A group of 12 Wollongong residents and organisations were recognised for their outstanding contributions to their local community at the Wollongong City Australia Day awards.
From a nationally-recognised lifesaver to a woman who's given her heart and soul to netball, the award winners have changed the fabric of life in Wollongong.
The awards covered eleven categories including Citizen of the Year, Wollongong to the World, Environmental Achievement, and Diversity and Inclusion.
Citizen of the Year: SALLY STEVENSON AM
As the executive director of the Illawarra Women's Health Centre, Sally Stevenson is spearheading the campaign to create an Australian-first Women's Trauma Recovery Centre.
In 2022, Sally was successful in securing $25 million over five years from the federal government to make her dream a reality. Together with her colleagues, last year Sally helped establish the Australian Family, Domestic and Sexual Violence Alliance with partners from every state and territory.
Sally was named a Member of the Order of Australia in 2014 for her extensive social welfare work, and in the ensuing years she has remained at the coalface, supporting victims of domestic, family and sexual violence, inspiring her staff and everyone who comes into contact with her.
Young Citizen of the Year: SHANNON FOX
Still at a relatively young age, Shannon Fox has already achieved so many firsts in her commitment to the area of surf lifesaving. Shannon was the first female club captain of Wollongong City Surf Life Saving Club, and she is captain of the emergency-response call out team and a patrol captain. Shannon hasn't let her disability impede her incredible contribution both on the beach and in the water.
Shannon was born deaf and when she's in the water and completing rescues she isn't able to wear her hearing aids. Instead of letting her disability hold her back, Shannon uses it to promote inclusivity and to highlight that anything is possible.
Shannon dedicates her life to engaging with youth through the Sunday nippers, water safety and education and training. In recognition of her service, last year Shannon was named the Illawarra, NSW and Australian 'Life Saver of the Year' - and all of this from a high school teacher who is yet to turn 30.
"It's a privilege to be in this room, so winning the Young Citizen of the Year is pretty exciting, and very surprising, as well," Ms Cox said.
"Lifesaving services are in full flight at the moment, contributing to public safety at the beach. It's quite exciting that it's recognised today, knowing how busy our lifesavers are on the beach every weekend and public holiday," she said.
Senior Citizen of the Year: NYAN THIT TIEU
After migrating to Australia from Burma in 1977, Thit has devoted her life to serving the community. When employed, Thit managed and delivered adult migrant English programs to newly arrived migrants and refugees in Wollongong.
Since her retirement in 2008, Thit has used her skills and experience in volunteering. The Sister Cancer Support Group was created in 2013 after her own cancer treatment. Her group supports women from multicultural communities who have been diagnosed with cancer, or supporting relatives and friends on the cancer journey.
As part of Multicultural Health Week, Thit organised a 'Let's Do It' cancer screening event to promote that screening saves lives. This year, to coincide with the UCI Cycling World Championships, she organised a Come and Try Triking and Biking workshop for older women from the Thai, Burmese, Turkish, Lebanese, Iranian and Nigerian communities.
Thit said she was honoured to be nominated, especially alongside so many incredible locals.
"This group [Sister Cancer Support Group] has now been running for 9 years now, and we're a registered charity organisation, and the first multicultural cancer support group ever registered with Cancer Council," she said.
"It's been a wonderful thing to do and very rewarding as well," she said.
"I'm so impressed by the number of women who have been nominated, and the amazing things they've been doing."
Lord Mayor's Award: KIM BELL & JUDY SKILLER
Kim Bell was principal at the Illawarra Hospital School at the Children's Ward of Wollongong Hospital for more than two decades until her retirement at the end of last year. The school provides high quality, individualised learning programs for kindergarten to Year 12 students who've been admitted to Wollongong Hospital, and over the course of every year they'd support over 1,000 students from the Wollongong area.
As part of her role as principal, Kim founded the X-Cite class, a specialised early intervention service for year 3 to 6 students at risk of a disrupted educational pathway. While proactively supporting students at risk of disengaging with learning, it also supports parent and carer education, and behaviour management strategies. Typically, students participate in the program for 8-10 weeks before returning to mainstream classes. The class has now been running successfully for two years and is the first of its kind in NSW thanks to the foresight and commitment of Kim.
Every sporting organisation in the world needs someone in their ranks like Judy Skiller.
Since 1984, Judy has been actively involved with Helensburgh Netball Club as Secretary. That's a truly remarkable commitment of nearly four decades in the role. Over those many years, Judy has played, coached and umpired for the club with passion, commitment and fairness.
Judy's many legacies as a leader for the Helensburgh Netball Club include the building of the clubhouse, the installation of lights and the construction of a hard-court surface to play on.
'For netball to be recognised is just unbelievable, and I got such a shock when I got the Lord Mayor's award. I thought, 'What, me?" Ms Skiller said.
"It's unbelievable - when I was listening to everyone's stories, and when they read my name out, it was a great surprise," she said.
Rising Star Award: JACK KHAN
Jack has never let his age get in the way of his big ideas. Even as a 7-year-old, in Year 2 at Mount Ousley Public School, Jack set up a #gofundme page to raise money for a planned outdoor learning area at the school.
Since he was nine, Jack has dedicated much of his young life to entertainment, the majority in his drag queen persona, Jackaranda. He organises an annual major show 'Jackaranda Says No To Bullying' and in everything he does, Jack actively raises awareness and money (thousands of dollars in fact) to prevent the bullying of young vulnerable people in our community. Despite the haters and the ridicule he's faced, Jack is unapologetically himself, rising above the negativity in an effort to help others, hoping they won't have to go through the challenges he has.
Jack said winning the rising star award was "a really nice surprise", and he's dedicated to supporting mental health in the region.
"It's such a great cause, and it's wonderful that I have the opportunity to help people - I might as well use it," the 13-year-old said.
"It's such a great honour, but to me it's not really about the award, it's about being able to see all the amazing people here," he said.
Environmental Achievement Award: SAUL GRIFFITH
Recognised as a world leader on climate change, Saul Griffith is an Australian engineer and inventor who has been principal investigator on research projects for NASA. He was awarded the MacArthur 'Genius Grant' in 2007 and served as an energy adviser to the Obama and Biden administrations. In recent times, Saul has returned to Australia from the States and he now proudly calls Wollongong home.
His recent bestselling book, 'The Big Switch' is described as an optimistic - but realistic and feasible - action plan for fighting climate change while creating new jobs and a healthier environment - by electrifying everything!
While his vision for fighting climate change is global, Saul has pitched the postcode 2515 community in Wollongong LGA to be the test case for the electrification of homes, cars and community using renewable energy to prove that his recipe for change can work. He has been working with peak energy bodies in Australia, and politicians from all parties to test this pilot in our community. If Saul is successful, this will be the first community to undertake this trial in the world, and in so doing put 2515 and Wollongong on the world map.
"We're at this moment with climate change and climate action, where we're transitioning from what the big governments do at a federal level, to how we actually deploy solutions at local level," Mr Griffith said.
"I'm unbelievably excited that I think Wollongong is going to lead the world," he said.
Mr Griffith said his wife, who is training to be a librarian, cried "from one end of the ceremony to the other" because of each nominee's incredible investment in the community.
Cultural Achievement Award: WOLLONGONG CONSERVATORIUM OF MUSIC
Celebrating its 50th year in 2022, the Wollongong Conservatorium of Music, or WollCon, has emerged from the challenges of COVID lockdowns, bigger and better than ever.
At the height of the pandemic, WollCon provided the majority of its teaching on-line. In 2022, under new CEO, David Francis, WollCon attracted an audience of more than 1,000 to its flagship two-day festival at Gleniffer Brae, where around 500 musicians performed.
WollCon's in-school program serves 23 local schools , teaching over 1500 children who wouldn't otherwise have access to live music as part of their learning. WollCon teachers support 40 vulnerable members of the community through their music therapy program.
Launched in 2022, the Junior Strings Program is the first of its kind in NSW where young students are fully immersed in a musical experience with lessons in music theory, history and providing public performance opportunities.
"For us, it's real recognition of the breadth of what we do," Mr Francis said.
"We are, first and foremost, a music educator, but I think people overlook the fact that we're a major provider of music therapy in the region - we work in 25 schools bringing music to young people who wouldn't otherwise have it, we have this vast community music program, and an incredible early years program," he said.
Sports Achievement Award: FLYNN OGILVIE
For more than a decade, Flynn has made his city and nation proud with his outstanding achievements on the national and international hockey field. Flynn has represented Australia for more than a decade and he's widely regarded as one of the best midfielders in the world.
Flynn has played for Australia on 123 occasions, scoring 23 goals. Despite a remarkable career, having achieved gold at the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham last year (his second gold at the Comm Games), Gold at the 2018 Champions Trophy, Bronze at the 2018 World Cup, and Silver at the Tokyo Olympics, Flynn now has his sights firmly set on the Paris Olympics in the hope the Kookaburras can achieve an elusive Gold medal.
Flynn has overcome many challenges, including serious injuries and lengthy absences from family and friends to achieve so much on the international sporting stage.
Innovation Achievement Award: SANDRA PIRES
Sandra has a passion for Wollongong heritage and history and through her award-winning Yesterday Stories platform she has now produced more than 50 digital stories in the local community. These stories capture the history in this region for our migrants, the Indigenous community, and our special industrial history.
In 2022, to coincide with the arrival of the UCI World Championships in Wollongong, Sandra recorded tracks to allow cyclists visiting the region to hear stories as they passed by prominent landmarks.
Sandra has worked voluntarily with TAFE students during COVID to produce 12 new stories.
She has also worked with more than 50 students from Indigenous, refugee, migrant and disadvantaged and homeless young people to produce even more Wollongong stories. The Yesterday Stories app won the Best Community History Project, awarded by the Oral History NSW Association. As the Chair of Screen Illawarra, Sandra has worked tirelessly to bring more screen production to the region.
Community Group of the Year: WOLLONGONG HOMELESS HUB & HOUSING SERVICES
For many years, Wollongong Homeless Hub has supported the most vulnerable community members without a roof over their heads, by providing supported crisis and transitional accommodation. In 2022, during the COVID lockdown, Homeless Hub staff worked alongside Health, Police and volunteers to keep people safe and accommodated with the support they needed to get through the crisis. This was often done with limited resources and staff volunteering their time.
In recent times they created the region's only housing outreach mobile service in which the van meets people where they are located, providing greater access to case management support for those falling through the housing gap. On Thursday nights, this 'homeless hub on wheels' brings together street side medics, Orange Sky Laundry, and Lighthouse community meals in one easy to access location. The Homeless Hub is justifiably proud of the work they do at the pointy end of our current housing crisis.
Wollongong Homeless Hub CEO Mandy Booker accepted the award on behalf of the group.
"It's really recognition of the amount of work the team has done over the last 12 months, but also the last 40 years in the Illawarra Community," Ms Booker said.
"We're really privileged - we've got an amazing community, and we already knew we had an amazing community, but today's a representation of that."
Diversity and Inclusion Award: JONATHAN GOERLACH
Jonathan Goerlach is an exemplar leader, both in his chosen sport, paratriathlon, and as a passionate advocate for people with a disability. Jonathan made his triathlon debut in 2012 and represented Australia at his first ITU World Championships in Auckland later that year.
Jonathan has subsequently competed at the 2020 Summer Olympics where he finished eighth. At the 2022 Commonwealth Games he won bronze in the men's PYVI. He has won multiple gold at world paratriathlon series on the Gold Coast, Edmonton and Devonport.
In 2021, Jonathan was awarded the Triathlon Australia Male Paratriathlon Performance of the Year after a stellar season. In the community, he is a passionate mentor for young people with a disability, he regularly volunteers at events and sits on athletics committees. He is a regular guest speaker sharing his lived experience with disability. Largely through Jonathan's efforts, paralympians are now recognised on Wollongong's Olympic Tribute Wall in Lang Park.
Wollongong to the World Award: DR MEGANNE CHRISTIAN
Wollongong made headlines in late 2022, when former TIGS student, Dr Meganne Christian became Australia's first female astronaut. Meganne was one of 11 selected from across the world by the European Space Agency's 2022 astronaut class. She was competing against more than 22,000 eligible applicants globally. Success came early for Meganne.
While at TIGS, where she was Dux, she won the 'Future Problem Solving' international championships.
While studying at the University of NSW, Meganne won the University Medal for industrial chemistry. She has since worked in Antarctica and Italy where she is currently based. Demonstrating her remarkable all-round skills, Meganne has also won an international singing competition in Las Vegas in the 'barbershop' style, achieved a black belt in Hapkido martial arts in Wollongong. She also loves white-water rafting and is a capable knitter and seamstress.
Who knows, Meganne may one day become the first woman and the first person from Wollongong to walk on the moon or Mars.
*Blurbs taken from the individual's nomination submissions
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