Former Castle Hill RSL accountant, the 'heart' of his community

‘‘Mark has a schedule that would kill a blue cattle dog!’’

— Castle Hill RSL Club’s group general manager, David O’Neil

‘‘Mark is like a mobile club spreading the community word.’’

That’s how Castle Hill RSL Club’s group general manager, David O’Neil described Mark Tonga — this year’s ClubsNSW Heart of the Community Award winner.

Mr Tonga was nominated by the club for his on-going work in fighting for better outcomes for people with disabilities.

But it’s been a long haul to the top.

Mr Tonga worked at the RSL as an accountant six years ago but then suffered a sports injury at a rugby union training session with the West Harbour Rugby Union Club that left him a quadriplegic.

Mr O’Neil said this ‘‘gentle giant’’ had the respect and trust of his colleagues and through fundraising the club raised more than $270,000 for his ongoing care.

Incredibly, now after rehabilitation, surgery and illness, including being bedridden 24-hours a day for months on end, Mr Tonga holds positions at:

■People with Disability Association (director);

■Paraplegic and Quadriplegic Association (director);

■Assisted and Community Living Limited (board member);

■Hearts in Union Rugby Foundation (client liaison officer);

■Willoughby Council Access Committee - Aged and Disability (committee member); and

■Spinal Cord Injury Australia (policy and advocacy officer).

In the past three years he has also completed more than 15 courses through TAFE, Directors Institute of Australia and other registered training organisations.

‘‘Mark has a schedule that would kill a blue cattle dog!’’ Mr O’Neil said.

‘‘It is not easy to fully understand the impact Mark has had on the people he meets. It is long last and profound.

‘‘Mark visits Castle Hill RSL Club on a regular basis, he attends community functions, staff awards, staff social nights and speaks at our community/business forums.

‘‘Every time Mark visits he leaves an indelible impression.

‘‘We are proud and in awe of his resilience and capacity not only to participate but to drive the agenda and influence outcomes.’’

ClubsNSW chief executive Anthony Ball said: “It has been fantastic to watch the partnership between the Castle Hill RSL and Mark Tonga grow into an almost an unstoppable force, and to see first-hand the changes Mark has lobbied for become a reality.’’