The Name

Five generations later, Rosanna’s legacy lives on

We’re often asked why we’re called 18fifty3 Group.

The simple answer is that it was chosen to honour Rosanna Mooney, the great, great grandmother of our CEO John Sayers. Rosanna was born in Tasmania in 1853, but little is known of her life; only that she was the daughter of an Indigenous woman and a white man – possibly a seal hunter – and that she survived the brutal treatment of island’s Indigenous population in the late 19th century to raise her own family.

So, if that’s all you wanted to know about our name, you can stop reading now. However, 166 years later, inspirational new chapters are being written in the history of Rosanna Mooney’s family. Her great, great grandson picks up the story…

“I grew up in the 1960s and 70s in Ulladulla on the far South Coast of NSW, which is the home of the Yuin Nation,” John Sayers said. “Our place was not far from an Indigenous community on the edge of town. I went to school and played footie with all the young black fellas, never knowing I was a black fella myself.
“My father never acknowledged his Aboriginality. Maybe he wanted to save us the discrimination and prejudice he witnessed in those days. It wasn’t until he died in 2014 and his doctor recorded on his death certificate that he was Aboriginal that the truth came out.

“So many things fell into place for me. I understood then why I had always felt such a deep connection with my Country. As a boy and young man I loved bushwalking and I often went with a local Indigenous man named Noel Butler. We would explore the caves and other Indigenous places in the Budawang Mountain range behind Ulladulla, which is a rugged and stunningly beautiful landscape.

“I understood then why I had always felt such a deep connection with my Country.”

“So, it wasn’t until my early 50s that I was able to embrace my Indigenous heritage. The bloke I knew only as a friend is now also my Elder and cultural mentor. Since then, I’ve been determined to make a difference for Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander peoples by helping to close the gap, particularly through education.”
A bricklayer by trade, John later spent many years in property development and construction in the ACT and Victoria. He was later part of the consortium that built Rex Airlines. But, his real passions are music and aviation. The married father of five is an accomplished ukulele and didgeridoo player. He’s also a highly qualified helicopter pilot, having seen much of Australia’s Top End from the air.

John began a program called ‘Uke the World’, which distributes ukuleles to Indigenous kids in remote communities to spark their interest in playing music, and is working on an ambitious plan to sponsor disadvantaged Indigenous youth with an interest in aviation to gain their pilot’s license. Passionate about creating jobs and revenue for communities in remote areas of Australia, John wants to bring together technology and Aboriginal culture to drive solutions for training and employment in such areas as environmentally sustainable land management.

“Music and aviation are not dissimilar: both demand passion,” John said. “I want to inspire young Aboriginal kids to get excited about flying so they get excited about school and show them a career in aviation is not beyond them if they don’t give up on maths and the other STEM subjects. The secret is to show them that school is their pathway into university and any career they choose.” “Through our Central West Flying School, I want to create opportunities for young Indigenous men and women who wouldn’t otherwise have the chance to become a pilot. They could then inspire the other young people in their families and communities by giving them role models to emulate.“Were not trying to change the world. But I’d like to see 18fifty3 Group make a difference for a handful of young people, so their success inspires other kids and make Indigenous lives better. It starts with small local communities, but my hope is that the benefits flow from a local streets into towns, and then into cities. And from there who knows, maybe across Australia, too.”

Watch for more news on 18fifty3 Group’s Indigenous focused programs as Rosanna Mooney’s legacy lives on.

“I want to inspire young Aboriginal kids to get excited about school…”


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