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Mark Waller.

Get ready to meet the epitome of boundless energy and unyielding determination: Mark Waller, affectionately known as 'Wal'!

Apr 21, 2023


Words: Gippslandia
Images: Supplied

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We’ve all got those people in our lives – the ones where we scratch our heads and ask “Do they ever sit still?” and “Where does all this energy come from?” For me, that’s Mark Waller – known to me and many others as ‘Wal’.

Energy in all its forms has been a constant in his life.

“I've never been one to rest on my laurels, I want to make valuable contributions and live a purposeful life.”

With two senior premiership wins, a stint captaining the Morwell Football Netball Club and nine A-grade grand finals for six premierships at the Morwell Tigers/Yinnar Raiders Cricket Club, Wal’s sport-ing success alone would be worth celebrating. His passion for these clubs grew from hearing about his dad running around for Morwell in the 50s and 60s and spectating in the 70s. Now, with the honourable title of ‘Life Member’, there isn’t much Wal hasn’t done in either club.

I was lucky enough to be part of Wal’s private footy training squad from 2008 to 2012. After many lean years with the Morwell senior team, I remember Wal taking us aside and hitting us right between the eyes with what we needed to do to return the club to the top of the ladder. Wal gave us more than just motivating words, he gave us his time twice a week for some of the most gruelling training sessions imaginable – which we eventually grew to love.

Reflecting on his time at the club, Wal says, “Seeing the group of guys I worked with from early in their careers go on to win back-to-back senior premierships and be influential at the club is probably my proudest achievement.”

Wal’s energy and drive have taken him far beyond the footy field though. Sharing some Sunday morning beers with teammates one day, the World Ironman triathlon came on the club’s TV, which led to him and a mate setting the challenge to take on the Ironman World Champion-ship in Hawaii.
It’s not as simple as turning up and competing in one of the world’s most demanding races, you need to qualify – which Wal did by running the Melbourne Marathon in 2:47. “I was going to achieve the time I wanted or collapse trying. It was a bit crazy at the time.” He followed this up with a 47th placing out of 800+ in the New Zealand Marathon.

Wal describes the Ironman World Championship as a difficult balancing act. “You must push your physical and mental energy right to the edge, without ever going over.”

After achieving his triathlon goals, the adventures with his sporting mates continued. There was hiking to Everest Base Camp, as well as the Kokoda Track, and trekking in the French, New Zealand and Victorian Alps.

“The high-altitude hiking in Nepal was really tough. With low oxygen levels, your natural instinct is to panic and gasp for air, which only makes life worse. It taught me to hold my breath and breathe gently through panic – a lesson that’s stayed with me for life.”

To round out the sporting achievements, we’ll throw in 27 Lorne Pier to Pub ocean swims, a 22.5km Rottnest to Cottesloe team swim, a World Masters team triathlon gold medal, many ‘Around the Bay in a Day’ cycling events and a handful of San Remo Channel Challenges into the mix.

As well as having a natural interest in adventure and being innately curious, Wal says he’s “driven by the fact that you've got one life; [there’s] a small window to take on those big challenges”. Another secret ingredient for him has been the friendships and camaraderie that have pushed him, and those around him, to be better.

It’s rather serendipitous that this highly energetic and driven human would find himself with a long career in the energy sector.

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“I was really fortunate to secure a technical traineeship with the SECV, which allowed me to mix my studies at Yallourn TAFE with working across each of the power stations and mines in the Latrobe Valley… Back in the late 80s and early 90s, it really was like a big family at the SECV. We were one big community.”

Following the traineeship, Wal moved into technical officer and asset engineer roles at Yallourn W Power Station for 19 years. After a sabbatical, in which he visited 26 countries during a six-month backpacking trip around the world, he moved onto similar roles at Loy Yang. The job at Loy Yang led to opportunities to become the maintenance superintendent and then the action senior manager for capital projects.

Prior to leaving Loy Yang in 2019, Wal participated in the Gippsland Community Leadership Program (GCLP).

“It really transformed my life and gave me an even greater appreciation for Gippsland.”

Following that program, Wal dove deeper, joining the Global Leadership Foundation, where he’s since been recognised as a ‘Community Fellow’ for his work in the community.

“To keep an open mind and not have a narrow focus has always been important to me. Not many people knew that over the years, while working in the power industry, I also had a very strong interest in ecological health.”

Wal volunteered with the West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority as a water monitor and joined AGL’s National Environment Team to run a project in 2020. “I spent countless hours researching and watching what was happening with renewables [energy] on a global scale and was excited by what it could do for our industry, even if that’s a little taboo to say while working in it.”

Leaving Loy Yang initiated another sabbatical, armed this time with some deep personal reflection following his own leadership journey. Throughout this time, there was more travel, but also further studies – this time with the Project Management Institute, which led to certification as a Project Management Professional (PMP) and the start of a career in cricket umpiring, including umpiring Premier Cricket in Melbourne. Signifi-cant hours were also put into mentoring programs that Wal has always had a passion in.

In the present day, Wal is spending his time between Melbourne and Gippsland, working for the Department of Family Fairness and Housing, Homes Victoria, as a senior project manager. “Curiosity has taken me to some different places. I wanted to see government at a closer level, be in a role that's outside my comfort zone, in alignment with my values and serving Victorians.”

“You don't typically sit back and think about what you've achieved, it’s not the Australian way,” Wal reflects after our chat. “I feel both proud and a bit exhausted. As I sit here now as a 54-year-old, I feel like my energy is half of what it was at 30, [but] I want to keep moving forward, learning and achieving.”

“My energy is certainly on the way out, so rather than taking on every challenge, I choose where to put it… I nap when I need to, I eat well, and I do what I can to look after my energy. I still train four to five times per week with my wife Janice, but mostly at a lower intensity. It's all about making sure I've got the energy to get up and go again tomorrow.”

Gippslandia - Issue No. 26

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