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About Us

Locals helping people affected by cancer

Cairns Organisation United for Cancer Health - better known as COUCH - is a community focused charity with a mission to improve health care services for Cairns and Far North Queensland residents diagnosed with cancer.

Established as an action group in September 2006 by founders Charles and Pip Woodward, COUCH was inspired by Cairns resident Liz Plummer and her inspiring fight for better oncology services in Far North Queensland.

The COUCH board and volunteers have been dedicated to that original vision of addressing the imbalance of services and support for people with cancer - and their families - in Far North Queensland compared to those in larger, metropolitan cities.

The lack of oncology and cancer support services has caused unnecessary pain and suffering, with Far North Queensland residents often forced to travel to Townsville or Brisbane for treatment.

From the moment COUCH was formed in 2006, the groundswell of public support has been overwhelming. 

In 2009, COUCH achieved its initial objective with the Queensland Government announcing that Cairns would receive radiation oncology services by 2010. The campaigning and fundraising by COUCH resulted in cancer care facilities for Cairns being fast tracked by five years.

With radiation treatment being just one step in improving the delivery of local cancer services, COUCH set about realising the vision of Charles and Pip Woodward for a health and wellness centre to be established in Cairns.

With significant investment by the Federal Government and the remarkable generosity of local residents, businesses and charities, COUCH opened the $3 million COUCH Wellness Centre on the 17th May 2019.

With the original vision of its founders as a guide, COUCH’s mission to raise funds and advocate for better cancer services in Far North Queensland continues. 


COUCH Directors



Michael Nelson
Chair
Director since 2011


Michael is the owner and Managing Director of Pinnacle Tourism Marketing. His experience spans over 20 years in the tourism industry, and during this time has occupied senior roles within sales and marketing departments of some of Tropical North Queensland’s most iconic tourism products. These include Great Adventures Outer Reef and Island Cruises, Green Island Resort and Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park.

In 2006, Michael started Etch Tourism Marketing, a company offering professional representative and consultative services to products in the tourism industry. He merged this company with another to form Pinnacle Tourism Marketing in 2011. Pinnacle Tourism Marketing now represents over 20 SME’s and helps them navigate their way through the dynamic world of tourism distribution and sales and marketing. As well as directly representing these businesses, Michael has run and been a part of a significant number of mentoring programs for emerging tourism businesses throughout Queensland and the rest of Australia.

Apart from his role as deputy chair of COUCH, Michael has held the following roles:

  • Former Director of the Australian Tourism Export Council (ATEC) National Executive (6 years)
  • Secretary of the Cairns Taipans National Basketball Club

In 2015 Michael won the Australian Tourism Export Council National award for Most Significant Contribution by an Individual to ATEC. He along with his wife Suzi and their three children continue to make Cairns their home.

"My association with COUCH goes back to 2009 when we lost Dad to cancer. Since then I've channelled my efforts into gaining better cancer treatment facilities for the people of Cairns after seeing first hand what our regional city did not have and what it so desperately needed."


Vanessa Maruna
Deputy Chair
Director since 2020


Vanessa holds dual qualifications in law and town planning and is a partner of national law firm Holding Redlich.

Vanessa has managed the firm's regional Planning, Environment & Sustainability Practice since 2018 and become the national practice leader in 2021. 

Prior to joining Holding Redlich, Vanessa was the Managing Director of a Cairns base law firm and town planning practice. Vanessa has experience working on large scale master planned projects and has acted for local government, state government agencies, developers and publicly listed companies providing town planning and legal advice on a large range of matters in Queensland. 

Vanessa is a graduate of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, Company Directors Course. Vanessa is also the Deputy Chair of Ports North, the Chair of the Ports North Human Resources Committee, a former Chair of the Board of the JUTE Theatre Company and has served a number of not for profit boards. 

"I am passionate about regional Queensland and particularly the local community where I live and work. Regional cities such as Cairns face a number of challenges not even imagined by their city peers including a lack of resources, infrastructure and access to quality health services for people living with Cancer. It's a privilege to work with the COUCH Board and staff in supporting local people and providing a much needed local service." 


Vicky Johnston
Treasurer since 2019


Vicky is a Chartered Accountant with over 15 years experience in healthcare management and is passionate about healthcare and in ensuring that people have quality healthcare choices available to them within their community.

Vicky is the Exectuive Commercial Manager of the Ramsay Cairns Private Hospital group and is highly experienced in financial reporting, budgeting and forecasting, and cash flow management. 

Vicky has held previous leadership roles in not for profit organisations including the Cairns Regional General Manager of Holy Spirit Care Service and oversaw the contruction and commissioning of an 86-bed residential aged care facility and 52 independent retirement living units. Vicky also held the position of Chief Financial Officer for the Northern Queensland Primary Healthcare Network and was responsible for the commercial compliance and acquittal of Commonwealth primary healthcare funding contracts. 

“I have a passion for contributing to community based organisations that are committed to improving the community that we live in. As a local charity, COUCH has achieved significant improvement for the Cairns community and I am honoured to be a part of its future.”


Michael Woodward
Secretary since 2014


Michael Woodward was born in Cairns as the eldest son of Pip and Charles Woodward, the founders of COUCH, as well as the iconic CaPTA Group of tourism companies. Michael attended the University of Queensland where he completed a Bachelor of Commerce.

Michael has worked within the family business for over 22 years. He started his career as the group accountant and moved into various management roles for the business. One of his favourite projects was overseeing the construction and implementation of the Cairns ZOOM attraction.

After the success of the Cairns ZOOM project, Michael was promoted to his current role operations and projects director for the CaPTA Group.

Prior to joining the COUCH committee, Michael worked in a wide variety of roles within multiple committees. Within the COUCH committee, Michael is the secretary, chairs the Events and Fundraising Sub-committee, and sits on the Risk, Finance and Governance Sub-committee.

Michael resides in Cairns with his wife Darlene, and two spoilt rescue dogs, Theo and Mya. He is passionate about engaging with the community, which is a trait Michael has inherited from his parents.   

“Since becoming part of the COUCH committee, I have come to appreciate the immense efforts of this and previous committees. I am extremely proud of the efforts Mum and Dad have put in to lay the groundwork for the organisation COUCH is today, and look forward to contributing to COUCH’s continuing success. I am particularly excited by the events and fundraising aspect of my role, as COUCH has a history of attracting entertaining, motivating and inspiring people.”


Pip Woodward
Founder
Director since 2017


Pip Woodward was born in the United Kingdom and trained at King’s College Hospital in London. Upon completion, she did a year in Orthopaedic Nursing in Denmark, followed by 2 years in the Royal Navy posted to Gibraltar. Pip and Charles were married in England and arrived back in Australia in 1974, where soon after they started their tourism business.

In 2006, Charles and Pip founded local cancer charity, COUCH, lobbying state and federal governments to establish a radiation oncology unit for Cairns patients to be treated locally without having to commute to southern facilities. COUCH was instrumental in the establishment of the Liz Plummer Cancer Care Centre which welcomed its first patient on 27 June 2011. In 2017, Charles Woodward sadly lost his battle with cancer and passed away. 

Throughout Pip’s career, she has maintained a passion for the tourism industry, which has seen her involved in several critical developments for Tourism in Cairns. This year, Pip Woodward celebrates 43 years in tourism, over which she has worked tirelessly to promote Cairns and the tourism industry, which is the lifeblood of Cairns. 

Pip was a finalist of the Queensland Telstra Business Women’s Award for 2001 and 2002, and in 2018 Pip was awarded an honorary Masters of Tourism through Central Queensland University. 

Pip currently holds Directorships with the CaPTA Group and COUCH Charity and is a member of Skal International Cairns. 

“Charlie was such a driving force behind the establishment of COUCH charity back in 2006, which after much fundraising and lobbying saw the opening of the Liz Plummer Centre in 2011. He was extremely passionate about supporting the local community and wanted to provide cancer sufferers with access to treatment within their local community; reducing travel away from their families and support groups. I am so pleased that I have been able to continue to support Charlie’s wishes, and to see his vision come to fruition through the development of the COUCH Wellness Centre. All of this of course would have not been possible without the tremendous support of the Far North Queensland community who have been extremely generous and supportive of COUCH and its mission.”


Rob Giason
Director since 2016


Rob has over 40 years of tourism and regional economic management and marketing experience, specialising in regional brand development, growing destination capacity and promoting sustainable regional economies.

Active participation in marketing/communications, administration and governance disciplines at CEO level across seven diverse Australian regions, (Tasmania, Griffith, Albury/Wodonga, Blue Mountains, Sydney/NSW and Tropical North Queensland) has progressed Robs passion for regional communities and their positive development.

Rob has directly managed key strategic disciplines such as, regionally designed strategic destination planning, (tourism, economic development, events and marketing). He has directed innovative aviation route development and general transport logistics policy planning and has established respectful and valued stakeholder partnerships involving productive working relationships across government and industry.

"We chose Cairns as our home and with four of my grandchildren living here, I aspire for the best health facilities possible to improve the life and happiness of our people. Through my treatment at the Liz Plummer Centre, I also experience on a daily basis the relief of being able to obtain quality service and care close to home, like hundreds of others diagnosed with cancer in FNQ each year. This is what COUCH is all about and it’s an honour to be part of the team delivering on our collective aspirations."


Bill Davidson
Director since 2020


Bill is one of Australia’s most experienced service industry professionals. Bill has been in the forefront of outsourced service contracts, and has managed significant service providers both within Australia and overseas. He has been the CEO of Public companies, Private companies, and Social Enterprises, and remains committed to working in a collaborative manner with all stakeholders as a key component of achieving successful outcomes.

Bill was appointed as CEO of Worklink Group in April 2018. Worklink delivers Mental Health Services to clients in Cairns and surrounding locations in Far North Queensland and has been a leader in this field for over 20 years. Worklink also operates a number of Social Businesses offering employment and opportunity as appropriate.

Bill was previously Managing Director of Australian Hearing from October 2013 to April 2018, an International Leader in the delivery of Research and Services to those hearing impaired in every community in Australia. Australian Hearing is an organisation with revenue in excess of $260m and servicing well over 800 locations, from permanent sites to visiting sites, across Australia.

“I am drawn to people and organisations that are committed to making a positive difference in people's lives, and the COUCH ogranisation, its Board and its wonderful staff have that in spades. I am thrilled to be part of their journey.”


Ron Holden
Special Person
Director since 2009


Born and schooled in Cairns, Ron was awarded a Bachelor of Engineering by the University of Queensland in 1970, was conscripted and earned a commission at the Officer Training Unit, Scheyville in the same year. He then served for two years as a Pioneer Platoon Commander in the 6th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment.

He has since practised as a professional engineer and project manager in Australia and overseas and has specialized in leading multidisciplinary teams in planning, design, construction and delivery of a wide range of engineering, infrastructure and environmental projects. For many years Ron also held senior positions in major consulting firms through which he has developed specific organisational, leadership and management skills. 

In his own professional practice in Cairns over many years, Ron has been involved in infrastructure, transportation and sporting facility projects in most remote communities throughout Cape York, the Torres Straits and the Gulf. This first-hand contact with the regional population has given him a broad understanding of the demographic and cultural characteristics of the whole Far North Queensland.

Ron brings this military, professional and business administration leadership and management experience along with his local and regional knowledge and understanding of the FNQ community to the board of COUCH where he has been a director since 2009 and chairman from 2017 until August 2021.

He is passionate in his belief in the mission, objectives and values of COUCH and he is proud to have the opportunity to be involved in delivering on the legacy of COUCH co-founder and life-long friend Charlie Woodward through both the charitable work of the organisation and its new Wellness Centre.

"I consider it a privilege and an honour to be involved with an organisation where members, staff and volunteers give selflessly of themselves and their time, energy and expertise to maximise the opportunity for people affected by cancer to have a more comfortable and meaningful journey through the anxiety and suffering resulting from their illness."

Achievements


Liz Plummer Cancer Care Centre

On 27 June 2011, the Liz Plummer Cancer Care Centre welcomed its first patient for treatment.

The opening marked the completion of five years of an unrelenting campaign by COUCH to bring these services to Cairns Hospital, with hundreds of patients who would normally have to travel to Townsville and beyond for treatment now able to receive treatment and care locally. 

The centre was named after Liz Plummer, who shared her cancer journey with the public and crystallised the need for radiation treatment in Cairns.

With the backing of Charles and Pip Woodwood, along with a very motivated committee of people and a wave of momentum from the community of Cairns, the Liz Plummer Cancer Care Centre demonstrates what can be achieved when a community truly believes in a concept and a cause.

COUCH and the broader community was devastated when Liz lost her fight with cancer in July 2009. The naming of the centre remains a fitting legacy for Liz and her family.

The Liz Plummer Cancer Care Centre, located at Block E at Cairns Hospital, is one of the most modern and contemporary facilities to be offered to patients anywhere in Queensland. The centre is run by Icon Cancer Centre which has established itself as one of the first truly digital radiation oncology facilities in the world.


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