Gunnedah Shire Citizen of the Year Mitchum Neave and Young Citizen of the Year Ellyn Blinman are the toast of the shire community after being honoured at the Australia Day awards celebration at The Civic.

The awards night atmosphere was enthusiastic and community spirit was on show as attendees celebrated the nominees and winners across the many categories.

Australia Day committee chair and deputy mayor Rob Hooke welcomed the guests and nominees to last Wednesday night’s celebration following a flawless rendition of the national anthem, sung by Meg Clowes of the Gunnedah Conservatorium.

Ray Darcey served as master-of-ceremonies at the festivities.

Cr Hooke described the function as the most wonderful evening to be able to celebrate the achievements of the shire’s volunteers and sportspeople.

“It is up to each and everyone of us to nominate people for these awards,” he said.

“Without volunteers our community would come to a grinding halt.

“Our sportspeople bring vibrancy and diversion to our community.

“Thank you to the coaches who make it possible.”

Cr Hooke welcomed this year’s Australia Day ambassador, former Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson AC, of Mullaley, to address the gathering.

Following Mr Anderon’s speech, Gunnedah Conservatorium’s Meg Clowes provided a beautiful rendition of The Horses with her mother, Sandy Clark, on piano as a photo slideshow played in the background.

Citizen of the Year, Mitchum Neave, of Breeza, was praised for his dedication to the Rural Fire Service as well as wide-ranging involvements with Indigenous organisations.

For the last six years, Mr Neave has been the captain of the NSW Rural Fire Service Piallaway Brigade. He is always the first responder from the brigade. Recently Mitchum volunteered to assist as part of the Gunnedah and Carroll flood recovery and travelled to Newcastle to assist in the biosecurity bee threat.

He is an active member of the Rural Fire Service Association Liverpool Plains Branch (RFSA) and a delegate to Division 10 – the role of members at this level is to support the work and members of other brigades.  In 2021 in recognition of his efforts to strengthen the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenious members of the NSW RFS, Mr Neavewas jointly awarded the Member of the Year Award.  

Min Min Aboriginal Corporation provides and manages community housing for Aboriginal people. Mr Neave joined this volunteer board ten years ago and for the last three years has been the chair.

With a strong, dedicated board, Min Min has increased its housing portfolio.

Mr Neave is also a volunteer on the Kamilaroi Gomeroi Gamilaraay Youth Trust. This trust represents seven local communities.

He is a community representative on the NSW’s Regional Closing the Gap Committee. 

Mr Neave has long been a member of Red Chief Local Aboriginal Land Council and in 2007 was elected as a volunteer board member by its members. He has held both chair and deputy chair roles while on the board.

Founding the Breeza Progress Association 17 years ago, under Mr Neave’s leadership and drive and community engagement activities have resulted in the Breeza Hall upgrade and the Breeza Park upgrade with new toilets, barbecues and a fence.

The progress association was able to contribute funds to a grant to secure the upgrade of the two tennis courts to synthetic grass. Breeza looks picture perfect with the mower man, Mr Neave, cutting the grass at the cemetery, hall and park. Keeping Breeza looking tidy means Mr Neave also emptied rubbish bins at the hall and fire shed.

Mitchum, for the last eight years, has sat as a volunteer on the Idemitsu Community Consultative Committee. This committee ensures open and transparent engagement between community and community initiatives. Members of this committee are approved by the NSW government.

Volunteering at schools to educate young people on Aboriginal culture and providing Welcome to Country Ceremonies for schools, Gunnedah Shire Council and local events also gives Mr Neave great joy.

Accepting the award, Mr Neave described it as a great privilege and honour.

“It is great to lead something, but you must have a team,” he said.

“It takes a lot to stand up and drive something forward.”

Mr Neave also called for peaceful discussions about changing the date of Australia Day.

During the presentation of Citizen of the Year, named the Evelyn Wise Award, nominees were also acknowledged for their contributions to the community. 

Nominees were Ben Hennessy, Rhonda Smith, Lenelle Ritter, Ian Guest as well as Mr Neave.

Young Citizen of the Year was awarded to former Gunnedah High School student Ellyn Blinman.

She was the captain of Gunnedah High School in 2022, earning a first in society and culture, first in English advanced, the Len Ford Memorial Award for English, the Long Tan Award for leadership and teamwork, the Forsyths Gunnedah Award for leadership and the Ampol Award for best all rounder among other school recognition for her academic and leadership efforts. Ellyn also has a proud history of community involvement including being chairperson of the 2022 Rotary West Debutante Ball.

Ellyn has undertaken work alongside her school studies, coaching and mentoring crew members at McDonald’s, working at Hennessey Real Estate and as assistant dance teacher at Step Up Gunnedah.

Ellyn is currently working at the Gunnedah Times as a temporary office assistant before she start studies for a Bachelor of Education at the University of New England.
Former Gunnedah High student Phoebe Bridge was congratulated on her nomination for the award.

Gunnedah farmer Robert Frend was applauded when he was welcomed on stage to accept the Environmental Citizen of the Year award.

Mr Frend has been working with landholders, local experts, university researchers and Landcare to improve  the understanding of the local koala population. 

He is well-known to many for his design and construction of the Tree Troff (a drinking station for koalas and other animals livin  in our environment).  

The Tree Troff koala drinkers have been developed by Mr Frend with researchers from University of Sydney and WIRES. 

Mr Frend designed 15 prototypes before arriving at the current design. There are now hundreds in place locally and around Australia. Mr Frend’s environmental passion continues today through his involvement in raising awareness of habitat destruction and the impacts of climate change.

The Ossie and Beryl Campbell Volunteer Award was presented to Bruce Higham, honouring his dedication to the Gunnedah community.

Marie Hobson presented the award, named in honour of her parents, to Mr Higham.

Mr Higham has been a tireless volunteer for the Rotary Club of Gunnedah West during his 31 years as a member. 

He is the main organiser for the Charity Golf Day held by the club every year and always puts his hand up to help with barbecues and at Yallambee garden.

Mr Higham is often busy picking up and dropping back all the equipment required from the club storage facility as well as helping with the upkeep of the course on a weekly basis.

Mr Higham is also an active member of Urban Landcare, volunteers hours of work at the various sites they maintain around town such as Pensioners Hill. He volunteers for Gunnedah Rugby, with the maintenance and preparation of the grounds year-round, and is also involved with Meals on Wheels on a regular basis.

Nominees for the award were Richard and Christine White and Helen Etherington.

The extensive projects and contributions to the community by the Gunnedah Woodworkers Club saw the organisation honoured with the Community Achievement Award.

Award nominees included Gunnedah CWA, Julie Shields, Graham West and Craig West.

Gunnedah Woodworkers Club has been providing a service to the community for nearly 39 years. The club provides woodworking facilities to club members drawn from the public and community and provides a much-needed social gathering point for like-minded people.  

The club has around 40 members, both men and women, with ages ranging from 24 to 92.

Members have over the years partnered with the council and a broad range of organisations in the shire to deliver projects including: 
• Crafting large white ribbons for domestic violence awareness initiatives.
• Creating woodworking projects for the Somerton and Gunnedah 
Primary Schools – an initiative by the schools to involve the pupils’ fathers in assisting the children with the assembly of these pre-made kits.
• Making hundreds of boomerangs for use by the Gunnedah High School for its involvement in the yearly NAIDOC Week display.
• Activities for Riding for the Disabled, Gunnedah Show Society, Emerald Hill Progress Association, the Dorothea Mackellar Poetry Competition, Gunnedah Water Tower Museum, Arts Gunnedah and Gunnedah Urban Land Care.

The club has made numerous custom pieces of furniture and decorative items upon request for members of the community. 

Apart from this and as well as teaching the various woodworking skills and techniques that people can use for their own projects, the club has repaired ‘at cost’ thousands of wooden furniture and objects belonging to the public. 

Through these and similar activities the club has over the many years of its operation, donated time and expertise to numerous groups and organisations within the shire, thus enriching the community as a whole.

Australia Day ambassador John Anderson AC presented the Cultural Achievement Award to the Gunnedah Multicultural Women’s Association, acknowledging the dedicated and proactive group.

Gunnedah Eisteddfod Society, nominated for the honour, was thanked for its extensive contributions to the community during a long period of time.

Gunnedah Multicultural Women’s Association provides essential support to individuals and families who have come to the shire from foreign shores with diverse language and cultural backgrounds. 

Through activities, the group has helped many adjust and assimilate into the local society. 

Selfless acts in offering assistance during major flood events saw Kate and Nat Groves the recipients of the Max and Mikie Maas Good Neighbour Award.

Marina Maas presented the award, named in honour of her parents who were fierce advocates for local Australia Day celebrations and were as equally as passionate about contributing to their beloved Gunnedah community which they proudly called home.

Neighbours reported how wonderful Mr and Mrs Groves were during the recent floods. Orange Grove Road was one of the areas isolated by flood waters many times during 2022 and the end of 2021. 

Mr and Mrs Groves “acted selflessly and offered assistance on a number of occasions during the flood events last year”.  

Mr Groves knows the local water flows and helped his neighbours by offering his home as a safe haven and refuge in an uncertain time. 

The couple was instrumental in a well-planned and safe evacuation of a neighbour and her young son. 

Mr and Mrs Groves had three extra families in their home for several days during one flood. All arrived with bags, kids and eskies and were warmly welcomed in a home away from home with a shared table. 

Mrs Groves helped the children to create wooden Christmas trees which were donated to the neighbourhood and proudly decorated farm gates. 

The experience created fun times for the children instead of memories of the uncertainty of flooding.

In the sporting awards categories, outstanding achievements by Gunnedah Motorcycle Club member Hugo Holmes were honoured with Junior Sportsperson of the Year.

During 2022, Hugo attended and won a number of highly prestigious awards. During the year, Hugo and his family travelled over 11,000kms to compete at a number of events, representing Gunnedah and the Gunnedah Motorcycle Club. 

Some of the travel included multiple trips to Brisbane, Kempsey, Kurri Kurri, Forbes, Somersby and locally at Gunnedah, Quirindi and Tamworth. 

Hugo rode competitively in two classes for the 2022 calendar year being the 65cc 7-9 years and 85cc Modified 7-12 years.

During the year, Hugo won two Australian Junior Titles and three NSW Junior Titles. 

In November, Hugo attended the Motorcycling NSW 2022 awards ceremony in Sydney after making the final four riders for the category of Motorcycling NSW Junior Rider of the Year. 

His was also a great achievement as Hugo was nine-years-old and the nominated award class was for dirt track riders across the state of NSW for junior riders 17 years and under.

Hugo also displays great sportsmanship at the Gunnedah Motorcycle Club where he often helps younger riders during the meetings. Hugo is regularly seen helping younger riders in the pits with their bikes and gear and offers advice and encouragement. 

A further display of great sportsmanship Hugo shows is after being awarded medals at the Gunnedah Motorcycle Club presentations after club rounds. Hugo regularly hands the medals he wins to young children in attendance who are too young yet to ride. 

Hugo is a polite, humble boy and a role model for Gunnedah and his chosen sport.

The Junior Sports Team of the Year was awarded to the premiership winning Gunnedah Rugby League Football Club under 18s team.

The 2022 season was a long difficult year for the young Bulldogs but in every game the team showed tremendous resilience. 

The hard work and dedication from every member of the team showed off after having six weeks off heading into the minor semis the Bulldogs lost to Farrer which gave them a second chance to get into the finals. 

The team then played Narrabri and took home the win. This meant they headed to the grand final.

Gunnedah came up against Farrer and won 28-20 and took out the competition as 2022 Group 4 champions and claimed the Jim Cox Shield, which is a huge achievement. The boys have played together for a number of years with the same coach, Paul Wicks.

This Gunnedah under 18s rugby league Bulldogs team dedicated countless amounts of hours to train and learn new skills. The boys developed lifelong skills and friendships along the way. 

During the season many of the young Bulldogs were asked to step up and play first grade after playing their under 18s games for the club. This was an amazing achievement and opportunity for the boys and gave them a taste of what the coming years would be like.

The Under 18s Gunnedah Bulldogs 2022 team comprised of Joash Boney, Jack Burgess, Cameron Byrnes, Zeb Dillion, Zac Doring, Joc Ford, Brad Fuller, Hayden Forrester, Archer Harrison, Ethan Kelly, Aiden King, Charlie Lawrence, Joel Neader, Link Phillips, Toby Randall, Matt Ross, Jake Strudwick, Rory Thomas, Max Turner, Trent White and Billy Youman.

Daniel Martin’s leadership at Gunnedah Rugby Club was honoured with the Ivan Towns Memorial Coach of the Year award.

Mr Martin led and inspired the Gunnedah Rugby Club’s first XV to their first home grand final in 50 years. 

Although the result wasn’t a fairytale, the community spirit and support was overwhelming. 

As well as coaching the first XV, Mr Martin was also heavily involved in the club, helping out the reserves, women’s team and committee to all be as successful as possible. 

He is an asset to the Red Devils and Gunnedah due to his dedication and passion. His effect on the young men and women at the Red Devils is undeniable, a true mentor for tomorrow’s leaders.

The achievements of Ellen Howland and Paul Wicks, nominees for the award, were also celebrated.

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