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Australia Day Awards recognise inspiring Knox locals

Knox City Council has recognised five inspiring local residents with Knox Local Australia Day Awards, 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 2021 Knox Local Australia Day Awards winners are:

  • Citizen of the Year: Christine Ellis
  • Young Citizen of the Year: Aimee Bugeja
  • Elder Citizen of the Year: Christel Huwald
  • Volunteer of the Year: Manoj Varsani
  • Local Hero: Eve John

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 Lisa Cooper said that there are many high achievers, local heroes and unsung volunteers who work tirelessly for the Knox community and that Australia Day is an opportunity to congratulate the everyday heroes in our midst.

“The Award recipients have embodied true Australian values of mateship, courage, compassion, justice and perseverance,” said Cr Cooper.

Cr Cooper also said that Australia Day is an important day to reflect on the story of Australia and acknowledge the past – in particular the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and cultures that have lived on these lands for many thousands of years, and continue to be a thriving and growing part of the Knox community today.

“In Knox, we have a community that reflects the diverse and modern face of Australia. We come from every corner of the earth and every conceivable background. Around 20 per cent of Knox’s residents are from non-English speaking backgrounds”.

“Regardless of our backgrounds, we are all privileged to be Australian and to share this wonderful country,” said Cr Cooper.

This year celebrations took place virtually, with videos of the award recipients being shared publically through Knox’s social media channels.

Knox Local Australia Day Award recipients 2021


Citizen of the Year

Citizen of the Year - Christine Ellis

Christine Ellis (Chris) was nominated by Geraint Gardner from the Lions Club Branch of Knox for her commitment and service to the local community.

Chris has been an active member of the Lions Club of Wantirna and now the Lions Club Branch of Knox for over 22 years.

During this time, Chris has been the local ‘mints’ lady, servicing many shop owners with fundraising mints. She has also been involved with making hundreds of laundry bags and care packages for serving members overseas, organised care packages for women who have had to leave their homes due to family violence, and in recent times, Chris has made and sold more than 600 face masks, raising $3000 for the Lions Club.

Chris’ commitment to the Knox community is multifaceted. She has been involved in presenting awards to students from local schools, cooking sausages at numerous fundraising sausage sizzles and assisting with lawn and garden maintenance for her neighbours. Chris is also well known for her annual Christmas lights display and for selling Lions Christmas cakes from her front yard.

It is this commitment that resulted in Chris being awarded the Melvin Jones Award; the Lions Club's top award for work within the community.

Geraint concluded his nomination by stating that one of Chris’ weaknesses is her inability to say “no” and her desire to always put the needs of others first. It is this devotion to the community that makes Chris a worthy recipient of the Citizen of the Year Award 2021.

Young Citizen of the Year

Elder Citizen of the Year

Young Citizen of the Year – Aimee Bugeja

Aimee Bugeja was nominated by Gail Major from Scoresby Secondary College for being a model student and representative of the college and for the Department of Education and Training.

Aimee represents student voice, agency and leadership as an elected member on Scoresby Secondary College Council and VIC SRC. She has also attended multiple leadership forums as a leader for the college's Rotary Club of Knox Interact Club and as a leader at the Victorian Youth Congress this year.

Aimee is a current member of Knox City Council Youth Advisory Committee and has presented at the Outer East Schools forum for Indigenous Students and the Knox Police Symposium for reducing youth crime, business and industry.

Aimee is actively involved in fundraising projects held annually at the college; this year the recipients of the funds were States School Relief and Ronald McDonald House.

Aimee approaches everything she does with honesty, integrity, empathy and compassion. This has enabled her to engage with, and empower others whilst always making sure her representations are all inclusive.

Aimee is a young member of the community who has, and will continue to, impact the city of Knox in a positive way.

Elder Citizen of the Year – Christel Huwald

Christel Huwald was nominated by Marlene Franke from Martin Luther Homes for her devotion to caring for loved ones and supporting the wider community.

Christel was born in Berlin in 1936, grew up in Germany during the war and migrated to Australia when she was 19 years old.

During her journey by ship to Australia, she spent her time teaching other passengers English. In Australia, her desire to help others and build communities did not diminish. Christel became one of the first female Elders of the Trinity Church in East Melbourne; a position in which she has continued to volunteer for over 20 years.

Soon after becoming involved with Martin Luther Homes in Boronia, Christel quickly became an integral member of the community. She regularly volunteered her time and contributed her knowledge as an interior designer. At the beginning, there was limited funding so Christel helped as much as she could by sewing curtains for all the houses and starting the beautiful gardens that are still there to this date.

Christel now resides in Martin Luther Homes and is an active member of the committee of the independent living units. She regularly organises get-togethers, trips, and community events and consistently takes the initiative to offer help and assistance. She is always the first one to start preparing and the last one to leave after cleaning up.

Christel has devoted her life to helping her family and those around her. She is passionate about the communities she has lived in throughout her life. Her dedication to the people around her is truly inspiring.

Volunteer of the Year

Local Hero

Volunteer of the Year – Manoj Varsani

Manoj Varsani has been nominated by Nilesh Morker from Shishukunj Melbourne for his selfless dedication to helping people in need.

Over the past 30 years, Manoj has been a part of the Global Institution Shishukunj; a volunteer-run organisation geared towards child welfare and development.

Manoj has taken on mentoring roles for the youth of the organisation and accompanies them on many activities. He has introduced creative ideas to motivate the younger generation, helping them stay focused and learn time management skills

It’s not all serious business however, as Manoj brings joy and playfulness to all his work with the organisation.

For the past 12 years, Manoj has actively volunteered at the Shree Swaminarayan Temple and was involved in the Temple's COVID-19 appeal. This included organising the collection and distribution of more than 1,000 boxes of food rations to international students in need. Manoj also assisted in organising the 2020 Holi festival, 2019 Dewali Dinner and the SKPLS Navratri festival.

During COVID-19, due to the increased demands of virtual learning, Manoj together with a friend refurbished old laptops and distributed them to school children, university students and seniors doing it tough.

Manoj continues to support the local Foothills Community Centre at Ferntree Gully by giving his time to the centre and also organising meals. As part of SKLPS Victoria, he supports the collection and donation of non-perishable items to Foothills. He has also coordinated various families to donate vegetarian cooked hot meals to over 40 families for many weeks.

After the Victorian bushfire season, Manoj assisted in collecting funds and buying bottled water for those who did not have access to drinking water. These efforts raised $2,400 in just a few days and purchased 5,600 litres of bottled water, which was donated to CFA Bunyip.

It is clear that Manoj loves and enjoys helping out those in need in our Knox community.

Local Hero – Eve John

Eve John has been nominated by Alex John for her decades of work supporting, mentoring, empowering and fundraising for the Knox community.

Eve is passionate about supporting women and children. She was instrumental in securing funds and permission for the refurbishment of rooms at Flamingo Avenue playgroup and is also the President of Wantirna South Primary School.

Eve mentors many local businesswomen to ensure their businesses can get off to a flying start. She also runs a free ‘Women Talking Business’ program which provides a space for small business owners to network and build connections. Attendees of this program have gone on to launch an online toy store for children with special needs, a mental health counselling service and a manufacturing company in Rowville.

Eve is also an Ambassador for Impact For Women, a charity supporting women and children fleeing family violence. She is heavily involved in fundraising and activism. Eve was involved in the Impact Court Care program to operate and finance the childcare facility at Ringwood Court. This means local residents who are victims of crimes can attend court knowing that they and their children have a safe place to wait and when called, victims do not need to disclose details of the crimes against them in front of their children.

Not only does Eve do the hard work and take action, she also inspires others and builds their confidence so they too can make a positive impact in the community.

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