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Australia Day Awards recognise inspiring Knox locals

Knox City Council recognised six local residents with Knox Local Australia Day Awards on Sunday, as part of its annual Australia Day proceedings.

The winners were selected from an outstanding field of nominees, each representing members of the community who have gone above and beyond in serving the city and their fellow citizens.

The 2020 Knox Local Australia Day Awards recipients are:

  • Citizen of the Year: Gary Cantwell
  • Young Citizen of the Year: Sam Heydon
  • Elder Citizen of the Year: Jeanette Spencer
  • Volunteer of the Year: Neil Morriss
  • Environmentalist of the Year: Erica Peters
  • Local Hero: Sam Jelley

The award winners and nominees were recognised for the generosity, passion, courage and sense of justice they demonstrate through their everyday lives, and the significant contribution they have made to the local community.

Knox City Council Mayor, Councillor Nicole Seymour said Australia Day provides an important opportunity to celebrate but also to reflect on everything we value as citizens, including our culturally rich indigenous heritage and multicultural diversity that makes our country great.

“Here in Knox, we have a community that in so many ways reflects the modern and diverse face of Australia,” said Cr Seymour.

“Regardless of our age, country of birth, or language we speak at home – we are all blessed to be Australian, and to enjoy and uphold the rights, privileges and responsibilities that bestows upon us.”

During the ceremony, Cr Seymour also acknowledged the courageous efforts of local frontline emergency services staff and volunteers, who have supported and fought alongside those in bushfire-impacted regions over recent months.

140 Knox residents from 28 countries also became Australian citizens on Sunday in the first Citizenship Ceremony of the year, and Council and community representatives gathered for a flag-raising ceremony outside the Knox Civic Centre.

Read the official citations for each award recipient below.

Citizen of the Year - Gary Cantwell

Gary

Gary Cantwell has been nominated by Louise Fraser for his ongoing commitment and dedication to the Knox community.

Gary has lived and played in Knox for 53 years. During this time he has been a member of the Knox Little Athletic Club, managed a butcher shop in Boronia and competed in numerous running events; including the Great Otway Classic as part of the winning team.

Unfortunately in 1987 whilst crossing Scoresby Road, Gary was hit by a car. He was in a coma for 3 weeks and rehabilitation hospital for 6 months. In late 1998, he was approached to try out as an athlete with disabilities for the Sydney 2000 Paralympics.

Even though he was not able to compete, Gary continued to do presentations at secondary schools in Victoria and Tasmania on disability, coping with disability, about life challenges, adversity, goal setting and commitment.

Gary is now 60 years old, has retired and is an active committee member of the Ferntree Gully Bowls Club. One of the drivers for him to go onto the Committee was to organise an open day where people with disabilities could attend the club and have a bit of fun.

He is currently a member of the Victoria Bowls Disability State Squad where he is constantly trying to break down barriers faced by disabled people.

The one thing that has never changed throughout Gary’s life is his willingness to assist anyone where he can. He is always juggling his own commitments to ensure that he can assist others. Gary is a kind hearted person who loves helping others as it makes him happy.

Young Citizen of the Year - Sam Heydon

Sam H

Sam Heydon has been nominated by Paul Wilson for his vision, talent and perseverance with Rotary projects.

Sam is President of the Rotary Club sponsored Fairhills High Interact Club. The way he has shaped the activities of the
club clearly demonstrate Sam’s insight and leadership.
From the first meeting he was thinking about the people,
their qualities and what the club could achieve in the year.

Sam organised a trivia night to raise funds for materials for a voluntary school trip to Cambodia to rebuild devastated buildings. At one stage during the organising it appeared that the night would not be able to go ahead, but Sam persevered. The result was a successful evening which was attended by The Hon. Nick Wakeling (Member for Ferntree Gully) as well as Heidi Victoria (former member for Bayswater) and raised $1,900.

Sam also represented Jordan at a Rotary developmental program called the Model United Nations held in the Victorian State Parliament.

As a person, Sam is thoughtful, approachable, self-aware and open to challenges. After attending a youth leadership program, The Rotary Youth Program of Enrichment (RYPEN) in 2018, he volunteered to “give back” as a leader and was subsequently accepted in this year’s RYPEN camp. No mean feat, as competition is fierce.

Elder Citizen of the Year - Jeanette Spencer

Jeanette

Jeanette Spencer has been nominated by Anne-Maree Spencer for being a volunteer within the Knox community for more than 50 years.

In the early 1970's, Jeanette volunteered with the 1st Knoxfield Girl Guides and became a leader. Jeanette has
now been involved in the 2nd Knoxfield Cub Scout Group
for nearly 40 years. For the past 10 years, she has been responsible for the weekly program running of the group almost on her own due to a shortage of volunteers.

She is passionate about Cub Scouts and volunteers her time and resources to educate, train and recruit in order to ensure the group always keeps going. She attends camps and engages with local businesses as well as the Knox Police Station and local fire brigades to offer the children opportunities for excursions.

Jeanette also volunteered with Knox Little Athletics for 10 years as her children attended and quickly became President of the Club.

Jeanette also helped create and run a small Christmas concert in her local street during the 1970’s. She continues to host the concert, hand makes all the costumes and organises the music.

The community spirit displayed by Jeanette over many years has been outstanding.

Volunteer of the Year - Neil Morriss

Neil

Neil Morriss has been nominated by Barry Martin for his many volunteer activities.

Neil is a member of the Knox Community Baptist Church where he frequently offers his time. His volunteering, however, is not limited to helping the Church and its members.

Neil has been a member of the Fairhills High School school council for many years even though he has not had a family member at the school. He also assists with the collection and distribution of excess food from Tasty Trucks to the school community. Neil has also assisted with the equivalent of the Kids Hope programme within the school.

Neil also volunteers his time at the monthly St Paul’s evening meals. He also does weekly visits where he provides a musical interlude at The Haven Day Care Centre. Further, Neil is a Bridges volunteer driver and carer and is a monthly driver for the Men’s Lunch.

It is clear that Neil devotes considerable time and effort to the welfare of others in the Knox Community.

Environmentalist of the Year - Erica Peters

Erica

Erica Peters has been nominated by Richard Faragher for her ongoing commitment to the environment.

Erica is a Knox Environment Society (KES) committee member and a member of the nursery sub-committee. She is also a foundation member of the KES seed and survey team which travels around Knox and surrounding areas doing vegetation surveys and collecting seed and cuttings. This work takes many hours collecting seeds across the municipality and is often quite difficult. She is also an important member of the KES propagation team which works to grow over 80,000 plants per year.

Erica has also done all the paperwork for the KES Rare and Threatened species program which involves sorting and organising the approximately 6,000 plants of the Knox City Council Rare and Threatened species order.

Erica is also a Gardens for Wildlife volunteer who visits gardens across Knox to help people care for their gardens by giving advice and writing reports.

Erica is a great role model with her hard work, attention to detail, willingness to give many hours per week and her gentle and caring nature.

Local Hero Award - Sam Jelley

Sam J

Sam Jelley has been nominated by Tony Justice, Madeleine Power and Kelly Bartholomeusz for being a passionate advocate for LGBTIQ+ young people and his outstanding volunteer contributions.

Sam Jelley is a nineteen-year-old transgender man from Wantirna South. As a member of the Free 2 Be Me LGBTIQ+ group and the Knox Rainbow Youth Action Group (KRYAG), Sam was heavily involved with creating, producing and promoting the film Masked, which explores the journey of a young transgender person as they come to terms with their own gender identity and navigate the difficult process of coming out.

The film has now amassed over 70,000 views and 950 comments on YouTube, including from transgender and gender non-binary young people across the world who have been impacted by the film.

Since then, Sam has volunteered his time to promote the film and raise awareness of youth LGBTIQ+ issues amongst teachers, students, parents, youth workers, Council staff, Councillors and the general public.

He has spoken at several events and professional development days and continues to put his hand up to present at every opportunity. He was also recently involved in coordinating a Rainbow Celebration for 90 young people in the outer east, supported by the Q-East Network.

Sam was also a member of the 2019 Knox Youth Parliament team which drafted a bill titled “Improving Access to Adolescent Psychiatric Wards”. Sam was a passionate member of the team and spoke eloquently in Parliament about a cause affecting thousands of young Victorians. He expressed enthusiasm and curiosity when engaging with young people from across the state, and was grateful for the opportunity to learn about the issues faced by a variety of young people.

Sam is also an active and engaged member of the Knox Youth Advisory Committee. Sam has provided thoughtful, inclusive and valuable feedback on a number of Council projects.

Despite his relatively young age, Sam displays exceptional leadership qualities, which go beyond his ability to articulate himself and to motivate a group. Sam has an impressive ability to relate to others and to encourage them to meet their potential.

Sam’s commitment to issues that matter to him has not wavered. He is a passionate advocate for young people and for his local community, with a strong sense of social justice and an ability to see the bigger picture.

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