Bill Armstrong (AO) could have been anything: a wool-classer, a farmer, a professional runner, an AFL footballer, a fitter and turner, a sewing-machine salesman. Instead, he became a leader in community development. For over 60 years he has gathered people around him, building relationships to make change happen. Bill shares his life in international and community development. Long known as a critic of traditional aid programs, Bill’s approach crystallised around support for self-determination, most evidently with the people of Timor-Leste and the First Nations people of Australia. Extract from the book ‘Everything and Nothing’, The Life and Development Work of Bill Armstrong by Peter Britton
In 1964 he began a career in International Development, commencing as a staff member of the newly formed OSB (Overseas Service Bureau, later to change its’ name to Australian Volunteers International), which had just established the AVA (Australian Volunteers Abroad) program. In the 1970s he was National Co-ordinator of the Churches International Development Education Program, Action for World Development (AWD).
Bill was appointed Chief Executive Officer of Australian Volunteers International (AVI) in 1982, a position he held till his retirement in 2002. During that time, he managed the growth of the organisation from a staff of 12 to a total of 130 people nationally and the annual budget grew from less than A$400,000 to over A$20 million. In 2001, Australian Volunteers International managed 1000 volunteers in placements in 45 countries.
Bill has played an active role in International development and was for some 20 years a member of the Executive Committee of the Australian Council for International Development (Formally ACFOA) and was President from 1993-1997. In 2011 Bill was elected the convenor of ActionAid International’s Assembly held in Dar-es-Salam, Tanzania.
Since his retirement in 2002 he has been a member of the National Committee of Caritas Australia (2002-2009); a Board member and Vice-President of ActionAid Australia (formally Austcare) 2003- 2012); a member of the Board of Community First Development (Formally Indigenous Community Volunteers) 2000-2019, CoChair 2009-2019; Chair of the City of Port Phillip’s Friends of Suai/Coalima (Timor Leste a country he has been associated with since 1975) 2003-2017; and a Board member of YCW Holdings (Melbourne).
In 1995 Bill was presented with a Friendship Awardby the State Bureau of Foreign Experts, People’s Republic of China and in 2000 he was the recipient of the Sir Edward Weary Dunlop Asia Medal, “In recognition of his significant contribution to forging stronger relations between Australia and Asia.”
In 2003 Bill was made an Officer in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AO) “For service to the international community and the provision of overseas aid relief through Australian Volunteers International, and to fostering greater understanding of different cultures and raising awareness of social justice and human rights issues.”
He is a life member of AVI, ActionAid Australia and ACFID and Community First Development established an annual Human Rights Award in his name.
Bill and his wife, Margaret, have a daughter, three sons and ten grandchildren.