Born with multiple physical and intellectual disabilities, Robert Strike was told as a child that he would never lead a full life.
The Merrylands man has always loved to prove people wrong.
On Australia Day, the 59-year-old was appointed a Member of the General Division of the Order of Australia, reward for a lifetime of advocacy for people with a disability.
Mr Strike still doesn’t like to speak about what he describes as an oppressive childhood.
Given up by his parents at the age of three, he was raised at Stockton Mental Hospital in Newcastle until he was 17.
“My family put me in the institution because they couldn’t look after me. I was very sick,” he told the Sun.
In the institution, Mr Strike said he was stripped of his ability to make independent choices.
“We were told when to go to bed and when to get up. They chose your clothes for you. I hated that,” he said.
It hasn’t really sunk in yet. But I’m very proud of the award and what we have achieved.Robert Strike, AM
His stifled upbringing lit a fire in Mr Strike’s belly that led him to co-found Disability Advocacy Sydney in 1987.
Based in Blacktown, the service gives a voice to more than 50 disabled clients every year to help them live independently.
“I got sick of people telling people with a disability that they can’t do things for themselves,” Mr Strike said.
“I like to prove people wrong. I wanted to show people that we can do it.
“People with an intellectual disability can do anything when you give them a chance.”
Mr Strike was nominated by Arthur Bozikas, himself awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia in 2016 for his work with disability services including Disability Advocacy Sydney.
“Rob is a visionary,” Mr Bozikas said. “He had worked so hard to improve the lives of so many.”
Apart from educating and advocating for people with a disability, Mr Strike also works as a research collaborator in the University of Sydney’s faculty of health sciences.
He was given the Minister’s Lifetime Achievement Award at the National Disability Awards in 2009.
Told he would never have a family, the father of three has achieved more personal milestones too. He is about to become a grandfather for the first time, with his daughter due to give birth next week.
Despite decades of community service, he was humbled by the award.
“When I got the letter I thought, ‘Wow’. It hasn’t really sunk in yet.
“But I’m very proud of the award and what we have achieved. We have given them a voice, and that can be all that they need.”