Awards recognise community’s quiet achievers

A Torres Strait Islander woman passionate about improving the outcomes for children, a generous philanthropist, an acclaimed music director, and a champion softballer, were among the individuals recognised at today’s Cairns Citizen of the Year Awards.

At a special ceremony at the Cairns Performing Arts Centre, the achievements and efforts of eight individuals were recognised across six categories, which included Citizen and Young Citizen of the Year; Volunteer of the Year; Sportsperson and Junior Sportsperson of the Year; and the Cultural Award.

Two special awards were also presented: a Lifetime Achievement Award and a Highly Commended Award.

An independent panel of judges selected the award winners from more than 35 nominees.

Citizen of the Year

Jacqui Backhouse was named the 2024 Cairns Citizen of the Year, in recognition of more than three decades of helping at-risk children.

At a time when most people are enjoying retirement, Ms Backhouse has continued to commit her time and efforts to supporting students and their families, primarily through her role as a teacher aide.

Engaged in the role at several schools in Cairns for the past 30 years, she guides and mentors troubled and high-risk youths, including some who display anti-social behaviours and struggle with long-term issues at home and at school.

Affectionately called Auntie Jacqui by some, Miss Jacqui by others, and sometimes simply Jacqui, she is a proud Torres Strait Islander woman who generously shares her culture and knowledge, and who has demonstrated an ability to connect with these young people.

Her journey with Education Queensland started in 1993, as a volunteer at the former Cairns North State School.

Since then, Ms Backhouse has been involved in numerous activities across many schools, including Cairns West, Whitfield and Edge Hill State Schools.

Her dedication to children extends well beyond the remit of teacher aide.

Ms Backhouse has been known to assist with transporting shy or reluctant students to school, providing school lunches to those without any, and for many years she facilitated a cultural choir at Whitfield State School.

Her passion in assisting children has encouraged many to forge a new path, and has greatly helped to build a more resilient Cairns community.

Young Citizen of the Year

Yazmin Rivett was named Cairns Young Citizen of the Year, acknowledging her commitment to addressing the educational disparities experienced by some school students.

Elected to the inaugural Cairns Youth Council late last year, she has a keen sense of social responsibility, and has initiated a wide array of fundraising activities – from raffles to hosting barbecue events – to assist students from lower socio-economic backgrounds.

Ms Rivett is also the 2024 School Savvy Youth Ambassador.

Launched earlier this year at the Centacare FNQ hub in Cairns Central Shopping Centre, School Savvy is a community-based program that aims to ensure every child has all the supplies required for the school year.

Volunteer of the Year Award

The Volunteer of the Year Award was presented to Carol Mills.

A driving force for positive change in the Cairns community through her extensive volunteer work and influential leadership within the public housing sector, her commitments extend across various organisations, including FNQ Legacy, Cairns RSL Sub-Branch, the Naval Graves Project, Access Housing, and as Chairman of Queensland Housing Commission.

In her roles at FNQ Legacy and the Cairns RSL Sub-Branch, Ms Mills’ active participation in fundraising activities has been pivotal, helping in the collection of over $200,000 for veteran and family welfare programs and commemorative events.

Her involvement in the Naval Graves Project demonstrates her commitment to preserving the memory of servicemen and women who lack family to tend to their final resting places.

As the general manager of Access Housing and Chair of Queensland Housing Commission, Ms Mills’ leadership helped to secure an increase in affordable housing options across Cairns.

Her initiatives directly impacted the lives of hundreds of individuals and families, providing them with secure and stable housing options.

Moreover, her personal involvement in assisting tenants facing adversity resulted in noteworthy decreases in eviction rates among vulnerable households.

Ms Mills’ multifaceted contributions showcase her selflessness, dedication, and commitment to improving the lives of others.

Sportsperson of the Year

Australian softball representative Hirari Kurihara was named Sportsperson of the Year, acknowledging her success on the field, as well as her dedication to coaching and developing junior participants.

A regular fixture in regional, state and national representative squads for several years, last year she was named Most Valuable Player for the Under 23 Queensland team.

She was also selected in the 2023 Australian Elite Development Squad, as well as the 2023/24 Aussie Spirit Training Squad as part of preparations for the WBSC (World Baseball Softball Confederation) Women’s World Cup in July 2024.

Ms Kurihara also provides guidance, support, and mentorship to young athletes, leading by example and demonstrating the values of hard work, perseverance, and sportsmanship, both on and off the field.

Junior Sportsperson of the Year

Junior Sportsperson of the Year was Rhiannon Forbes, who has made outstanding contributions to young women in sport, in particular through her achievements in hockey.

Ms Fornes got her first taste representative hockey at the age of 10, when she travelled to Karumba with the Cairns Hockey Representative Program to compete in the Kurumba Cup.

In 2023, while completing her Year 12 studies, Ms Forbes was chosen as the A Grade goalkeeper for Brothers Hockey Club, competed at the U18 Queensland State Championships, was selected in the Queensland team to compete at the U18 National Championships, and was chosen as a team member in the U17 Australian All Stars Hockey Team.

While most Year 12 school leavers took time off, the goal-saving machine travelled to Malaysia with the Australian Under 17 Allstars team to compete in the Mirnawan Cup, which included national sides from England, Japan, Malaysia and South Africa.

She returned home with a gold medal after the Aussie team secured a 2-0 win against Japan in the final.

Her contribution to local hockey also extends to volunteering to guide and mentor other female goalies.

Highly Commended – Junior Sportsperson of the Year

Kalan Gosper was presented with a highly commended award in the Young Sportsperson of the Year category.

Born with cerebral palsy, he has competed with able bodied students numerous sports, such as soccer, touch football, and cricket, and has enjoyed success in track and field as well as cross country.

Notable achievements include representing Peninsula at the Queensland School Sport Track and Field Championships, where he medalled in discus and shot put.

He is the Peninsula multi-class 800m record holder and was the first multi-class athlete to qualify for Peninsula Cross Country Team.

He has been an annual competitor at the Challenge Games in Townsville, medalling each time.

He has been recognised as a student leader, sports leader and has been involved in the Great Wheelbarrow Race.

Cultural Award

Recipient of the Cultural Award of the Year was Maureen Cameron for her contribution over the past 20 years to the local music community.

Moving to Cairns in 2004, Ms Cameron was the Head of Music at St Andrew’s Catholic College and was appointed Musical Director of Cairns Brass.

Her impact on the local music community was immediate and significant, facilitating Christmas celebration concerts that involved hundreds of students from numerous schools, as well as working with Cairns Choral Society and Cairns Brass Band.

She was involved in leading Cairns Brass to eight competitive victories, culminating in the band being promoted to A Grade (National status).

Over the past two decades, she has been involved in multiple concerts, worked with hundreds of students from a multitude of schools, led Cairns Brass to eight competition wins, and has been a collaborator for musical fundraising concerts.

She has also been instrumental in attracting world-renowned musicians to Cairns to work with Cairns Brass, St Andrew’s Catholic College and the broader community.

Ms Mills also helped to establish the online hub, The Gift of Music – Cairns, a centralised meeting place for charities and musicians to collaborate and create opportunities using the power of music for the betterment of the community.

She has given 20 years of exceptional service to Catholic Education in Cairns and is considered an outstanding teacher, leader and mentor.

Lifetime Achievement Award

Cairns Regional Council also presented Joyce Swinton with a Lifetime Achievement Award for her philanthropy, which has helped to improve healthcare in the Far North.

During the past seven years, she has made generous contributions, totalling more than $1.2 million, to the Far North Queensland Hospital Foundation’s Cancer Care Hub.

Her donations have been directed towards crucial health care areas, such as cardiology and cancer, reflecting her commitment to improving local health services.

Mrs Swinton’s contributions reflect her deep understanding of the community’s needs and a commitment to ensuring that her family’s legacy contributes to tangible improvements in health care.

Her actions exemplify the essence of community service, and the impact one individual’s generosity can have on the lives of many, making her a standout nominee for any community honour.

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