A Warrnambool resident and former Army photographer who volunteers time to help young defence force veterans after they have returned to civilian life is the 2020 Warrnambool Citizen of the Year.
James Mepham was recognised for efforts that included involvement in Veterans Health Week activities such as the Great South Coast Veterans Retreat and the Veterans Community Picnic, giving his time as a volunteer subject in the Human Library 3280, a Mental Health Week initiative, and being active in the Rotary movement.
Mr Mepham said he was thrilled to receive the award which he felt had come “completely out of left field”.
“Personally I feel there are other people in the community doing amazing things, but this award will help continue conversations about veterans and their families, who are impacted by the veterans’ experiences,” Mr Mepham said.
His own transition to civilian life after leaving the Army was difficult. Mr Mepham had photographed the emergency response to the Boxing Day Tsunami and that experience left him with post-traumatic stress.
“I felt guilty that I couldn’t turn such a powerful and important set of experiences into something meaningful,” he said.
It was while volunteering at the Shrine of Remembrance’s education centre he met a young Rotarian who invited him to photograph a Rotary project in Cambodia and Vietnam which supported orphans, hospitals, polio survivors and women.
“Through Rotary I have found passion and purpose again,” Mr Mepham said.
“Rotary strengthened me to face my veteran life. I hadn’t engaged with the veteran community until I met RSL veterans’ advocate Adam Kent.”
Mr Mepham will be officially presented with his award at the Warrnambool Australia Day celebrations, to be held at the Warrnambool Botanic Gardens on Sunday, January 26, from 10.30am to 4pm.
Awards will also be given out for Young Citizen of the Year, Local Achiever and Community Event of the Year.
The celebration will also include a citizenship ceremony involving 28 people from countries including, the United Kingdom, India, Germany, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, The Philippines, New Zealand, Kenya, Afghanistan, Iran, Thailand, South Africa, Denmark and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China.
Entertainment includes the Holiday Actors, the Warrnambool Ukelele Band, Blake Rudland Castle and Mick Ferguson.
Various community groups will provide food and there will be and games and entertainment for children all afternoon.
People can also join a tour of the gardens from 12.15pm.
Award recipients are chosen from nominations that come from the community.
The nominations are reviewed by Council’s Australia Day Awards Advisory Committee, which makes recommendations to Council.
The award recipients:
Citizen of the Year
James Mepham – for his volunteer involvement in RSL Active, a program that helps young defence force veterans after they have returned to civilian life. James was involved in the inaugural Great South Coast Veterans Retreat, is an active member of Rotary in Warrnambool and also gave his time as one of the subjects in the enormously successful Warrnambool Human Library project, part of Mental Health Week activities in 2019.
Young Citizen of the Year
Shannon Carter – for work as a volunteer wildlife carer and youth advocacy through the Youth Alliance group facilitated by Brophy Family and Youth Services.
Tom Richardson and Kylie Thulborn – joint recognition for their work in co-ordinating the Find Your Voice all-abilities choir.
Marie McDonald – for a sustained effort over many years to raise money for breast cancer research through morning teas and selling homemade goods.
Keith McKenzie – for leadership in the scouting movement over 35 years.
Warrnambool Night Owls – recognition for a CWA group that works tirelessy making and donating items and money to a range of organisations and charities within Warrnambool including the Warrnambool Hospice, Warrnambool Special Developmental School, Warrnambool Breast Feeding Centre, the Warrnambool Toy Library, Anglicare Lego Brick Club, farmers’ relief funds and the CWA Victoria Disaster Assistance Fund.
Event of the Year
The Human Library 3280 – organized by Matt Reeves and Jodie Fleming the Human Library was an event where people could “borrow” a human book for 15 minutes to gain an insight into the person’s background and life experiences. A feature event during Mental Health Week.