Wollongong’s Australia Day winners

Emma McKeon

The diverse winners’ list for Wollongong’s 2022 Australia Day Awards is a celebration of the city’s sporting stars, community volunteers, dedicated creatives and innovators.

The 2022 Citizen of the Year is Emma McKeon, whose swimming inspired the country during last year’s Tokyo Olympics. She carved her name into the record books with her exceptional efforts that saw her earn four gold and three bronze medals at the Olympics. In doing so, she became Australia’s most decorated Olympian.

“I am absolutely delighted that Emma has received this honour on behalf of her hometown,” Wollongong City Lord Mayor Councillor Gordon Bradbery AM said.

“There is no doubt she is a sporting phenomenon but she is so humble about her accomplishments. Her grace and sportsmanship embody the characteristics of someone we all look up to as a leader.”

Joining Emma on the honours list is Dorothy ‘Dot’ Hennessy as Senior Citizen of the Year. Dot was recognised for her efforts as a community volunteer, including being the first female President of the Rotary Club Wollongong, and for her role as a key figure in the establishment of Greenhouse Park in Wollongong.

“Those who have any contact with the Rotary Club of Wollongong or Greenhouse Park will know exactly who Dot is, and her energy and enthusiasm to do good and support others’ to make the city a great place to live,” Cr Bradbery said.

“I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Dot for many years, and this is very worthy recognition of her dedication and hard work.”

The exceptional field for Young Citizen of the Year saw two awards handed out to Faith Clark and Alana Todorovski.

Faith, 17, shared the award in recognition of her efforts to pursue robotics and to share her knowledge with others. Since she was 11, Faith has represented Australia at International Robotics Championships in the USA, Canada, Denmark and Estonia, and she is known locally as a regular visitor to the IRT nursing home where she holds robotics lessons and demonstrations, at the Para Meadows Special School where she teaches robotics classes and at the Flagstaff Group where she leads STEM skills programs.

Alana, meanwhile, has tirelessly raised money for the NSW Bushfire Relief campaign, the Indigenous Literacy Foundation and the Salvation Army. During COVID, she baked treats for frontline staff at Wollongong Hospital and has regularly tutored Syrian refugee children over the past three years as part of her support of the SCARF organisation.

“Both of these young women have contributed significantly to their local communities in different, but equally important ways,” Cr Bradbery said.

“I congratulate them and thank them for their hard work, dedication and care for others – particularly during these challenging times when the pandemic made aspects of life so much harder, and provided a real sense of uncertainty.

“These young women show our city’s future is in very safe hands when it comes to passionate individuals who have a real community focus in their outlook and approach.”

Like with the Young Citizen of the Year Award, the Innovation Achievement Award for 2022 was awarded to two individuals – Lisa Kervin and Kathleen Clapham.

Professor Lisa Kervin is Associate Dean (Research) in the Faculty of the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, and Director of Early Start Research at University of Wollongong where she has studied and worked for more than 20 years. She is recognised globally as a leading expert in the literacy development of children and their use of technology.

A proud Murawari woman, Dr Kathleen Clapham is Professor of Indigenous Health at the University of Wollongong’s Ngarruwan Ngadju First Peoples Health and Wellbeing Research Centre, the only Indigenous led and focused health research centre in the Illawarra.

The Sports Achievement Award went to the current world Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) featherweight champion Alexander ‘The Great’ Volkanovski whose successful title defence last year was described as one of the greatest wins ever.

The Arts & Cultural Achievement Award (Arts) was presented to Matthew Verhelst, for his support of the local youth performance scene where he used his marketing and technical skills to support Southern Stars and SoPopera.

Following their dual nomination, well-known local artists Aunty Lorraine Brown and Aunty Narelle Thomas were presented with the Arts & Cultural Achievement Award (Cultural). The women created the Coomaditchie United Aboriginal Corporation, and set about restoring the then degraded Coomaditchie Lagoon. They sought and received funding to create 10 jobs and converted the former Kemblawarra Community Hall into an accessible community space and studio gallery. Now, through this space, they’re able to offer welfare support, art classes and cultural workshops.

“It’s a really special thing to be able to look through this year’s winners list as it shows you the wonderful diversity, passion and talents of those who call Wollongong their hometown,” Cr Bradbery said.

“You have young men like Matthew who are using the skills they’re developing in their career to support the passions and talents of those in the creative arts, you’ve community advocates like Aunty Lorraine and Aunty Narelle who are supporting their community in both creative and practical ways, and people like Alexander who are a world-renowned champion yet make the time to visit local schools and mentor young people in the Illawarra. Then there are the organisations like VoxFM and Green Connect who have also been recognised this year and touch so many lives in our city.

“This really is a winners’ list that fills your gratitude cup. I extend my congratulations and thanks to all those who were nominated, and to those who collected an award.”

Full list of winners.

Emma McKeon – Citizen of the Year 2022

2021 has been a remarkable year for two-time Olympian, Emma McKeon.

At the Tokyo Olympics, Emma won seven medals (four gold, all in record times) which added to her four in Rio makes her the most decorated Australian Olympian in history with 11 medals.

Emma’s seven medals in Tokyo, equalled the most medals by any female, in any sport, from any country, at a single Olympic Games, ever.

Despite her phenomenal achievements in the pool across the world, Emma is still proud to call Wollongong home. Amongst the first things Emma did when returning from Tokyo was to become an ambassador for the Vax the Illawarra campaign – using her knowledge as a graduate in public health to help spread the vaccination message.

Capping off a remarkable year for Emma in the pool, after the Olympics she was crowned overall champion after swimming the four legs of the 2021 FINA World Cup in Europe and she was recently named the World Swimmer of the Year by Swimming World.

Emma’s success is a testament to her remarkable tenacity, dedication, work ethic and will to win and she is regarded as a true champion, role model and ambassador for Wollongong and Australia.

Dorothy ‘Dot’ Hennessy – Senior Citizen of the Year 2022

Dorothy ‘Dot’ Hennessy is a dedicated community volunteer and something of a trailblazer, being the first female President of the Rotary Club of Wollongong.

In fact, about 15 years ago, Dot wasn’t even allowed to be a member of what had always been an all-male organisation. She has now been a three times President.

Of her many achievements, Dot played a major part in the creation of Greenhouse Park, just south of the city centre. This environmental park, on a former waste site, is now being upgraded by Dot and her Rotary Club members and will soon become available for community use and with regular tours for the general public.

In 2018, the Dorothy Hennessy Emergency Services Youth Scholarship Award was created when Dot cut short her waist-length hair in a major fundraising effort. Every year the state’s emergency services’ commissioners nominate a volunteer aged up to 21 years and Rotary members select the winner to receive the $1,000 scholarship in support of their training and education.

Alana Todorovski – Young Citizen of the Year 2022

Few teenagers in Australia can boast the hugely impressive volunteering record of former St Mary’s College student, Alana Todorovski.

Alana’s generous and tireless efforts have raised money for the NSW Bushfire Relief campaign, the Indigenous Literacy Foundation and the Salvation Army.

During COVID, Alana baked biscuits and muffins for the frontline staff at Wollongong Hospital and at school, where she was co-captain, she set up a Valentine’s Day initiative which raised money for the Heart of Love Foundation and promoted the importance of self-love, especially important given the impact of the pandemic on everyone’s mental health.

For the past three years, Alana has been a regular tutor for Syrian refugee children in her support of the SCARF organisation and she was co-president of the Interact Club which won a presidential citation from Rotary International.

Alana achieved all of this and much more while studying for her HSC during the challenging COVID years and her school recognised Alana’s extraordinary efforts by awarding her the St Mary’s Christian Award both in 2019 and 2020.

The list of achievements and awards are testimony to Alana’s demonstration of excellence in her area of endeavour and selfless service to the Wollongong and broader community.

Faith Clark – Young Citizen of the Year 2022

On the 6 November last year, Faith Clark marked her 17th birthday by leading the Project Bucephalus robotics team to national success for the second year running.

The number of awards, local, national and international won by Faith and her team members is really quite staggering and they are now recognised as the most-awarded and long-running robotic team in Australia.

Prior to the pandemic, since she was just 11, Faith represented Australia at International Robotics Championships in the USA, Canada, Denmark and Estonia.

Faith has helped establish Wollongong as a centre of robotics learning overseas, teaching children from China, Germany, Mauritius, the USA, Estonia and Denmark.

Over the past eight years, Faith has taught robotics to close to 3,000 children and adults, inspiring many to pursue STEM skills and careers.

For nearly a decade, Faith has been a regular visitor to the IRT nursing home, engaging the residents with robotics lessons and demonstrations.

She has also been instrumental in arranging and teaching free robotics classes for special education students at Kiama, Warilla, Warrawong and Corrimal High Schools, taught weekly robotics classes at the Para Meadows Special School and STEM skills programs at the Flagstaff Group.

Faith has done so much to raise the profile of STEM education, particularly for young women and girls in Wollongong. Her efforts have certainly raised Wollongong’s profile as a robotic hot spot on the national and international stage.

Matthew Verhelst – Arts & Cultural Achievement Award 2022 (Arts Achievement)

Matthew Verhelst is nominated for his support of the local youth performance scene, and in particular for helping ensure its survival through the pandemic.

Matthew has used his international marketing skills, volunteering to support two not-for-profit arts organisations, Southern Stars and SoPopera.

For the Southern Stars, Matthew has taken charge of their website, social media and digital assets and during the pandemic he fully planned, created and ran an online version of the show.

For SoPopera, he played a critical role in the creation of the largest performance event in Wollongong in 2020-21 with Jersey Boys playing at the WEC with a massive screen acting as the backdrop for the musical with 34 scene changes, thanks to Matthew’s stella graphic design skills.

While Matthew is now making his mark overseas in the world of international marketing, he remains committed to his crucial volunteering role back in his hometown in Wollongong.

Aunty Lorraine Brown and Aunty Narelle Thomas – Arts & Cultural Achievement Award 2022 (Cultural Achievement)

We now have a dual nomination for two inspiring Aboriginal women who’ve demonstrated tremendous leadership – both for our First Nation’s people and also the broader community, over many decades.

Aunty Lorraine Brown and Aunty Narelle Thomas came to prominence when, in 1990, they created the Coomaditchie United Aboriginal Corporation, and set about restoring the then degraded Coomaditchie Lagoon.

In a true partnership they sought and received funding to create 10 jobs and converted the former Kemblawarra Community Hall into an accessible community space and studio gallery.

Today, the organisation offers welfare support, art classes and cultural workshops. Aunty Lorraine and Aunty Narelle have helped raise the self-esteem, pride and dignity of our local Aboriginal community and their colourful artworks, inspired by the beautiful Wollongong landscape can be found in many prominent places right across the city.

Alexander Volkanovski – Sports Achievement Award 2022

Known across the world as Alexander ‘The Great’ Volkanovski, Alex is the current world Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) featherweight champion, having converted from boxing in 2015.

Hailing from Windang, Alex has an impressive record of 23 wins from his 23 fights and his successful title defence against Brian Ortega in Las Vegas in September last year was described as one of the greatest wins ever.

His success has been even more noteworthy given he had to recover from COVID which put him in hospital and, with Emma McKeon, he helped launch the Vax the Illawarra campaign as an Ambassador, encouraging people to get vaccinated, especially hard to reach groups in the 18-35 year age group.

When he isn’t winning world titles, Alex does great work in the community, sharing his story at local schools, mentoring and training young people in the Illawarra, he has supported numerous charities– and he’s even authored a children’s book which he’s donated to Group 7 junior rugby league clubs during lockdown to help motivate the kids.

Alex is always proud to represent Wollongong on the world stage and he’s made many sacrifices, especially during the pandemic, where he’s had to endure long absences from his family and friends.

Dr Kathleen Clapham – Innovation Achievement Award 2022

A proud Murawari woman, Dr Kathleen Clapham is Professor of Indigenous Health at the University of Wollongong’s Ngarruwan Ngadju First Peoples Health and Wellbeing Research Centre, the only Indigenous led and focused health research centre in the Illawarra.

Kathie is dedicated to Indigenous content and delivery in health and medical education and her strong focus is on Indigenous injury prevention and safety promotion, especially child health.

Her research projects on the meaning embedded in place for Aboriginal health services in the region is both unique and innovative, and is the only project of its kind to explore the deeply felt experience between place and health. It uses highly innovative and culturally appropriate methods to engage community in real discussions, including yarning circles and arts-based community mapping.

Kathie provides valuable hands-on support to many Indigenous organisations in the Illawarra region and beyond and she is deeply committed to the training and development of young Indigenous researchers.

Kathie has had significant success in achieving significant grant funding and in 2021 she received the Vice Chancellor’s Award for Outstanding Achievement in Research Partnership and Impact.

Professor Lisa Kervin – Innovation Achievement Award 2022

Professor Lisa Kervin is Associate Dean (Research) in the Faculty of the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, and Director of Early Start Research at University of Wollongong where she has studied and worked for more than 20 years. She is recognised globally as a leading expert in the literacy development of children and their use of technology.

Lisa’s pioneering research on language and literacy helped shape Australia’s national English curriculum reform and she’s developed a suite of high-quality support materials and delivered innovative professional development to more than 500 local educators.

Lisa leads the UOW Node of the $35 million ‘Centre of Excellence for the Digital Child’ which is contributing to world-first research on the impact of digital technology on Australian children.

She has published five books, 25 book chapters, 62 journal articles and has been awarded over $20 million in research funding.

Since 2015, Lisa has been a key contributor to ‘Early Start’ at UOW – a purpose-built facility focused on early years education. Her work has informed the design of childrens’ experiences in the Early Start Discover Space – Australia’s first dedicated children’s museum on a university campus.

Lisa inspires others through her outstanding mentorship and has supervised 37 research students and many doctoral students, and was instrumental in developing a teaching program in Tanzania.

In 2021, Lisa was elected to the UOW Council, where she will play an active role in governing one of the largest employers in the Illawarra.

VOX FM Community Radio – Community Group of the Year 2022

VOX FM, which is described as the ‘Voice of the Illawarra’, has been broadcasting as a charitable not-for-profit organisation for more than 30 years.

VOX FM prides itself on its diversity, offering its audience something for everyone – music from across the decades and many ethnic cultures, discussing important local, national and international issues and broadcasting in more than 20 languages with its presenters representing cultures from every geographic region of the world.

Throughout the pandemic VOX FM managed to stay on air with its talented volunteers broadcasting regular updates and vital community service announcements in a multitude of languages from their homes. During COVID, the station has brought its listeners a positive voice and great comfort to the many suffering from mental health issues and loneliness.

Relying on the support of its board and 200 financial members of the public, VOX FM is a model for diversity in reaching out to seniors, youth, aboriginal, ethnic and members of the LGBTQI+ community. VOX FM strongly supported the Vax the Illawarra campaign, sharing important vaccination messages in multiple languages.

Green Connect – Diversity & Inclusion Award 2022

Despite the challenges of COVID-19, Green Connect engaged 111 former refugees and young people in meaningful, paid employment in the last financial year.

Green Connect also diverted 157 tonnes of waste from landfill and delivered over 35,000kg of chemical-free food – largely to people in greatest need – from its 11-acre permaculture Warrawong farm.

During lockdown, when many big organisations that normally provide food relief were not able to operate, Green Connect stepped in, directing fresh produce through food hampers and care packages to people in need through several thousand donations.

Over the years, Green Connect has won many awards but none more impressive than being selected as one of just 15 winners across the world of a Commonwealth Secretary-General’s Innovation for Sustainable Development Award for 2021, making it a true world leader in sustainability for people and the planet.

When not locked down, Green Connect has continued to deliver workshops at its farm and its team regularly speak at events for local schools, the university, community groups and other social enterprises.

Dr Benjamin Clasie – Wollongong to the World 2022

After graduating from the University of Wollongong, Dr Benjamin Clasie, has established a remarkable career in the United States where he is now Director of Proton Engineering and Physics at Massachusettes General Hospital in Boston, where his highly technical, life-saving work supports the treatment of cancer patients.

Amongst his many achievements, Benjamin played a lead role in the introduction of a new and highly precise radiation therapy modality known as pencil beam scanning to Massachusettes Hospital’s Proton Therapy Centre.

Proton therapies destroy cancer cells by precisely targeting beams of proton radiation at tumours while doing little harm to surrounding healthy tissues. Getting this state of the art and highly sensitive apparatus to function flawlessly day in and day out took all of Benjamin’s abundant energy, talent and motivation. Working around the clock for two years, he detected and solved the numerous and complex problems associated with introducing this novel and delicate technology.

During the COVID years, Benjamin was responsible for installing the hospital’s second proton therapy system in the lower levels of an existing building which his nominators describe as not only a very difficult and technical challenge but also a world first.

Benjamin holds an appointment as Assistant Professor at Harvard’s Medical School and is in the process of being promoted to Associate Professor, a remarkable and very prestigious achievement for someone of his relatively young years.

Illawarra Academy of Sport – Lord Mayor’s Award 2022

Since its inception in 1985, the Illawarra Academy of Sport has a rich history in developing athletes to compete at state, national and international level.

To date it’s offered scholarships to more than 6,500 athletes with more than 100 going on to represent Australia in their chosen sport.

The past 12 months has been incredibly successful for the IAS with nine of their alumni competing at the Tokyo Olympics and two at the Paralympic Games. This included Australia’s greatest ever Olympian, swimmer, Emma McKeon who credits much of her success to her early career experience at the IAS.

In Tokyo, with Emma as a standout, IAS alumni won eight medals (4 gold, 1 silver and 3 bronze) equating to 17.4% of Australia’s total medal tally. In fact, if the IAS was a country, it would have finished 22nd in the final medal tally. The Academy also claimed one silver medal at the Paralympics.

In the 2020-21 year, the IAS offered 300 scholarships in 13 different sporting programs with 157 of those athletes from the Wollongong LGA.

During 2021, the IAS created online at-home skill, strength and conditioning programs as well as challenges against other regional academies. It also diversified its education program to include a sport psychology session on dealing with the challenges of lockdown.

Illawarra Shoalhaven Health District – Lord Mayor’s Award 2022

The Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District (ISLHD) provides health services for the residents of the Illawarra Shoalhaven region – around 400,000 people. This catchment covers the Wollongong, Kiama, Shellharbour and Shoalhaven Local Government Areas.

ISLHD is one of the region’s largest employers with a workforce of more than 8,500 staff. We operate eight hospital sites and provide community health services from approximately 58 locations across the region.

Special mentions and certificates – Chief Executive of the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District Margot Mains, Wollongong Hospital COVID Intensive Care Team, Wollongong Hospital COVID Ward, Illawarra Ambulance Personnel.

The Australia Day Awards and Australia Day Citizenship Ceremony are supported by our sponsors Remondis (Australia Day) and BluescopeWIN (Citizenship). Our Media Partners are i98FM and the Illawarra Mercury.

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