23 July 2015

As the Salvation Army celebrates its 150th anniversary this month, Salvos employee and UQ graduate Marcel Noronha has reflected on how he found his own redemption.

Now a psychologist for the south Brisbane region, former Faculty of Health and Behavioural Sciences student Mr Noronha is also the head coach of UQ’s rugby league team.

Yet only a few years ago the talented young man was his own worst enemy, dropping out of university twice, losing his job and dabbling in drugs and crime.

“From Grade 10 onwards I had a huge chip on my shoulder, was engaging in extreme risk-taking, drugs and basically couch-surfing,” Mr Noronha says.

Born in Germany and partially raised in Indonesia, Mr Noronha had a childhood few could envy.

After relocating to Sydney, the Noronha family suffered a huge loss when father Eugene – a former UQ robotics lecturer – died when Marcel was aged five.

With mother Lala unable to speak English at the time, the Noronhas became stuck in the poverty cycle and were moved around between low-income communities.

Then Lala left to assist the East Timorese fight for independence when Marcel was just 15.

“It was supposed to be two or three weeks, and she ended up staying almost seven years,” Mr Noronha says.

“She witnessed a lot of traumatic things and she wanted to help the local people, so she took on 30 to 40 kids at an orphanage and looked after them.

“I was about 15 then and I felt left on my own.

“It’s hard to be angry at someone who acted so selflessly, but I kind of felt like she was doing all this for these other kids – but what about me?”

Mr Noronha’s turning point came when he was sacked from an airline company catering job and returned to coaching junior football.

He wanted to set an example to his players, which he did by enrolling in university a third time, and seeing it through.

After completing a Bachelor of Psychology at the University of Western Sydney, he added a feather to his cap by earning a Masters in Sport and Exercise Psychology at UQ, finishing in 2013.

Aside from his work with the Salvation Army, Mr Noronha runs the Performance Whisperer consultancy. He has previously worked with the St George Illawarra Dragons high performance unit.

“I am now doing what I love,” Mr Noronha says.

“Remembering where I came from, I know I am extremely fortunate because life could have turned out very differently.”

Media: Mr Marcel Noronha +61 0434 762 087, e.b.marcel.noronha@gmail.com ; UQ Communications Robert Burgin +617 3346 3035, +61 0448 410 364, r.burgin@uq.edu.au.