation and Social Centre Ltd
23 Bungalow Rd, Plumpton 2761, ph: (02) 9625 6147

Polish Welfare and Information Bureau NSW Inc
Aged Care/Respite Services: ph: (02) 9716 0036
Community Partners Program: ph: (02) 9716 0504

Polish Australian White Eagle Club Inc
38 David St, Turner 2612, ph: (02) 6248 8563


Polish Association of Queensland Inc
23 Station Ave, Darra 4076, ph: (07) 3217 0015

Polish Association of Queensland Inc - Polonia
10 Marie St, Milton 4064, ph: (07) 3369 2747

South Australia

Polish Community Care and Welfare Bureau
230 Angas St, Adelaide 5000, ph: (08) 8223 3884

Polish Society Incoroporated in S.A.
260 Grand Junction Rd, Athol Park 5012, ph: (08) 8447 4957


Polish Association Hobart Inc and Polish Welfare Office
22-24 New Town Rd, New Town 7008
Association: ph: (03) 6228 3686
Welfare Office: ph: (03) 6228 6258

Polish Club
20 New Town Rd, New Town 7008, ph: (03) 6228 5179


Polish Community Council of Australia and New Zealand

Australian-Polish Community Services (Melbourne-based with a Geelong branch)
Includes projects on Youth, Domestic Violence, Women and Aged Care for the Polish community

Polish Association of Kingsville Ltd
296 Nicholson St, Footscray 3011, ph: (03) 9687 2916

Polish Community Centre
Carrington Rd, Albion 3020, ph: (03) 9363 3941

Polish Community Council of Victoria Inc.
Lvl 2/ 43-51 Queen St, Melbourne 3000, ph: (03) 9629 8277

Polish Community Services Australia
77 Droop St, Footscray 3011, ph: (03) 9689 9170

Polish Information and Services Centre
Lvl 8/ 289 Flinders La, Melbourne 3000, ph: (03) 9650 1322

Polish Retirement Home
3 Percival St, Bayswater 3153, ph: (03) 9720 3575

The Polish Dance Group (Canberra)

Federation of Polish Women's Associations in Australia and New Zealand
(Alicia Michalski: 9399 1397)

Western Australia

Polish Australian Cultural Society
U 1/ 56 Waterloo St, Joondanna 6060, ph: 0401 680 582

Polish Club
7 Bellevue Rd, Bellevue 6056, ph: (08) 9274 2858

Polish Club Cracovia (Inc)
55 Marshall Rd, Beechboro 6063, ph: (08) 9377 5711

Polish Community Council of WA Inc
33 Eighth Ave, Maylands 6051, ph: (08) 9271 2036

Polish Folk Theatre Mazowsze Inc
41 Benara Rd, Noranda 6062, ph: (08) 9276 9106

See also:

Federation of Ethnic Communities' Councils of Australia
PO Box 344 Curtin, ACT 2605
Phone:02 6282 5755
Fax: 02 6282 5734

<< Previous | Next >>