26 January 2024 | Jackson Mansell

“Love God, love people.”

This is Helen Walker’s lifelong conviction and one she applies to her three areas of work: her full-time job as a social worker; her volunteer work with women newly released from prison; and her annual role as a locker room attendant at the Australian Open.

From a young age, Walker has made it her endeavour to help people, citing her upbringing as the reason for her compassionate nature.

“A really good family,” she explains. “I had good parents, good brothers and sisters and I’ve got a faith as well.

“As I got older, I realised, ‘Wow! Other people don’t have it as good as me’. So, I just made it my mission to give out what I’d been given, which is love and support.”

Walker has been involved at the Australian Open since 1998, spending most of her time as a locker room attendant at Rod Laver Arena, a role that came about by chance.

“I was offered the job randomly because the girl that was going to do it fell pregnant, and she didn’t want to risk being on her feet all day,” she says about her start at the tournament. “I was asked to do it and I’ve kept coming back every year. I love it.”

What makes her job so enjoyable are the people she interacts with on a daily basis. Walker has developed many lifelong friendships throughout her time at Melbourne Park.

“Over the years, I’ve formed some really good relationships with some of the players, but also some of the staff. I love that part of tennis – renewing friendships and just seeing what they’ve been doing throughout the year,” Walker says.

“Without saying names, there’s quite a few players that send me messages on my birthday and vice versa.”

“I treat the bottom player the same as the world number one.”

It is an attitude that has rewarded Walker with an Order of Australia Medal, after the recipients were announced on Friday. Nominated by Prison Network, Walker has been recognised for her voluntary work and service to the community.

“It’s pretty incredible,” Walker responded. “I suppose you do volunteer work not wanting anything in return, so it’s amazing.”

She admits the satisfaction of helping others and seeing them succeed is the most rewarding aspect of her work.

“Seeing people being able to have a sense of worth is the most important thing,” Walker explains. “I’ve seen a lot of heartache, but I’ve seen a lot of breakthroughs. To see them [the people she helps] living life is incredible.”

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