Toowoomba philanthropist Clive Berghofer AM is committed to giving back to the community that helped him become one of the region’s most successful businessmen. Nicole Richards reports on his extraordinary lifetime of local philanthropic support.

The signs of Clive Berghofer’s remarkable philanthropic support in and around his native south-east Queensland base are difficult to miss. Sporting stadiums, research centres, intensive care units and recreation centres are just a handful of facilities that bear his name in honour of his largesse.

Whether it’s supporting the local rugby league team or helping fund ground breaking research to find a cure for cancer, Berghofer’s philanthropic interests are many and varied. The one common theme they share is a focus on helping people in and around the city of Toowoomba, 127 kilometres west of Brisbane.

Building a local business empire

A self-made multi-millionaire, Berghofer’s humble beginnings on his family’s dairy farm laid the foundation for his extraordinary drive and business success. “I went to a little school out in the country that had a total of 16 kids and just one teacher,” he recalls. “I came fourth in my class – and there was only four in my class!”

Leaving school at the age of 13, Berghofer’s first job cutting wood in the local sawmill, paid the princely sum of three pounds a week. Unable to get an apprenticeship as a carpenter, Berghofer opted to work as a carpenter’s labourer instead, learning and observing the skills that would one day make him one of the area’s most successful property developers.

“I had nothing handed to me,” he says matter-of-factly. “The smallest thing can lead to big things and I taught myself by watching. I started to build things myself and bought my first block of land in 1964 and started developing property; then in 1972 I designed and built a hotel in six weeks.”

Powered by Berghofer’s entrepreneurial spirit, the hotel grew to be hugely successful and was the starting point for his charitable involvement.  “We used to sell lots of chook raffles for local schools and sporting clubs, raising money for things like swimming pools,” he says. “I always thought it was important to help with those sorts of things, particularly because I didn’t get the chance to do any sport when I was at school myself.”

A notable figure in the local community, Berghofer served many years in public office, holding the position of Lord Mayor of Toowoomba between 1982-1992 and member of the Queensland parliament from 1986-1991.

Locality drives philanthropy

A constant presence on Australia’s rich lists, Berghofer estimates his personal wealth to be in the vicinity of $350 million, from which he has given away more than $20 million to charitable causes including a $10 million donation to the Queensland Institute of Medical Research to help find a cure for cancer. Other beneficiaries of Berghofer’s philanthropic support include St Vincent’s Hospital, the University of Southern Queensland, Toowoomba Hospice and Red Cross. In 1994 Berghofer’s service to the community was rewarded with an OAM and in 2006 he received an AM for his outstanding local philanthropic support.

When asked to describe his giving philosophy, Berghofer responds with characteristic candour. “I’m a one-man band,” he explains. “I make all my own decisions and I don’t care what religion it is or what the background of the cause is. Some people discriminate on these things but I don’t. Even though I get hundreds of requests every year, I still take all my own phone calls.”

Support influential in achieving outcomes

RACQ CareFlight Rescue fundraising manager Leanne Angel can personally attest to Berghofer’s personal involvement and accessibility. “We were looking to secure multi-year funding to establish a base in Toowoomba and Clive is known for being very supportive of local causes,” she explains. “It was my job to get in front of Clive, which I thought was going to be really difficult but he has such an open door it’s incredible.

“I’ve been at his office at four o’clock in the afternoon and there can sometimes be a line-up of people who want to see him ranging from small sporting groups to large charities and his door is open and he’ll sit down and listen to your case,” she added.

Berghofer’s support for CareFlight’s Toowoomba base has recently tipped over the $1 million mark and his backing has helped the organisation gain valuable recognition from the state government as an emergency services asset. Local supporters are critical to the organisation, comprising almost half of the community-based rescue helicopter service’s funding. “The strength that Clive bought to our project when he decided to become a major supporter was so important because it gave us the financial certainty to go ahead and launch the service,” Angel says.

Taking the community reverence and accolades in his stride, Berghofer maintains his philanthropy is simply part of his constitution. At 78 his work ethic is unflagging, with his work days still starting at 6AM and not ending until well into the evening.

“Work has been my hobby all my life,” he says. “My brain won’t stop.” Nor it seems will his enduring commitment to the local community which continues to be the focus of Berghofer’s generosity.

Nicole Richards
Nicole Richards is a freelance writer who specialises in NGO Communications.

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