Ex-street kid returns favour
A FORMER homeless, drug-addicted teenager who became a father at the age of just 16, and who was rescued from the streets of Kings Cross by a foster carer, has now spent much of his life helping other kids in crisis.
At his 11-hectare farm in Uki, Graeme Hopf has overseen the care and rehabilitation of young people including murderers, rapists and violent youth offenders in the juvenile justice system.
When he's not at home, Mr Hopf is an internationally successful livestock judge - the only one in the world to have judged five World Congress on Genetics Applied to Livestock Production, in five types of live-stock.
His leg-up from the streets into the agricultural industry came when he was working in the pavilions at the 1967 Royal Easter Show.
In what could only be described as a fairytale, a US farmer witnessed the young boy's talent for judging cattle and whisked him off to work on his ranch. He paid for Mr Hopf's prestige college education in Animal Anatomy, in which he gained a Masters qualification.
When he returned to Australia in 1970 to work as a stud manager in Warrnambool, Victoria, aged 19, he took on his first foster child. Since then he has fostered another 35.
A founding member of Life Without Barriers, today Mr Hopf is the director of Forum Services.
His "speciality" is dealing with extreme violence in teens, so his household has always experienced varying degrees of extremes.
Mr Hopf has allegedly had a number of attempts made on his life by his boarders, who are either living with him as part of their bail conditions or are wards of the state.
He said one double-murderer had tried to stab him to death and had gone to jail for five years for the offence.
Mr Hopf always offers his home back to youths if they do go to jail, and all but two of those he has cared for have gone on to become a part of his family.
"I've given away 20 on their wedding days, and I still have several living with me," he said.
To cope with the inevitable traumas that come from working with the most disturbed and disadvantaged, Mr Hopf has relied on the words given to him as a young man.
"An old cattle man once said to me: 'The greatest thing in your life is your best mate and they can't be within your family.
"The next best thing is a love of livestock.
"Don't be a thief, don't be a vandal and don't force anybody to do anything they don't want to do, and that will give you a great pathway at life'."
Mr Hopf said he would endeavour to work in agriculture, as a livestock judge and commercial breeding consultant, and in foster care for as long as possible.
"The drug use in juveniles is totally unpleasant. ... but you've got to give them an opportunity to go on with their lives.
"I'm always impressed with the way they choose to change their lives."