Queen's Birthday honour for overseas misson work

Bob Handby has been on 30 missions to 20 countries helping in disaster zones.
Bob Handby has been on 30 missions to 20 countries helping in disaster zones.

Bob Handby’s work in some of the biggest disasters and war zones around the world has brought the Port Fairy humanitarian a Queen’s Birthday honour.

Mr Handby has been appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for distinguished service to the international community.

Since he began his overseas work in the 1980s, the Red Cross ambassador has completed 30 missions in 20 countries. “My role has been building refugee camps and displaced persons camps, improving water and sanitation during disasters – both natural disasters and manmade disasters in conflict zones,” he said.

He worked in Uganda during the civil war in 1984, Iraq in the aftermath of the 1991 Gulf War, 1994 genocide in Rwanda, the Serbia/Kosovo unrest in 1999 and the 2006 civil war in Sri Lanka. 

He has also worked in natural disaster zones such as the Boxing Day Tsunami in Banda Aceh, Pakistan floods, Myanmar cyclones, and floods and cyclones in the Pacific Islands and PNG. Closer to home he helped during cyclones in Queensland, floods in New South Wales and bushfires in Victoria. 

While Mr Handby worked in the field of environmental and public health for the Moyne Shire, he would spend up to three months at a time away to carry out humanitarian work with the International Red Cross.

One of his most recent trips was in 2015 where he spent Christmas Day in Sierra Leone working on the Ebola response.

In 2007, he took up a position with the Australian Red Cross as the head of water and sanitiation for international emergencies where he developed a disaster response team for water supply, shelter and sanitiation.

He also developed, in partnership with Norweigan and Canadian Red Cross, a community health response to disasters in relation to disease surveillance and prevention.

He was in agonising pain just sitting rocking

While he still gets requests for deployment, he considers himself as a last resort because he is “trying to retire”.

He is planning a holiday with his wife to Sri Lanka. “I’ll be going back to visit the hospitals that we were helping to build and rebuild, and places where there were tens of thousands of displaced people living in camps and, now that the war’s over, I’m interested to go back and see what life is like now,” he said.

On one trip overseas he was able to help an eight-year-old boy he found under a tree who had been shot in the arm.

“There was no one looking after him and he was in agonising pain just sitting rocking back and forward,” he said.

Mr Handby, who has also been a member of the Port Fairy Folk Festival committee for 25 years, is writing a book about his experiences.