Winners of the East Gippsland Australia Day Awards were announced by East Gippsland Shire Council at a civic ceremony in Sarsfield Thursday evening January 21.
The awards recognise community service and achievement. Recipients are chosen based on nominations put forward by residents from across the shire.
The 2021 Citizen of the Year is Leo op den Brouw of Mallacoota and Young Citizen of the Year is James Bush of Bairnsdale. Winner of Community Event of the Year is Paynesville Classic Boat Rally.
Mayor Cr Mendy Urie said the awards recognise people who selflessly give back to their communities.
“Congratulations to our Australia Day Award 2021 winners. East Gippsland has so many people giving back to their communities and making a difference, it is a difficult job for the judges to select award recipients.
“Australia Day is a time for all Australians to come together to reflect, respect and celebrate. Over the past year our nation has faced fire, flood, drought and coronavirus (COVID-19), we reflect on the selfless and courageous sacrifice of thousands of first responders and frontline workers who put the safety and wellbeing of others before their own.” Cr Urie said.
Citizen of the Year 2021 – Leo op den Brouw
Leo op den Brouw has made an outstanding contribution to the Mallacoota community, having volunteered his time, creative energy and practical skills to a range of organisations, committees, activities and services including the community radio station. His dedication, advocacy and support for his community is boundless.
As a keen surfer, Leo was at the helm in setting up the Mallacoota Boardriders Club that shares his passion for surfing, the ocean and the local community. He has been the backbone of initiatives such as surf competitions, beach restoration works, learn-to-surf days, surf safety classes, and surfing festivals.
As the Coastcare Coordinator, Leo was responsible for foreshore protection and restoration, interpretive tours, community awareness and education programs. Always conscious of the delicate balance required to support sustainable environmental tourism within a wilderness area, Leo coordinated the construction of bushland paths and coastal viewing platforms including drawing in the assistance of the local surfing community.
Leo together with the Save Bastion Point Campaign, championed for safety and environmental considerations to be at the forefront of the proposed ocean access breakwater.
For almost 35 years Leo has been an active volunteer and Unit Controller since 2017 with the Mallacoota SES, responding to accidents and search and rescue.
Leo is a passionate advocate for local solutions to local issues. His inspirational leadership was clearly demonstrated in December 2019, when the Mallacoota community faced one of its greatest challenges. Throughout the bushfire emergency, Leo worked tirelessly to coordinate community effort and responses. Following the fires, Leo was integral in the establishment of ‘The Sanctuary’, a space for local youth to gather, share and organise.
Young Citizen of the Year – James Bush
James Bush exhibits a high degree of civic duty and motivation to assist some of the region’s most disadvantaged young people. He has volunteered on numerous youth committees over the past four years including the HEY (Healthy Equal Youth) Project Working Group, FReeZA and Headspace’s Youth Advisory Group.
These committees focus on a range of issues, including addressing the inequality and poor mental health outcomes suffered by sexually and gender diverse young people in the East Gippsland region. He has strived to share a message of acceptance and inclusion in his mission to make East Gippsland a more accepting and understanding place for all.
James studied Community Services and is currently working at Berry Street where he strives to make a positive difference to the lives of vulnerable young people from disadvantaged and traumatic backgrounds.
He has been a guest speaker at many events, including International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, to educate community members about a range of serious issues affecting same sex attracted and gender diverse young people and their allies.
During the Walk to Change the Story march against family violence, James stood in front of over 1,000 people and shared his experiences of community violence, including transphobia, and delivered a message of solidarity and hope to other gender diverse young people.
His message was clear, that all young people from diverse backgrounds should be free from discrimination, hatred and fear. He told them they are not alone and that they should reach out for help if required.
Over the past year, James has shown courage to share his own journey to support other LGBTQIA+ youth online during active crises such as the bushfires and COVID lockdown. James is a highly regarded role model for his peers, and an inspirational figure for all young people in the East Gippsland community.
Community Event of the Year - 2020 Paynesville Classic Boat Rally
The Paynesville Classic Boat Rally is a free community event attracting around 10,000 people from all around Australia on the first weekend in March every second year. It alternates with the famous biennial Australian Wooden Boat Festival in Hobart.
The third rally was held in 2020 and the event is already acknowledged as being second in size only to the Hobart festival.
The Classic Boat Rally makes an outstanding contribution to the local community and wider Gippsland Lakes in the form of increased tourism and awareness of the lakes system. Accommodation is booked out months in advance, and local boating businesses enjoy increased activity in the leadup to the event as boaties seek to present their craft in the best light possible.
Over 300 boats from every state except Western Australia took part in 2020, providing a fantastic spectacle to locals and visitors alike. The rally showcases the boating lifestyle and natural beauty of the Gippsland Lakes. It honours the traditional industries on which Paynesville was based – boat building and fishing.
The 2020 rally acknowledged the end of the Gippsland Lakes commercial fishing industry with a fleet of the local fishing boats, some over 100 years old, bringing up the rear of the parade down McMillan Strait.
This event receives great support from Gippsland Ports, Gippsland Lakes Yacht Club, and had over 100 volunteers. Paynesville Classic Boat Rally’s Facebook page has about 25,000 followers from all around the world.
It takes a very dedicated and hardworking committee of volunteers to pull this event together over many months, but the result makes it all worthwhile for Paynesville.