Community legends honoured at 2024 Australia Day ceremony

Kempsey Shire Council

Kempsey community members gathered at the Slim Dusty Centre on Friday 26 January 2024 to celebrate the outstanding contributions of citizens and volunteers from around the Shire.

The annual Australia Day Awards and Citizenship Ceremony kicked off the Australia Day public holiday with a free community breakfast and live entertainment before the official citizenship and awards ceremony began at 10am.

The event was jointly funded by Council and the National Australia Day Council Community Grants Program

Kempsey’s 2024 Australia Day Ambassador, Philip Lee OAM, congratulated all the award nominees for their incredible contributions to the community.

All 32 nominations for Australia Day awards were sent in by members of the community, with the Kempsey Australia Day Awards Committee having the challenging job of deciding upon award recipients.

Leo Hauville, Mayor of Kempsey Shire Council, expressed pride in the calibre of the nominations, acknowledging that the strength of a community often rests upon the shoulders if its volunteers.

Craig Milburn, General Manager and ceremony MC, acknowledged the difficult task in selecting winners from such a worthy group of people, and congratulated the winners.

In total, 10 awards were presented under the category of Lifetime Achievement, Citizen of the Year, Young Citizen of the Year, outstanding Local Hero, and Community Group of the Year.

Community Group of the Year (2 Awards)

Friends of Kempsey Pound

Friends of Kempsey Pound, led by the passionate Marion Crowley, is an extraordinary group embodying the essence of community service and compassion for the welfare of animals.

Friends of Kempsey Pound is a beacon of hope for thousands of animals in Kempsey Shire Council’s care. In 2022 and 2023, the group played a pivotal role in saving over 315 and 469 animals, by providing them with temporary homes, arranging adoptions, or facilitating transfers to other organisations.

Beyond rescuing animals, the group actively contributes to the community’s well-being offering free vaccination days for Parvo virus. These events, hosted in collaboration with Council, saw 350 dog owners and 590 dogs participate last year, promoting health and preventing the spread of diseases.

In 2023 they also secured grant funding for a desexing program, which has seen 70 cats and 112 dogs desexed, reflecting their commitment to preventing unwanted litters and promoting responsible animal ownership.

Marion and the Friends of Kempsey Pound have transformed Kempsey Pound into a ‘no-kill’ pound, ensuring that no non-dangerous animals are euthanised. The dedication of their foster carers, regular health treatments, vaccination days, and educational initiatives contribute to the overall well-being of animals and positive change to inspire the entire Kempsey community.

Lilli Pilli Ladies Inc

The Lilli Pilli Ladies stand as a remarkable organisation showcasing unwavering dedication and outstanding contributions to the Macleay Valley community.

This volunteer group, formed 8 years ago, has tirelessly raised over $60,000, making a significant impact on the Kempsey District Hospital’s cancer unit. Through their fundraising efforts and events, the Lilli Pilli Ladies have purchased vital equipment, such as a Centrifuge Machine, Digital Scales, Sofa Beds, Refurbished Quiet Rooms, Electric Chair, Nikki Pumps, and more, enhancing the facilities and services available to locals.

The group actively advocates for the community’s health needs. They’ve initiated public forums, community petitions, and engaged with health authorities to push for improved cancer services at Kempsey District Hospital. Their efforts have led to notable achievements, including the provision of Low Risk Cancer Services which are set to commence in March.

The Lilli Pilli Ladies’ impact on the Macleay Valley community is truly commendable, reflecting their commitment to supporting and enhancing the well-being of local residents. They are a shining example of a community group that goes above and beyond to create positive change.

Outstanding Local Hero (3 Awards)

Peter Burgess

Peter Burgess stands as an exemplary figure in the Macleay Valley community, showcasing outstanding contributions to amateur beekeeping, education, and community engagement.
For over a decade, Peter’s tireless efforts have fuelled local beekeepers’ knowledge and confidence, especially during the Varroa Destructor (Varroa mite) crisis in 2022 and 2023. His unwavering support during the eradication and management phases played a crucial role in preparing local beekeepers for the challenges presented by Varroa mite.
As a dedicated beekeeping educator at Kempsey, Nambucca, and Macksville TAFE, Peter has transformed the lives of numerous students, fostering a sense of community and empowerment. His classes not only impart essential beekeeping skills but also serve as a platform for personal growth and camaraderie.
Beyond teaching, Peter’s instrumental role in establishing the Macleay Valley Amateur Beekeeping Association Inc. has united enthusiasts, providing a hub for education, collaboration, and socialisation. He serves as the Biosecurity officer, ensuring compliance and vigilance among local beekeepers.
Peter’s commitment to sustainability and education is evident through initiatives like the AgriFutures Sustainability Education Program, attracting over 100 participants. The club apiary at Wigay Park, another brainchild of Peter’s, further supports practical learning and community engagement.
As a biosecurity advocate, Peter’s integrity and dedication led to the detection of a dangerous Varroa mite infestation in Kempsey.
Peter’s hives were at low risk and in August 2023, Kempsey Shire was seemingly mite free. However, during his regular biosecurity checks, Peter found a single mite in one of his 65 hives. He reported the detection knowing that it would result in the destruction of his well-maintained apiary and at the time he would be unable to keep bees for at least 3 years, knowing that his future employment would be in jeopardy as well as his own commercial orchard without the honeybees. Early detection and reporting were the key to detecting and eliminating Varroa mite from Australia for the benefit of all beekeepers.
The prompt escalation quickly uncovered a previously undetected/unreported mite infestation, that had spread throughout a significant portion of the shire and could have been present for at least 8 months. Peter received high praise from the Australian beekeeping community for reporting this early detection which reduced the possible spread of the mite throughout Australia.
Despite the destruction of his apiary, Peter resiliently researched and led a group of beekeepers to navigate the post-Varroa era, emphasising mite management strategies.
In essence, Peter Burgess is an unsung hero, embodying resilience, integrity, and a deep commitment to community well-being.

Greg Steele

Greg, a retired public servant, stands as an exemplary figure of dedication and community service. Over the years, he has maintained a deep commitment to various community initiatives, actively participating in the SES and Hat Head Lifesaving Club. Greg goes beyond the call of duty by providing coaching and mentorship to individuals within these groups, fostering a supportive environment.
His involvement extends to the management board of Macleay Options, where he contributes his time and expertise to support the less fortunate in the community. Greg’s impact isn’t confined to local boundaries, he serves as an advocate for SES in other communities, sharing his knowledge and skills during natural disasters.
Greg’s altruistic spirit is evident in his unwavering willingness to offer support, knowledge, and expertise to various community services without hesitation. His dedication and integrity set a commendable standard, making him a valuable asset to the community.
As a devoted husband, family man, and loyal friend, Greg provides guidance and assistance in both good and challenging times. With over 45 years of service in the SES, his passion for community well-being remains steadfast. Greg’s enthusiastic volunteerism reflects a deep commitment to ensuring the benefit of all in the community, leaving a lasting impact that will be felt even beyond his eventual retirement.

Paul Younie

For over a decade, Paul Younie has been the steadfast captain of the Willawarrin RFS, demonstrating an unwavering passion for protecting the local community.
His dedication ensures the Willawarrin brigade is not only engaged and trained but always ready to safeguard the community in times of need.
As the heart of the Willawarrin Brigade, Paul selflessly dedicates endless hours without expecting recognition. A quiet leader, he sets an example, patiently mentoring and pushing his crew to excel. His care extends beyond the brigade to the entire community.
With over 30 years as a volunteer firefighter, Paul’s experience and dedication are unquestionable. His leadership as the Captain of the Willawarrin RFS Brigade has been pivotal in saving lives and properties.
In 2023, amidst threats to his community, Paul cancelled his Bali holiday with his wife Cindy. Within 24 hours of landing in Bali they were on a flight home so he could lead his crew and assist the community.
Paul stands as a figurehead and leader within the Willawarrin community, a quiet man who doesn’t ask for recognition who over the years has earned the respect of not only the Willawarrin Brigade but other local brigades and the community at large. One Inspector with Queensland RFS said that he wished all of his teams had a leader like Paul.

Young Citizen of the Year (2 Awards)

Briana Rae Earle

Briana, a Stuarts Point local her whole life, has overcome many personal challenges. In her young life she has purchased her own home and created a business in disability support helping our region’s most vulnerable. She was born for the role.

Briana has constantly donated her time to help our community’s youth, organising and often paying for Community Christmas parties with gifts for all children and Santa photos, Halloween events with maps for the community and Community garage sales. She also created the food pantry in Stuarts Point.

Every time a volunteer is needed, Briana steps up. From collecting rubbish to flashing everyone her beautiful smile. She is constantly volunteering for community groups such as the local church, SPADCO and Clean Up Australia Day.

She is adored and trusted by young community members who always know that they can go to Aunty Briana for help no matter what. She strives and campaigns constantly for our kids to have better resources and recreation activities.

Briana has recently become a foster mum, and those kids are blessed to have her beautiful heart watching over them.

For someone so young, who has faced such adversity, this woman strives every day for a better tomorrow for our community and a future for our kids. Briana is her town’s treasure who brought her whole little town together for Christmas and other community events.

Rose Rench

Rose Rench stands out for her remarkable resilience, strength, and commitment despite personal challenges.

As the President and Women’s Captain of the Yowies soccer club, Rose’s leadership has significantly contributed to the positive sports culture in Willawarrin and the Kempsey Shire Council community.

Rose’s dedication to the Yowies extends beyond the field, with initiatives such as increasing junior registrations and providing over 500 free meals to young players after training, demonstrating a strong commitment to community well-being. Under her leadership, the women’s team’s success in reaching consecutive finals contributes to a positive image of our community and promotes inclusivity, especially for Indigenous women.

In her role as a support worker, Rose showcases her commitment to community service and making a positive impact on individuals facing challenges. Her involvement in rebuilding junior football in the Upper Macleay has provided young individuals with opportunities for sports engagement, skill development, and community spirit.

Despite the tragic loss of her partner in 2022, Rose’s resilience and determination are evident as she continues to fulfill her roles as a mother, support worker, and club president. Her hands-on approach, dedicating her Fridays to stocking the soccer club’s canteen, further emphasises her commitment to the club’s success and the well-being of its members.

Rose’s multi-dimensional contributions, both professionally in disability work and within the soccer club, showcase her well-rounded commitment to making a positive impact in various spheres of life. Her ability to bring families together for football has created a positive well-being and community support system in the Upper Macleay, reducing feelings of isolation and fostering a sense of belonging.

Rose Rench’s story is one of resilience, leadership, and compassion. Her ability to inspire others, especially young girls and women, further adds to the significance of her contributions in breaking gender stereotypes in sports leadership and encouraging pursuit of passion and leadership roles.

Citizen of the Year

Ruth Waite

Ruth Waite is a dedicated community leader who has contributed more than 30 years of exemplary service. Ruth has been an integral part of local cultural initiatives, from the local museum to sporting programs.

In her 35 years as Secretary of the Kempsey Basketball Association, Ruth’s commitment goes beyond her official title, encompassing roles as a player, team manager, coach, referee, Grants Officer, and Registrar.

As the Secretary of the Wigay Aboriginal Cultural Park for more than 12 years, Ruth has played a pivotal role in promoting the park to the community, maintaining it with volunteers, and fostering collaborations for cultural events.

A champion for cultural affirmation and equity, Ruth has devoted over 5 years to the NSW Aboriginal Education Consultative Group, advocating for the diverse identity of Aboriginal students. In her role, she works closely with schools to ensure an inclusive education that aligns with community viewpoints.

Ruth’s impact extends beyond Kempsey Shire, serving as a board member for the Mingaan Wiradjuri Aboriginal Corporation, giving a voice to Aboriginal people in the Lithgow area. Her immeasurable contributions include organising impactful events such as the “In Living Memory Exhibition,” commemorating the 90th anniversary of the Kinchela Boys Home, and coordinating community-building initiatives like Crocfest and Vibe 3on3 Basketball events.

Ruth’s commitment to literacy, cultural exchange, and community connection is further demonstrated through the community affection she generated in her role as Kempsey Shire Council’s Mobile Library Coordinator. Her dedication to promoting positive reading habits and connecting with Aboriginal culture is strongly demonstrated through this and through her involvement in various events, such as the Summer Reading Club and the Taronga Zoomobile.

Ruth’s influence is not only documented in her professional achievements but also in the testimonials of those she has inspired, identifying how Ruth’s authentic engagement with the community, particularly with younger generations, has created safe and welcoming spaces, fostering leadership and cultural pride.

Her impact on the Collombatti community alone is profound, but her efforts within and on behalf of the entire Kempsey community make her a truly exceptional individual worthy of recognition for her outstanding contributions and enduring legacy.

Lifetime Achievement (2 Awards)

Margaret Jopling

Margaret Jopling has dedicated more than 20 years to volunteering at the Kempsey PCYC, Kempsey Swimming Club, Macleay River Historical Society and Kempsey Macleay University of the Third Age, making a remarkable impact on the community.
Passionate about swimming and a lifelong competitor, Margaret has been a member of the Kempsey Swimming Club since 1947 and has taught swimming classes for both children and adults for many years.
Margaret was able to expand her volunteering duties once she retired from her work at Telstra, where she was the first female executive in the Kempsey office. With more time to dedicate to her community, Margaret took on volunteer roles at the PCYC.
Margaret’s commitment to PCYC Kempsey is exemplary, where she invests 20-30 hours weekly in various roles, from administration and reception to cleaning and organising school holiday activities. Her versatility extends to running cooking, gardening and yoga classes, demonstrating her dedication to fostering skills and positive experiences among the community. Margaret also provides valuable support to staff in executing various programs and activities.
In addition to her significant contributions at PCYC Kempsey, Margaret extends her volunteer efforts to the Macleay River Historical Society, maintaining their roster to help them stay open seven days a week, as well as the Kempsey Table Tennis club (where she is a fierce competitor).
Margaret Joined the Kempsey Macleay University of the Third Age in 2006, where she has been Vice-President, a class leader, committee member, as well as an enthusiastic participant in various classes.
Margaret was awarded Kempsey Citizen of the Year in 2007 and an Order of Australia Medal in 2019. As a role model, Margaret excels at encouraging and inspiring young individuals, leaving a positive imprint on their lives. Her selfless commitment to community welfare and youth development truly exemplifies the spirit of the Australia Day Award.

Josephine Robinson

Josephine represents the very best of local community engagement. She has a long history of volunteering in the Kempsey community, notably 40 years volunteering with Meals on Wheels, and 35 years with the Girls Friendly Society, teaching girls practical skills, meeting after school and on weekend camps and touching many lives. Her passion for connecting with people has been well recognised by the various people she has touched.
Jo serves the Kempsey community tirelessly, in humble, quiet, sometimes unnoticed ways.
Currently, she is involved with:
• Hospice Care,
• Kempsey Museum,
• The Lilli Pilli Ladies,
• Anglican Parish of Kempsey (office and catering),
• The Small Saints Playgroup
• Macleay Valley Association for Christian Education board member,
• Scripture in schools,
• Breakfast Programme at Kempsey High School,
• Parish Pantry,
• Anglicare Emergency Relief,
• Supporting the All Saints Catering & Co. in providing a gentle touch at funerals, wakes, forums, musical events and gatherings.
• Meals on Wheels.
• Macleay Valley Association for Christian Education, where she has worked tirelessly to fundraise to ensure that there is a chaplain for our students in schools.
She is the first to put her hand up to organise fundraising dinners that help to fund the scripture classes in local schools, or to whip up a slice or two or ice a cake at short notice. Joesphine always appears with some home-made goodies, open to a chat over a cuppa, and ready to sit with anyone through challenges. She always provides a friendly face across the many organisations she volunteers of her time and gifts in. And, at all times, Josephine does this with humility and grace.
Having lived all her life in the Kempsey area, Josephine brings local knowledge of the people and various groups that she can draw on, to support people in need. She is a gift to the region, who has a gentle, encouraging approach and would be most embarrassed to hear the content of this nomination.
She continues to give support to the aged (some of whom are often much younger than her 85 years!) And yet, Josephine is often seen in her car, off to visit her family, and join in celebrations. With so many grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, her life is filled with wedding cakes, and the love she pours into those whom she touches.
Josephine Robinson has been a remarkable gift to the life of the Kempsey community over her lifetime. She has been involved with countless organisations, volunteering her time, talents and kindness to journey alongside people from many walks of life.

Local Heroes

A number of deserving community members also received Local Hero Awards:

Tina-Lee Brown

Tina-Lee Brown, a dedicated member of the State Emergency Services Kempsey since June 2008, serves as the Deputy Unit Commander, dedicating numerous volunteer hours to maintain operational readiness. Her leadership during recent flood and bushfire events showcased exceptional commitment. Tina orchestrated support volunteer rosters, ensured frontline firefighters were nourished, and led operational responses during floods, working tirelessly for weeks without a break. Tina, with over 15 years in the NSW SES Kempsey Shire Unit, exemplifies leadership, earning a National Service Medal for her efforts during the 2019/2020 bushfires. Beyond her leadership, Tina actively monitors the mental health of rescue crews, showcasing a supportive nature that fosters a strong sense of community within the Kempsey Unit.

Cameron Dann

Cameron Dann’s commitment to the Crescent Head Rural Fire Brigade is inspirational because he actively fosters inclusivity and camaraderie within the brigade, creating a positive and cohesive community spirit. As a valued member of Kempsey Fire and Rescue, Cameron’s dedication extends to safeguarding communities beyond Crescent Head. Through tireless dedication, he empowers community members, encouraging participation and contributing to a positive local community. His involvement in community initiatives exemplifies the brigade’s commitment to being a positive force.

Leacia Martin

Leacia is a dedicated disability support worker in the Macleay whose selfless commitment goes beyond the call of duty, putting her clients’ needs ahead of her own and going the extra mile. Notably, Leacia earned the Star Employee award at Ability Options, and her colleagues recognise her as a go-to person for advice, attesting to her expertise and approachability. Leacia has become a catalyst for positive change, empowering those she supports to lead more fulfilling lives. Her impact echoes in the success stories of individuals who, under her guidance, have become more outgoing and engaged within the community, breaking barriers that once excluded them.

Shaye O’Donnell

Shaye O’Donnell has demonstrated exceptional dedication as the new President of the Kempsey East Public School Parents & Citizens committee. Her leadership revived the P&C, significantly increasing fundraising efforts, especially crucial during challenging financial times for families. Volunteering weekly in the canteen and at sporting events, Shaye organises various fundraisers, which have raised nearly $9,000 in the last year. Collaborating with local businesses in fundraising initiatives, she extends support beyond the school, benefiting both the wider community and KEPS families. Shaye’s dedication has inspired increased teacher involvement, creating a more connected school community. Her tireless efforts have also encouraged more parent, grandparent, and family engagement, empowering students to participate in fundraising and volunteer activities.

Christopher Osborne

Christopher Osborne, a founding figure of South West Rocks Community Dune Care and Macleay Landcare, stands as a beacon of environmental stewardship and community dedication. Since the inception of Macleay Landcare in 2003, Chris has been a stalwart committee member, providing stability and leadership through various roles. Chris’s volunteer efforts translate into tangible environmental benefits for the Macleay community, fostering native wildlife habitats, reducing CO2 levels, promoting sustainable agricultural practices, and attracting significant grant finances—surpassing $4 million. His altruism and leadership extend to South West Rocks Dunecare, where he actively contributes to habitat improvement initiatives.

Debbie Portelli

Debbie Portelli’s unwavering commitment to PCYC Kempsey spans multiple years, where she has dedicated her time and expertise as a devoted boxfit coach and cooking instructor. Conducting Boxfit classes twice a week, Debbie’s impact reaches beyond fitness—her classes have become a source of social interaction, fostering a sense of community. Debbie is a beacon of inspiration with her positive attitude and “can-do” outlook, encouraging people of all ages to stay active and motivating those facing various life challenges. Through her infectious enthusiasm, she has created an inclusive environment where individuals find not just a workout routine but a supportive community.

Andrew and Loretta Simpson

Andrew and Loretta Simpson, along with their dedicated team at Macleay Valley Rural Supplies, played a pivotal role during the October 2023 bushfires in the Upper Macleay. Not only did they supply crucial information and organise feed and supplies, but Andrew was on the front lines, defending properties and ensuring the safety of residents. Andrew and Loretta took charge of the situation, providing tractors for feed trucks, ensuring livestock had access to feed, proactively keeping the community informed about available support and application processes, and going above and beyond to assist the rural community. Andrew and Loretta Simpson, and their entire staff, are truly exceptional individuals, and their contributions have left an indelible mark on the hearts of those they’ve assisted.

Debbie Sydenham – Hutt

Debbie Sydenham-Hutt recognised early changes impacting recreational activities, founding the Crescent Head Dog and Walkers Group (CHDaWG) in November 2020. Amidst COVID-19, she rallied the community, addressing concerns about dog-walking regulations. Through meetings, letterbox drops, and peaceful assemblies, Debbie fostered cohesion and informed over 2,000 households. Despite personal sacrifices, her commitment transcended economic impact, earning CHDaWG a Community Cohesive Award. Debbie’s dedication, stakeholder engagement, and steady success garnered admiration and respect. Debbie’s lasting positive impact on community unity and well-being showcases her dedication to fostering a harmonious and cohesive environment in the face of challenges.

Congratulations to all of the 2024 winners and nominees. Official photos from today’s event will be released next week. Click to see a full list of the 2024 nominees.

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