Home / Grow Bold Podcast / Growing Bold and Finding Independence

Share this episode on

In this episode Pete and Tristram talk with Perry Cross and his good mate Tom Ray on how mateship has inspired a new initiative for independent living.


At the age of 19, promising sportsman Perry Cross was severely injured in a rugby tackle and told he would never walk again. Perry was left a C2 ventilated quadriplegic. Perry has been heralded by media worldwide as a tremendous role model for the human spirit in overcoming the odds and it’s this drive, determination and passion for life that Perry brings to Accessible Homes Australia.


Tom Ray is the Executive Director of Ray Group – a private property development, investment and management group founded more than 40 years ago. Since 2009, Tom has committed himself personally and professionally to helping his mate, Perry Cross launch and operate the Perry Cross Spinal Research Foundation and has played an integral role in garnering the awareness, support and funding of major spinal research projects within Australia.

Podcast Duration: 20 minutes

Podcast Release Date: March 3, 2020

Produced by: Black Me Out Productions

Additional reading

The Perry Cross Spinal Research Foundation: Finding a Cure for Paralysis

Every day in Australia at least one person has their life changed forever through the tragedy of paralysis. It’s devastating, heart-breaking and the simplest of daily tasks suddenly becomes an overwhelming challenge – for life. The Perry Cross Spinal Research Foundation was born to challenge that life-long sentence and challenge the science and medical industries to find a cure for paralysis. In recent years, it has embarked on unveiling one of the world’s most promising hopes of a cures – and it’s being progressed in Australia.

A cure of this magnitude doesn’t lay in the hands of one person, it requires a united and multi-faceted model that collectively brings world-class leaders from an array of professions together – to get the ‘job done’. Founded by Perry Cross, the PCSRF aims to facilitate, collaborate and initiate the connections and research required to find a cure for paralysis.


Accessible Homes Australia

Accessible Homes Australia (“AHA”) provides specialist disability home pathways and solutions to Australians participating in the National Disability Insurance Scheme under the Special Disability Accommodation (“SDA”) program. Home solutions, within everyday communities, created to suit individual needs and circumstances.

AHA is seeking current and prospective NDIS SDA Participants for SDA homes on the Gold Coast and in Brisbane. AHA has plans to expand to offer SDA homes in other Australian locations from 2021.

Currently within Australia there are approximately 16,000 people with disabilities living within shared support accommodation and around 6,000 young people within residential aged facilities. In total, it is estimated there are currently over 28,000 Australians living with a disability, requiring supported specialist accommodation who have unmet personal living accommodation demands.

There is an immediate need to provide housing solutions to these Australians so they can enjoy a better of quality of life, greater social interaction, more independence and freedom of choice.


View transcript

Growing Bold and Finding Independence

Welcome to the Grow Bold with Disability podcast brought to you by Feros Care. A podcast dedicated to smashing stereotypes and talking about the things people disability care about most to help us live bolder, healthier, better connected lives.

I’m journalist Pete Timbs and I’m Tristram Peters. I work for disability service directory Clickability, and am a wheelchair user living with spinal muscular atrophy. Today’s episode of Grow Bold with Disability is growing bold and finding independence, and, our guests are quadriplegic businessman, Perry Cross and his good mate Tom Ray.

In this episode, we’ll discover how a rugby game in 1994 changed Perry’s life forever and how Mate Ship has inspired an initiative for independent living. Perry and Tom welcome to Grow Bold with Disability.

Hey, how are you? Thank you Gents. I’d love to start with you first Perry, can you take us back to the day in 1994 that left you a C2 ventilated quadriplegic. Ya mate, I was, you know, fit, healthy, active guy and I drove myself to Ballymore in Brisbane. And I was taking part in a trial match for a junior Queensland side and in the game I was playing in and I picked up the ball from the back of a ruck. ran it up, got tackled, was injured, broke my neck and I remember lying on the ground um, unable to move unable to feel and staring up at the sky. I’m thinking Oh My God what have I just done?

They say when you break your neck, it’s like switching off the power because your body loses the electricity as well. You know, everything just goes, everything just goes numb limp. And you can’t move and my mates are standing there, just thinking everyone is in the same boat thinking what’s just happened? And I spent the next eight months basically in hospital in intensive care wondering how to live with the situation. My family and friends were trying to come to terms with what happened and, you know, finding out about a whole new life.

So mate, what were those first few years like for you? I’m sure there was a lot of depression in there a bit of anger and so forth. What was the initial reaction as I said, you’re in hospital for eight months when you came out, what was life like? Yeah, well, as you can imagine you go through every single emotion about 50 times. Just why me and you know, and I was lucky I’ve just, you know, been fortunately, to have some really strong family support and networks of friends and that it’s sort of helped me stay focused, I think when I first got out of hospital, I was super down on life. There was no hope and all those sort of feelings.

And then I am, you know, some friends of mine were going to university. And for some strange reason, I am I never had any plan to go to uni but I enrolled in the University of Bond, on the Gold Coast, and I started to study and sink my teeth into that. And that was what basically gave me the boost up to be able to go and do other things in my life. And it was mainly because my mates were going to uni that I decided to go. And it changed my life.

You speak about, you know, wanting to do something and striving forward. I mean, I’d love to touch on your motivational speaking and and all that. That was obviously a massive path for you. How did that all come about? And where is it taking you?

Yeah, I guess. Word starts to spread when a guy on, you know, life support is out in the community doing some public speaking. So I was, fortunate, I got some speaking roles in the Australian Defense Force when the war started back in the early 2000’s. And I was working with the Defense Force in Canberra, traveling down there every month, working with people like Peter Cosgrove and the heads of the Australian Defense Force. And, um, you know, that was pretty rewarding stuff, for me personally, because it keeps you motivated. You know, like when you’re motivating the top echelon of the Australian Defense Force you gotta be motivated about it. But it’s pretty pretty easy to stay focused when got pretty big responsibilities.

It was pretty cool being involved in that sort of stuff. From then that all lead to different things, like fundraising for spinal research. You know, I became friends with Christopher Reeve over the years. He had a similar injury as me, a C2 quadriplegic from a horse riding accident and he was the Superman actor when I was a kid. So, you know, some things some things around me, the sort of fell in to place that led me to where I am now.

And now let’s bring you in. Tom. Tom, How did you meet Perry? Oh, wow, a long time ago, Perry and I went to school together at the Southport School. He and I were one year apart in Year group. And then when we finished school, I was a year older, but when we finish school and I was one of those guys that Bond Uni who he was talking about, we all went and played for the same rugby club, the Gold Coast Eagles, the Mighty Gold Coast Eagles. And it was a way we could all, um, sort of stay together and keep contact. And Perry and I played rugby together. It was pretty low grade rugby, but it was great mate ship stuff and and we actually packed second row together.

If you meet Perry he is an imposing got a big second rower. And, um he, um, I guess ironically had the mishap and his accident that he did because he was a better rugby player than the rest of us, God knows what he was doing down at the Eagles. He was selected to go on trial for a representative side up at Ballymore, and that’s when he sustained his injury. So we played rugby together and then, you know, throughout our twenties. We said it kept in contact with one another. I went and lived in London and Sydney, and Perry was in Brisbane on the Gold Coast.

And then I guess about 14 years ago, when all of us who grew up on the Gold Coast together started coming home to have families and moving back to the Gold Coast, we sort of struck up more regular contact with each other. And we, um, established, um, a sort of, ah, progression of the foundation that he started with his family earlier on, which was the Perry Cross Foundation. We restructured it slightly and created the Perry Cross Spinal Research Foundation together with a bunch of other mates, some of whom played rugby with us back then in those days out at the Eagles.

Um, and Perry can talk a little bit about the foundation if he likes, but that’s sort of began a more day to day involvement for the two of us together and then, in the last couple of years, while Perry’s been seeking out a permanent accommodation for himself through a scheme called the SDA or the Specialist Disability Accommodations Scheme, which is part of the NDIS. We’ve done something together in establishing Accessible Homes Australia, which is a group that were formed to, firstly help Perry find a place to live for himself under the scheme. And now Perry wants to help other people in his situation find themselves at home under the same scheme. So it’s been a great ride for us.

So Tom in terms of the homes that you are creating, would you build them from scratch? Or are you renovating them, tell us about you how you create the homes. So the SDA is a new scheme. It’s a wonderful scheme, and when you find out what it’s about, you sort of wonder why we never had anything like it before, but we didn’t. But so for someone like Perry or someone else who’s in a situation like him who has high supported living needs, there’s really been limited supports available through the health system to allow such people to find a roof of their head. Um and so you’ve ended up in a situation in Australia over many decades where a lot of young people, um, have ended up in nursing homes, you know, under pension age or in other accommodation that’s really not suited to how they deserve and need to live.

So the SDA was developed as part of the NDIS where certain people who are recognized as having particular needs in the way they live day to day can be supported through a scheme where they can register in the scheme and then go and find a STA Provider like what Perry and I’ve established who goes about sourcing homes building as you mentioned before, or taking existing homes and retrofitting them to a standard which is suitable for supported living. And those standards are governed by the NDIS.

They’re audited regularly and those homes that, um, that we can establish in the scheme and then be matched to a to a participant in the scheme, like Perry or other people. And then the government will assist um, the provider and the participant with a contribution of funding to help pay for that home so that that person has security of somewhere to live indefinitely, as they, you know, as they deserve to have as they should have.

Tom. What drew you to Perry initially? What drew me to Perry? I’ve been asking myself that question. Sorry Perry. You can’t get rid of me? No. We both went to the same school. We grew up in the same place. We enjoyed the same sorts of sports. We’ve done a lot of the similar things throughout their lives, and, um, you know, therefore we’ve got a lot of common. I mean, to be honest, the fact that Perry is a C2 quadriplegic often gets lost on me.

And when you see Perry for the first time, as I said before, he’s an imposing guy. He’s a big fella on then you add that chair to the mix it’s quite confronting for a lot of people. But after it’s been a bit of time with Perry, the chair sort of disappears and you just talking to Perry again. So, we’re just mates like any other people might be mates I suppose. And I guess a lot of the things that Perry wants to do, in terms of finding a cure for paralysis through his foundation and now helping other people find suitable accommodation for themselves, resonate with me and, I feel it’s something I can do with him as a friend. That’s something I could do that interests me as well. And I guess a lot of the things all come together and click so yeah, above all, it’s it’s work a lot of it, but it’s a lot of fun too. It gives us cause to interact with one another and a lot of their mates, day to day that I suppose otherwise we might not get the opportunity to do.

And to be honest, that’s a lot of the reason why I personally wanted to help him establish what is the current version of his foundation? Was that, you know, provided a good opportunity above and beyond, trying to find a cure for paralysis, Obviously, which is serious business, but, at its very nexus and genesis, it was more about mates doing something together, giving us all a good excuse to our wives to say we’re gonna meet up on a Wednesday, have a couple of beers and talk about something that sounded a bit serious and worthwhile, and it’s sort of grown from there. So I guess that’s in a nutshell. Not really a nutshell, but that’s why why we have come together.

Yeah, well, Perry, it’s 20 years plus, since your accident, where before you got access to the Accessible Homes Australia Project? Where were you living? I was fortunate. My family have always provided my housing so my mom and my dad and then as I grew up my sister. I lived with her for a while and my brother and I’ve sort of worn out the welcome with all my siblings so, that was what sort of led me to setting up Accessible Homes which mates. Yeah, you know, it was lucky that I had the support networks around me to provide that, but a lot of people don’t know.

I think that’s what a lot of people in the community don’t realize is that you know, not everyone is fortunate to have everyone chipping in help, and there people left in hospitals or nursing homes or in community housing that is not purpose built. And this is the the need that we’re trying to meet at the moment by creating accessible homes. And, you know, I’ve just moved into my place last week in Broad Beach on the Gold Coast. And it’s amazing it’s changed my life. It’s in the middle of Broad Beach. It’s got shops and restaurants and cafes downstairs. It’s got all the amenities the lot the light rail just passed my front door, which connects to my office. You know, it’s just life changing stuff, and I want to see more people achieve a situation like this.

I’m about to go through the same process myself of living independently being a power chair user living with mom and dad for so many years in terms of you moving out. I mean, what sort of assistive technologies do you have in the home, what sort of things you have in place to make it as independent as possible for yourself?

Yeah, so I have a voice activation. I’ve got two voice activation systems in the house. One of them is the Apple Siri voice activation. The other one is the ends on Alexis system, and they’re amazing between both of them I can operate my phone, my, you know, all the lights in the house, the blinds the doors to TV. You name it. The air conditioning system, it’s all voice activated. So to be able to have that independence and freedom to do things spontaneously is amazing, because I’ve always relied on, you know, a second set of the hands and other people to do everything for me. But now I have some independence.

So, Perry, where to now for Accessible Homes Australia. What’s the plan? The plan is to roll out more of this type of housing come well firstly on the Gold Coast because that’s our neighbourhood. So we just taken a contract. on apartments in Palm Beach on the Gold Coast, which are going to be fully accessible. They’ll be completed in about 18 months. So at the moment we’re looking to, you know, buying participants that might be interested in living in Palm Beach on the Gold Coast but further afield, we aim to provide more housing, not just on the Gold Coast, but in other, you know, areas in Australia where there’s a shortage of accessible accommodation for people.

And, you know, I think that there is just a huge need now, because it’s something that hasn’t been done before. So we’re trying to catch up in a sense with a supply to a shortfall of demand.

Now mate Tom mentioned the Perry Cross Spinal Research Foundation. Give us a little touch on the bit of information on that. Yes. So the foundation has been running from, you know, a long time now in the current form that about 10 years and we simply raise funds in the community to find medical research to find a cure for paralysis caused by Spinal Cord Injury. And we have a lab on the Gold Coast a group of university which has over 30 odd researchers working, daily to find a cure. And we’re about to start human trials. I think by the end of the year to do you know stem cell transplants on people with injuries. Because my, you know, my aim in life is to see a medical treatment for paralysis.

So guys, as you know, this podcast is called Grow Bold with Disability. Can you tell us what living a bold life is to you? Perry? Do you wanna go first? Yeah, I guess. you know, I don’t see you know myself living a bold life. I think I get up every morning and just go and do what comes naturally. And if that’s being bold then that’s great. And if other people see, that am, you know, as being an ambitious that’s great too. But I’m I figured, in my lifetime, something significant happened to me. I felt that I just had to give back for whatever reason. And I think getting up every day and just tackling the things that I want to do, it is, that’s my passion. And you know, that’s if that is living a bold life then that’s fantastic. Absolutely.

And Tom similar for you. Yeah, it’s similar for me I guess. It’s seeing something that you think is interesting and and is an opportunity. And perhaps like with Perry when he talked about wanting to find a cure for paralysis and we looked around to see who was doing that, and they didn’t seem to be anyone doing exactly what it was that Perry wanted to do in that space. There’s a lot of people working towards a cure, but Perry had a specific approach in mind. I guess the attitude was, ah well, let’s have a crack. So that to me is bold Perry’s always been bold.

If he sees something that he thinks he can make a difference in, he just has a go and, you know, Perry’s the sort of person who you’ll never hear the word nah I don’t want to do that or looks too hard, you know, Perry will always say ‘All right, yeah, let’s have a try.’ So I think that’s a great example for a lot of people that you know, If Perry can do it, anyone can do it. And by that definition, he’s bold, so he’s a good one to follow.

Fantastic. Perry and Tom, you’ve been be so good today. Thanks so much for joining us on Grow Bold with Disability and listeners can find out more about these two amazing guys and, of course, Accessible Homes Australia and the Perry Cross Spinal Research Foundation in the links provided in today’s episode show notes.

Perry and Tom thanks so much for joining us today. Thanks, Pete. It’s been a pleasure talking to you. Thanks Pete I’ve enjoyed it. Thanks guys. Thank you for listening. And if you have enjoyed today’s episode that make sure you subscribe to the podcast, Grow Bold with Disability.

And if you like what you heard, please take a few moments to pop over to iTunes and give you our podcast a quick rating so we can continue these conversations and encourage people to grow bold.

This podcast is brought to you by Feros Care, a people care organization committed to helping people live bolder lives. We call it growing boldly and for over 25 years Feros has been making it real for both older Australians and those living with disability to find out more head to Feroscare.com.au

View podcast disclaimer

The content and views discussed in this podcast series are those of the individuals involved. They are not necessarily condoned by, or, are the views of Feros Care or its employees.

Our Guest


Perry Cross, founder of Perry Cross Spinal Research Foundation and Tom Ray, Executive Director of Ray Group

Ask a Feros Care expert
Who would you like to talk to?
Disability Support expert 9am - 4pm (AEST) Monday to Friday