During a year overawed by the pandemic, Chaplain John Kewa was a beacon of hope from within the Wollongong community and today has been named Wollongong’s Citizen of the Year for 2021.
The manager and chaplain of the Mission to Seafarers Port Kembla undertook an outstanding pastoral and humanitarian effort in connecting with and providing care packages for the 1,200 strong crew stranded on the docked Ruby Princess in Port Kembla following a COVID-19 outbreak on the vessel in April last year.
“John is a worthy winner of the Citizen of the Year for 2021. Not only for his work with the Ruby Princess, but for his significant contributions to seafarer welfare. He is a fantastic ambassador for our region,” Wollongong City Lord Mayor Councillor Gordon Bradbery AM said.
“John is incredibly community-minded. His work has highlighted Wollongong to the national and global maritime community, but at a local level, he has supported many individuals who have found hardship and helped them become valued contributors to their local community.”
Chaplain Kewa was recognised at the Australia Day Awards Lunch hosted by Wollongong City Council at Villa Doro on Friday 22 January 2021.
At the luncheon, 12 awards were presented including Senior Citizen of the Year 2020, which went to Laurence Jennett OAM and Young Citizen of the Year, awarded to Thura Sabbar.
“Congratulations to all of those who were nominated, and awarded, at this year’s event,” Cr Bradbery said.
“In a less than ideal year, the remarkable efforts of this year’s candidates highlight the extraordinary work of the community members of Wollongong.”
Citizen of the Year 2021 – Chaplain John Kewa
John Kewa is Chaplain and Manager of the Mission to Seafarers at Port Kembla. John showed remarkable compassion for the 1,200 crew members of the Ruby Princess when it docked in Port Kembla in April last year due to COVID-19 related incident. After rallying the support of the Wollongong and Illawarra community, John and his team delivered 13 pallets of care packages and hundreds of letters of support from local school children to a grateful crew. Few will forget the unfurling of a large banner saying ‘Thank You Illawarra’ when the Ruby Princess finally sailed out of Port Kembla.
Senior Citizen of the Year 2021 – Laurence Jennett OAM
Laurence is an icon in the local Surf Life Saving community. He joined the surf life saving movement in 1961, and he remains Wollongong City Surf Life Saving Club’s Chief Instructor and an active patrol member. In his competition years, Larry won many branch, state and national medals and he has been recognised as a life member both of the Wollongong City branch and Surf Life Saving Illawarra. He has also made valuable contributions as President of the Wollongong Conference of St Vincent de Paul and is valued member of the Illawarra Rugby Union Referees Board.
Young Citizen of the Year 2021 – Thura Sabbar
Thura migrated to Australia in 2009, knowing very little English. She has since become involved in a variety of community activities and is passionate about supporting the community, particularly those who are most vulnerable. Thura has organised and volunteered at many fundraisers, including the Zonta Birthing Kits, and supporting organisations such as Need A Feed, UN Women and the bushfire appeal. Since 2017, Thura has also offered free translation services for refugees in Arabic.
Arts & Cultural Achievement Award 2021 – Sharon Buikstra
Since 2002, Sharon has been operations manager of the Southern Stars Arena Sports Spectacular which involves more than 3,000 students and staff and attracts an audience of 12,000 each year. Over the years, she has expanded the reach of the spectacular to involve schools from all across NSW. Sharon has also coordinated the South Coast Performing Company, becoming involved in local theatre productions and in facilitating dance camps and dance festivals.
Sports Achievement Award 2021 – Open Men’s Boat Crew, Bulli Surf Life Saving ClubBulli Surf Life Saving Club’s Open Men’s Boat Crew is widely recognised as the benchmark for all boat crews in Australia. Over the past seven years the crew has won the NSW championship on six consecutive occasions, they have previously won the Australian Open Boat Championship and last season the Bulli crew were selected to represent Australia to race at the Trans Taman Series against New Zealand. The team were crowned winners of the Ocean Thunder Boat Series and the George Bass Surf Boat Marathon, and were named Surf Sports Team of the Year at last year’s NSW Surf Life Saving Awards.
Innovation Achievement Award 2021 – Professor Sharon Robinson
Sharon has a record of outstanding achievement locally, nationally and internationally. Professor Robinson was awarded the Vice-Chancellor’s Researcher of the Year Award in 2019. She is a global leader in Antarctic environmental science and is internationally renowned for her pioneering research into the impacts of climate change. In 2020, Sharon initiated a Global Challenges priority call to address disaster response research in the local region following the catastrophic bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Community Group Award 2021 – One Door Mental Health Committee
For the past 15 years, the small team of the One Door Mental Health Committee has been raising money to keep open the doors of the Illawarra One Door Mental Health Clubhouse. The Clubhouse is a space where people with severe and complex mental health can come together in friendship, understanding and purpose to assist in their recovery. More than $1 million has been raised over the years with every cent spent on expanding mental health services to benefit the Wollongong community.
Diversity and Inclusion Award 2021 – Lisa Cuda
Lisa is a strong and passionate supporter for Wollongong’s transgender and gender diversity community. In 2019, Lisa became the first Parent Peer Support Worker for a local support group of parents and carers of trans, gender diverse and gender questioning young people. As the parent of a young transgender man, in 2020 Lisa used her lived experience to support other parents and families, working with Headspace in organising successful support meetings via Zoom. Lisa is also the head administrator of an online support group which operates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and now boasts close to 700 members.
Wollongong to the World 2021 – Corey Tutt
Corey is an Indigenous mentor and fundraiser and from his love of science has created DeadlyScience which has been sending STEM resources across Australia to remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. DeadlyScience has distributed more than 15,000 books and Corey has provided 500 hours of volunteering to teach disadvantaged children science and how to read via Zoom and Skype. DeadlyScience now helps 114 communities across Australia and in early 2020, Corey stepped in to provide valuable resources and 500 books to bushfire affected areas on the NSW far south coast.
Wollongong to the World Award 2021 – Carol KiernanIn 2020, Carol was awarded the University of Wollongong’s Alumni Award for Social Impact, having dedicated her life to enabling safer and more empowered communities at home and abroad. Carol is credited with playing a leading role in establishing the Australian National Missing Persons Unit which helps families locate many of the more than 30,000 people who go missing in Australia each year. Carol is also a co-founder of the Honour a Woman movement, an initiative working towards creating gender equity in the Order of Australia awards system.
Lord Mayor’s Award 2021 – Hasan Al Taleb
Hasan is a young role model and leader within the local refugee community. Hasan works as a disability support worker for Tender Loving Care, and is actively involved in SCARF Refugee Support’s Let’s Lead program. He recently oversaw the End Trachoma 2020 project sourcing sanitary items to be sent to a remote primary school in the Northern Territory and also became President of the Illawarra Rotaract Club.
Lord Mayor’s Award 2021 –Dapto High School
Dapto High School is an exemplar in its environmental leadership being named the NSW 2020 Sustainable School of the Year through a range of initiatives from its solar panel and water collection programs, to tree plantings, recycling and bush care. The school is also a strong supporter of young people with autism, has partnered successfully with numerous local community organisations and businesses, and have also established themselves as an engaging and successful school for students in the Arts.