A city is only as strong as those who forge ahead for its best interests despite the many obstacles in the way of progress. Fortunately for Townsville there are many big-picture thinkers we’re proud to call our own. In this series we celebrate some of the doers who’ve helped put Townsville and the North on the map.
From humble beginnings, George Colbran went on to own nine McDonald’s restaurants and use that power for good by establishing North Queensland’s only Ronald McDonald House.
“Our family endeavours to give back to the community that has given so much to us,” says retired businessman George Colbran, who opened the first McDonald’s for Northern Australia at The Lakes 28 years ago. “I learned very quickly that to be successful and grow you needed to be a people person with the aim of taking your employees on the same ride.” By the end of that ride, when George retired in 2013, he had nine McDonald’s and 950 employees – the largest McDonald’s operation outside of McDonald’s themselves in Queensland.
Community-minded, George is well-known in Townsville for a multitude of roles he’s played: Chair of the Finance Committee on the Northern Regional Health Authority; Deputy Chair of Work North; inaugural member of the Townsville Enterprise board; founding board member of the McDonald’s Crocodiles, he’s on the Townsville Sister City Committee and has been a member of The Rotary Club of Townsville for 27 years. An indomitable force for good, George was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in 2001. Of all the many causes close to his heart, however, George says his involvement with North Queensland’s only Ronald McDonald House in Townsville has been the most satisfying because of all the good it does.
“I learned very quickly that to be successful and grow you needed to be a people person with the aim of taking your employees on the same ride.”
“Trevor Wood, who at the time was the medical superintendent at the old Townsville Hospital, asked if I would help raise money for the cause,” George says. “We originally had an old building next to the hospital we could start with but when the hospital moved out to Douglas we lost that opportunity. That meant the original target for fundraising jumped from $480,000 to $2.4 million. Local businesses came on board to the tune of $600,000 to get things moving.” George’s good friend Tony Ireland was among those who chipped in and the doors for Ronald McDonald House North Queensland finally opened in 2004. Located on the Townsville Hospital Campus, it provides accommodation for up to 100 people a night – families with children being treated at the Paediatric Ward and Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Plans are also underway for a Ronald McDonald House Family Room at the Townsville Hospital for parents of critically ill children in the Children’s Ward. To be completed by June next year, it will have two bedrooms with space for a crib/trundle bed in each room. It will also have a full-size family kitchen, laundry facilities and large common area including PC, TV and play space.
It’s estimated that Ronald McDonald House North Queensland has helped more than 5000 families of all different backgrounds, from the Outback to the Cape, over the past 12 years. “I value family above all else followed by my health,” says George. “If you’ve been successful with both of those it enables you to succeed in many ways with happiness as the main goal.”
In January of 1996 George was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma and told by doctors his life expectancy would be 18 months to three years. Not one to take the prognosis as gospel, George sought the advice of a naturopath and, after applying their suggested changes to his lifestyle, the cancer remained dormant for the next 14 years. “Following a fall in 2009, however, the tumours began growing and spreading, so I was forced to have a course of chemotherapy treatments – eight over a 20-week period,” George says. “The last infusion of chemo was in July 2010 and I have Intragam P (white blood cells) infused every four weeks to strengthen my immune system. Apart from the peripheral neuropathy in my hands and feet caused by the chemo I’m reasonably well.”
Determined to make the most of his retirement years George, and his partner of 50 years Lorraine, have plenty of travel adventures planned and also want to spend more time enjoying Magnetic Island. “We have a small house at Horseshoe Bay that we love,” George says. “It’s paradise over there.”