Two inspiring guest speakers were the highlight of the Gunnedah Chamber of Commerce dinner last Friday.

Heather and Doug Hawkins are the iconic couple from Coogee with an incredible story to tell.

The couple became involved in Gunnedah four years ago when they purchased property here with Doug later becoming Gunnedah Shire Council’s Australia Day Ambassador in 2020.

Doug has been the backbone behind Lightshine Films for the past 25 years and has created powerful documentaries, films and animations.

He became involved in surf life saving in the year 2000 when his children joined nippers, a program that trains children in beach safety with pathways into surf lifesaving.

He has now trained more than 1200 people to become surf life savers and thousands of nippers.

Doug currently holds the title of director member services at Surf Life Saving Sydney and oversees programs in NSW that include 127 clubs on the coast and 27,000 nippers.

His work extends beyond Australia and has travelled to provide much-needed education on beach safety, aiming to reduce the 320,000 annual drownings worldwide.

He has developed programs and delivered them in India, Israel, Thailand and the Cook Islands. 

“We can all do better with this education,” he said.

Doug stressed the importance of community.

“Don’t do anything alone. Find a friend, find a family member – you can achieve so much more with someone there supporting you,” he said.

Heather is self-described as an ‘adventurous spirit’ however, she did not always feel this way.

Heather’s story began when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at the age of 41.

She was in surgery within nine days of her diagnosis when the cancer had grown to 20 centimetres. 

Heather’s doctor had advised her to ‘become serious about physical fitness’ as another defence against the cancer coming back after she recovered.

This was the catalyst that gained her the courage to become involved in surf life saving with her husband.

“I learnt that it was okay to feel uncomfortable,” she said.

 She later signed up for a 4km fun run on Mother’s Day in 2012 with the support of her family by her side.

Heather’s passion for marathons grew from there and her accomplishments were countless, taking her all over the world.

Some of the iconic marathons she has completed included The Volcano Marathon in Chile, Marathon Des Sables in the Sahara Desert, The Great Himalayan Trail and The World Marathon Challenge.

These marathons take days to complete with participants travelling thousands of kilometres in extreme weather. 

She would dedicate each marathon to a person or group of people as inspiration to keep going.

Heather’s passion for marathons continues to drive her to search for new challenges.

She was later approached by Murdoch Books and her book Adventurous Spirit was written within five months.

Heather’s speech in Gunnedah received a standing ovation from the audience.

Many people invited the couple to participate in oncoming community events during the question and answer session.

Three audience participants each won a signed copy of Heather’s book in the raffle held on the night.

Gallery from the night can be found here: PHOTOS: Dinner with Heather and Doug Hawkins (

To order photos from this page click here