The Gunnedah Chamber of Commerce Gala Ball has raised almost $20,000 in support of a Tongan school badly damaged by a tsunami last year.

The black tie event hosted about 200 guests at the Gunnedah Town Hall on Saturday night who were wined and dined alongside Her Royal Highness Princess Angelika Latufuipeka Tuku’aho, the High Commissioner of the Kingdom of Tonga to the Commonwealth of Australia.

The gala ball coincided with the one-year anniversary of Gunnedah Shire Council’s sister city relationship with Kolomotu’a.

All proceeds from the event will be directed to Kolomotu’a Government Middle School in Tonga which was in urgent need of a new library.

During a visit to the school to last year, Gunnedah shire mayor Jamie Chaffey described how teachers were using a tent as the staff room such was the damage to the school but visitors were greeted with smiles and a warm welcome regardless. 

Gunnedah Chamber of Commerce president Ben Hennessy said it was a privilege for the business community to assist the community devastated by disaster.

“It is really quite special,” Mr Hennessy said. “Gunnedah is directly contributing to the rebuilding of their school and education of their leaders of tomorrow.”

While the final fundraising total was still being counted, organisers expected to raise almost $20,000 but hoped that figure could grow higher. 

Among the prizes and auction items up for grabs were three signed State of Origin jerseys from this year’s series, a hot air balloon ride and a glider flight.

Mr Hennessy said the ball was also an opportunity to showcase Gunnedah businesses and their role in the community.

“Gunnedah is wonderful place to call home, especially with the social and economic ethics of the town,” he said. “The chamber is all about creating great networks and giving back to the town that has given to us.”

On arrival to the ball, guests were treated to a pop-up bar and canapes in the courtyard outside the Smithhurst Theatre.

Once seated inside the Gunnedah Town Hall, which was elegantly styled in keeping with the grand theme, Member for Tamworth led the address as the master of ceremonies.

Guest speeches were delivered by former Gunnedah girl-turned successful finance industry thought leader, educator and author, Vanessa Stoykov, and Darren Swain from Whitehaven Coal – the event’s major sponsor. Mr Swain said the company was proud to be part of the Gunnedah community as one of the biggest employers in the region, with more than $250 million invested into the community last year – $75 million in wages alone.

The chamber of commerce also premiered a new promotional video which will be used by its membership to showcase Gunnedah as a great place to live and work.

Chamber president Ben Hennessy said with recruitment and retention front of mind for many business owners, anything to promote the liveability of Gunnedah to a wider audience, would be an advantage.

Overall, the gala ball was rated a great success with plans already in motion to carry on the tradition in future years to benefit more charity causes in the community.

“It will probably be a permanent fixture on our [chamber] calendar now,” Mr Hennessy said.

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