The importance of community was at the heart of Australia Day celebrations in Northern Grampians Shire this year, with events held in both St Arnaud and Stawell to welcome new citizens and honour those who have made significant contributions throughout the year.
Northern Grampians Shire Mayor, Cr Kevin Erwin, opened both events with a thoughtful address noting the complexity of the Australian story, the diversity of our heritage, and the importance of unity. Australia Day Ambassador for Kara Kara Ward, Paul Komesaroff AM, took to the podium to highlight the need for reconciliation, inviting others to join him as a method to emphasise the role that conversation plays in the process. In Stawell, Member for Lowan, Emma Kealy MP, further emphasised the Australia Day theme for 2023, We Are All Part of The Story, with a reassuring discussion that delved into both the diversity of our individual family journey as well as the roles that each of us play in the development of the vibrant communities that we cherish throughout the shire. Australia Day Ambassador for Stawell, Central and South West Wards, Neil Soullier OAM, inspired the audience with his own story, the ongoing story of the Victoria Police Blue Ribbon Foundation, with those in attendance, emphasising how important it is to remember and to celebrate our unsung heroes and to invest time in our personal passions and the projects that matter.
With nerves and smiles abound in equal measure, three new citizens were conferred, welcomed with cheer and hope for a bright Australian future. The Australia Day Awards followed closely behind, designed to recognise and celebrate the achievements of those who have made significant contributions to the community.
All care and consideration was given to the selection of each worthy candidate from a wealth of nominations received. With those selected, the mainstay of our communities, who happily offer their time and energy for the betterment of their fellow residents and the community groups who make this such an incredible place to live, work and play.
Kara Kara Ward, as presented in St Arnaud:
Senior of the Year – Joy Bryce A quiet, unassuming achiever, with a strong work ethic, who, with passion and dedication, has involved herself wholeheartedly in maintaining and developing the general aesthetic of St Arnaud and enhanced the standing of St Arnaud as the gateway to the Silo Art Trail, benefiting both townsfolk and tourists, alike. Community spirit was the driving force for our Senior of the Year, as seen through their mantra, “you get out of a community what you put in”.
Young Citizen of the Year – Rogan Hando. An active and well-known young man who, through involvement in school, sport, the arts and creativity, demonstrates selfless commitment, application, and dedication to the community and involves himself in activities that promote the welfare and wellbeing of the community.
Community Group of the Year – St Arnaud Community Kitchen A not-for-profit organisation that began with an idea for community inclusion, socialisation, and support for a healthy lifestyle and delivers on that promise each week.
Citizen of the Year – Kyle Torney A fifth generation St Arnaud resident, who demonstrates unwavering commitment to betterment and improvement. Known for putting St Arnaud on the map through storytelling, Kyle shares tales of St Arnaud’s rich history and community spirit through incredible renaissance-style painting which brings art to life on the walls and silos of the shire and overseas.
The ethos of our Citizen of the Year is summed up nicely in this quote from a podcast regarding the importance of the Silo Art Trail project plays in developing awareness, in which he can be heard to say “Without these types of things outside of the town, no one would ever know about them or hear their stories. That’s what I like about it. There are big stories to be told in little towns”.
Stawell, Central, and South West Wards, as presented in Stawell:
Local Hero Award – John Pye A retired teacher, active environmentalist, and passionate local. With 24 years as an active member of the Stawell Urban Rural Fire Brigade for 24 years, 37 years of service with the Project Platypus Landcare Network, inclusive of the associated establishment of the Stawell Urban Landcare group, John is an individual whose voluntary work in our community makes him a well-known personality. Both the Grampians Rail Trail from Pleasant Creek to Lake Lonsdale, and the associated Friends of the Rail Trail Group, was also established solely on the passion and persuasion of our 2023 Local Hero.
The quote taken from the nomination form putting forth this year’s Local Hero emphasises the reason for his selection, “His volunteering history is remarkable; his knowledge, his skills, his perseverance, his ability to work with people of all ages to educate and enthuse and support, and his willingness to contribute deserves to be recognised. He is an outstanding role model for the benefits of volunteering to the community.”
Young Citizen of the Year – Tyler Wineberg A driving force behind the return of community theatre to Stawell, our Young Citizen of the Year wanted to see community members stay locally, performing in their own productions. Joining the Committee of Stawell Performing Arts Company Inc SPACI and feeling strongly about the SPACI vision, Tyler researched and obtained the rights to a Broadway musical SPAMALOT and oversaw its production. The production itself and its flow on effects for SPACI, were a huge undertaking and incredible success.
Community Event of the Year – Concongella Primary School 150th Celebrations Organising Committee A successful event attended by more than 500 people including locals and more who travelled from across Victoria and even interstate to attend, the celebration was arranged to honour both a community that has survived and thrived, and the primary school which sits at the heart of the community and its story. Organised by a passionate committee, led by President Ian Davies, who worked tirelessly to pull together a broad program over a two-day event, the event provided a unique opportunity to recognise the longevity of the special rural community gem and brought together past pupils and staff alike to reminisce on their time, share stories, reconnect, and remember past family and friends. Concongella Primary School is a mainstay of the Community at Concongella and remains a highly respected school in the region to this day.
Citizen of the Year – Jessica Maffescioni An individual who too demonstrates unwavering commitment to betterment and improvement, an outstanding member of the community, whose extensive contributions to the Northern Grampians Shire as a whole, are exceptional. Drawing from both skill and interests to share their expertise and giving time freely to community groups, Jessica volunteers on the Committees of the Stawell Bowling Club, Stawell Amateur Athletic Club, Stawell Country Womens’ Association and the Seed Graders Association. Going above and beyond to help these and other organisations succeed, Jessica also services the Stawell Club, Stawell Probus, Gold Reef Ladies Probus and Stawell Lions Club with annual audits.
Some of the previous roles held by our Citizen of the Year are also worthy of note; member of the Board of Grampians Tourism, Board of Stawell Regional Health, Committee of Stawell Biz, and a founding member of Raising Dust.
Kyle Torney and Rogan Hando were unable to attend the ceremony due to prior commitments.
Australia Day Mayoral Address by Northern Grampians Shire Mayor, Cr Kevin Erwin:
“The national identity of Australia is complex and difficult to define. There is no typical Australian – our stories merge, like threads, to create a diverse and colourful land.
The welcoming shoreline that surrounds Australia is reflected in our smiles, the breadth of our journeys, and our vast and varied heritage. We come together in all shapes and sizes, from all backgrounds and walks of life, to stand together.
Here, today, we gather to contemplate and celebrate our shared journey and what it means to be Australian. Each of us, walking in the shoes of history toward a shared future.
We stand beside one another as a community, in celebration of the teamwork that builds our towns and develops the spirit of our nation, the friendships that we create and cherish, the ingenuity and innovation that comes naturally, the endurance we possess to carry ourselves forward, and the courage and resilience that we draw on to keep us on track.
Each of these are attributes that we cultivate and admire.
We are a nation of storytellers, bringing tales from the dreamtime or drawing from the folklore and history of faraway lands.
It is important to remember that those of us who have come from afar wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the generosity of spirit that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have shown in the face of colonialism.
The longest surviving peoples in the world, with their vast variety of languages and dialects, complex social systems, lifestyle, and cultural traditions.
Traditions that reflect their deep connection with this land. Many convicts and settlers survived, learning how to forage for food and medicines, to find water, alongside these fellow men and woman whose land we have come to share.
Together we make a strong and positive contribution to Australia’s spirit and identity. In the face of adversity, our Australian spirit endures, and we strive forward, redefining ourselves for the future, to pass our knowledge of the land and our powerful attributes on to the generations of Australians that will come after us.
In times of crisis and in celebration, our Australian spirit will continue to shine.
The communities of Northern Grampians Shire reflect the breadth of culture and tradition seen throughout Australia. We are the definition of mateship, camaraderie, and that willingness to lend a hand so discussed on the international stage.
We are the quiet achievers, local heroes, volunteers, hard workers, and positive leaders. Each of us are innovative and inspiring contributors, in our own way, willing to share our highs and commiserate alongside one another during our lows.
We are a proud community that treasures this region and the lifestyle on offer here. Most of all, we are welcoming of others. This spirit, the spirit of Australia, the spirit of Northern Grampians, we celebrate today.”