Jacaranda tree in the University of Sydney Quadrangle

First in family: Guy Boncardo's journey from farm to philanthropy

6 March 2023

Paying forward the gift of education

When Gaetano (Guy) Salvatore Boncardo's parents immigrated from Sicily in the early 1950s they were dreaming of a better life. Now Guy is making sure that dream is realised for future generations by providing the opportunity of a university education.
Guy Boncardo stands with his father and his son at his son's University of Sydney graduation ceremony

Three generations: Guy Boncardo with his father, Adamo Boncardo, and his son, Philip Boncardo, at Philip's University of Sydney graduation ceremony.

Guy Boncardo’s early interest in engineering was sparked by a visit from a contractor to the market garden where he lived with his parents. The Marayong property needed a dam and a proper drainage system.

“I loved seeing the bulldozer running around, digging and filling,” he says. “The contractor was a civil engineering graduate from the University of Sydney.”  

The market garden was a vital source of income for Guy’s parents, Sicilian migrants who grew up during the Great Depression before piecing together enough money to migrate to Australia. They quickly established themselves as market gardeners, and Guy spent the formative years of his childhood there.

Seeing the water from the dam transform the family property into a working farm that could sustain their livelihood instilled Guy with an affinity for water engineering that would serve as inspiration for his future career.

Guy describes his upbringing as “pretty closed” in the sense that his friendships were very restricted to people his parents knew from Italy or with fellow market gardeners from Greece, Malta or China, who had very similar backgrounds.

Attending a local school near where he lived, Guy says “at least half if not more of the students there were from migrant families, like me. They had no expectation of going to university, their parents had no expectation of them going to university. So, most of them left in third form or fourth form and went and worked on their parent's farms.”

“That was the expectation of me too,” Guy says. “My parents didn't know any different. They were barely able to finish primary school, because they had to assist their families in earning a living.”

Guy Boncardo's father on a tractor in the market garden with his grandchildren on his lap. His mother stands in the background.

Guy's parents, Adamo and Francesca Boncardo, with their grandchildren, Philip and Robert, on the market farm.

But the dream of becoming an engineer was strengthened through Guy’s interests at school. Technical drawing, metalwork and industrial technology were all subjects that he enjoyed and excelled in. To realise his dream, Guy set his sights on achieving in the top 5% of HSC results in order to qualify for a Commonwealth Scholarship. “Essentially that was the difference between going and not going to university," he says.

Now a Chartered Professional Engineer and Fellow of the Institution of Engineers Australia with over 47 years of experience, Guy has dedicated his professional life to planning, designing, and constructing major infrastructure for NSW’s water supply and wastewater systems.

He is using his experience and success to help future students by supporting equity scholarships and mentoring young engineering students at the University of Sydney and University of New South Wales. It’s a contribution he understands the value of firsthand.

The gift of a scholarship

Guy still remembers the feeling of receiving the Commonwealth Scholarship that would enable him to attend university and follow his interests in engineering.

“They published a list in the Sydney Morning Herald. I think about 3000 names, in alphabetical order,” he recalls. “Looking for mine was easy, because my last name starts with ‘B’, near the top. And then I saw my name... it was an incredible feeling.”

For Guy, a university education wasn’t just an opportunity to learn the valuable technical skills that would shape his professional life – it opened a whole new world to him.

“The mind broadens, you become less self-centred, and more understanding of the needs and the customs of others.”

During his undergraduate degree, Guy was required to undertake compulsory studies in humanities. His lecturer was Dr K. Graham Pont (BA ‘58), a University of Sydney alumnus who taught at UNSW. Based in Mount Druitt, they worked on a research project that aimed to investigate the connection between poor town planning and social disadvantage.

It was the 1970s and at the time the area was far more isolated. "It was enlightening,” he says. “It opened my eyes to social disadvantage. And that hasn’t left me.”

Guys' connection to the University of Sydney was further strengthened through his wife and sons' alumni connection, who are all graduates. His lecturer-turned-friend, Dr Pont even mentored his second son throughout his studies in French literature and philosophy.

Equity scholarships essentially give disadvantaged students the opportunity to study at university. It’s as simple as that. If I hadn't received that Commonwealth scholarship, I probably wouldn't have gone.
Guy Boncardo

A legacy for his parents

Following the death of his father, in 2016 Guy endowed the Adamo and Francesca Boncardo Equity Scholarship in his parents' memory. The scholarship gives young people from disadvantaged backgrounds the opportunity to access a university education at the University of Sydney and UNSW. It’s the same cause he intends to further support with a gift in his Will.

“There are a lot of people out there who are still disadvantaged in a big way, who need assistance and hope to have the ability to be educated, to become professionals and contribute to society at a different level. And they shouldn't be denied that opportunity,” he says.  

“Equity scholarships essentially give disadvantaged students the opportunity to study at university. It’s as simple as that. If I hadn't received that Commonwealth scholarship, I probably wouldn't have gone.”

In 2020 Guy also formed the Boncardo Pancreatic Cancer Research Fellowship to progress vital research into the disease that had taken his mother’s life. “Pancreatic cancer is very close to my heart because I've seen the effects of it,” he says.

“When it came to thinking about something I wanted to do to support this research, I came to the conclusion that it was best directed at the University of Sydney,” he says.

Guy’s hopes for his legacy are simple – he wants to be remembered for giving people from disadvantaged backgrounds the opportunity to access a tertiary education. Right now, there are eight students who are benefitting from his philanthropic support.

“That gives me enormous satisfaction, knowing that eight students have the opportunity now for a tertiary education without the financial stress on the families supporting it,” he says.

Strengthened by a gift in his Will, many more future students will benefit from Guy’s generosity - ensuring his support lasts far beyond his lifetime.

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