A former sportsman who turned his passion for football into an avenue to helping the prospects of Indigenous youths has been named the Cairns region’s Citizen of the Year.
In a breakfast ceremony at the Cairns Hilton today, Rick Hanlon was honoured for his devotion to assisting young Indigenous men and women, particularly through his vision and subsequent development of AFL Cape York House.
Cairns Mayor Bob Manning said Mr Hanlon had tapped into the appeal of Australian Rules Football and used it as an avenue to advance the prospects of remote-based Indigenous children.
“Rick has played an important role in improving the lives of countless Indigenous children, as well as their communities,” Cr Manning said.
“Some of these children came from very difficult backgrounds and their life outcomes may not have been the best.
“Rick identified Aussie Rules as a way to engage Indigenous young people from Cape York and the Torres Strait, and through his determination established AFL Cape York House for boys in 2013, and a similar facility for young women from the Cape in 2019.
“These facilities, which include boarding accommodation, have given many children the chance to change their lives and tap into new and exciting futures.
“While kicking a football is part of the experience, just as important, these facilities provide an environment with a focus on education, health and well-being.
“These are the foundations that encourage young people to get an education and then possibly go on to university, get a trade, or find a job.
“Some of those children will even go back home and make a positive contribution to their communities.”
Young Citizen of the Year Kristen O’Shea was recognised for her efforts to foster inclusivity for students with disability.
While completing her final year at Gordonvale State High School, Ms O’Shea worked with one of Education Queensland’s regional physiotherapists to plan, implement and run the student-led exercise program.
“Kristen is a shining example of a young person who identified a need – in this case to ensure all students were included in sporting activities – and found a solution,” Cr Manning said.
“She adapted and organised sports such as basketball, netball, volleyball and track and field to suit students with all abilities and create a fun, safe and supportive learning environment for everyone.”
Ms O’Shea’s was also named a National Change-Maker by the 2021 National Australian Olympic Change-Maker program.
Social housing advocate Fred Morris was the recipient of a Lifetime achievement award in recognition of more than 30 years of support to vulnerable people in the Cairns region.
In 1991, Mr Morris and a dedicated group of public housing tenants established the Far North Queensland Regional Tenants Advisory Group (FNQRTAG). He was elected president of the organisation, a position he held until last year when he retired.
“For the past 30 years Fred has given a voice to some of the city’s most vulnerable and marginalised residents,” Cr Manning said.
“His advocacy for improvements for social housing recipients has led to significant change in service delivery and housing standards.”
Cr Manning congratulated the recipients of each of the seven Australia Day Awards.
“These individuals represent everything great about our region and about being Australian,” he said. “Despite different backgrounds, talents and interests, each has contributed in a unique way to our community.
“They are wonderful role models for our city and very much deserving of this special honour.”
Citizen of the Year – Rick Hanlon
A part of Australian Rules Football development for more than a quarter of a century, during this time Mr Hanlon grew the game in the Far North, while also enhancing the lives of Indigenous children, particularly those from remote communities.
Following a successful Australian Rules Football career in Tasmania, Mr Hanlon arrived in Cairns in 1998 as the AFL’s North Queensland Regional Manager.
In 2006, he was appointed General Manager of AFL Cape York Ltd, and his focus shifted to supporting children in remote Indigenous communities.
Mr Hanlon’s vision was to create a constructive engagement program focusing on education, health and civic well-being, with Australian Rules being the vehicle to access remote communities of Cape York, Torres Strait and Gulf Savannah.
This passion led to the establishment of AFL Cape York House for boys in 2013.
The facility provided accommodation and educational, employment and training for Indigenous youths from remote communities, such as Hope Vale, Coen, Lockhart River, Kowanyama, Coen, Aurukun, Pormpuraaw Bamaga/Injinoo, Mornington Island, Badu Island, Maubiag Island, Moa Island, Yam Island and Coconut Island.
The success of the facility spearheaded the establishment of a second AFL Cape York House, this one for girls, which opened in 2019.
As the Programs Manager of AFL Cape York, Mr Hanlon has been focused on Indigenous advancement by pushing the boundaries and wanting to make a difference for the betterment of Indigenous youth, who have limited opportunities.
Mr Hanlon has been previously recognised for his services to AFL and Ingenious youths.
Notably, he received life membership of AFL Cairns Juniors in 2008, has been inducted in the Tasmanian Hall of Fame, and received the Order of Australia Medal in 2017.
Junior Citizen of the Year – Kristen O’Shea
While completing Year 12 at Gordonvale State School, Ms O’Shea worked with one of Education Queensland’s regional physiotherapists to plan, implement and run the student-led exercise program.
She adapted and organised sports such as basketball, netball, volleyball and track and field to suit students with all abilities and create a fun, safe and supportive learning environment for everyone.
The program culminated in the All Abilities Sports Day, where she instructed students in a variety of sports, while also passing her knowledge onto Year 11 students who will continue the program.
She has left a lasting legacy that has enriched many people and was named a National Change-Maker by the 2021 National Australian Olympic Change-Maker program.
This award recognises students who demonstrate the Olympic spirit – friendship, sportsmanship and striving for excellence – both on and off the playing field, through leadership and driving positive change in their school or local community.
Volunteer of the Year – Shannon Mead
Shannon Mead is saving the environment one cigarette butt at a time.
Described as a quiet achiever who just gets on with doing ‘the job’, he can often be seen walking along the Esplanade and local beaches, picking up disposed cigarette butts to prevent them getting into the marine environment.
It would be fair to say that over the past 18 months, he has collected tens of thousands of cigarette butts from Cairns and surrounds.
He has engaged with local Councils to provide recommendations on infrastructure and has also implemented an Australian first trial for remediation of cigarette butts using Oyster mushrooms to break down the plastics.
This thinking which is bigger and most certainty outside of the cigarette box, could see butts not only removed from the environment, but have them reused and putting Cairns on the map and on the right track to be the Smart Green Capital of Northern Australia.
Mr Mead has also played a significant role in deploying a world first program for businesses to collect and transport their butts for remediation, and engaged with State and Federal MPs, Ministers and departments to identify cigarette butts as an action on the National Plastics Plan.
Cultural Award – Hong Ma
Born in Zhanjiang, China – one of Cairns’ sister cities – Hong Ma migrated to Australia in 2010 and became a citizen in 2015. Three years later, he joined the Queensland Police Service (QPS) as a Police Liaison Officer.
Dedicated to helping Chinese immigrates settle in the Far North, as part of his role with the QPS, Mr Ma has become a point of contact for members of the Chinese community, both for matters concerning police as well as other issues.
A volunteer presenter with Cairns Community Radio – FM89.1 since 2017, he produces radio programs in Mandarin and Cantonese and provides training to the new presenters to enrich Chinese programs.
Mr Ma is also the conductor of Cairns’ only Chinese choir – Sing For Joy Choir – and a volunteer pianist, webmaster and COVID-19 information coordinator of the North Church Cairns.
He was instrumental in identifying Chinese community concerns as a result of the pandemic and in 2020 created, distributed and collated results from a COVID-19 Anti-Asian Racism FNQ Survey.
With the support of local education agencies, including language schools, JCU, Cairns Student Hub and TAFE, Mr Ma regularly delivers general safety information to new international students and working holiday makers.
Mr Ma played a vital role in the establishment of the Chinese Community Crime Prevention Consultative Committee – Far North Branch in 2019.
He is also a presenter of ThinkUKnow Australia – an evidence-based education program led by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) to help prevent online child sexual exploitation.
Junior Cultural Award – Grace Endres-Blakeny
At 13 years of age, Grace spends much of her spare time volunteering for a variety of different community-based activities and events and was recognised at the Cairns Regional Council Volunteer Ceremony.
The St Mary’s Catholic College student was named the school’s Junior Vocalist of the Year 2021, received four first placing for vocal sections at the 2021 Cairns Junior Eisteddfod, and represented the region at the Highland Dancing State Championships.
She has also participated in the State Honours Ensemble Program for voice (soprano) and clarinet four times since 2019.
She has been cast in numerous musical productions and plays several musical instruments. Grace also loves to sew and her abilities were recognised at last year’s Cairns Show where she was named Champion of the Show in sewing.
Sportsperson of the Year – Cayla George
Cayla George is a medal-winning Olympian who has made a significant contribution to basketball and is an advocate for empowering women in sport.
Originally from Adelaide, Cayla first played for the Cairns Dolphins in 2011 and will return this year to strengthen the young squad and promote female basketball in the region.
She also hopes to push the case for a Cairns to be included in the WNBL.
The 32-year-old centre has represented Australia multiple times – boasting two Olympic campaigns (2016 Rio, 2020 Tokyo), a gold medal from the 2018 Commonwealth Games, a silver and bronze from the FIBA World Cup (2014, 2018), as well as a bronze medal from the 2019 FIBA Asia Cup.
Off the court, Cayla is a strong advocate for women in sport, in particular with the RISE UP campaign and the focus on equality. She is also passionate about supporting Indigenous young female athletes.
Junior Sportsperson of the year – Annabelle Hutchings
A winner of numerous Far North Queensland golf tournaments, including four consecutive victories in the City of Cairns Women’s Classic, Annabelle Hutchings
Is also passionate about supporting clubs throughout the region, and can be found playing around in Mareeba, Tully, Innisfail, Tully and Gordonvale.
Annabelle also recently finished 10th at the prestigious, invitation only, Australian Masters of the Amateurs in Victoria – the nation’s top ranked amateur event and among the top 10 amateur events in the world.
In 2021, she posted victories in the Far North Queensland Ladies Open, City of Cairns Women’s Classic, Far North Queensland Ladies Champion of Champions and Palmer Sea Reef Open. She also placed 18th at the Tasmanian Open Championship, second at the Cairns Open, and 15th at the Keperra Bowl Open.
While her on course achievements are noteworthy, Ms Hutchings also strives to be a role model for others and successfully juggles work commitments, gym sessions four days a week, playing golf twice a week and regular golf practice, where she spends most of her time talking to and encouraging the juniors.
Lifetime achievement award – Fred Morris
Over the past three decades, Fred Morris has been a passionate advocate for change, determined to help some of the city’s most vulnerable and disadvantaged people.
Committed and a constant voice for change, Mr Morris volunteered for over 30 years to supporting people living in social housing across the region.
Determined to make a difference in the city he called home, in 1991, Mr Morris and a dedicated group of public housing tenants set up the Far North Queensland Regional Tenants Advisory Group (FNQRTAG).
He was elected president of the association, a position he held until last year when he made the decision to retire.
Through FNQRTAG, Mr Morris was able to give voice to some of the city’s most vulnerable and disadvantage, taking their concerns and advocating for change at a State and Federal Government level.
He also travelled to other centres, which provided a greater understanding of the difficulties facing social housing tenants across the state, how other areas were tackling those challenges, and what learnings could be implemented in Cairns.
Mr Morris was a passionate advocate for better service delivery for tenants, for improved housing standards and timely maintenance. He also encouraged social housing recipients to show pride in their homes, especially though the annual garden awards, where Cairns often had the highest number of nominations in the state.
Mr Morris coined the word “de-densification” in a letter to the State in the 1990s in relation to needed changes to social housing in Cairns, particularly in Manoora, Mooroobool, and Manoora.
His advocacy played a part in the State Government recognising issues in those suburbs and the improvement made under the Urban Renewal Program.
Another notable achievement, FNQRTAG was the first tenant-led organisation in Queensland to apply for and receive funding from the Queensland Residential Tenancies Authority. This funding was used to deliver the first tenancy law training for tenants of social housing on Thursday Island.
The Queensland Government recognised Mr Morris’ contribution to the residents of social housing in Far North Queensland by naming a new social housing estate at Edmonton as Fred Morris Place.