Hobart, Tasmania, 21 May 2024 | Vivienne Christie

As National Volunteer Week is celebrated across Australia, few individuals can match the efforts of Brendon Oliver-Ewen.

Having invested thousands of hours into the establishment of Hobart Out Tennis, Oliver-Ewen has ensured Tasmania’s first LGBTI tennis club has flourished into a vibrant, diverse, and ever-growing community.

Yet a modest Oliver-Ewen, who was honoured as Volunteer of the Year at the Australian Tennis Awards in 2023, doesn’t seek congratulations – or even thanks – for the vast contribution he’s made through his lifelong dedication to the game.

“Very early on, I wanted to invest as much as possible in the sports that I was playing in,” he explains.

“It wasn’t necessarily out of any altruistic ideals, just the simple equation that I loved playing tennis and if I could help other people participate also, there’d be more fun for everyone.

And as a proud gay man, Oliver-Ewen enthusiastically shares that tennis has given him a lot.

The 42-year-old was born in Sydney but as the son of missionaries, spent much of his early childhood in Papua New Guinea, then America. On the family’s return to Australia, tennis became Oliver-Ewen’s self-described “survival mechanism” in his later years at school.

“I was a pretty fem, fat, nerdy kid with an American accent coming into primary school here in Australia. That set of ingredients doesn’t generally result in a really well accepted popular person,” he relates.

“I didn’t know anything about AFL, NRL, netball, I didn’t know any of the Australian sports. The one sport that I did have, that I could play, that allowed me to have a common language with the other kids, was tennis.”

This translated to firm friendships formed through the sport. Oliver-Ewen looks back especially fondly on trips to destinations including Lake Macquarie and Newcastle when he represented his high school and was a member of the McDonald’s squad at the local tennis centre.

“I think the reason I wanted to give to sport growing up was just because I recognised that it provided a place where everyone could get a lot of it, everyone could potentially find a place,” he recalls.

Fast-forward several years, and tennis in Tasmania is now the beneficiary of Oliver-Ewen’s passion for giving back.

After relocating from Sydney in 2017, Brendon was part of a small group of friends who identified the opportunity to create an environment where diverse communities could come together.

This led to the formation of Hobart Out Tennis where Oliver-Ewen, a foundation and now honorary life member, has performed roles including secretary, public officer, legal officer, tournament director, acting president, media manager, committee member and many more.

The responsibilities that Oliver-Ewen – a lawyer in his equally busy professional life – take on for the club can incorporate everything from writing media releases and grants, to helping run weekly socials and when time allows, playing in the events.

“I even bake cookies every time we have a tournament!” he adds with a laugh. “I think it’s just one of those situations where you do every and anything that needs to be done.”

Brendon Oliver-Ewen in one of his many volunteer roles as a tournament director.

Brendon Oliver-Ewen in one of his many volunteer roles as a tournament director.

It’s a work ethic that has helped Hobart Out Tennis go from strength to strength.

Having launched as a registered club with just five members in 2019, it has attracted over 100 members in the five years since.

Social events and tournaments can typically attract between 50 and 120 participants, while more than 2000 people regularly engage with HOT’s connected Facebook community.

The club also hosts a yearly international tournament attractive participants from the LGBTI community from all over the world, and has through Oliver-Ewen’s efforts featured in all mainstream media in Tasmania.

But above this, the biggest point of pride for Oliver-Ewen is the club’s always welcoming and inclusive ethos.

“You don’t actually have to be a member to join us and play socially,” he points out. “You don’t even have to have played tennis before! You just need to believe in our goals of inclusion and acceptance.”

Hobart Out Tennis’ inclusivity is also proudly measured in other ways.

“I’ve become very passionate, not just for LGBTI rights, but also rights for anybody who doesn’t fit within the stereotypes,” he comments.

“We’ve got people from all diverse communities who now come and play at Hobart Out Tennis, whether it be gender, sexuality, disability, ethnic background or age.

“Tennis is now being used as a way to bring people together, and even more, a way to reach out to the broader community and build bridges so we can together find ways to be inclusive generally.”

That deeply rewarding environment means the hours that Oliver-Ewen invests in the club – which he’s reluctant to put a figure on but are at least 10 hours each week – rarely feel like work.

“I think that’s what volunteering is really about,” he smiles. “It’s not thinking, ‘I’m going to give, give, give’. It’s through feeling the joy that contributing gives you when you are part of something that makes a difference.”

“These days everyone is busy, but if anybody out there isn’t sure if they want to volunteer or not, don’t think of it as time that’s being taken away from you. Know that any time give will be paid back in the gifts and joys that are given to you as part of that process.”

Within that outlook is a genuine joy for the National Volunteer Week theme this year of “Something for Everyone.”

Firstly, and arguably most importantly, it represents the power of inclusion.

“Sport can facilitate an environment where everybody is united,” says Oliver-Ewen, who has witnessed that impact through the growth of Hobart Out Tennis. “It doesn’t matter who you are, if you want to play, you can have a place.”

That there is “something for everyone” also extends to the rich rewards of volunteering.

“It doesn’t matter what you have to give,” says Oliver-Ewen. “Anything you can contribute will make a difference and have an impact on the lives of people around you, particularly if those people gave struggled to find acceptance. And that way we can all tap into the amazing benefits of living in a diverse country.”

Find your way to play: Visit play.tennis.com.au to get out on court and have some fun!